In Depth

A guide to Santiago, Chile

Culture-filled, cosmopolitan and increasingly cool, Santiago is fast becoming one of Latin America's great cities

Chile's geography is slender and sensational: the land stretches 2,750 miles from the sun-scorched Atacama Desert salt-pans down to chilly, glacier-ridden Patagonia. Yet its charismatic capital Santiago – to which British Airways began flying earlier this month – is equally captivating, and equally worthy of exploration.

What to see

Safe and stable Chile is also one of Latin America's wealthiest nations, hence Santiago's costly new Museum of Memory & Human Rights, a mint-hued head-turner recounting the troubling Pinochet dictatorship, and the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, where freshly spruced-up displays explain how Chinchorro mummies predate Egypt's counterparts. Outside, beyond busy Plaza de Armas, are boisterous bolero bars and grand buildings.

Take some time out

Dreamily ringed by white-topped peaks and rich in green spaces, Santiago is a pretty city. Ride the funicular up to Cerro San Cristobal's hilltop parkland for the most captivating vistas, supplemented by pine-tree scents and readily available mugs of popular mote con huesillo (wheat-and-peach juice).

What and where to eat

Peruvian fare has conquered the world - will Chilean cuisine be next? The exceptional produce of the country's motley landscapes already fuels some magnificent restaurants in Santiago. Most unmissable is 040, inside which former El Bulli chef Sergio Barroso showcases endemic seafood such as picoroco (giant barnacles) in bold, bravura fashion. After dinner, guests can ascend to Room 09, a rooftop speakeasy.

What and where to drink

La Mision, which serves Argentinean malbecs to accompany those classic Chilean sauvignons, is one of a smattering of upscale wine bars to have opened of late. But where do Santiaguinos go to glug? "I actually drink in a restaurant called Lomit's, in the Providencia area," says 30-something architectural photographer Cristobal Palma. "It's basic, but works great if you're not looking for something fancy."

Don't miss...

In Barrio Yungay, Santiago's coolest quarter, blue-collar grit meets soy-latte invigoration. Polished recent arrivals such as the Cerveceria Nacional beer hall and cavernous art space Nave have nicely complemented the area's graffiti, dilapidation, colonial buildings and cobblestones, all punctuated prettily by old lime trees.

The best place to stay

Many of the top hotels congregate can be found around the colourful Barrio Lastarria and its chichi paseos. Luciano K's 38 rooms occupy the Art Deco-style La Gargola apartment block, now lovingly restored with its capsule elevator and marble staircases intact. A pool and smart rooftop bar have been added.

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