All the clichés used for modern world cities that are born out of a lavish history are true for Istanbul – and then some. The city is secular and spiritual, fabulously wealthy with pockets of mind numbing poverty, dizzyingly modern and quaintly traditional, all in the blink of an eye. Young girls on the streets dressed in mini skirts and stilettos, gather disapproving looks from veiled women and old men with prayer beads. Conquered by three of the mightiest civilizations in history and coveted at different periods by many others, Istanbul has left much of its fossilized city status behind and is fast gaining a reputation as a nightlife hotspot in the region. Europe and Asia are almost fused together in this city, separated only by a 29 kilometer stretch of the Bosporus. Istanbul’s Asian half is home to sprawling suburbs while the European side is a cultural sojourners dream – magnificent palaces and mosques and bustling Turkish bazaars. Sip a cup of Turkish coffee at a roadside café, or inhale aromatic fumes from a hookah. Haggle at the many street shops and gawk at the city’s architectural wonders. Once in Istanbul, it really doesn’t matter what you choose to do – the city will get under your skin in a way few travel destinations can.
At an altitude of 2804m above sea level, Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is one of the highest cities in the world. It’s also one of the most appealing cities in the South American continent. Founded in 1534 by Sebastian de Benalcazar, Quito has some of the best preserved colonial buildings and churches in Latin America, some of which are more than 500 years old, in its Old Town. But, this part of Quito which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO is only one side of this fascinating city. Its New Town, just a couple of miles north of the Old Town, resembles any modern capital with its gleaming skyscrapers and newly constructed mansions. Visitors can enjoy the unique experience of walking around centuries old courtyards and mansions in the Old Town and then make a trip to the several modern museums that showcase the citys history, in the central part of town. It’s a city that offers a delightfully close look at the past while, at the same time, offering all the conveniences and comforts of a 21st century metropolis. Most of Quitos attractions lie in the Old Town and the New town. A large part of the colonial architecture including the churches, buildings and mansions are located in the Old Town while the best hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping spaces and travel agencies are in the New Town. Besides being the entry point of choice for those on their way to the Galapagos Islands, Quito is also just a couple of hours from the glaciers of the Pichincha volcano, and a variety of crafts markets just outside the city.
Home to 5 million inhabitants, Santiago, Chile’s capital, is one of Latin America’s most sophisticated cities. Although far less popular than Rio de Janeiro, and not really a tourist hub by itself even within the country, this vibrant metropolitan city has a variety of cultural and tourist attractions for the discerning visitor – ski slopes, sandy beaches, excellent wineries and heritage homes. Nestled at the foothills of the Andes Mountains, the snow capped peaks provide a breathtaking backdrop for the city. Most of these spectacular views, however, are blocked by the smog that envelops much of Santiago. The best time to visit is the period between December and February. That’s the time when most Santiaguinos leave the environs of the city to spend summer elsewhere, leading to a dramatic drop in the smog level and thus, better vistas of the peaks. The city has left most of its troubled military ruled past behind and is in the process of reinventing itself. Newer restaurants and night life venues have sprung up and the cultural and arts scene is undergoing a makeover. All these reasons added to the fact that Santiago is the countrys historical center, make Santiago definitely worth more than just a transit stop on the way to the more popular Patagonia or Lake District areas.