BEST TIME TO GO: November to May; of course, travelers coming to ski at the nearby resorts will head for the “winter” months: July/August/September
FUN-FACT: Measuring some 3,000 miles north to south, almost a third of long, skinny Chile is occupied by the driest desert in the world: the Atacama
GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta to Santiago
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport. Chile charges a reciprocity fee of $140, paid on arrival in U.S. dollars or credit card, valid for the life of the passport
CURRENCY: Chilean peso
MUST-TRY LOCAL FOOD: There is no shortage of places to sample unbeatable shellfish—razor clams, mussels, oysters, sea urchins, and above all centolla (king crab)—from Santiago’s Mercado Central to the wildly popular Aqui Esta Coco restaurant
BEST BUYS: Pueblito de los Dominicas or Patio Bellavista are fun places to buy quality handmade crafts: lapis lazuli jewelry, silver work of the Mapuche indigenous people, alpaca woolen sweaters and woodwork
Centerpiece of the Central Valley, Santiago is home to a third of Chilean people. Its city profile combines French classic, Bavarian baroque and Spanish colonial with 21st century skyscrapers and glass towers—bisected by the Mapocho River. Heart and soul of historic Santiago is the Plaza de Armas, dominated by the Metropolitan Cathedral and the colonial San Francisco church and its Cloister Museum. Other fine museums range from the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art whose distinguished collection occupies the former Royal Customs House to the Museo de la Moda, a fascinating new fashion museum in residential Vitacura. In the bohemian Bellavista quarter, don’t miss La Chascona, once home to Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. Tops on every visitor’s list is a morning meander around the Mercado Central, whose cast-iron ceiling towers above the fresh produce piled high in market stalls; next door is the fish market, a showcase of Neptune’s domain. One of the reasons Chile’s capital has become a hot destination it its bevy of stylish places to stay—newly making waves are the Lastarria Boutique Hotel whose 14 rooms occupy a stunning 1920s residence and the 87-room Noi Vitacura with Andean views from its rooftop pool. There are always fine places to dine—Chilean dishes at Confiteria Torres and El Hoyo, seafood at La Mar Cebecheria and Aqui Esta Coco. The place to buy Chilean food products to take home is the Coquinaria gourmet market, while Pura is one choice for finding stylish and locally made handicrafts.
Santiago sits right in the middle of long skinny Chile. From the capital, drive a couple of hours west to the Pacific and the captivating seaport of Valparaiso and the close-by beach resort of Viña del Mar. It takes no longer to reach the start of the major routes through Chile’s Wine Country—the place for tasting the famous fruits of the vine and for spending a night or two at the wine estates’ deluxe lodgings. And in winter (June-October), following a less-than-two-hour drive up into the Andes, you’re ready to check into the excellent ski resort complex of Valle Nevado.