With over a third of Chile's population living there, it can sometimes seem a little crowded, noisy and polluted. However, this can be said for most capital cities of the world and Santiago more than makes up for the pollution with its beautiful parks, cafes and surrounding scenery - making it a pleasant place to live.
In the city centre, everything is organised around the Plaza de Armas: the pedestrian and very commercial streets all converge here on shaded benches and palm trees. The Cerro Santa Lucia Park is a superb public garden with ponds, fountains and tiled steps. From the Caupolican terrace, the highest in Santiago, there is a superb view over the city and the Andes encircling it.
The district of Bellavista - by the San Cristobal park - has a charm of yesteryear with its little streets, gardens, art galleries and numerous cafés. It also boasts some of the best cuisine in Chile, making it one of the liveliest districts in the capital during the evenings. Barrio Brasil, an arty area in central Santiago, is perfect for grabbing a cheap drink during happy hour.
Steeped in history, Santiago hosts many museums and exhibitions recounting the story of its past. One such exhibition is held permanently in the Parque por la Paz, a powerful and sometimes harrowing memorial park telling the story of the years of dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. In 1973, Pinochet, then the General-in-Chief of the Chilean Army moved to overthrow the Socialist government of Salvador Allende.
This resulted in Allende's suicide and 17 years of dictatorship under Pinochet, who chose Santiago as the base for his military junta. During this time, between 1,000 and 3,000 Chileans were killed and over 30,000 were tortured. When visiting the park, be respectful and sensitive when taking pictures as other visitors could be relatives of victims of the regime.