This article originally appeared in Delta Air Lines’ 2012 Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America Travel Guide. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.
Long gone are the days when Santiago was seen as sleepy and staid, a capital just to transit en-route to the wilds of Patagonia or Easter Island. Centerpiece of Chile’s Central Valley, Santiago is home to a third of the people in Chile. Its city profile combines French classic, Bavarian baroque and Spanish colonial architecture with 21st century skyscrapers and shopping malls. Among those high-rises are some of the city’s top hotels, which now mix international brands—W Santiago, a relative newcomer—with boutique lodgings like The Aubrey in the artsy Bella Vista area, one of the newest. The 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. Things not to miss are the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art; a visit to Los Dominicos, a handicraft pueblo with some 150 shops and stalls; and 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 and tiny restaurants serving up the fruits of the sea. Chilean seafood is unbeatable, always fresh and fun at Aqui Esta Coco in the Providencia district.
Within a day’s drive of the capital is Valparaiso (75 miles away). A UNESCO World Heritage site, “Valpo” is a port city of marvelous Victorian architecture and multi-colored houses spilling across and down to the sea. Just up the coast is Viña del Mar, a resort where flowers are brilliant, fish dishes superb, boutiques trendy, and casino smart and lively. En-route to Viña, stop in at a winery or two in the Casablanca Valley, or go vineyard-hopping for a day around the Maipo River Valley.
- 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:
Chile is a long skinny country, measuring 2,653 miles north to south, yet averaging only 110 miles east to west
- 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; for Canadians, cost is $72
- Must-try local food:
Shellfish—razor clams, mussels, oysters, sea urchins, and above all centolla (king crab)
- Best buys:
Lapis lazuli jewelry, silver work of the Mapuche indigenous people, alpaca woolen sweaters, shawls and ponchos, Chilean wine
- Information please:
Tourism Promotion Corporation of Chile—chile.travel