Cradled deep in a valley and surrounded by high Andean peaks, Santiago is one of the most striking and enjoyable cities to visit in South America. Chile's capital is cosmopolitan and vibrant and offers a sensational array of highlights for sightseers, culture vultures, and active explorers alike. Its unique cultural diversity, after centuries of foreign influence, means Santiago is also one of the most varied culinary destinations in Latin America. From world-class Japanese to exquisite Italian, traditional Chilean and an array of fusion eateries – foodies will find no shortage of indulgences.
In recent years, Santiago has also emerged as a capital of arts and culture. Alongside the country's best historical museums, you'll also find a healthy smattering of top-notch galleries and an exhilarating underground graffiti scene that's spawned a web of phenomenal street art.
Yet despite all this, Santiago's main attraction is, and will inarguably remain to be, the magnificent Andes Mountains range nearby. You'll find no better holiday destination in South America for unrivalled high-altitude hiking and skiing.
A superbly convenient entry point into South America for Australians and New Zealanders, Santiago is often only seen as a springboard on the way to more famous highlights. So, hold it just a minute! There are plenty of outstanding highlights to fill in a few days.
So, why rush?
How to get out and about in Santiago
Hands-down the best public transport system in the continent, Santiago is a breeze to navigate. The underground is extensive, efficient and inexpensive. In fact, all of Santiago is remarkable for its efficiency, wealth, modernity, cleanliness, and tourist-friendly environment, making it the perfect introduction to South America for first-time travellers.
Santiago for cultural and historical sightseeing
If you're interested in art and architecture, Santiago has many beautiful buildings and landmarks worth visiting. The Palacio de La Moneda, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the San Francisco Church are examples of the city's architectural treasures. Join a walking tour of the city centre when you first arrive – visiting Plaza de Armas, the Presidential Palace, and Mercado Central is all the more rewarding when you learn about the city's fascinating history.
Santiago was established in the 1500s and has undergone an arduous evolution. Its history and culture are enticing and eye-opening. If you're not usually a 'culture pro', you'd do yourself a disservice if you didn't learn more about Chile on your Santiago vacation.
Santiago for outdoor adventures
Outdoor adventure seekers could fill weeks, if not months, indulging in Santiago's outdoor thrills. From horseback riding to mountain biking, hiking, white water rafting, kayaking, skiing, paragliding and rock climbing… whatever it is you enjoy doing in the great outdoors, you'll love to do in Santiago.
Herer’s just a sample of the stellar outdoor activities near Santiago.
Santiago for wine lovers
Not to be outdone, Santiago's surrounding valleys also hold plenty of appeals. Ever heard of Chilean wine? Yes, silly question. Some of the country's best vineyards are found outside the capital city, in the Maipo and Colchuagua valleys.
Here's a great list of the best-rated wineries you can visit near Santiago.
Make sure your visit coincides with the weekend. On Saturdays, be sure to check out the markets at La Vega. Enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and be transported to South America's lively, vibrant atmosphere. Feast your eyes on fresh produce and start stocking up on locally-made souvenirs. Head to Mercado Central to sample delicious local food like empanadas and ceviche. The market has been a trading hub since 1872 and is still an excellent introduction to South America's unique culture and spirit.