Chile narrowly stretches along the southern half of the west coast of South America, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The bordering countries are Peru in the north and Argentina and Bolivia to the east. Chile has over 5,000 km (3,100 miles) of coast on the South Pacific Ocean. It is an amazing country, from the dry Atacama Desert to the cold of Chilean Patagonia.
|Northern Chile (Regions of Arica-Parinacota, Tarapacá, Antofagasta, Atacama and Coquimbo)|
Visit the driest desert in the world, archeological ruins and the Andean highlands.
|Central Chile (Regions of Valparaíso, Santiago, O'Higgins and Maule)|
The heart of the country, you can visit the main cities, famous vineyards and some of the best ski resorts in the Southern Hemisphere
|Southern Chile (Regions of Ñuble, Biobío, Araucanía, Los Ríos and Los Lagos)|
The land of the Mapuches, lakes, rivers and the mythology-rich Chiloé island.
|Patagonia (Regions of Aysén and Magallanes)|
Fjords, ice caps, lakes and forests.
|Juan Fernández Islands |
Robinson Crusoe Island and other islands
|Easter Island (Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua)|
A lonely island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, home of one of the most mysterious civilizations in the world.
- 1 Santiago — the capital and largest city of the country.
- 2 Concepción — Chile's second largest city.
- 3 Iquique — touristic center in Northern Chile.
- 4 La Serena — a charming city, with many things to do in and around.
- 5 Punta Arenas — one of the southernmost cities of the world.
- 6 San Pedro de Atacama — visitors come in large numbers to use the town as a stepping stone to the amazing surrounding landscapes .
- 7 Valdivia — the "City of Rivers", rebuilt after the strongest earthquake in history
- 8 Valparaíso — main Chilean port and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 9 Vina del Mar — the principal touristic attraction: beaches, casino and a music festival.
- 1 Chiloé Island — the largest island of the country.
- 2 Laguna San Rafael National Park — includes the San Rafael Glacier, accessible only by boat or plane
- 3 Lauca National Park — the Lago Chungará, one of the world's highest lakes, overseen by the mighty Volcán Parinacota.
- 4 Pichilemu — Chile's premier surfing destination.
- 5 Robinson Crusoe Island — well known for its jungles and endemic flora
- 6 Torres del Paine National Park — the mountains, lakes and glaciers, including the Towers of Paine.
- Valle de Elqui — a wine and pisco producing area, also known for its astronomical observatories.
- 7 Valle de la Luna — breathtaking desert landscape with impressive sand dunes and rock formations.
- 8 Villarrica — surrounded by lakes and volcanoes.
|Currency||Chilean peso (CLP)|
|Population||17.6 million (2013)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Type L)|
|Time zone||UTC−03:00, UTC−05:00|
|Emergencies||131 (ambulance), 132 (Bomberos), 133 (Carabineros de Chile), 130 (wildfire), 134 (Investigations Police of Chile)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, northern Chile was under Inca rule while the indigenous Araucanians (Mapuche) inhabited central and southern Chile. The Mapuche were also one of the last independent American indigenous groups, that were not fully absorbed into Spanish-speaking rule until after Chile's independence. Although Chile declared independence in 1810 (amid the Napoleonic wars that left Spain without a functioning central government for a couple of years), decisive victory over the Spanish was not achieved until 1818. In the War of the Pacific (1879–83), Chile invaded parts of Peru and Bolivia and kept its presence northern regions. It was not until the 1880s that the Araucanians were completely subjugated.
