what to know: santiago sprawls along the mapocho river against a backdrop of snowcapped peaks. downtown is a grid of narrow streets and broad plazas where middle-class shoppers look for bargains. most businesses have set up headquarters in the eastern suburbs of providencia and las condes, attracting upscale restaurants, galleries, and shops. the metro subway system links almost everything efficiently and inexpensively, but only until 10:30 p.m. weather is warm in the southern summer (december-february), cool in the winter (june-august), and heavenly in spring and fall.

where to stay: the hyatt regency santiago (011-56-2-218-1234; www.santiago.hyatt.com) has a spectacular atrium, pool, health club, and top-notch japanese, italian, and thai restaurants. hotel carrera (011-56-2-698-2011; www.carrera.cl) is a classic european-style hotel across from the government palace, with a rooftop pool, gym, and restaurant.

where to eat: the greatest concentration of international-class restaurants is in el bosque. the bellavista district, across the river from downtown, is santiago's left bank - full of funky eateries, and a little rough around the edges. café melba (011-56-2-232-4546) serves up omelets, bagels, and excellent light lunches in an airy cafe in el bosque norte business district (you get free internet access with a cup of coffee). central market (no phone) houses a variety of seafood restaurants, from simple stalls to the always-packed donde augusto restaurant (011-56-2-672-2829). zanzibar (011-56-2-218-0118) has happy hour on the roof and serves dinner and drinks until late. la ruta 66 (011-56-2-207-3944) dishes up world-class fusion cuisine and has an excellent wine list. in addition to its gourmet entrees, osadía (011-56-2-232-2732) features a wine bar in the cellar and a table in the kitchen, for those who want to get close to the action. el otro sitio (011-56-2-777-3059), located in a handsome old house in bellavista, proffers authentic peruvian food (arguably south america's best cuisine); there's also a second location in borderio.