On a clear day, fresh after winter showers, Santiago basks in one of the most spectacular settings of any city in the world. A glance through the downtown blocks reveals a mighty circle of mountains - the snowcapped Andean peaks to the east, and a smaller coastal range to the west - that frames the Chilean capital.
A clear day, however, is rare in this smog-blighted metropolis. In art class, Santiago school-kids draw their horizons a murky gray and, although the air has cleared somewhat in recent years, pollution and noise are likely to cloud your first impressions, especially in winter.
Don't be put off. Santiago might be dirty and loud, and it might not match the grandeur of Buenos Aires - but it is cultured, quirky and ambitious. The city rewards the patient traveler. Beyond the conservative conformity of Santiago Centro, and the soulless towers of the Las Condes financial district, there are thriving culinary and artistic enclaves that are a joy to uncover. Gourmets feast on world-class cuisine in Bellavista and Providencia, bohemians gather in the charming old district of Barrio Brasil, while the city is dotted with fine museums and a flourishing arts scene. With a booming café culture and leafy, exotic suburban parks, Santiago has an infectious energy and a growing confidence.
And those mountains don't just sit there as decoration - there's a huge range of activities within easy reach of the urban sprawl. Trekking, climbing, horseback riding, skiing, kayaking and wine tours are just a few of the exhilarating possibilities at Santiago's doorstep.
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Best places to stay in Santiago
Chile & Easter Island - Santiago (Chapter)
Santiago has always had its measured charms – fine dining, perfectly landscaped gardens, a famous seafood market, the stunning backdrop of the Andes – but in the past few years it has undergone a cultural metamorphosis. Understated but up-and-coming, Santiago just became a destination in its own right.
Lonely Planet's Best in Travel: top 10 cities for 2012
After globe-trotting research and fierce debate, Lonely Planet has come to a decision on its favourite cities for 2012. As always, our shortlist has some known gems and a few to raise a quizzical eyebrow, but each one is poised for greatness in 2012.
Santiago destination guides
Subway stations worth getting off the train for
Sometimes a train station isn't just a means to an end - it's a destination in itself. These artful stops are reason enough to take your sightseeing underground. 1.
Best of Chile & Argentina
Visit South America and travel through Chile and Argentina on this journey from Santiago to Buenos Aires. Soak up the cuisine, arts and beauty of dramatic Santiago before adopting a slower pace in the quieter Lakes District, where natural wonders are in abundance.
From natural wonders to some of the region’s most vibrant cities, experience the riches of South America on this comprehensive adventure that takes you from Chile to Argentina and Brazil. Enjoy the perfect combination of guided excursions and free time to explore the beauty of some of the world’s most breathtaking wonders—northern Patagonia and Iguassu Falls.
Chile: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Chile & Easter Island guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip. Charles Darwin’s time-honored Voyage of the Beagle is a perfect companion for trips around Chile, with descriptions as fresh as if he’d just disembarked the Navimag ferry.