City guide: Santiago

This vibrant Latin American metropolis is surrounded by stunning beauty.

Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city, is rich with natural beauty, history and local charm. Walk through its barrios, and you’ll find cutting-edge art galleries, fashionable boutiques, knock-out restaurants and thriving international businesses—all of which draw visitors to this Latin American metropolis.

Santiago is home to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which has boosted interest from international investors. Global food processing companies have a major presence in the city, and computer technology and electronics operations are taking off. Textiles, clothing production and mining continue to drive global investment and local job opportunities.

Getting to and from the airport

Santiago Benítez International Airport is about 17 kilometers (10.6 miles) from the city center. The trip should take 15 to 20 minutes, unless it’s peak traffic.

The most economical way to get from the airport to the city center is by bus, and there are two options. A one-way trip on the Centropuerto costs about CLP 1,350 (approximately US$2.58 using the exchange rate of US$1 to CLP 522) and runs every 10 to 30 minutes, stopping downtown near the Los Héroes Metro. From there you can hop a train, taxi or city bus. The second option is TurBus, which costs about CLP 1,400 and runs every 30 minutes.

Official taxi booths are in the airport, just past customs. These taxis offer flat-rate fares from CLP 10,000-14,500, depending on your destination. It’s slightly cheaper to catch a cab just outside the airport. If you’re comfortable speaking Spanish, you can haggle with your driver if the price seems inflated.

Minibuses from the airport cost CLP $3,200-4,500. The shared service drops off other passengers, so it may take longer to reach your final destination.

Getting around Santiago

The Metro subway is a safe, cheap and efficient way to get around the city. The stations are decorated with murals painted by some of Chile’s most important artists. You must have a rechargeable Bip! card to ride the Metro or city buses. You can buy a Bip! for CPL 1,350 and recharge it in metro stations, at some banks and in other authorized establishments. You’re allowed two free transfers between the Metro and buses within 90 minutes. During rush hour, the Metro is heavily congested. As with most large cities, beware of pickpockets.

Licensed taxis are reasonable, plentiful and metered. Identify them by their black exterior and yellow roof.

Where to stay

For luxury accommodation, check out the Grand Hyatt Santiago (Avenida Kennedy North 4601, Santiago 6682132; Ph: +56-2-950-1234) or The Ritz-Carlton Santiago (Calle El Alcalde 15, Las Condes, Santiago 6772208; Ph: +56-2-470-8500). Upscale options include the Marriott Santiago (Avenida Presidente Kennedy 5741, Santiago 6772208; Ph: +56-2-426-2000), NH Ciudad De Santiago (Avenida Condell 40, Santiago 11000; Ph: +56-2-341-7575) and the Radisson Plaza Santiago Hotel (Vitacura 2610, Santiago 6760197; Ph: +56-2-433-9000).

For midscale options, try the Holiday Inn Express Santiago (Avenida Vitacura 2929, Santiago 6760235; Ph: +56-2-499-6000) or the Mercure Santiago Centro (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins 632, Santiago 8320000; Ph: +56-2-259-56622).

Things to see and do

If you have time to venture out of the city, the area around Santiago offers something for every season. In summer, hike trails in the Andes or join city dwellers at the beach (Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are about an hour away by car). During the winter, head up to the mountains to ski or snowboard. Resorts are less than 40 kilometers from the city.

But there’s plenty to see in town, including a number of museums showcasing Santiago’s historical and cultural artifacts. Visit the National History Museum to learn about the country’s colonial era and its push for independence. Learn about the continent’s native people at the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Arts, which is undergoing an expansion and is scheduled to reopen in January 2014.Art on mural

In the mood for art? Head to the National Museum of Fine Arts in the city’s Lastarria neighborhood. The spectacular building dates back to 1910 and features works by Chilean artists Roberto Matta, Claudio Bravo and many others. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) and the Museum of Visual Arts (MAVI) are just a few blocks away. Also, check out the vibrant streetside murals in Barrio Bellavista.

Guided tours cover some of Santiago’s iconic buildings, such as Palacio La Moneda, with its water fountains and modern underground cultural center, as well as the cathedral, stock exchange and national library.

Have fresh seafood for lunch at the historical Mercado Central, a market that first opened in 1872. If you’re after crafts or souvenirs, head to the Santa Lucia market. For authentic Chilean handicrafts, including ponchos and wool blankets, visit one of the official Artesanias de Chile shops.

Take in terrific views of the city from Cerro Santa Lucía—a small hill adorned with wonderful facades, fountains and stairways. Entrance is free, but you’ll have to give passport or other indentifying information before you can enter.

For a cultural evening, catch an opera or dance performance at the Teatro Municipal.

Where to eat

If you want to eat like the locals, ask someone to recommend a picada. These small restaurants offer low prices and homemade food, and sometimes they focus on a single house specialty.

Try a Barros Luco (a steak sandwich with melted cheese) or an empanada de pino filled with meat, onions, black olives and hard-boiled eggs. You’ll find these popular and inexpensive snacks everywhere.

To drink like a local, sample the Chilean national cocktail, the terremoto (earthquake), which may leave you feeling a little shaky. Try it at a bar like La Piojera, Aillavilú 1030, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-269-81682.

Santiago’s haute cuisine often features traditional Chilean ingredients. Try award-winning Puerto Fuy, which puts a French twist on Chilean specialities. On the menu you’ll find cerviche, Chilean sea bass with artichoke barigoule and tomato coulis and superb grilled meats. It’s at Av. Nueva Costanera 3969, Vitacura, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-208-8908.

Mexican-born chef Matias Palomo fell in love with Chile when he was 17. His Sukalde specializes in all-Chilean ingredients. There’s lots of seafood on the menu, as well as novel creations such as guava rocks, shells with boldo infusion and pearls for desert. The drink list is fun, too, and includes papaya and calafate sours. Find it at Av. Nueva Costanera 3451, Vitacura, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-228-5516.

If you’re looking for something more casual (and moderately priced) try El Jardin d’Epicuro. This cozy bar and restaurant serves a great selection of tapas, as well as grilled meat and fish. It’s at Orrego Luco 034, Providencia, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-710-5451.

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