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Santiago Travel Guide

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Mercado Central © peregrine blue

The towering Andes provide an awesome backdrop for the sprawling Chilean metropolis of Santiago. The population of this flat urban stage, that spreads out from a compact city centre, numbers more than five million. Despite this, a small town atmosphere prevails downtown where friends will more than likely meet and greet each other in the overcrowded streets and bustling walkways of the main commercial district.

The city is a curious mix of skyscrapers and 19th-century European architecture, with some Spanish adobe bungalows thrown in for good measure. Threaded through this architectural tapestry are numerous green areas, busy markets, and quaint old squares. Street life is vibrant, and adding to the vibe is the presence of numerous chic sidewalk cafes, outside of which traditionally dressed women hawk their wares hoping to catch the eye of the tourists. There are also some small but impressive museums, several modern hotels, excellent restaurants and some good shopping opportunities in the Ahumada and Huerfanos pedestrian malls.

Santiago exudes an aura of health and wealth in the inner city and fashionable suburbs, despite the shabby shantytowns stretching out from behind the skyscraper facade. The city is also one of the 10 most severely polluted cities in the world, thanks to its position in a bowl of mountains. It is nevertheless an excellent base in which to spend a relaxing few days taking excursions to the wineries, national parks and ski areas, which are all within easy reach of the city.

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