Sadly, Santiago’s is often quite a smoggy capital. And in a setting like this, it genuinely is really sad, as when the Chilean capital is having a bright day there are few more spectacular locations for a city in the entire world. Encircled by mighty snow-capped Andean peaks, on the rare days when the smog clears it feels like the city’s been magically lifted high into the stars.
Most of the time, though, Chile’s capital is dirty and rambunctious, yet at the same time full of thrilling quirks and infectious energy. You might have to dig deep to find them, though. The heart of Santiago is largely dull and business focused, and it’s in the artistic enclaves that you’ll find the city really comes to life. The district of Bellavista, culturally hefty and full of pretty young things parading under the trees, is the perfect place to start.
Santiago’s more about finding your own corner to enjoy the vibe than city sights, but there are certainly a few worth seeing while you’re here. Cerro San Cristobal, the hill top cathedral, is the place to be when the smog clears, and a striking hillside castle-esque structure in its own right, while the striking old railway station Estacion Mapocho has become a cultural and entertainment center as well as an impressive architectural feature.
Of course, Chile is becoming ever more well known for its fantastic wines, and you can sample them in entirely new ways here. La Piojera, for example, serves them up mixed with ice cream (far less repulsive than it sounds), while you’ll find nearly every hearty meal tastes better with whatever on-the-side glass the waiter recommends.
Locals and tourists alike absolutely revel in Santiago’s surroundings, with El Colorado ski resort (highly affordable next to its US and European rivals) and the extraordinary snowy peaks, deep blue skies and lush valleys of Cajon Del Maipo an intoxicating draw, too. The increasingly affluent city forever calls you back for a dose of lively bar culture and new friends, though. Santiago rarely instantly charms, but it certainly has an enduring allure.