Like many hot and hilly cities, Chile’s capital, Santiago, has its most affluent neighbourhoods uptown, with staggering views east to the Andes, while downtown you’ll find all the hustle and bustle expected of a global city. Founded in 1541, modern Santiago is an enchanting jigsaw of old and new. The city boasts South America’s tallest skyscraper, an efficient metro service, and bohemian piazzas and alleyways filled with bars, craft markets, street art and live music.
Acquaint yourself with the country’s recent history by visiting the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, which provides a historical perspective on General Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorial regime. This sobering reminder of the past simultaneously highlights how far Santiago has come in the decades since.
Close to the Baquedano metro stop, you’ll find a funicular that travels from Bellavista up to the 880m summit of Cerro San Cristobal. Santiago’s highest point, on clear days the panoramic view is truly astounding. If you’re travelling with children, stop at the Chilean National Zoo on the way up.
Once you’ve descended from these dizzying heights, stop by the fish market, Mercado Central, for deliciously fresh and reasonably priced seafood. Ceviche, a Chilean speciality made of fresh raw fish cured in citrus and spiced with peppers, is readily available at numerous stalls, or you could try caldillo de congrio, a potato-and-eel soup flavoured with onion, garlic and carrots.
Chile is the birthplace of many famed poets, but perhaps its most celebrated son is the Nobel prize-winner Pablo Neruda. Of his three homes, La Chascona, in the Bellavista, is the easiest to get to. Named for his third wife Matilde’s wild red hair, Neruda took an active part in planning the home’s unique design. Highlights include the ship’s cabin-inspired dining room and a mural of Matilde painted by Diego Rivera.
On the other side of town, Santiago’s Vitacura area is home to a tempting collection of boutiques, designer stores and ferias, or pop-up markets. At Museo de la Moda, you can learn about the city’s long association with textiles and design. Exhibits include a Gaultier conical bra worn by Madonna, and a tutu that belonged to Dame Margot Fonteyn. The museum regularly holds special exhibitions exploring particular themes, so check in advance to see what is on the schedule during your visit.
Santiaguinos love their parks, and they have several to choose from. Parque O’Higgins is one of the city’s largest and boasts a theme park named Fantasilandia, a huge arena, and a pond complete with paddle-boats. The Parque Forestal, which contains the Museo Nacional Bellas Artes, is transformed on Sundays into a parade of small market stalls and street artists. Entry to the museum is free, but be warned that it closes on Sundays.
Located in the foothills of the Andes, day trips from Santiago feel a world away from its urban centre. The celebrated Maipo Valley vineyards are located in the surrounding countryside and can be toured on bikes. In the colder months, skiers and snowboarders can take advantage of slopes just a 25-minute drive from the city. With reliable snowfall and state-of-the-art infrastructure, the resorts around Santiago are leading the charge in establishing Chile as a world-class winter destination.
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