Located at the Chilean central valley, bordered on one side by the Coastal Range and on the other by the mighty Andes, Santiago is the capital and largest city of Chile. Around six million people, roughly 35% of the national population, live in the 37 communes that form the Greater Santiago and benefit from one of the best qualities of life among the largest Latin-American cities.
The main gateway to Santiago, as well as to the country as a whole, is Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, located some 20km (12mi) northwest of the city center. This airport presents connections to the main destinations in the Americas and in Oceania, as well as to a few European capitals. Regular bus services provided by Tur-Bus and Centropuerto are available 24 hours a day to connect the airport with Terminal Pajaritos, from where buses leave to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, in the central coast, and with the Alameda, where three neighboring terminals serve destinations throughout the country. These terminals are all served by the metro’s red line (which closes late at night).
Santiago’s main touristic axis is situated precisely around the metro’s red line, particularly between stations La Moneda and Manquehue, including mainly the communes of Las Condes, Providencia and Santiago proper. The commune of Santiago, central node of the metropolitan region, hosts several of the city’s main attractions, including the La Moneda Palace (seat of the Federal Government), the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Historic Museum, the Pre-Columbian Art Museum and the Human Rights Museum. This part of the city also concentrates several leisure areas, like Barrio Lastaria, which has excellent bars and restaurants, Barrio Paris-Londres, with a markedly European vibe, and the Santa Lucia Hill, which allows for some pretty walks and great views over the central part of the city but is better avoided at night.
Providencia is located immediately east of Santiago and is considered to be the third commune in terms of life quality in the country, only behind Vitacura and Las Condes. Known for its bohemian life, one of its highlights is Barrio Bellavista, a neighborhood shared with the commune of Recoleta. Pio Nono and Constitución streets, together with their vicinities, offer ample night entertainment with bars, restaurants and discos – this is one of the main meeting points for students and foreigners alike. North of Bellavista you will find one of Pablo Neruda’s homes: La Chascona (the others are La Sebastiana, in Valparaíso, and Isla Negra, near San Antonio), where visitors can contemplate some of the life style of this poet, a Nobel Prize winner. Near La Chascona, you can board the funicular railway to the San Cristóbal Hill which takes visitors to a viewpoint, stopping at the City Zoo. Views from the top are impressive, allowing most of the urban area of Santiago, as well as part of the Andes Mountains, to be seen – due to the frequent smog, views over the Andes can be reduced or blocked, particularly during the summer; your odds of picturing a perfect sight are better in winter, particularly following a rainy day, when pollution is reduced and the mountains become painted in white with the fresh snow.
Back to the base of the hill, it might be interesting to visit another attraction in Providencia: the Costanera Tower is the highest building in South America, and the views from the viewpoint located 300m above the ground are also worth it. The same complex where the tower is also features one of the largest shopping centers of the continent, called Costanera Center.
Finally, most of the visitors to the city spend at least some time in Las Condes, one the largest communes in Santiago. Located on the capital’s eastern sector, neighboring Providencia and at the footsteps of the Andes, Las Condes offers an excellent infrastructure, with a wide range of hotels, restaurants, parks and the most comprehensive shopping offer in the country. The glassy skyscrapers next to Apoquindo Avenue earned this area the nickname of Sanhattan (neologism originated by merging the names Santiago and Manhattan). The Alonso de Córdova Avenue hosts some of the most exclusive shopping in the capital, while the Parque Arauco Mall, recently renovated in order to offer a new section of luxury stores and great restaurants, still is the main magnet for tourism in the area.
Of course, there are several attractions beyond this main touristic axis made of Santiago, Providencia and Las Condes communes. During the winter season, the main reason why many visitors come to Santiago are the ski resorts of Valle Nevado, and Portillo, located nearby. The precise dates of beginning and end of season varies annually according to the weather, but generally speaking the first half of August presents the best snow conditions, while ski resorts are usually open from late June to mid-September.
The area around the capital also hosts some of the best and most well-known wineries of Chile. The most famous among them, Concha y Toro, is located in Maipo Valley, south of the capital, and can be reached taking the metro until the end of line 4 (Las Mercedes station) and then switching to a cab or minibus to cover the remaining 4.5km (3mi). Cousiño-Macul, located literally inside the city, is the most easily accessed and a great alternative where pretty decent wines can be tasted. It is located 2km (1.3mi) away from Quillín metro station, also on line 4. A set of excellent wineries near the capital can be found at the Casablanca Valley, some 70km to 80km (45mi) away from Santiago, on the road to the coastal cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. Unfortunately it is quite challenging to rely on public transportation to visit these wineries, so that a rental car or a pre-organized tour can become handy here.
When you feel like you have had enough of the capital and its surroundings, including the central coast beaches, you can start exploring the rest of the country flying to virtually anywhere in Chile from Santiago. Alternatively, you can hit the road to the north, starting by La Serena (470km, or 295mi) away, or to the south of the country, driving to Pucón (780km, or 490mi, away).