Santiago dominates Chile in almost every respect. Its 7 million inhabitants (metropolitan area) account for more than one-third of the country's total population. It is the country's administrative capital and its true political capital, even though its Congress now sits in Valparaíso.
High mountains to the north and east provide a dramatic geographical setting. A small river, the Mapocho, crosses Santiago from east to west. The city, located in the heart of the central transverse valley, is set on a slight incline. The Plaza de Armas, in the heart of the city, lies at an altitude of 543m.
Santiago has many pleasures and attractions to offer its visitors. Despite its size and importance, the city can be easily explored and does not suffer from the same urban chaos found in many South American capitals. Architecture in the city centre is mostly bland and grey, sometimes attractive but not at all flashy, as if to say there is no need to put on airs. Chileans, after all, are a pragmatic people!