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Things to Do in Santiago

Santiago, Chile’s thriving capital, unites the best of modern city life with a prime geographical position between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Mixed into the melting pot of colonial architecture and Latino flair, Santiago highlights such as Bellavista, thronged with street art and chic bars; San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal); Plaza de Armas; and Mercado Central (Central Market) top the list for most travelers—and are easy to tick off, plus more, on a hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour. Just 1.5 hours west of Santiago, Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage port city with a historic quarter full of winding alleys; colorful houses; and 19th-century funiculars (cable railways), which take you up Concepción and Alegre hills. Neighboring Viña del Mar, or the Garden City, boasts pretty parks and historic architecture—visit both in one day on a day trip from Santiago. And no visit to Santiago is complete without a jaunt into its valleys. Maipo Valley, or El Cajon del Maipo, is a beautiful natural spot for camping, hiking, and a variety of sports. Just as impressive as the gorge is its array of famous wineries: the vineyards and cellars of Concha y Toro Winery, Santa Rita Winery, and Undurraga Winery all offer wine-tasting tours.
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Termas Valle de Colina
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Tucked within Cajón del Maipo, a narrow river valley snaking its way up to the Andes just outside Santiago, lies Termas Valle de Colina. These mineral hot springs at the base of the San José Volcano comprise eight different milky blue pools set to different temperatures for comfortable (and supposedly restorative) soaking.

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Cajón del Maipo
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Cajón del Maipo, a narrow canyon where the Maipo River flows, begins just 16 miles (25 kilometers) southwest of Santiago, but its picturesque scenery, fresh air, and charming mountain towns feel worlds away from Chile’s capital city. Thanks to its close proximity to Santiago, though, Cajón del Maipo is one of the more popular day trip destinations for an easy escape to Chile’s famed wilderness.

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Viña del Mar
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Nicknamed the Garden City and located just an hour from Santiago, Viña del Mar is a charming seaside town famous for its flowers and its beach. Top attractions include the seafront Wulff Castle, the Flower Clock (Reloj de Flores), and Francisco Fonck Museum, the entrance of which is marked by a stone moai statue from Easter Island.

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Valle Nevado Ski Resort
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Inspired by the French resort of Les Arcs, Valle Nevado Ski Resort contains almost 7,000 acres (2,832 hectares) of skiable domain, making it the largest accessible ski spread in South America. The resort offers opportunities for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, as well as gourmet dining, nightlife, and accommodation options to suit all budgets.

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Farellones and El Colorado
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These interconnected villages of Farellones and El Colorado—located only one hour from Santiago—comprise one of the most popular ski resorts in the country, both because of their proximity to the capital and their location among the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. As opposed to Valle Nevado, El Colorado is recommended for beginner and non-skiers.

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El Yeso Dam (Embalse El Yeso)
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El Yeso Dam (Embalse El Yeso), which was built in 1964, created a turquoise reservoir that can hold more than 253 million cubic meters of water. Though just a couple hours outside of Santiago, the snow-capped mountains that surround the site are more reminiscent of rural Patagonia than of the bustling metropolis.

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La Moneda Palace (Palacio de la Moneda)
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The presidential palace known as La Moneda Palace (Palacio de la Moneda)is one of Santiago’s architectural icons. A giant Chilean flag billows before the white, neoclassical building, which houses movie theaters, art galleries, and an independent bookstore. Look for the statue of former president Salvador Allende at the southeast corner of Plaza de la Constitución.

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Concha y Toro Winery
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Open since 1883 and ranking among South America’s largest wine producers, Concha y Toro Winery is one of Chile’s most famous winemakers. The winery has vineyards all over the country and produces a huge variety of wines, including the world-renowned Don Melchor cabernet sauvignon. Its Pirque winery is a favorite Maipo Valley destination for oenophiles.

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Santa Rita Winery (Viña Santa Rita)
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At the Santa Rita Winery (Viña Santa Rita) in the scenic foothills of Alto Jahuel, you can explore Chile’s winemaking tradition dating back hundreds of years. Wander through old world vines, sample full-bodied Chilean wines, and tuck into a meal at the winery’s fine dining or casual restaurants.

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Plaza de Armas
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The site on which the city was founded back in 1541, Plaza de Armas is both the heart of Santiago de Chile’s historic district and the epicenter of the modern city. The leafy, palm-fringed plaza is surrounded by grand monuments and architectural landmarks, and it’s abuzz with activity at all hours of the day and night.

