Once seen as just an entry point to Chile’s southern Patagonia, northern Atacama or central wine regions, the last few years have seen Santiago blossom into not only one of the highlights of tourism in the country, but on the entire continent.
It’s a transformation that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the big publications of the world.
In 2011, the New York Times chose the city as its top destination on the planet, while earlier this year, Lonely Planet named it as one of the top 10 cities to see in 2012.
Now everyday people are spreading the word on Chile’s capital, with the highly respected website Tripadvisor – which accumulates reviews by travelers – placing the city at number six on its Travelers’ Choice Award 2012 for the Best Destinations in South America.
“Santiago, Chile, is a sum of its diverse parts: the colonial structures of central Santiago, the stately buildings of Plaza de Armas, the funky cafes and dance clubs of Bellavista, Forest Park along Rio Mapocho,” says the Tripadvisor review of Santiago.
“Santiago’s art collections range from pre-Columbian to contemporary, while architecture includes the 16th-century San Francisco Church and mirrored office towers. On a clear day, you can see the whole city and the distant Andes from atop Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago’s highest hill.”
The city’s top two attractions, according to Tripadvisor reviews, come in the form of innovative tours. Popular tour operators include AndoAndes, which runs ecotours into the mountains that loom over Santiago, and Spicy Chile, which offers free tours by locals through the capital’s distinct barrios, including the funky Barrio Lastarria, which is listed as the city’s fourth most popular destination.
“After almost 3 years in Santiago, Barrio Lastarria has always been and will continue to be my favorite place to go in Santiago,” says one reviewer. “The old movie theatre there is charming–red velvet seats, balcony seating. The restaurants and cafes in the area are all fantastic, and run the gamut from upscale tourist to candlelit basement bars. Explore this area, and the sidestreets.”
Santiago’s third best attraction is the Casablanca Valley, which stretches from the city’s western outskirts toward the Pacific Ocean, and produces some of Chile’s best white wines. Ocean breezes and ample vineyard tours and tastings have made Casablanca a popular destination for travelers en route to the bohemian port city of Valparaíso.
Chile’s mountainous southern reaches also made the Travelers’ Choice Award list, with popular adventure destination Pucón and nearby lakeside getaway Puerto Varas coming in at number 20 and 24, respectively.