Santiago Chile

By Kristina Schreck

Travelers have, for years, categorized Santiago de Chile as a "gateway city" to other destinations like Patagonia and the Atacama Desert, but that moniker no longer holds ground. Santiago has earned its place as one of South America's most exciting cities, and the modern capital now deserves more than just a passing glance.

Situated in one of the more stunning locations imaginable at the foot of the towering Andes Mountains, Santiago has become a fashionable megalopolis that is home to chic restaurants, stylish hotels, art galleries, and new cultural centers and museums such as the Museo de Moda, easily one of the best fashion museums in the world. Burgeoning neighborhoods such as Bellavista thrive with dozens of restaurants, bars and the Patio Bellavista, a high-end outdoor market with cafes and shops hawking arts-and-crafts and funky clothing. The city's Metropolitan Park, larger than New York City's Central Park, is undergoing a $10 million renovation with a new cable car, 12 new botanical gardens, and an expansion of the city's zoo. Parque Forestal, known for its lovely antique facades, is now home to outdoor cafes, the MAVI art museum, and independent clothing shops.

Launched in 2010, the city's massive Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center looks to the present with contemporary cultural programs, but doesn't forget its difficult past with the new Memory Museum, which chronicles Chile's dictatorship from 1973-1990.

Kristina Schreck is the author of Frommer's Chile and DK Eyewitness Guide to Chile, and has resided in Santiago for more than a decade. She also writes, works in film production, and PR for tourism, promoting Chile in the international market.