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More Things to Do in Santiago

Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)

Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)

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Santiago's Cathedral - or Catedral Metropolitana - is considered one of the finest pieces of religious architecture in South America. This is the Catedral Metropolitana's fourth incarnation (as well as numerous touchups) since a church was first dedicated on this spot in 1561, and must be one of its loveliest.

It was most recently rebuilt in the 1750s, with the help of Italian architectJoaquín Toesca, who designed the baroque-fringed neoclassical facade that set the standard for subsequent structures around the Plaza de Armas.

Yet, as impressive as the stone exterior is, it is the resplendent vault and richly adorned altar, inside, that really inspires. A small museum of religious artifacts adjoins the main church.

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San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal)

San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal)

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The Santiago skyline is dominated by San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal), a forested mountain rising 2,821 feet (860 meters) above the city. The site is protected as part of the Santiago Metropolitan Park (Parque Metropolitano), one of the most famous city parks in Chile. Today, the park serves as a scenic escape above the smog that can grip Santiago on winter days, and offers fantastic views across this city of 6.5 million to the Andes Mountains.

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Club Hipico

Club Hipico

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Santiago's Club Hipico (Club Hípico de Santiago) is the most exclusive of Santiago's race tracks. Dating back to 1870, it's the oldest racetrack in country and home to South America's oldest stakes race — the Clásico El Ensayo, making it the best place to see thoroughbred horse racing while in the Chilean capital.

One of the country's three main tracks (the other two are Hipodromo Chile and Valparaiso Sporting Club), Club Hipico is known for its formal gardens, fountains, ponds, and views out to the Andes.

Located just west of Parque O'Higgins, race days are long by international standards, and there are usually around 18 races per card. With an arena that can hold over 30,000 people, live concerts also take place at Club Hipico.

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Santiago Central Market (Mercado Central de Santiago)

Santiago Central Market (Mercado Central de Santiago)

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The interior, wrought-iron construction of the Mercado Central looks like it could contain a greenhouse, but with the masonry outside, this building houses local eateries, a few fruit and vegetable stands, the occasional roaming musician, and just a sampling of souvenir stands, though in total there are more than 200 locales. The building dates back to 1872, and is consistently named as a must-see in Santiago. In fact, in 2012, National Geographic named it as the 5th best market in the world.

Due to its central location, and the fact that it is often visited by tourists, it has also become a hub for pickup and drop off for a number of different tour services.

Inside the market, there are several restaurants serving local specialties, which mainly revolve around fish. There is the larger-than-life centolla or king crab, which the waiter cracks for you as you wait, or flavorful (raw) sea urchins served with plenty of onion, cilantro, lemon juice and olive oil. Or if you want something hearty, try anything called a budín or chupe, which will be thick, creamy soups and casseroles served in the typical greda (terra cotta) dish. If you’re feeling more austere, try grilled fish with a salad, but don’t pass up on what is probably Chile’s favorite appetizer, machas a la parmesana, which are razor clams served au gratin.

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Santa Lucia Hill (Cerro Santa Lucia)

Santa Lucia Hill (Cerro Santa Lucia)

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Threaded with staircases and punctuated by plazas, the 230-foot-high (70-meter-high) Santa Lucía Hill is a landmark of downtown Santiago. Climb the 200+ stairs to the Torre Mirador viewpoint for panoramic views over the city and Andes beyond, catch the ceremonial cannon fire at noon, and people watch in the colorfully tiled Pedro de Valdivia Plaza.

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Undurraga Winery (Viña Undurraga)

Undurraga Winery (Viña Undurraga)

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Learn about the history of Chilean wine production, sample full-bodied reds, and explore underground cellars at Undurraga, an award-winning, internationally recognized vineyard outside of Santiago. The winery’s gardens, designed by Pierre Dubois in the 19th century, appeal to nature lovers and wine buffs alike.

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Cousino Macul

Cousino Macul

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You might not expect a winery so close to the city of Santiago, but then, Santiago has been growing up towards the mountains in recent decades, so it’s not so much that Cousiño Macul was built in the city as that the city has grown all around it. Cousiño Macul is a peaceful oasis in the district of Peñalolén, at the foot of the mountains, which are seen in the background over the planted fields. The winery was founded in 1856 by Matías Cousiño, and is still owned and run by the same family.

From the tasteful treed entryway to the quiet store, it feels like there is a reverence for the product and process here. In late summer and early fall, you can try grapes straight off the vines, which depending on the exact week may be Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. The tour of this winery includes a small exhibition area of winemaking tools used in the 19th century, including the apparatus used to hand place the cork in each individual bottle, which took great physical effort, as did moving the barrels around the winery, which was done with the use of a small train-like system.

