For most visitors, sprawling Santiago de Chile, its Mediterranean hillsides, and the snow-covered Andean crest are their first impressions of the country. Santiago may lack Buenos Aires’s international profile, but its finest attractions can match or surpass those of Argentina’s capital. And few world capitals can match the skiing, hiking, climbing, and white-water rafting and kayaking that are barely an hour beyond the city limits.
Since the return to constitutional government and subsequent economic expansion, the city has improved greatly. Tasteful contemporary apartments have replaced unsalvageable structures in a downtown construction boom, and both families and businesses have restored or rehabbed houses and buildings in once rundown neighborhoods such as Barrio Brasil . Barrio Bellavista  has enjoyed a gastronomic and nightlife boom, and international commerce flourishes in Providencia  and Las Condes .
Five million people, more than a third of all Chileans, live in Gran Santiago (Greater Santiago). The locus of political and economic power, the capital has grown at the expense of the regions, but unevenly so—some comunas have become prosperous, others remain desperately poor.
Class-based residential segregation is striking, though less extreme than in, say, Lima and Mexico City. There are environmental costs, as well; more than a million automobiles sometimes clog narrow colonial streets. Along with smokestack industry, they aggravate one of the world’s worst smog problems, especially in the almost windless autumn months of March and April.
Still, a new transport system promises to replace sooty diesel buses sooner rather than later, and according to several surveys, Santiago is one of the continent’s most livable cities for its blend of cultural life, entertainment, personal security, and efficiency.
Most points of interest are in downtown Santiago; the city’s colonial nucleus; surrounding boroughs such as Recoleta, Independencia, Quinta Normal , and Estación Central ; and eastern suburban boroughs such as Providencia , Las Condes , and Ñuñoa .