Santiago, like Chile in general, has enjoyed a renaissance of cultural, intellectual and especially commercial activity for more than two consecutive decades. The Andes Mountains overlook Santiago's eastern edge, and their snowy peaks provide good hiking, skiing, rafting and kayaking—and the beach is only a short drive away. Small wonder it is the country's capital and largest city, as well as one of the continent's largest metropolises.
Centro (downtown Santiago) is still dotted with Spanish colonial buildings and old churches, as well as many sparkling new modern buildings. Other neighborhoods house international restaurants, upscale boutiques and lively nightlife. Tourist areas are compact, and the resident Santiaguinos are pleasantly helpful. The city has a certain efficiency not found elsewhere in Latin America, and an obvious prosperous feel to it. The major drawback is that ongoing development and traffic congestion have created air pollution and smog, and the shanty towns on the outskirts appear to be growing (albeit in a controlled state).
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