Although relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that blighted South America until the 1970s, things took a turn for the worse in that decade. When popular communist/democratic socialist Salvador Allende won a bare plurality in the free and fair 1970 elections, he ran on a platform of social justice and bridging the (already then) huge divide between a wealthy few and the rest of the population. However, although some centre-right (most notably the Chilean Christian Democrats) parties supported or at least didn't outright attack his government, he had to deal with domestic opposition from some sectors of society as well as the military but also a difficult international situation with the US not tolerating any kind of "communist" in their "back yard". In a coup that was led by the head of the army (that Allende had picked himself, believing him to be loyal if not to himself than at least to the constitution) Augusto Pinochet on September 11th 1973, the Allende government was overthrown and Allende died of a gunshot, now believed to be suicide. As a result of that coup, Chile endured the 17-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990) that left around 3,000 people, mostly leftists and socialist sympathizers, dead or disappeared. While it is not entirely clear to the full extent of which the US was involved in the coup that brought Pinochet to power, it is now widely believed that President Nixon and his foreign policy advisor Henry Kissinger were at least not unhappy with the outcome and the US. Some conservative leaders in Europe were among the biggest supporters of Pinochet's regime throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Pinochet was widely reviled worldwide for his methods, however, a centre-left Chilean administration came into power after he stepped down when he lost a national referendum. Although Pinochet's neo-liberal (deregulation and privatization) policies encouraged economic growth, they immensely hurt the poorer parts of the population and hugely increased the gap between rich and poor. The economic disparity was, much like Pinochet's tweaks to the constitution, designed to ensure him getting away unpunished (which he more or less did) and conservatives always having a de facto veto on some issues; and such problems still plague the country today. The new government of Patricio Aylwin thought it sensible to maintain free market policies that present-day Chile still harbours to some extent.
Despite having a comparatively higher GDP and more robust economy compared to most other countries of Latin America, Chile has one of the most uneven distributions of wealth in the world, ahead only of Brazil in the Latin American region and even lagging behind most developing sub-Saharan African nations. Chile's top 10 richest percentile possesses almost 42 percent of the country's total wealth. In relation to income distribution, some 6.2% of the country populates the upper economic income bracket, 19% the middle bracket, 24% the lower middle, 38% the lower bracket, and 13% the extreme poor. These extreme divisions have caused a lot of uproar, and in the beginning 2010s, there was a youth and student protest movement to draw attention to those issues. Though some policies to mitigate the most extreme disparities have been proposed or passed, their effects seem to be minuscule as of early 2015.
Chile is a founding member of both United Nations and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and is also now in the OECD, the group of the "most developed" countries by current international standards, becoming the first country in South America with that honour.
Chile claims to be a tricontinental country, with islands in Oceania, and a claim to a 1.25 million km² portion of Antarctica, overlapping with Argentina's claims. Given the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, no country's territorial claims to Antarctica are ever recognized or permitted to be exercised at any time. However, much like Argentina, some Chileans take their claims in Antarctica and surrounding islands seriously.
Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape — 4,300 km long and on average 175 km wide — has given it a varied climate, ranging from the world's driest desert—the Atacama—in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a rainy temperate climate in the south, while the Andes have cold weather. The northern desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper.
Due to the dissimilar geographic features of Chile, cultural expressions vary markedly in different parts of the country. The northern area is characterized by various cultural events that combine the influence of Andean indigenous peoples with the Spanish conquerors, giving great importance to festivals and religious traditions as diabladas and Fiesta de La Tirana. The central area is mostly determined by the rural traditions of the Chilean countryside. As in this geographic region most of the Chilean population is concentrated, is traditionally considered the home country's cultural identity. Its highest expression is performed during the festivities of Independence Day, in mid-September. The Mapuche culture and traditions dominate La Araucanía, while German influence is predominant near Valdivia, Osorno and Lake Llanquihue. In the archipelago of Chiloé culture with its own mythology was generated, while in the regions of the southern area have also created an identity influenced mainly by immigrants from other regions from Chile and foreigners. The cultural identity of Easter Island, meanwhile, is only due to the development of Polynesian culture since time immemorial completely isolated for centuries.
The festivities in Chile correspond to religious celebrations and commemorations civilians. Because of its position in the southern hemisphere-the rental period high season of tourism locally starts in December and runs through the first week of March. The beginning of this period is marked by two major celebrations: Christmas, mainly family-owned and maintains an aspect of religiosity, and New Year, which is usually much more lively, with large parties and fireworks festivals in major cities. Celebrating Good Friday remains a religious and reflective tone, although Easter has become an eminently children's holiday. The arrival of spring marks the main civil festival of the year: Independence Day, which is an opportunity to meet Chileans to celebrate with food and drink, traditions, dances and music.
