This is Chile’s smallest region and, at the same time, its most densely populated. It includes the nation’s capital, Santiago, the seat of Government and of the judiciary. The Congress is in Valparaíso.
Since its foundation in 1542, Santiago has grown steadily and is today a dynamic, cosmopolitan city. It is the heart of the Chilean economy and has the country’s largest concentration of museums, universities, cinemas, theaters, and stadiums.
The Andes Mountains are a point of reference visible from every corner and, in winter, their snow-covered tops form an impressive backdrop just a few kilometers from the city center.
Santiago has spread across the valleys of the Mapocho and Maipo Rivers, while new neighborhoods are already climbing the Andes foothills. Major investments have recently been made to restore historic sites, renovate the downtown area, and create new green areas.
The eight blocks around La Moneda, the presidential palace, are known as the <i>Barrio Cívico</i>, where most ministries, services, banks, and commerce are located. The Cathedral and City Hall face the main square, Plaza de Armas.
The city’s neighborhoods spread out from the center in a variegated mosaic – the Concha y Toro area, with its neoclassical architecture; the bohemian Bellavista area close to Cerro San Cristóbal; Vitacura and El Golf, where most of the city’s new high-rise buildings are located. This is where several United Nations organizations have their Latin American offices, and many foreign investors have set up their headquarters, even if their production facilities operate in other regions.
Seat of business, cradle of vineyards
Since Santiago is the main center of consumption in Chile, its comercial development is significant. Most manufacturers have their offices in the city.
Almost one-third of the Metropolitan Region’s GDP comes from the service sector. It also contributes more than one-fifth of the country’s industrial output and is particularly important for textiles, chemicals, and metals, and in the production of machinery and equipment.
The region contributes 2% of Chile’s total copper production, but accounts for a much higher share of non-metallic mining output, producing 30.6% of the country’s calcium carbonate and 89.6% of its gypsum.
Around 80% of the land in this region has agricultural potential. For some time now, a substantial portion has been devoted to wine production, particularly in the Maipo River valley.
In fact, this valley is the cradle of some of Chile’s oldest vineyards and most of the original cellars have been preserved intact since they were built in the 19th century. Urban expansion, however, has pushed new vineyards to more distant areas.
The region’s best known vineyards include Cousiño Macul, Santa Carolina, Santa Rita, Concha y Toro, and Tarapacá. The prevailing red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carménère, and Syrah, while white wines include mainly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Chile’s capital aims to become a business center serving as an investment platform and venue for international conventions.
Its location is particularly propitious: in the middle of the country, a short distance from two major ports, and with an international airport – less than an hour away from downtown – offering departures to 187 destinations. Latest-generation call center or contact center facilities are available, together with advanced telecommunications technology, safe surroundings, and universities and graduate centers highly regarded around Latin America. In addition, the city has an efficient underground railway (the Metro), major banking institutions, varied commerce.
From the present to 2010, the 200th anniversary of Chile’s independence, Santiago will see the development of a vast plan of renovation and restoration of its civic center.
Moreover, a Green Plan aims to double the number of trees in the Metropolitan Region, especially in neighborhoods where trees are scarce. The goal is to reach 6 sq. m. of green park per inhabitant, up from the present ratio of 3.7 sq. m.
Several road and urban infrastructure projects have added about 215 kilometers of new high-standard tollways to the capital, providing modern, non-polluting, safe, and rapid public transportation services.
To this end, the Transantiago Plan, an emblematic bicentennial project, has modernized public transport in the city, with far-reaching economic and social effects. The plan was conceived to reduce traffic accidents, environmental pollution, noise, and congestion.
A second runway has also been added to Santiago’s international airport. A new Instrumental Landing System was installed in July 2003, reducing the visibility required to land in fog from 200 to 100 meters. The airport has a Class 1 safety rating, the international maximum.
History and snow within arm’s reach
Tourism is not markedly seasonal, though statistics show that the number of visitors increases in March, April, October, November, and December. Santiago has 15 five-star hotels, all built or modernized in the past ten years.
Earthquakes have destroyed many of the remnants of Chile’s Colonial past. The San Francisco Church, however, has survived. Built between 1586 and 1628, it is the oldest church in Chile and is located on Alameda Bernardo O’Higgins, the main avenue in Santiago.
The Municipal Theater, inaugurated on September 17, 1857, has hosted performances by great figures of opera, ballet, and music. It was here that world-famous pianist Claudio Arrau again played to Chilean audiences in 1984, after an absence of 17 years.
Major tourist attractions in Santiago include, in winter, the ski resorts at Farellones, El Colorado, and La Parva, just 40 kilometers away; Valle Nevado, 60 kilometers; and Lagunillas, 67 kilometers. In summer, all kinds of open-air sports can be practiced in the region’s valleys and on its rivers and hills.
For instance, along the gorge of the Maipo River, by a paved road along the riverbank, visitors come to the El Morado National Park: its 3,000 hectares contain a glacier, mineral water springs, and a lake lying at 2,400 meters above sea level, frozen over between June and October.
Another pole of attraction is Pomaire, a picturesque little village of clay potters. Objects are exhibited at stands along the unpaved narrow streets. The polished reddish ware retains native traditions and customs. Clay dishes ideal for eating Chile’s traditional <i>porotos granados</i> (beans cooked with corn, pumpkin, and onion) and <i>pastel de choclo</i> (corn and meat pie) may be bought here.