When you step off the plane in Santiago, you’ll be mesmerized by the towering Andes Mountains—and at how the city of Santiago sits neatly below them, contentedly bringing together Chile’s colonial past and its new role as the country’s commercial center. During your stay, see a fútbol game, taste asado Chileno, experience the innovative music scene, and take in the many sides of Chilean culture.
The city of Santiago wears the identities of Chile’s past and present. It is the country’s historic center, founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1541; its grid layout and 17th- and 18th-century churches and public buildings are evidence of its colonial past. It also functions as the country’s ultra-modern economic and political capital with a thriving business center, pedestrian malls, and a clean, efficient subway system for its population of almost six million.
The downtown features many lovely public spaces, including the park surrounding Santa Lucía Hill, the Parque Metropolitano atop San Cristóbal, sculpture gardens, plazas, and outdoor markets. Public murals in the subway stations were commissioned to bring art to the people.
Chileans’ sense of civic and social responsibility is evident in several ways. The population is the best-educated in Latin America with free compulsory education for children ages 5 to 17. Fire departments are staffed by volunteers. Most Chileans are Catholic, and are conservative in their customs and values.
Chile is one of the most politically and economically stable countries in Latin America. It has been able to restore and preserve its democratic tradition in a peaceful way. Chile’s economy is open to the world; it has signed several free trade agreements that allow for the export of large amounts of commodities and the creation of new jobs. This stability has made Chile attractive to foreign investors.
Like any major modern city, Santiago has many neighborhoods, comunas, each with its own distinct features and personality. Beyond Santiago, from the deserts of the North to the sub-arctic in the South, the Andes to the east and the Pacific to the west, the variety of the landscapes is stunningly beautiful.
The Parque Metropolitano overlooks Santiago and offers beautiful views of the city. The park is divided into two sections: Cumpre and Tupahue. Both sections are filled with swimming pools, walking trails and botanical gardens. The main attractions are the 72-foot statue of the Virgin Mary and one of Pablo Neruda's homes.
This central city plaza is always bustling with street performers and art displays. Surrounding the plaza are the municipal buildings and the Catedral Metropolitana.
On Santa Lucia Day, December 13, 1541, Pedro de Valdivia of Spain conquered this hill. Today, locals and tourists can shop, dine, and take in the beautiful view atop Cerro Santa Lucia.