- 1 January — New Year's Day
- March and April — Good Friday - Holy Saturday - Easter
- 1 May - International Workers' Day
- 21 May — Day of the Naval Glories (Día de las Glorias Navales)
- 29 June — Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
- 16 July — Day of the Virgin of Carmen (Día de la Virgen del Carmen)
- 15 August — Assumption of Mary
- 18 September — Fiestas Patrias
- 19 September — Day of the Glories of the Army of Chile (Día de las Glorias del Ejército de Chile)
- 12 October — Columbus Day
- 31 October — National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches (Día Nacional de las Iglesias Evangélicas y Protestantes)
- 1 November— All Saints' Day
- 8 December — Immaculate Conception
- 25 December — Christmas
In Chile there is no restriction on religion. Nearly 70% of the population which is above 14 years of age are identified as Roman Catholic and nearly 15% as evangelical.
Spanish is the official language in the country and is spoken everywhere. Chileans use a distinct dialect called Castellano de Chile with a variety of differences in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and slang usage. Spanish-speaking foreigners won't have problems understanding it and will only think it sounds funny, but non-native speakers often struggle to understand it, even with years of practice. For example, Chileans tend to drop the "S" sound at the ends of their words. Instead they replace that sound with an "H" sound (i.e. the word "tres" is pronounced "tréh"). On the other hand, standard Spanish is not the first dialect of choice, but people would generally be fairly fluent.
Here are two of the most common Chilean expressions:
- Huevón (pronounced usually as way-OHN) could be translated into different words according to its context. Originally a swear word meaning "jerk", it can be used also as "friend" or "dude".
- Cachar (pronounced ka-CHAR) comes from the verb "to catch" and means "understand". Also, is commonly used in a weird conjugated form as cachai' at the end of the sentences, similarly to "y'know", and in a colloquial manner it can also be used to mean sexual intercourse.
English is widely understood in large cities, especially Santiago, and to a much lesser extent in Valparaíso, Concepción or La Serena. English is now mandatory in schools, so younger people are far more likely to speak English than older people. Most Chileans over age 40 are unlikely to speak English, unless they are tourist industry workers.
Indigenous languages including Mapudungun, Quechua and Rapa Nui (in Easter Island) are spoken in Chile but only among indigenous people, who are less than 5% of the population. Many people identifying with one of these groups are not able to speak the language of their ancestors and speak only Spanish instead.
Many Chileans understand some French, Italian and Portuguese and also there are some German speakers, especially in the south of the country, where a lot of German migrants arrived in the second half of the 19th century and some around the time of World War II.
Passport holders of the following countries do not need a visa to enter Chile when the purpose of the visit is tourism for up to 90 days (unless otherwise noted): Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia (30 days), Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore (30 days), Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Citizens and residents (if their nationality is mentioned under visa exemptions applicable to normal passport holders) of the following countries can enter with their National ID card: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Citizens of other nationalities, including several African and Asian nationalities, will not be able to enter Chile, without applying for a special visa from a Chile consulate before entry.
Citizens of Australia must pay a reciprocity fee which is US$117. This fee is equivalent to the amount that country requires for entry visas from Chilean citizens. The fee is only for tourists entering by plane, and the one-time charge is good for the life of your passport. Tourists should have cash or a credit card to pay the fee. Citizens of other countries, such as the UK, do not have to pay a fee.
Further information about tourist visa can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Relations website.
Entry and exit procedures
When entering Chile, you will be processed at immigration by the International Police, a branch of the Investigations Police of Chile (Policía de Investigaciones de Chile, or PDI). The officer scan your passport, asks you questions about the purpose of your visit and where you are staying in Chile, then prints out a receipt showing information drawn from your passport, your destination in Chile and a large matrix bar code. Keep this receipt safe: it is the equivalent of the old tourist card form. You will be required to present it to the International Police when you depart Chile, and you may not be allowed to leave without it. Together with your passport, it also exempts you from the 19% room tax at all hotels, making losing it quite costly.
If arriving by air, you will then be required to proceed to the baggage claim to pick up your bags. You will have to fill out a customs declaration form (which is handed out in flight), and proceed to customs inspection. Regardless of whether you have anything to declare, all bags of all international arrivals are screened by x-ray machines at airport customs stations.
