Chile: Insider tips for on what to see and do in Santiago

Chilean-born Rod Vargas is the Latin American specialist for Tempo Holidays.

Santiago from San Cristobal hill. Photo / Getty Images
Santiago from San Cristobal hill. Photo / Getty Images

What is Santiago's best kept secret?

Take a tour of La Vega (a fresh market in Santiago), preferably early morning. This will allow you to see the real Chile and how this place comes alive. Breakfast at the local Cocinerias (coffee shops) is a must.

When is a good time to visit?

Although I feel Santiago is a year-round destination, the most popular time to go is between September and May. Santiago looks magical when the snow covers the Andes Mountains, which is usually throughout autumn, winter and spring.

Where should visitors to Santiago base themselves?

The neighbourhoods of Bella Vista and Lastarria, which are on the fringe of the CBD, for their local and arty feel, or Providencia, an upmarket neighbourhood not too far from central Santiago. Bella Vista is definitely the go-to area for great bars and restaurants with local dishes and a great atmosphere day or night.

Which neighbourhood has amazing architecture?

The city is littered with Spanish Colonial buildings. La Moneda (Parliament House) springs to mind, the old Post office building in Plaza de Armas (Santiago's most central plaza) and then there are modern beauties like the Costanera Centre (the tallest building in South America) in Santiago's most exclusive neighbourhood, Vitacura.

Can you recommend a winery in or near Santiago?

Concha Y Toro Winery is one of the most famous and traditional vineyards in Chile and the largest exporter of wine in Latin America. Its most successful worldwide export is the Casillero del Diablo range. There are many great smaller vineyards with quality wines in different wine regions, all within an hour or two from Santiago - perfect for fun day trips.

Where's a great place to see live music?

For Latin music lovers, go to a bar/restaurant called Las Tejas in central Santiago, which then turns into a "Cumbia" haven (Chile's most loved style of Latin Music). Also head to Fonda Permanente in nearby Bellavista for a typical Chilean "Carrete" (night out).

What is a typical Chilean dish to eat and where is the best place to get it?

A staple dish is Pastel de Choclo, a delicious simple dish, which is served in a small clay bowl with a base of locally seasoned mincemeat with olives, sultanas and chicken thrown in, topped with a mixture of sweetened corn and cream for the sweet/savoury hit that without fail surprises first-time tasters.

Where should you go shopping in Santiago?

For local artisan gifts to take home, pay a visit to the artisan market across the road from the Santa Lucia Hill in central Santiago. For those wanting to spend more, go to Vitacura to buy some local elegant gifts made from copper and native stone lapiz lazuli, or head nearby to the Costanera Centre, where they have a huge shopping complex full of local and international fashion stores.

And a great museum?

The Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts houses more than 3000 works, making it one of the finest collections in South America.

The best art gallery?

Open only two years, Tajamar is Santiago's hidden treasure; a gem sheltered deep inside a gigantic complex of post-modernist buildings in the commune of Providencia. It is still relatively unknown. The tiny space is the perfect example of one of Santiago's hidden cultural spots.

What about the best market?

The Mercado Central is Santiago's most famous market. Ranked the fifth best market in the world by National Geographic in 2012, it is in the city centre and is considered a historical landmark, where the city's best seafood is sold, alongside wines, meat and much more. The shellfish and Chilean pisco sour are definitely worth trying since both are national favourites.

Why should we add Santiago to our travel wish-lists?

Santiago is a city that is easy. Head east and in no time you reach the Andes, go west and you hit the beaches of Vina del Mar or a take short drive south and you get into wine country. But Santiago is a relatively unknown and undervalued city and a true treasure and surprise for travellers once they arrive. It is no longer a stopover destination, and visitors should spend a few days discovering Santiago's culture, food and nightlife. It has a strong national economy and the infrastructure is solid. The past 10 years have seen this city boom with countless bars, hotels and restaurants openi

- Herald on Sunday

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