Named one of the World’s Most Scenic Cemeteries by CNN, Santiago’s sprawling Cementerio General is definitely worth a visit. Spread over 210 acres (85 hectares) just North of the city center in the Recoleta neighborhood, this lavish and expansive cemetery is a history enthusiast and explorer’s dream. Filled with green, peaceful gardens and an abundance of colorful, sweet smelling flowers, the cemetery is more of an urban park for those seeking refuge from Santiago’s bustling city center. You may even see some of the exotic birds flying around!
The most striking and magnificent part of the cemetery is the varying architectural styles of the elegent, massive mausoleums. They are built in elegant designs and styles, including French and Italian styles and even a Mayan Temple. These mausoleums are sometimes as big as houses – and more ornately built!
However, like most cemeteries, it can be a bit spooky and heart-wrenching at times, most notably in the area where young children and babies are laid to rest. Their tiny tombstones are decorated in plastic crib-like structures to keep in toys and flowers. The countless rows of tiny cribs can be upsetting for some, so you’ve been warned.
The cemetery is still being used today. There are unfilled sections and small fields around the older areas. Meanwhile, many of the graves are family plots and have staircases leading to underground rooms, where living relatives will someday join their ancestors. These are usually covered with grates, but I was able to see an opened one, where a family rests together. My friend and I were passed on a road by a funeral procession during our visit. A hearse was followed by a long line of cars, venturing into the cemetery to honor a loved one. They still have plots available to buy, we walked all the way around when we exited, and came across the “Sala de Ventas” sales office, in the back of the cemetery.
The Cementario General de Santiago is one of the largest cemeteries in Latin America, with an estimated 2 million burials. Established in 1821 after Chile became independent, leader Bernado O’Higgins set aside more than 85 hectares of land for this purpose. Little did he know the cemetery would soon become a magnificent display of lavish mausoleums, ornate sculptures, lush gardens, and leafy trees.
The cemetery is the final resting place for many influential and historical figures from Chile’s rich history, including all but two of the deceased Presidents of Chile. There is even a large and respectful memorial for former President Salvador Allende, who was given a distinguished and proper burial in 1990, 17 years after his suicide and the Chilean coup d’état of 1973. Also, a memorial for the people lost during in 1973 and the years of political unrest.
The cemetery is free to enter. Outside you see all the flower stalls selling all types of decorations and trinkets to leave for loved ones.
When my friend and I adventured into the cemetery, we were without maps or guidance. We wandered the spooky alleys and got lost in the maze of streets and paths. We were there in the late morning on a weekday and it was almost empty, save for workers and gardeners tending to the well-kept space.
If you’d prefer some guidance, there are self guided tours on the website: Contemporary Twentieth Century Chile or Nineteenth Century Chile, you can follow one or both, or you can ask at the entrance or at the guard stands for a map. We did not ask for one, nor did we see any being handed out, and I recommend merely wandering around.
We did not see any tours taking place, the website offers 90 minute tours Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10am and 3pm, there are different night tours offered on Thursdays and Fridays at 9pm check the website for the current schedule, or you can request your own guided tour Monday-Friday. The tours and the website are in Spanish only.
As far as etiquette, I found the cemetery to have a very relaxed feel. This helpful article speaks about Latin American Death and Funeral Rituals. Most of the graves are heavily decorated with flowers, gifts, and toys for the children at peace, showing an air of grievance for loved ones.
The cemetery is very easily accessible by public transportation or by car. There are two entrances to the cemetery, through the main entrance through a massive domed building, on Avenida Profesor Alberto Zañartu, and a side entrance at the Cementerios metro.
I recommend hopping on the Metro and taking Linea 2 (the Yellow line) to Cementerios – “Cemeteries”. The entrance to the cemetery is right outside the exit. You can transfer to Linea 2 easily from Linea 1 or 5 (Red or Green lines). You can walk around the corner, heading South from the Metro exit, if you want to enter through the impressive Dome building’s entrance.
There are several different bus routes you can take to arrive at the cemetery, the bus stop is also called Cementerios, which you can get to from the 116 from Plaza Italia. Some buses drop off in front of the main domed entrance, at a large roundabout whose stop is called Cemenerio General. You can check Transantiago.cl to plan your personalized route.
If you have a car, or if you are planning on hiring a car, the drive from the center should only take 5-10 minutes, depending on your route and traffic. Head North on Recoleta or via La Paz, where you will eventually come to the main entrance to the cemetery, the elegant domed entrance and wall.
The cemetery is accessible by foot, if you were hoping to walk. From La Moneda Palace the route should take 45-50 minutes. From Plaza Italia, 35-40 minutes. In my opinion, hop on the metro and save your energy for walking all over the cemetery!
When To Go
I’ve been told by locals to stay out at night, as it can be extremely creepy or haunting in the dark. I was also told by Chilean friends that the area is not to safe to be in at night. Also, it could be difficult to navigate the cobbled streets in the dark! We went during the day and enjoyed wandering the peaceful streets and breathing in the sweet, colorful flowers that grow all over the cemetery.
Plan on being on your feet for a while, walking and exploring, so comfortable shoes is a must! Wear plenty of sunscreen, like you alway should in Santiago’s powerful sunshine.
There are stands at the entrance that sell water and snacks. Buy a water bottle! You will need it!
The bathrooms are located at the large domed entrance.
Note: This story was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question before planning your trip.
To learn more about Alyssa, read her bio!