On flights leaving Chile, there is an airport tax of US$30 or the equivalent in Chilean pesos for flights longer than 500km, which is normally included in the ticket price. On domestic flights, airport tax depends on the distance with distances less than 270 km costing CLP$1,969 and longer distances costing CLP$4,992; either way, it will also be included in the ticket price.
Like most countries, Chile has immigration inspection stations at airports for both arriving and departing international passengers. The total time to clear immigration (not including additional time for customs for inbound flights or security for outbound flights) usually takes at least 30 minutes to one hour. This is why some airlines ask passengers leaving Chile on international flights to check in at two hours before departure time, to ensure they have adequate time to clear outbound immigration and security inspection.
Chile is a geographically isolated country, separated from its neighbours by desert, mountains and ocean. This protects it from many pests and diseases that can hit agriculture, one of the biggest national economic sources. Due to this, importation of certain fresh, perishable or wooden goods (such as meat products, fruits & vegetables, honey, untreated wood, etc.) can be either restricted or even prohibited. Upon arrival, the customs declaration form will require you to declare that you are not carrying any restricted product. If you are, declare so and show the form to SAG officials at the customs inspection station.
Prior to 30 August 2016, Chile was not a signatory to the Hague Convention on apostilles, meaning that all documents other than passports were considered legally worthless in Chile, unless legalized by a foreign Chilean consulate or embassy before coming to Chile. Since the Convention has come into effect in Chile, it is sufficient to obtain notarization or certification, together with apostilles, to ensure that foreign documents will be accepted as legally binding in Chile.
Remember that Chile is a centralized country (a "unitary state" in the parlance of political science), so the laws stay the same regardless of region.
The most common entry point for overseas visitors is the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL IATA) in the commune of Pudahuel, 15 km (9.3 miles) north-west of downtown Santiago. It is the largest aviation facility in Chile and one the 6th busiest of South America by passenger traffic (over 11 million in 2010). It is a major connecting point for air traffic between Oceania and Latin America.
Santiago International Airport is served by several non-stop international service, mainly from Europe, the Americas and Oceania. LATAM Airlines is the largest national carrier and flights from the main cities in the Americas, Sydney, Auckland, Papeete, Frankfurt and Madrid. Other airlines serving SCL are Aerolíneas Argentinas, Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Iberia.
Santiago does not have enough gates to allow most international aircraft to occupy parking spots at gates while being serviced. On arrival, your aircraft will likely be directed to a remote parking spot on the tarmac along with many others and you will be bused to immigration inspection, which will add another 15 to 20 minutes of delay.
Other airports with international services are in Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, Concepción, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, all of them to neighbouring countries. The Mataveri International Airport in Easter Island receives only LATAM Airlines flights from Santiago, Lima and Papeete.
If you are already in South America, a cheaper and reliable way is to go by bus to Chile. Buses from Argentina depart daily from Mendoza, Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes, and even from Buenos Aires weekly. From Peru, there are several buses from Arequipa; some taxis also cross the border between Tacna and Arica. There are also several buses from Bolivia to northern cities and Santiago. Also, there are Brazilian buses from São Paulo, on Mondays and Thursdays.
The crossing from Bolivia or Argentina through the Andes takes place at high altitude, up to 4,000 m (13,000 ft). Also, the roads from Peru and Bolivia are a bit poor in quality, so be patient. During the winter season, which begins in June and ends in August, it is not uncommon for the passage from Mendoza to close for days at a time.
Boat journeys from neighbouring Argentina exist, with companies like Cruceandino [dead link] offering "cruise" style trips across the border from Bariloche, with different lengths of journey. One day (12 hour) journeys cost around US$300.
Chile has a rather good airport infrastructure. The main hub for flights in Chile is the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL) in Santiago, from where several airlines serve even the remotest corners of the country. These airlines are the three Chilean airlines: LATAM Airlines, Sky Airline and Principal Airlines. Although LATAM is by far the largest companies, Sky and PAL offer good services to the main cities.
When travelling within Chile, please consider reserving your tickets before entering the country: flight coupons are recommended and can be bought at LATAM when you also purchase your flight to Chile with them. LATAM offers a good online reservation service but in the others is not that good yet and mainly in Spanish, although it is possible to use them to compare fares.
