Sandwiched between the snow-capped Andes and rolling green wine country, the Chilean capital is a regular feature on South America itineraries. It’s also a starting or finishing point for a lot of cruises; Buenos Aires to Santiago or vice versa is a popular route, all the more convenient for British cruisers since British Airways started a direct service to Santiago last year.
The city is beautiful; its stunning location aside, there’s a very grand, European feel to the wide boulevards and neoclassical buildings, as well as quirky little neighbourhoods to discover.
Santiago itself isn’t actually on the coast; the busy seaport of Valparaiso, 90 minutes’ drive away, is the nearest jumping off point. If you’ve only got a day, you’ll be spoilt for choice as there’s so much to see. Typical excursions, though, include Valparaiso itself; a day in the wine-growing region; or exploring Santiago. If your cruise begins or ends here, stay an extra night to do the city justice.
The Plaza de Armas is the heart of the city, with grand, colonial-style buildings and multiple attractions, among them the City Hall, the Natural History Museum and the stunning cathedral, its altar brilliant with lapis lazuli. Close by is the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, while you’ll find the National Fine Arts Museum in the arty neighbourhood of Bellas Artes.
The best view of the city’s gleaming skyscrapers and the jagged Andes is from the top of the gondola to San Cristobal Hill in the Metropolitan Park, where there’s a lush botanical garden. The wrought-iron Mercado Central is a great spot for lunch, with plenty of stalls selling fresh seafood dishes, while in the evenings, Lastarria has upmarket bars and restaurants, while bohemian Bellavista has a hippy vibe.
If time permits, spend half a day in quirky Valparaiso itself. Sprawling over a string of steep hills, the town has some of the world’s most extraordinary street art, encouraged and supported by the local government. It’s like one big, open-air gallery. Join a walking tour, stop for snacks of empanada (filled pastry) and a pisco sour, Chile’s national drink, and ride the cranking funiculars that take some of the pain out of the steep hills.