There are many reasons to live in Santiago: jobs, business and networking, modernity, large First World areas, great medical care, extensive and modern shopping, amusement parks, bowling, golf, international access/airport hub and access to language schools or many people that speak English. Other than work and business, Viña del Mar can tick most of those boxes, albeit on a much smaller scale, and what lacks is just ninety minutes away in Santiago. What Viña has over Santiago is less traffic (except during the Summertime, when it can be a bit oppressive on the coast), cooler weather in Summer, ocean views and no air pollution. The rest of Chile pales by comparison to these two spots, and thus it is no wonder that well over ninety percent of the expats we have serviced settle in either Northeastern Santiago or Viña del Mar.
Nevertheless, one thing that often goes unnoticed is the needs of younger, usually single people, mainly in their 20s and 30s. Most expats that we see are 45 to 65 years old. A few come with children, but most do not. For that reason, these immigrants rarely ask me about what social life is like for younger people. Other than church groups, I really do not know–being a man in his 50s that likes the quiet pleasantries of Viña del Mar. So I asked my 27-year-old son what cities he prefers to meet people, go out and have fun: restaurants, dancing, pubs, shows, casinos, soccer matches, beaches, concerts, horse racing, movie theaters, whatever.
While one observation (my son’s views) is hardly scientific, I think it could be of interest to readers since he was partly raised here and has since lived in Chile for many years, attended graduate school here and is perfectly bilingual. He also gets out a fair amount.
I asked my wife to fill in bits of information she knows about Southcentral Chile. I have a few bits of information to add to the mix, too, based on locales I have seen and activities I have witnessed during my extensive travels in Chile.
In my son’s view, Northeastern Santiago is clearly the best choice. It is a “10”. However, other places are also good or fair, while most places are mediocre or outright terrible. Here are the rankings:
10 Valparaíso/Viña del Mar on New Year’s Eve and during Festival de Viña (around February 19-28)
8 Viña del Mar during the summertime (including Reñaca and south Concón)
7 Viña del Mar during the rest of the year
6 Pucón or Villarrica (especially) and Puerto Varas during the summertime
5 La Serena and Iquique
4 Temuco and Valdivia
3.5 Puerto Montt and Rancagua
3 All other popular lakes and beaches during the summertime, Antofagasta
2 Arica, Talca, Curicó, Linares, Chillán, Los Ángeles, Punta Arenas, Coyhaique, Osorno, Calama, Copiapó, Los Andes, Quillota, Pucón and Villarrica and Puerto Varas during the rest of the year
1 Rural areas and small towns throughout Chile, other lakes and beaches during the rest of the year.
Take the ranking for what it is worth, but at least you now have an idea of what to expect in each area of the country. My son would not live anywhere but Northeastern Santiago or Viña del Mar, unless (of course) he was called to work in another city. Remember, too, that even if Viña del Mar is more suitable for his parent’s generation or retirees, there is still a fair amount for younger people to do and he can easily get to spots in Santiago by bus/metro in a couple hours for Friday and Saturday night–a virtue that no other provincial urban center provides (like Concepción–too far away).
In many ways, Viña del Mar is the superior choice if a young person does not have to work in Santiago every day. He gets the benefits of nightlife in both of those cities without having to put up with the disagreeable aspects of daily life in Santiago (smog, traffic, summertime heat). Overall, it seems pretty clear that young people will tend to be most comfortable and content with social life in either Northeastern Santiago or Viña del Mar.
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For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights found in the two larger books. Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at Amazon.com: