Slap-bang in the middle of Chile, Santiago is a modern city with a European feel, and is the place where most visitors begin their trip. It’s not a particularly attractive city, since frequent earthquakes have gradually claimed most of the colonial buildings here. Santiago also lacks the 24-hour party reputation of other Latin American capitals, so a couple of days should be sufficient to see all the main attractions before heading out into the countryside.
Despite its flaws, Santiago’s European flavor and the proliferation of modern conveniences, such as high-quality hotels and restaurants, make the city a good base for exploring the nearby regions. Day or overnight trips to the wine country to the south, the beaches to the west, and the Andean ski resorts to the east can easily be arranged in the capital. See Around Santiago for more information about these trips.
The Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s official center, is always buzzing with life. Schoolchildren, families, workmen on their lunch-break, and tourists all come here to soak up the atmosphere and watch the world go by.
Chile’s most impressive museum,The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombina, features 3,000 pieces of Precolombian art from more than 1,000 Latin American cultures, all laid out in a manageable and interesting display.
On a clear day, the high Cerro San Cristobal gives fine views over both the city and the Andes. Head up to the summit on the funicular railway and enjoy a picnic in the park at the top. Or, as clear days are rare in Santiago, make the summit at dusk to watch the golden-orange glow of the sun setting on the hazy city.
Santiago’s Latin Quarter, Barrio Bellavista, gets particularly lively on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights when Chileans and foreigners pour into the restaurants, bars, cafés and âsalsatecas’ that line the narrow streets.