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A View from the Top: Exploring Northern Chile: Santiago and the Atacama Desert

As a specialist for Latin America, returning to explore the neighborhoods of Santiago to discover the ever-changing barrios, new boutique hotels, local restaurants and watering holes is always a treat.

For this visit I stayed in the Belle Artes neighborhood in a converted 1929 family mansion. While just a few blocks from the more famous and trendy Lasstaria area, the mansion offers great value, excellent service and convenient location just a couple blocks south of the Bella Artes Museum.

Also just a short walk away is my favorite area Bella Vista full of great architecture, an array of shopping, restaurants and bars. One fun excursion is a tour of the Pablo Neruda house, the home of Chile’s famous dissident poet and political activist from the early- to mid-1900s. Also be sure to check out the funky Barrio Italia- a place where locals spend their time with friends and families, a place not yet discovered by most visitors and well worth the time to explore and observe.

Santiago, of course, is the jumping off place for the trip to the Atacama Desert, just a quick 2-hour flight away. My desert activities were concentrated in the town of San Pedro Atacama and its immediate surroundings. San Pedro is located in a green oasis, butting up against magnificent landscape that combines a number of magical land formations, from sand dunes to red clay and volcanoes. There are a few excellent options for accommodations including some of our favorites: Tierra Hotels, Explora, Awasi and Alto Atacama- each with unique offerings tailored to the individual traveler's interests. All are exceptional in their own way and suited for different travelers based on their style preference and budget. Every guide I met in Atacama has a great story and friendly smile, eager to share this magical place with visitors and make sure your time here is all that it can be.

You will certainly be drawn to Chile by the desire to see Patagonia, but make sure you stay in Santiago for two or three days to embrace this city, and make enough time to visit the desert and all it has to offer.

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