Chile’s capital is home to some 6 million people, a third of the nation’s total population. However, it seldom feels like a large metropolis, perhaps because of the tree-lined boulevards and low-rise buildings of the central business and government section, which give the city an almost European air. The National Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art are located in Parque Forestal, which runs parallel to the Mapocho River. Charming Lastarria is filled with upscale wine bars and restaurants. And the Bellavista neighborhood, home to La Chascona, where poet Pablo Neruda once lived, now boasts scores of cafés and boutiques.
The City Center
Santiago’s Centro Histórico is the hub of the city and home to the immense cathedral and excellent Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. In Lastarria, the compact Museo de Artes Visuales has notable rotating exhibitions of contemporary Chilean art. I also enjoyed seeing the Mercado Central. Although touristy, it is worth a stroll for the displays of Chile’s astonishing variety of seafood (if not for the noisy fishmongers), the small cafés and restaurants, and its impressive steel housing, imported from England in the 19th century.
Chile is today the world’s largest source of lapis lazuli, a striking semiprecious stone that is extracted from the Flores de los Andes mine at an altitude of 12,500 feet. You will find jewelry and crafts that incorporate this stone almost everywhere in the country, but as is the case with gemstones, it is essential to shop in a reputable place. Blue Stone (Los Araucanos 2020, Providencia) in northeastern Santiago sells beautiful necklaces and bracelets, in which lapis is combined with silver. The dramatic copper masks with lapis lazuli adornments also caught my eye.
A Lovely Day Trip
The hilly coastal town of Valparaíso has recovered from the 2010 earthquake, and I recently enjoyed a couple of days there as a side trip from Santiago, 90 minutes away by car. The best-available hotel option is the 23-room Palacio Astoreca.