The Cousiño Macul tour includes a walk through the cellars, and a view of the family’s private wine collection with sample wines from most years since they started. There are tastings throughout the course of the tour, which gives you a chance to savor each one in a different location, rather than tasting them all one after another, and of course, there is a souvenir glass.

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Colchagua Valley

Colchagua Valley

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Home to almost two dozen vineyards—including Casa Silva and MontGras, producers of award-winning reds such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and carménère—the Colchagua Valley is one of the most prolific and emblematic wine regions in Chile. With a climate and landscape as appealing as its wine, the valley is a popular side trip for Santiago-based travelers.

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La Parva Ski Resort

La Parva Ski Resort

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The convenient location of some of the world’s best skiing to Chile’s capital city of Santiago might make you consider spending a winter here. Or at least skipping a week or two of your own summer when European and North American pros come down to the Andes to practice in the off-season. If you want to try to spy some US national ski team members, try July and August on the advanced slopes at La Parva, when they just might be training.

La Parva has about 1,000 acres of terrain, and runs 14 different lifts, of quads, triples and doubles. It’s also one of the ski resorts that caters to the youngest children, starting from age 4, though some of the lessons for the youngest kids are inside. One thing that sets La Parva apart from other ski resorts is that people stay in private homes and condos here as opposed to hotels, which puts more of a family feel to it. Staying on the mountain will give you some of the best possible views of the twinkling lights of the Santiago’s night sky, both the stars above and the city below.

In summer of 2015 in La Parva, they’ll be making improvements to the snowmaking system, as well as changing out some of the ski lift motors. In December 2014, La Parva opened as an experienced downhill cyclist’s paradise, where you take the lift up and pedal back down, with about 2,700 feet of vertical drop.

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Bellavista

Bellavista

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Bohemian Bellavista—sandwiched between San Cristóbal Hill and the Mapocho River—is one of Santiago’s most walkable neighborhoods, known for varied nightlife, some of the city’s most colorful street art, and numerous boutiques. A particular Bellavista highlight is La Chascona House-Museum, Pablo Neruda’s former residence.

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La Chascona

La Chascona

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The Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda helped design this quirky, nautical-themed home for himself and his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, for whom La Chascona—which translates from Spanish as tangle-haired woman—is named. Home to an eclectic collection of Neruda’s possessions, the house offers insight into one of the most important figures in Chile’s recent history.

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Maipo Valley

Maipo Valley

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Often called the Bordeaux of South America, Maipo Valley is home to a number of Chile’s most beloved wine producers. In the 1800s, wealthy travelers headed off to France and returned with international vines that they planted in Chile’s mineral rich soil. Today, these Maipo estates are among the nation’s top vineyards and an ideal place for travelers looking to sample the nation’s favorite reds and whites.

Wines with acidic sweetness and true balance can be found in Alto Maipo, near the eastern edge of the Andes. The area, which is home to Pirque and Puento Alto, is among Maipo Valley’s top destinations for fruit-forward vintages. Crisp whites and bold Cabernet Sauvignons come from Maipo Bajo, near the town of Talagante. Wine-loving travelers will also find Merlot, Chardonnay and Carmenere varieties on a tour through what is, without a doubt, one of Chile’s most iconic wine regions.

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Ahumada Boulevard (Paseo Ahumada)

Ahumada Boulevard (Paseo Ahumada)

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Santiago is a busy, walkable city, with a fairly compact downtown. But there are times when you’ve had enough of having to move along at the speed of the crowd, and wish you could have a more spacious place to be. And you can. There are three major pedestrian thoroughfares in downtown Santiago, Huérfanos, which runs west down from Cerro Santa Lucía, and both Paseo Ahumada and Paseo Estado, which stretch north from the Alameda (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins) towards the Mapocho River and Mercado Central.

Paseo Ahumada is perhaps the busiest of the three, and you’ll find families and individuals walking, talking on the phone or sitting on benches at most times of day, On the street there are nearly always street performers and vendors, selling hats, scarves, and the occasional television antenna. There are also popular stands selling mote con huesillo, a local drink made of sweet peach punch with reconstituted dried peaches and wheat kernels at the bottom. Shoe stores and fast food, ice cream, cafés and some of the major department stores fill out the rest of the blocks, which quiet down after work or when it gets dark.

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El Morado Natural Monument

El Morado Natural Monument

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Escape Santiago city life for a day, and hike El Morado, one of Cajón de Maipo’s most popular natural monuments. A serpentine trail leads you past the ice-blue San Francisco Glacier, way up high to a lookout. If you need to catch your breath, stop for coffee and German-style sweets while taking in the views of snow-capped peaks.

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