Because of the shape of the country, many routes are subject to several time-consuming layovers. You might take this into account as you can have up to 4 stops en route to your destination! (e.g. for a flight from Punta Arenas to Arica you may have stops at Puerto Montt, Santiago, Antofagasta and Iquique). Domestic routes are served , Airbus 319, Airbus 321 and Airbus 320 when flying with LAN, a Airbus 319/320s when flying Sky Airline.
The only airline flying to Easter Island is LATAM Airlines from Santiago. Other remote locations are served by regional airlines. In the Extreme South, Aerovías DAP offer daily routes from Punta Arenas to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego and Puerto Williams. Between November and March, DAP offers very limited and expensive flights to Villa Las Estrellas in Antarctica. To Robinson Crusoe Island, there are weekly flights from Santiago and Valparaíso.
The bus system is sophisticated and provides a cheap and comfortable way to get from town to town. Local companies will usually stop at many stations along the way, however, you can always ask if there's a non-stop or directo service. Companies that cover almost the entire country include Turbus and Pullman (websites in Spanish only). In Santiago, you can find both terminals and more companies on Universidad de Santiago metro station. Companies that cover the North of Chile and Argentina (Salta) include Geminis.
Prices vary on a daily basis, so are usually more expensive on weekends and holidays tickets than on weekdays. Ticket prices are also almost always negotiable: don't be shy to ask for a discount, especially if you are in a group. Always ask at different booths and make sure the vendors see you are shopping around.
The quality of service varies quite a lot. Check if the bus is "cama" (bed), "semi-cama" (heavily inclining seats) or ejecutivo (executive - slightly inclining seat). Toilets are not always available and if available not always working, especially if you are getting on a bus at a later stage of a long journey (i.e. Arica - Santiago).
Tren Central, the passenger section of the government railway company, regularly operates trains between Santiago and Chillán, as well as ocasional service between Santiago and Temuco, which occurs when holidays cause a long weekend. It also operates the last remaining ramal, or branch line, between Talca and Constitución, as well as a wine-tasting train through the central valley for tourists.
Micro = transit/local buses. The word is the contraction of microbus. Larger cities have cross-town bus routes at affordable prices. Only Santiago's system, called "Transantiago", have maps (Map as of October 2010) with all the routes, so a little bit of Spanish and the audacity to ask around can get you places effectively in other major cities. To travel by "micro" in Santiago you will need to buy before a smart contactless travel-card called "BIP" and charge it with money. You can do so in any subway station, in most supermarkets and in some smaller stores. This card also allows you to travel by subway in Santiago. Be careful! You won't be able to travel by bus without money in your BIP card. The card costs US$2.50, and a ticket costs a little over US$1, which allows you to make up to four transfers between metro and buses within a 2-hour time period. You only need to scan the card at the beginning of your journey and at every transfer. You should hop off the "micro" through the back doors.
A mix between a micro and a taxi. These small cars have routes and get around quicker and more comfortably. Fares are similar to those on the Micro, and depend on the hour. Cash only.
A metropolitan railway system operating in metropolitan areas of Santiago and Valparaíso. A reliable way to move around in the city. You must pay the fee only once (when you enter the system) and you can ride as much as you want. There are now more stations in Santiago because of the construction of two new lines. Visit the website for more information.
Car rentals are widely available throughout most major cities, but not in smaller towns. Usually a credit card, a valid driver's licence and a passport, all three issued to the same person, are needed to rent a car. If your driver's licence is not in Spanish, you also need an International Driver Permit (IDP). Many rental car companies will not ask for an IDP, but it's a good idea to have one, just in case you encounter the police. Rental rates in Santiago are very similar to those in the U.S., but prices can be much higher in other cities. If you want to bring rental cars across South American borders (as part of a road trip), you will need to notify the rental car company in advance, pay additional fees, and obtain extra paperwork to show that you are authorized by the company to drive its vehicles across borders. Rental cars in South America all come with hidden GPS transponders (even if there is no navigation system in the car) so the company will know if you try to take the vehicle out of the country without their knowledge or drive too many kilometres per day (if your vehicle has a per-day limit).
