Santiago, Chile, is a vibrant South American capital city that is dominated by the snow-capped Andes Mountains to the east and Chilean Coastal Range to the west. Though smog is often trapped in the center of the Santiago basin, it does not take away from the lively markets, colonial churches and surprising restaurant and nightlife scene that compose the true heart of the city.

The city center is a mix of modern structures, colonial buildings and 18th century cathedrals. Santiago has several cultural and social diversions with its many museums (which are free on Sundays), galleries, plazas and palaces. Must-see attractions include Plaza de Armas; Palacio de la Moneda, which became the presidential residences after it was the national mint; and Palacio de bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts). Also in the downtown district are the shopping areas of Paseo Ahumada, Calle Puente 689 and Mall del Centro. The shops here offer everything from local retail brands to international luxury lines. There is also a popular craft market, Centro Artesanal Santa Lucia, which features locally made crafts such as traditional textiles, decorative wood, copper and jewelry.

Santiago has gone through a recent resurgence in its restaurant scene, and is now awash with an impressive array of restaurants featuring cuisine from all parts of the world. Popular national dishes are based around either fish and seafood, or steak. Wine is also extremely popular in the area -- and for good reason. A large export product from the country, there are numerous wine vineyards just outside of the city that produce some of the best wine in South America.

The main Chilean gateway for international travel is Santiago’s Arturo Merino Beitez Airport (SCL), located in a suburb 16 miles from downtown. If staying in town for more than a few days, it is recommended to purchase a Tarjeta Bip Card, which is good for to use for both subways and public buses and available at any metro station. There is no shortage of taxis in the city, though travelers should establish a price before leaving.

Santiago enjoys a continental Mediterranean climate, with relative hot, dry summers and mild winters. The winter and summer months are reversed here from other parts of the world (North America) and have their hottest months from December to March. The hottest month of July has an average high temperature of 85.5° F (29.7° C), while the coolest month of July can have an average low temperature in the high 30°s to low 40°s F. Though Santiago can be a year-round vacation destination, the best times to visit are in the spring and autumn months.