Founded in 1541 in a natural basin surrounded by the Andes, Chile’s capital Santiago is a modern, cosmopolitan city and one of the key gateways to South America. Unlike its more glamorous counterpart Buenos Aires, the city has fewer acknowledged attractions but still offers world-class restaurants, museums and galleries as well as access to rolling vineyards and the spectacular mountains of the Cajon del Maipo.
At its heart, the grand government palace “La Moneda”, offers an insight into the infamous 1973 coup which deposed the former president Salvador Allende, while a short distance away, the central Plaza de Armas boasts the city’s impressive cathedral built at the end of the 18th century. Elsewhere remnants of colonial facades compete with modern tower blocks, much of the original architecture destroyed by a series of devastating earthquakes.
Santiago sits in the shadow of the distant snow-capped Andes, best viewed from either the pretty Cerro Santo Lucia hill awash with ornate stairways, fountains and colonial facades or alternatively the larger Cerro San Cristobal. Cerro San Cristobal looms high over the city and visitors flock to the funicular railway which leads to the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top. The hill also presides over the vibrant, bohemian suburb of Bellavista home to an impressive array of bars and restaurants that come alive at night. Close by, the Casa La Chascona is former home to Chile’s most famous son, the poet Pablo Neruda.
Overlooked and unloved for years, a new generation of bars, boutique hotels and vibrant culture is sweeping through the capital and Santiago is rapidly becoming one of the most dynamic cities in South America.