With the Andes to the east and Pacific to the west, you can hike and swim in the same day when Santiago is your base. The Chilean capital is not just the political centre of the country but a whirl of museums, theatres, and a flourishing arts scene. It's loud but the charming old district of Barrio Brasil has huddles of bohemians and top notch cuisine is being dished up in Bella Vista and Providencia. Originally occupied by the Spanish from the mid 1500s, Santiago gained independence in 1817 following The Battle of Chacabuco. Today, as in most Latin American cities, soccer is embraced more as a religion than a sport.
If you're visiting the Chilean capital in January and are a jazz fan, swing by the Providencia International Jazz Festival. There's an international line up and the local scene gets even hotter. One of Santiago's top attractions is the Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art (note it reopens late 2013) but there's no shortage of galleries and museums to keep you occupied otherwise. Enjoy a great view of the city on a clear day from San Cristobal Hill (at its base there are botanical gardens, a zoo and swimming pools to cool off in while you're there). A fun way to get to know Santiago a little better is to take a Spicy Chile free walking tour.
Bella Vista is the home of Santiago's vibrant nightlife. Avoid the area's main-street tourist traps and follow locals towards Bellavista's hidden gems. Remember, you haven't really been to Santiago until you've tried the earth-shaking concoction called 'terremoto' (this literally translates as 'earthquake'). What is it? Pineapple ice cream and fermented white wine. Bottoms up! Carnivores will love the range of steak houses in this city and seafood lovers are also well catered for. A highly-acclaimed Santiago restaurant is Astrid y Gaston – with its seasonally-changing menu of Peruvian haute cuisine, it's an eternal favourite.
Where to Stay
The boutique Aubrey Hotel in Bella Vista is a marker of change amid the Santiago accommodation. At the foot of San Cristobal Hill, the Aubrey has been gorgeously created from what were 2 rundown 1920s mansions. If you're looking for a property which takes advantage of the Andean backdrop, check-in to and check out the W Santiago. Lastarria Hotel is another 1920s mansion-turned-boutique property with an elegant Art Deco facade and modern comforts inside – stay here and you're in the heart of boho-chic. If you're big on time and short on budget, you'll find hostels to accommodate you too.
If you're looking for the high end fashion and luxury stores, make your way to Alonso de Cordova Street and Nueva Costanera. Grab a craft bargain in Centro Artensanal Santa Lucia or find a handicrafts centre in Bella Vista. If you have a local with you, there are shops with cheap food, clothes and all sorts at Patronato. Otherwise, Santiago shopping is mainly based around a lot of malls. Chile's most-famous department stores are Falabella, Paris and Ripley.
Santiago like a Local
If your dream holiday is all about food, take a few tips from the chef of the Aubrey Hotel about the best way to spend a day in Santiago. Try breakfast at an Argentinean restaurant known for its fine breads and pastries, Sabor de Buenos Aires. Wandering amid market stalls selling spices, flowers and goats cheese – among other lovely things – is a treat at the 115-year-old La Vega Central. Potter around the antique shops of Barrio Lastarria in the afternoon and find your way to the almost-hidden door of Restaurant Ky for dinner surrounded by candles.