Destination of the Week: Santiago and Skiing in Chile

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Head to Chile this summer (their winter) to catch their ski season at Valle Nevado near Santiago.

Just because summer is about to blossom in the US doesn’t mean it’s warm everywhere. If you missed out on your winter ski trip this year because of crazy conditions across much of North America, you could get a second chance to experience the snow on some Andean ski runs in South America later this summer winter. That’s why for this Destination of the Week, we’re heading to Chile to visit Santiago and the slopes of the nearby Valle Nevado ski resort.

SPENDING TIME IN SANTIAGO
Bordered by the snow-fringed Andes, and meandering along the trickily Mapocho River, Santiago isn’t quite the popular tourist destination that Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro are, but it has the advantage of being close to Chile’s major ski resorts as well as its world-class wine regions.

Plus, with a population of over 6 million people and a history that dates back to 1541, Santiago is a bustling international destination with a burgeoning restaurant scene, and trendy nightlife, and it’s quite affordable for American travelers.

The Cathedral along one side of the Plaza de Armas in the city's historic center.

Even with just a day or two before heading to other points of interest, you can cover a lot of ground in the city. Start at the central Plaza de Armas, where Santiago was originally founded by Pedro de Valdivia, and where you’ll find some of Santiago’s most important historical buildings. The imposing Cathedral was built in the late 1700’s, but the real attraction here is the gigantic, ornate altar made of bronze, marble and lapis lazuli that was constructed in Munich in 1912. Along the western side of the Plaza is the National Historical Museum, which provides a detailed look at the history of Chile from the colonial period to the present.

Radiating out from the Plaza are Paseo Ahumada and Paseo Huérfanos, two pedestrianized streets with tons of arcade shops and restaurants, including some of Santiago’s notorious “Coffee With Legs” cafes where your waitress will be prancing about in a revealing mini-dress.

Also in the centro are the Plaza de la Constitución and the Palacio de la Moneda, the old Mint, where you can catch the changing of the guard every other day at 10am. Across the busy Alameda boulevard is the resting place of Chile’s liberator and first president, Bernardo O’Higgins.

Santiago's famous Mercado Central where you can enjoy a lunch of fresh seafood at Donde Augusto.

Take a stroll through the nearby Barrio Paris-Londres, which is an architectural oddity of streets designed in a 19th-century European style. Just west of it on the Alameda is the San Francisco Church and Convent Museum, which was built in the early 17th century and is the oldest standing building in Santiago, having survived several earthquakes and fires throughout the centuries. Farther west along the Alameda, you come to Cerro Santa Lucia park where the views of the city and the Andes are incomparable.

At the monolithic Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center (GAM for short)  you can check out contemporary art exhibitions and live performances housed in what used to be the military junta’s headquarters in the artsy Lastarria neighborhood, and then head to Vitacura’s Fashion Museum where you can check out sartorial treasures like Margot Fonteyn’s tutu, and Madonna’s conical bra.

The Mercado Central, though touristy, is definitely worth a stop to ogle the oceanic bounty of Chile’s 3000-mile coastline. You can also grab a delicious if overpriced seafood lunch at the famous Donde Augusto in this wrought-iron architectural oddity that was built in 1872.

After lunch, head to the Parque Metropolitano and the Cerro San Cristobal Funicular north of Bellavista. For less than $2, you can make the steep climb up to the city’s highest point, where you will find a huge statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception reminiscent of Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain.

A sushi platter at Etniko.

Just around the corner from the park entrance is La Chascona, the ship-shaped house that Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda built for his third and final wife, Matilda Urratia.

Bellavista is kind of like the Montmartre of Santiago, tucked into the wooded slopes of Cerro San Cristobal, its quaint streets lined with vendors and cafes where the young people of the city gather in the evenings to share drinks, cigarettes, and friendly conversation. It is also home to Santiago’s new culinary scene, and restaurants like the perennially popular Etniko, one of the hottest spots in town, is always filled with a well-heeled crowd enjoying the Chilean-skewed sushi menu.

Though much of the centro is quiet at night, Opera & Catedral are always frequented by a chic crowd. For something more refined and gourmet, Astrid Y Gastón in Providencia has some of the best food in Santiago courtesy of Peruvian super-chef Gaston Acurio.

Cosmopolitan and vibrant, Santiago is one of South America’s hidden gems.

YOUR EXPERIENCES
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

GETTING THERE
The main airport in Santiago is Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport. Delta flies here from Atlanta, American flies non-stop to Dallas/Forth Worth and Miami, and LAN offers direct service to New York-JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami.

Using British Airways Avios may be a good option since both American and LAN fly here. They require 25,000 Avios each way from either New York-JFK or Miami, or 30,000 Avios from Los Angeles for coach, since British Airways awards are distance-based. When booking American awards using Avios, any MileSAAver awards can be booked using British Airways Avios – you just have to call BA if the trip has multiple stops.

Oneworld partner, LAN Airlines.

Also, while you are in Santiago, it’s about a 5-hour flight to Easter Island and it’s only 12,500 Avios miles each way which is a great deal since tickets on these flights can be extremely expensive (sometimes as much as the flight down to South America from the US).

HOTELS

The Radisson Plaza Santiago Hotel.

Carlson:
Radisson Plaza Santiago Hotel: Located in Las Condes, this hotel has 159 guest rooms, which offer free wireless internet access. Guests have full access to the full service health club with indoor pool, sauna, and fitness center as well as a complimentary breakfast buffet. The hotel’s main restaurant is The Brick which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Rates in June start at $219 per night or 44,000 Goldpoints per night. Remember to sign up for the 50,000 point Radission promo.

