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Chile’s capital, Santiago is one of South America’s most modern cities -- although it was founded in 1541 when the Spanish settled near the Plaza de Armas, the symbolic heart of Chile both then and now. Just west of the high-rise business district, Santiago Centro is the historic, but still bustling, city center, with the 16th-century Catedral and Palacio de los Gobernadores, the colonial seat of government. Just steps away, the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino has a superb collection of ancient Incan art. Santiago’s dining and nightlife is sophisticated, and just an hour away, at the foot of the Andes, are the famed Maipo Valley wineries.
What's a European-style city like Santiago doing in the center of this South American country? It's got the fashionable cafes, the green city parks, the distinguished monuments and museums along with the cramped old streets and traffic jams that sometimes makes getting around the city a little bit of work.
Despite the cramped conditions, Chile's capital city is a treat to visit, with the temperate, sunny weather and all the sights to see. Most of the major museums, monuments and architectural sites to see are contained in the triangle defined by the Mapocho to the North, the Via Norte Sur to the West and the Avenida General Higgins (called the Alameda locally). Santiago's heart is the Plaza de Armas, the historic city square with beautifully-landscaped parks, surrounded by art museums.
Walk along the tree-lined avenues until you reach the Mercado Central to see the stands bursting with fresh exotic produce before you visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes, modeled on the Petit Palais in Paris.
For a more sobering look at Santiago's history, especially an examination of the recent political upheavals in the country, the Museo de Santiago is also nearby, as is the Presidential Palace of La Moneda, bombed during the coup but subsequently rebuilt
If you cross the river and visit the Bellavista neighborhood you'll see why it's known as the Paris Quarter. The upscale area is home to the best restaurants in the city, as well as cafes and a chic crafts fair on Friday and Saturday evenings. This is where Santiagan nightlife is hottest and hippest, and where the artists and writers hang out.
Chile's slenderness -- 150 miles at the widest --- gives Santiago another of its charms: close proximity to both sunny beaches and snow-covered mountains perfect for skiing. Beautiful Pacific beaches are less than an hour's drive to the northwest, while even closer are the ski complexes. The pristine, powdery Andean snow is a skiier's paradise from May until October.