Lay of the Land
Santiago is comprised of more than 30 neighborhoods, only a handful of which you’ll likely visit during a short trip. The bulk of walkable tourist sights are in historic downtown Santiago (El Centro), just south of the Mapocho River, and its micro-neighborhood Lastarria (also referred to as Bellas Artes or Parque Forestal). It’s also worthwhile to spend an hour wandering around the shops, bars and restaurants of bohemian Bellavista, to the northeast. The best shopping is found in the up-and-coming Avenida Italia neighborhood (for arts and crafts, furniture, antiques), Alonso de Córdova Street, in the upscale Las Condes and Vitacura districts (for brand-name luxury) and in shopping malls such as the Costanera Center. An urban renewal project in Vitacura opened kilometers of bike and running paths along the Mapocho River, with splendid views of the Andes in the distance.
There’s no need to rent a car in Santiago. Taxis here are relatively safe and easy to find on the street and cost about what they do in the U.S. Beware of rip-offs, especially when leaving a particularly touristy area. Street taxis are cheaper than hotel taxis, but drivers might juice up their meters to charge more per kilometer, so be wary and ask your hotel how much you should expect to pay. Chile recently instated a zero tolerance alcohol law, so hire a private driver if you plan to tour wine country.
When To Go
Chile spans 38 latitudes and is a country of enormous contrasts. Santiago’s weather is Mediterranean, and the breezy, mild spring (September–November) and fall (March–May) are pleasant times to visit. Summer temperatures are never too oppressive (mid-70s to 90 degrees Fahrenheit), and Santiago during the month of February is very enjoyable when half the population leaves the city for vacation. If you go during the winter (June, July and August), on your way to a South American ski adventure, expect smoggy air conditions and low temperatures that rarely dip below freezing.