There is also the brand new avant-garde Radisson Petra la Dehesa Hotel with 105 guestrooms and a free breakfast buffet. This hotel also requires 44,000 Goldpoints per night.

Exterior View of the Ritz-Carlton Santiago.

Marriott
Ritz-Carlton Santiago: Located in El Golf, this hotel has 205 guest rooms including 49 Club Level rooms and 16 suites. Most of the guestrooms offer mountain views and all have 37-inch plasma televisions, plush bedding, and high-speed internet access. There is a health and fitness center overlooking the Andes as well as an indoor pool and Jacuzzi. The property  has four restaurants and lounges on-site including Estro for upscale Chilean cuisine. Rates in June start at $279 per night, and this is a Ritz-Carlton Tier 2 property requiring 40,000 points for a free night. This hotel is also part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts exclusive for American Express Platinum Card members, where cardholders are eligible for a room upgrade, inclusive continental breakfast, 4pm late check out and a $100 spa credit per stay.

Deluxe King Room at the Santiago Marriott Hotel.

Santiago Marriott Hotel: This hotel is located in the Las Condes business district. Rates in June begin at $219 a night. This is a Marriott Category 5 property, and requires 25,000 Marriott Rewards Points (20,000 with PointSavers) for a free-night redemption. Note: The hotel lobby, reception and banquet areas will be under renovation from May 1, 2012, through July 31, 2012, and guests can expect noise from 8am to 6pm weekdays during this time.

Outdoor Pool Area with waterfall at the Grand Hyatt Santiago.

Hyatt
Grand Hyatt Santiago: This hotel is located in the business district of Las Condes. The hotel has 310 guest rooms and suites as well as the Grand Club which serves complimentary breakfast, all-day tea and coffee service, and evening cocktails to Club level guest as well as Hyatt Diamond members. The hotel has a lagoon-style swimming pool with waterfall, tennis courts, as well as the AKO Wellness and Spa. There are several golf courses close to this property as well. The hotel has several dining options including Anakena, which serves Thai cuisine and Matsuri, which specializes in Japanese. The lowest rate we could find in June was $235 for a Grand Deluxe King. This is only a Category 2 hotel, so free night redemptions require 8,000 Gold Passport points for standard rooms and 12,000 for suites, which is a great deal. This hotel is also part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts exclusive for American Express Platinum Card members, where cardholders are eligible for a room upgrade, inclusive continental breakfast, 4pm late check out and two 50-minute massages in the spa.

Club Tower Guest Room at the InterContinental Santiago.

Priority Club
InterContinental Santiago Hotel & Convention Center: This 377-room hotel is located in the El Golf district, which is said to be the heart of the financial, commercial and gastronomic areas of the city. The hotel also has an executive floor where guest have access to the Club Tower Guest Lounge. The hotel has an on-site health and fitness center as well as spa and indoor swimming pool. There are four restaurants on site including 2920 Grill specializing in seafood and steak and the Pasta e Basta restaruant which serves contemporary Italian cuisine. Rates in June start at $159 per night or 30,000 Priority Club points.

Breathtaking views from the rooftop pool at the W Santiago.

Starwood
W Santiago: Also situated in the El Golf district of Santiago, this towering hotel has 196 guest rooms and suites in addition to private residences. The rooms feature Chilean design but with modern touches such as 42-inch LCDS TVs, iPod docking stations, high-speed internet access and peekaboo bathrooms. Guests have access to the O2 Balance and Wellness Club as well as the heated rooftop swimming pool. The hotel’s restaurants and bars include Osaka, Noso, Terraza, and Whiskey Blue, one of the city’s hottest bars. Rates in June start at $259 per night or 12,000 Starpoints per night since this is a Category 5 hotel.

Grand Deluxe Room at San Cristobal Tower.

Other Starwood options include the Luxury Collection’s San Cristobal Tower which is located near the Providencia business district. It has 139 guestrooms and requires 12,000 Starpoints per night since it is a Category 5 hotel.

Another option is the Sheraton Santiago Hotel and Convention Center which has 379 guestrooms a new club lounge. This is an SPG Category 3 hotel requiring 7,000 Starpoints per night. There is also the Four Points by Sheraton Santiago which is also in SPG Category 3 requiring 7,000 Starpoints per night.

Valle Nevado Resort is located just over an hour outside of Santiago.

Valle Nevado Resort
Valle Nevado: This ski resort is popular with both international visitors and Chileans alike since it is conveniently located just 54 kilometers (33 miles) from Santiago and has three on-site hotels. There is the Hotel Valle Nevado which was recently renovated in 2010 and offers ski-in/ski-out access as well as in-room WiFi. There is a fitness center, spa, day care facilities as well as a brand-new bar to relax at after a long day on the slopes. The Hotel Puerta del Sol was renovated in 2009 and has an outdoor heated pool, and a buffet-style restaurant, Mirador del Plomo. The most economical option is the Hotel Tres Puntas which has rooms that can accommodate up to 6 people. This affordable option is only a two-minute walk to the slopes. Though you can make a day-trip here from the city, consider spending a couple nights of your trip if you really want to get some skiing in.

And just in case you want to try a couple different areas, you can also consider heading 100 miles or so northwest of Santiago near the Argentine border to the oldest ski resort in South America, Portillo, though beware, they’ve already postponed the start of the ski season by a week, so be sure to check on conditions before you reserve.

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