Photo: Chris Brinlee Jr.

Santiago, Chile is a large city of nearly 7 million in a wide valley between the backdrop of Andes mountains to the east and heading down towards the coastal range to the west.

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But as a visitor to this city, what you'll mostly see is Providencia, the middle class comuna (neighborhood), downtown, with a mix of cobblestones, classic architecture and modern buildings, and the obligatory foray into nightlife-happy Bellavista where good food and a variety of places to drink pisco sours, Chile's national cocktail, or large bottles of domestic beer keep the place buzzing most of the night.

For visitors, the typical route includes walking or taking the funicular up Cerro San Cristobal, the Virgin-topped hill that overlooks the city, a spin through some of the museums such as the PreColumbian art museum for traditionalists, or the Colo-Colo soccer museum for lovers of that sport. The city's easy access to both mountains and beach make it a great starting off point, and those headed further north to the desert or further south to Patagonia, or to one of a couple of easily-accessed wine valleys close to Santiago, often spend a couple of days here on their way.

Here you'll find information on how to get the most out of your September 18th (Chile's national holiday), including what it's like to learn the cueca (the national dance), which neighborhoods and activities might not have made it into your guidebook and what life is like in Santiago from the eyes of an expat.

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