Parking spaces and street lanes are relatively narrower, so it's a good idea to get a small vehicle. However, like most Latin Americans, Chileans prefer to drive vehicles with manual transmissions to conserve fuel. As a result, the smallest vehicles available for rent with automatic transmissions are usually standard-size sedans, which are more expensive. North American drivers who can only drive automatic transmissions (and would also like to obtain both required and supplemental liability insurance and to reduce personal responsibility for vehicle damage to zero) should be prepared to pay up to US$100 per day to rent such vehicles.
There are several important vehicle-related documents which you must be able to present upon demand by the police, like the permiso de circulation (proof of payment of a vehicle registration fee to the local jurisdiction in which the vehicle is regularly garaged), and proof of Chilean vehicle insurance. The rental car company will normally keep those documents somewhere in the car. For example, Avis Budget Group puts them in a portfolio folder which is small enough to fit in the glove compartment. Make sure you know where those documents are, so if you encounter the police, you will be able to present the vehicle documents promptly, along with your passport, driver's licence, IDP and rental car contract.
Road signs and markings
All traffic signs and markings are in Spanish only. They are an interesting hybrid of European and North American influences. The European influence is more obvious in areas like speed limit signs and graphic icons, while the North American influence is more obvious in areas like warning signs (yellow and diamond-shaped) and typefaces. Most traffic signs are self-explanatory but a few are not. If you cannot read or speak Spanish, you must take the time to memorize the meaning of the most common signs and markings, so that you will not inadvertently violate traffic law and draw unwanted attention from the police.
Like European countries, but unlike most North and South American countries, Chile uses white lines on roads to divide both traffic moving in the same direction and traffic moving in opposing directions. These are supplemented with arrows on the ground as well as arrows included on street name signs.
To indicate that you cannot enter a road, Chile uses the international prohibition symbol (a red circle with a diagonal slash) over an arrow pointing directly up.
Chilean guide signs on regular highways are usually green. Guide signs on expressways (autopistas) are usually blue, except for guide signs for motorway exits, which are usually (but not always) green.
Rules of the road
Speed limits are usually 60 km/h in cities, 100 km/h on intercity highways and some urban expressways, and 120 km/h on the finest intercity expressways. Dangerous road sections are all often signed with lower speed limits, such as hill crests, blind curves, tunnels, busy urban streets and narrow urban alleys. The latter two tend to be signed for 30 km/h.
There is no right turn on red, except for signs (rarely seen) which expressly authorize right turns on red with caution after making a complete stop.
Santiago and other cities have reversible lanes and roads. They also have bus-only lanes (also used by taxis) which private vehicles are supposed to stay out of, and which are enforced by photo and video surveillance. If you enter bus-only lanes and proceed to cruise straight down several blocks, without any indication of making a turn or merging into regular lanes, don't be surprised if the rental car company informs you that you have been fined.
Like many countries, Chile prefers to use yield or give way signs whenever possible, and uses stop signs ("PARE") only when absolutely necessary (usually because it's a blind intersection and someone was killed there). If there aren't any visible traffic signs or markings governing priority, and two vehicles reach an intersection simultaneously, priority belongs to the vehicle approaching from your right.
Traffic signals are usually on timers with no sensor loops, so you will have to sit and wait even if it's the middle of the night. Unlike most Latin American countries, carjackings are relatively rare, so running red lights and stop signs late at night are not tolerated by police.
Chileans generally obey red lights, stop signs and other traffic control devices, and their driving is much more sane than most of Latin America. However, some visitors find their driving to be more aggressive than at home. This is most evident when merging, especially when traffic from multiple lanes has to merge together in order to detour around road closures or accidents. Chileans also sometimes follow the European model of gently bumping into other vehicles while parallel parking, in order to squeeze into very tight spaces. Thus, many Chilean vehicles have chipped or scratched paint from such close encounters.
Also, despite steep fines and frequent use of radar guns, photo radar, and speed traps, speeding is rampant. When driving on intercity expressways, you will often encounter the "autobahn" problem seen in Germany, where you might merge into the right lane behind a truck or subcompact vehicle barely able to sustain 80 km/h, then have to patiently wait for the opportunity to merge into a left lane dominated by regular vehicles driving at the speed limit of 120 km/h, as well as occasional speeders exceeding 140 km/h.
