Located more or less halfway down Chile’s length, the capital city Santiago is the ideal gateway for visitors moving on to adventures in Patagonia, the Chilean Lake District and the Atacama Desert to name just a few incredible regions. However, it’s worth remembering that it is also a fantastic tourist city in its own right. In fact, Santiago has just been named the second best city in Latin America in a survey by City Rep Trak (although we think it should be first!). Rather than heading home straight from your hiking tour in Patagonia or your trek in the Atacama Desert, why not take an extra day in Santiago and Cascada will show you how to make the most of just 24 hrs, no matter who you are or what you’re into.
Santiago is a modern, thriving urban hub with everything from towering skyscrapers and shopping malls to bustling markets and the occasional colonial building that has withstood the many earthquakes. Those with truly limited time should check out a Santiago City Stopover Tour, which takes in all of the must-see attractions such as Chile’s imposing presidential palace La Moneda and the Plaza de Armas, the square around which the city was originally founded in 1541. In the square, the Metropolitan cathedral and and the central post office frame the street artists, preachers, musicians and a small bandstand where old men play chess in pairs; it’s Santiago in a nutshell! However, if you can spare a few extra hours to take in a full Santiago City Tour you’ll be rewarded with extra sights such as a visit to the popular and vibrant Central Market.
Santiago has such a wealth of mouth-watering food on offer that it really is impossible to experience it all in just one day. However, for a brief introduction to the highlights, head to the exciting La Vega market, a labyrinth of stalls selling cheese, fruit, vegetables, meat and spices, where you’ll be shopping alongside local Santiago residents. If all the sights and smells whet your appetite, treat yourself to a hot, comforting sopaipilla (a disc of fried pumpkin dough) to nibble as you make your way round. The Central Market over the bridge is dedicated to fish and seafood, some of which (like the knobbly, grey barnacles!) you might not have seen at a fish market before. A Chilean culinary day tour with Cascada guides you through the hustle and bustle, with a professional chef to help you make sense of it all and cook you a fantastic Chilean meal at the end of the day.
Unless you’ve been hiking in the wilds of Patagonia for the last twenty years, you will surely be aware of the increasing international recognition of Chilean wine. Renowned for its Carménères, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and Chardonnays amongst others, you could easily spend a week tasting them all in any of the 188 vineyards spread throughout the country. Happily for visitors who are pushed for time, the majority of Chile’s wineries are concentrated around the centre of the country, placing many within easy reach of day-tours from the capital. Cascada offers a selection of options, from a half day wine tour to the famous Concha y Toro winery to a premium wine tasting day-tour that also takes you to boutique vineyard Perez Cruz and the Aquitania Winery.
Nestled in between towering mountains, Santiago makes the perfect city for people who don’t like cities, as you’re never more than an hour or two away from an outdoor adventure. In fact the whole city sits in a basin surrounded by the Andes to the east and the Chilean Coastal Range to the west, creating an adventure playground of peaks, snow, rivers and even glaciers. Whether your passion is a spot of skiing in winter or horse riding through the mountains, there are any number of easy adventure day trips from Santiago to try. There aren’t many capitals in the world where you can try out white water rafting through rapids high in the mountains and be back in the city in time for a nightcap. Those looking for a slightly tamer adventure should opt for a simple day trek in the Andes, as the scenery is quite thrilling enough to keep you entertained.