The snow-capped peaks of the Andes, punchy pisco sour cocktails, towering, modern high rises and bustling markets… there are plenty of reasons to say 'si' to visiting Santiago de Chile, one of South America's most vibrant and cosmopolitan city destinations. And with a Mediterranean climate – and almost no rain from November until April – there’s no better time to book a flight and grab some far-flung, southern-hemisphere winter sun. Here, HELLO! takes a look at the top ten things to do in Chile's charming capital.
1. Cerro San Cristobal
Flanked by the awe-inspiring Andes on one side and the Chilean Coastal Range on the other, Santiago de Chile's setting surrounded by mountains in the country’s central valley is nothing short of breathtaking. You'll need to get up high to really get a sense of how stunning it is, so take a funicular ride up the Cerro San Cristóbal - a man-made park in the Bella Vista area and the largest green space in the city (it also houses the national zoo, a botanical garden and two large swimming pools) - and drink in the sweeping views from the top.
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If you have a head for heights then another perfect place to secure a birds' eye view of the city is at La Costanera, South America's tallest building. It's a huge shopping mall (so don't forget your purse!) with a glass-walled viewing gallery on the 61st and 62nd floors that boast incredible, uninterrupted 360 degree views across the capital.
2. Visit the historical centre of the city and Plaza de Armas
No trip to Santiago would be complete without a tour of the historical centre, and Plaza de Armas, with its imposing cathedral, is not to be missed. While strolling around the square try buying a ‘mote con huesillo’ from a street vendor. It’s a traditional, very sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from wheat and peaches and will definitely give you an extra burst of energy for exploring!
3. Go to La Vega Market
Go shopping like the locals at the 200 or so stalls in the buzzing La Vega market. This is a bustling, vibrant fresh-food market where the city's restaurants stock up on produce every morning and exotic fruits and vegetables - such as chirimoya (custard apples) and cochayuyo (Chilean seaweed) - can be found.
For clothes shopping try the Patronato district, and don't miss the Mercado Central, an indoor fish market where the seafood restaurants are second to none.
4. Try a Terremoto cocktail
There's only one place to sample the original - in a dive bar called La Piojera, where it was invented. Terremoto means earthquake, and this drink will certainly rock your world. It's a half-litre concoction of sweet white wine, grenadine (or Fernet, if you're brave) and pineapple ice cream. Don't expect anything fancy from La Piojera - but expect friendly bar tenders who'll be thrilled you're there to taste their famous, fruity invention!
5. Escape to Viña del Mar
Escape the searing heat of the city with a trip to the beach in Viña del Mar, a coastal city about an hour and a half outside the capital. Don't forget to have your photo taken in front of the flower clock - apparently, tourists who are snapped standing in front of the attraction are destined to one day return to Chile. We didn’t need telling twice…
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6. Take a day trip to Valparaiso
A nearby port town situated in the same bay as Viña del Mar. But while Viña del Mar is modern, Valparaiso is the opposite, with its colourful painted houses, artisanal shops and bohemian restaurant and bar scene. We took a guided tour through the beautifully-graffitied back streets and really worked up an appetite for our lunch. Legendary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once said that the most beautiful legs in the country were to be found in Valparaiso, because it's set on such hilly terrain. Pack your walking shoes!
7. Visit the nearby wine region Casablanca
Chile is famous for its wines so why not see how they're produced? A trip to nearby wine region Casablanca - one of the most important places for white wine production in the whole of the country - is well worth a visit. HELLO! Went to Viña Matetic, an award-winning organic vineyard, where all the grapes are collected and cleaned by hand. They produce 400,000 litres of wine a year and once you've toured the site, including the impressive man made artificial cave where the wine is left to ferment, you'll get to sample their offerings yourself as one of the knowledgeable guides talks you through a wine tasting. (Our favourite was the 2014 Pinot Noir, in case you were wondering.) Visit matetic.com
8. Discover Santiago's food scene
Speaking of wine, there are some fantastic gastronomic experiences to be had in Santiago where the food is often beautifully paired with local wines. Try 99, a humble-looking restaurant tucked away in the Providencia barrio, where the impressive food really packs a punch. This place was voted among Latin America’s top 50 restaurants last year. We ate a six-course menu and sampled everything from clams to avocado on toast that was actually made from chocolate… incredible. Visit http://99restaurante.com
9. Hit the bar scene in Bella Vista
This lively neighbourhood is chockablock with restaurants, bars and nightclubs and is the place to be if you fancy dancing til dawn. It's also a lovely area for a day-time stroll, or for soaking up the atmosphere of Santiago with a coffee.
10. Visit La Moneda Palace
One of the most important buildings is the Palacio La Moneda. It serves as the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile but also is full history. In 1973 the palace was bombarded by Pinochet’s military forces in a coup d’état against then president Salvador Allende. Visitors are allowed to freely wander through the inner courtyards, as well as reserve a free tour through the palace
How to get to Santiago
Travel to Santiago de Chile with LATAM. The South American airline has recently launched a revolutionary new menu in economy class - for more details click here - meaning its service is better than ever before. (Customer satisfaction rates have doubled since it was introduced!) For UK passengers they fly to Santiago via Madrid from £1020 return. Visit https://www.latam.com/en_uk/