Despite its stunning setting and sleek, ultra-modern air, few would characterize the capital of Chile as an endless assortment of tourist attractions on par with, say, Cancun. This is part of its charm, and it invites the casual traveler to enjoy a gorgeous bottle of wine or delightful night out without any sort of Disney-esque pretensions.
At the same time, Santiago makes a most comfortable base—with wonderful theaters, museum and great food—for exploring the dramatic Chilean landscape all around.
1) See the Vineyards
The classic day trip, particularly during the fall harvest season (March and April), is a tour of the fantastic vineyards that surround Santiago. Two of the most popular are Cousino Macul and Concha y Toro, but there are several other options. In addition to delightful flights of Chilean wines, many vineyards offer fine dining and even beautiful B&Bs.
2) Hit the Slopes
As Santiago’s epic Andean backdrop suggests, you are only a couple of hours away from some serious skiing (between June and September only). There are a handful of resorts where you can enjoy the northern hemisphere’s off-season, including Valle Nevado, with world-class amenities, such as helicopter trips to version slopes; Portillo Resort, South America’s first and most famous ski center; and Termas de Chillan, with excellent prices.
3) Visit Valparaiso
The quintessential seaside escape from Santiago is this pretty port town of Valparaiso, often combined with a trip to Vina del Mar. The 16th-century city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is as well known for its 43 hills, many plied with ancient funiculars, as it is for its gorgeous ocean views. Don’t miss the Pablo Neruda Museum.
4) Purchase Ceramics in Pomaire
Chile’s ceramic center is just 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Santiago, where you can buy smoothly formed pottery at excellent prices. The high-quality cookery is famed throughout Chile (no one would consider cooking pastel de choclo in anything else), and sold around the world at fine kitchen stores, such as Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table at serious markup. For cooks and ceramics lovers, it’s well worth the effort to haul home a few pieces. The pueblo is also well known for its excellent cuisine, including enormous empanadas.
5) Get in Touch with Your Inner Pablo Neruda
After seeing La Chascona, Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda’s Santiago home, you may find your soul haunted with a poetic desire to learn more about the writer. Just south of lovely Valparaiso is the picturesque Pacific town of Isla Negra, named by Neruda himself for a rocky islet just offshore. You can visit his breezy house by the shore, then explore the rest of the popular resort town on your own.
6) Get out in Nature at Cajon del Maipo
Active travelers will want to spend a day, or several, in this mecca for lovers of the wild Chilean outdoors. Just two hours from Santiago, the region is most famous for mountainous El Morado National Monument, with endless opportunities for trekking, mountain climbing, and even glacier-viewing. Less ambitious travelers could rent horses and mountain bikes to explore the region’s waterfalls, lakes and hot springs; the possibilities are almost endless.