San Antonio (tours to Santiago), Chile cruises

In the Chilean capital, grand colonial buildings stand proudly among glass skyscrapers and elegant parks. In the distance, the snow-dusted Andes provide a dramatic backdrop to it all.

Santiago was founded in 1541 by the Spanish conquistador, Pedro de Validivia. It’s been Chile’s first city since its colonial days, and the central district is a hub of nineteenth century neoclassical architecture.

An obvious starting point is Plaza des Armas, with its twin-spired Metropolitan Cathedral, the magnificent Correo Central which was the old city post office, and the National Museum of History, whose bell tower offers an elevated viewpoint. It was always intended to be a focal point, and a hive of activity still unfolds around the statues and fountains. Local chess players pit their wits against each other on many afternoons, street performers attract crowds with their routines and you may even see demonstrations of the Cueca, Chile’s national folk dance.

If you arrive in port early enough, you may have the chance to see a dash of Chilean pomp and pageantry at La Moneda palace. It’s the official residence of the president, where a lively changing of the guard ceremony takes places every morning.

When you berth in San Antonio, you’re also only around 40 miles from Valparaiso. The port has won plenty of admirers for its rolling hills, where steep funiculars climb among the charming jumble of multi-colored houses, and its historic quarter has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003.

Santiago has its scenic spots too, not least the Cerro San Cristóbal. It’s one of the “island hills” and you can understand what that means once you’ve ridden the funicular up almost 1,000 feet and look down over the sea of buildings and parks laid out below. Here you’ll share the view with a statue of the Virgin Mary, some 2,800 feet above sea level. Another scenic spot is the Cerro Santa Lucía, with its beautifully terraced gardens looking across to the Andes.

You might take the opportunity to pick up a few Chilean souvenirs. Alpaca knitwear and naturally dyed textiles feature highly, as do copperware, ceramics and jewelry made with lapis lazuli. These are among the treasures you may find on a visit to Los Dominicos Handicraft Village, housed in what was once a monastery.

The cavernous wrought-iron Mercado Central is a wonderful venue to sample Chile’s cuisine, and seafood lovers especially are in for a treat, whether you tuck in to a hearty fish stew or the zesty ceviche, raw fish cured in lemon or lime. A tour out to the surrounding vineyards could appeal to wine connoisseurs, although you may just prefer to sip a local red at a cozy spot in Santiago itself.