This modern and vibrant city is certainly worth a look
With over a third of Chile's 16 million inhabitants, Santiago is, both metaphorically and geographically, at the heart of Chile. For most it is the starting or ending point for a trip out to see some of Chile's stunning natural beauty, but, as a burgeoning city Santiago has plenty to offer those that are looking to experience what it is to be in Chile on a more day to day basis. In an era post Pinochet, Santiago, with its great dining, nightlife and simple beauty, is very much a window into modern Chile.
Geographically, Santiago is relatively small, hemmed in by the Andes to the East and the coastal cordillera to the west. This lends the city a feeling of great intimacy and, with the ocean only a 2 hour drive, and some great skiing only an hour away, it is easy to see why many Chileans have decided to call Santiago their home. The main drawback is that, on days where there is little wind, the city can become choked with the fumes of its many cars...a situation that they have had to counter by only allowing certain number plates to drive on certain days...an issue for Santiago's many taxi drivers!
For the visitor to the city, Santiago offers the chance to really live as a local would. While there is not a tonne of museums, there are some really interesting sights in the Centro and, for those that are after a little nightlife, then the Bario Bellavista, is a must visit. Using Santiago as a base, it is then highly recommended to head east, south and west to the wine valleys of Maipo and Colchagua, or simply west to the superb and quirky city of Valparaiso.
The Barrio Centro is where most tourists will gravitate towards on a trip to Santiago, when site seeing is the emphasis. As mentioned above, Santiago is not really known for its museums or churches, but a few of the main sites to see in the area include the Plaza de Armas, the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Santiago’s best museum) and the Iglesia de San Francisco (Santiago’s oldest surviving Colonial building).
These two small and quirky areas of the city offer the double whammy of people watching and fine art. In the Lastarria area there is the Museo de Artes Visuales and the Museo Arqueologico de Santiago. While both on the small side, they have very good examples of both contemporary Chilean art and historical ceramics, carvings and jewelry from the Mapuche and Easter Island. From here it is a short walk to the Barrio Bellas Artes and the true heart of Santiago's coffee addiction. Here you can while away many an hour watching the fashionable and funky while sipping on a cup of the dark stuff!
For any Santiaguino, if you are after fine food and a bit of action in the evening then there is no doubt that this is where to head. Right at the heart of the Barrio is the largest park in Santiago and Cerro San Cristobal, that offers the city's best views. From here it is a leisurely meander through the cobbled squares and lively streets of the Constitucion district where the party atmosphere continues right into the early hours.