Materializing as if out of nowhere on the edge of the city's downtown limits, the lavishly landscaped and historically significant Cerro Santa Lucía is a triangular-shape hilltop park, and one of the more delightful attractions in Santiago. This is where Pedro de Valdivia, the conqueror of Chile, founded Santiago in 1540 for the crown of Spain. For centuries, the rocky outcrop was seen as more of an eyesore than a recreational area (the Mapuche Indians called it Huelén, or "curse"), until 1872, when 150 prisoners were put to work landscaping the hill and carving out walkways and small squares for the public to enjoy. Today, office workers, tourists, couples, schoolchildren, and solitary thinkers can be seen strolling along leafy terraces to the Caupolicán Plaza for a sweeping view of Santiago. It's open daily from 9am to 8pm from September to March, 9am to 7pm from April to August; admission is free, though you'll be asked to sign a guest registry when entering. Enter at Avenida Alameda and St. Lucía, or St. Lucía and Merced; alternatively, you could take the elevator to the top on St. Lucía Street at Agustinas. At the top of the hill is the Castle Hidalgo, which operates as an event center. The Centro de Exposición de Arte has indigenous crafts, clothing, and jewelry from all over Chile for sale, but you'll find better deals across the avenue at the bustling crafts and junk market, the Centro Artesanal de Santa Lucía, with handicrafts, T-shirts, and more.

Santiago's burgeoning arts-and-cafe scene centers around the tiny Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro, located at José Victorino Lastarría and Rosal streets. The fine examples of early 1900s architecture at the plaza and the handful of streets that surround it provide visitors with a romantic step back into old Santiago. From Thursday to Sunday, antiques and book dealers line the plaza, but the highlights here are the Museo de Artes Visuales (MAVI) and the Museo Anthropología (MAS) (tel. 2/638-3502; $1.60/£1 adults, 85¢/60p children; Tues-Sun 10:30am-6:30pm). Many of Chile's most promising contemporary artists exhibit their work at MAVI. The MAS offers archaeological displays of artifacts produced by indigenous peoples throughout the length of Chile. The collection at MAS is extensive, but the museum is small and takes no more than 10 minutes to peruse.

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