Chilean roads are generally good compared to most of Latin America. Expressways are virtually always well-maintained, paved, painted, signed, and largely free of potholes, cracks, litter and debris. However, many older streets in cities are in poor condition, and drivers must be alert to avoid cracks, dips, drains and potholes. Country roads are also sometimes in poor condition; they are not paved to the same thickness as in foreign countries, and even slight deterioration may cause the underlying dirt base to show through.
In big cities, it is a good idea to avoid rush hours, between 07:00 and 09:00 and between 17:00 and 20:00.
Chile has relied upon privatized toll concessions to build and maintain major highways since the early 20th century. If you plan on driving around Chile, plan on paying lots of tolls. Many toll concessions have surge pricing during major holidays and weekends. Rates ("tarifas") for all types of vehicles are always posted on large signs before toll plazas, and if you miss the rate sign, the current rate in effect that day for standard passenger cars is always posted on a sign in front of each separate toll booth. Chilean highways normally use barrier toll plazas at locations that are hard to avoid (e.g., near steep mountain ranges and rivers), and do not use distance-based tolling tracked through tickets.
Santiago has adopted a mandatory electronic toll collection system ("TAG") for use of all privatized tollways in the city; even the airport access road is a tollway. There are no toll plazas on the Santiago tollways, only toll gantries, so driving on them without a TAG transponder means you may incur a large fine. All rental car companies in Santiago are required to include TAG transponders in vehicles and include TAG fees in their rental car prices. Once you have rented a vehicle in Santiago, you should feel free to use Santiago tollways (which can save substantial amounts of time), since you are paying for them. Some rental companies (like Chilean) have a minimal amount (CLP$2,000) for TAG included in their rental contract. So, you do not have to worry that much about fees leaving and returning to the city. In this case, rather take a direct route than trying to avoid the toll roads.
Chile has not yet mandated full automatic interoperability between TAG and the various Televia transponders used on intercity toll roads, such as Route 68 which connects Santiago to Valparaiso. There are now programs under which users of transponders on one system can temporarily gain interoperability, but such access has to be manually requested before each use and it is a substantial hassle. And many toll plazas still do not take credit cards. Therefore, if you rent in Santiago but plan to drive to other cities, you must obtain sufficient Chilean pesos to pay tolls before leaving the city and go through the cash ("Manual") lanes at toll plazas. Similarly, if you rent in another Chilean city and drive to Santiago, you should examine city maps first and stay away from tollways that require TAG.
Many private parking facilities in Chile are just like parking facilities anywhere in the world. You take a bar-coded ticket upon entry, pay at a vending machine before returning to your vehicle, and then insert the ticket into a reader at the exit gate. In Santiago, the parking concessionaire Saba uses orange RFID "ChipCoins" for the same purpose, as well as for access control to parking garages (so that the only people who can enter underground parking garages are those who already obtained ChipCoins at the vehicle entrance).
Otherwise, public parking on streets and in some surface lots is more complicated, because Chile does not have parking meters. Instead, you will see signs saying that so-and-so curb (or lot) has been concessioned out to a specific person or company, between certain hours, for so many pesos for every 30 minutes. If you don't see anyone present, it's usually OK to park there (unless the sign also advises otherwise), but if the concessionaire is present, they will print out a receipt on a handheld machine and tuck it under your windshield wiper to record when you arrived. You then pay them the parking fee when you come back.
In some public parking areas, even if there isn't a sign declaring that a particular street has been concessioned, you may see self-appointed car guards who will demand tips in exchange for watching your car when you are absent (and who might sometimes help you back into spaces and back out of them). This is a racket (and quite annoying to people from places where car guards are not tolerated), but it's generally a good idea to cooperate; CLP$500 is usually more than sufficient to secure their cooperation. Car guards are usually not seen in private parking facilities, as they have private security guards on patrol who are paid out of parking fees.
Petrol in Chile is normally unleaded and comes in 93, 95, and 97 octane. Diesel is also available at many stations. Due to high taxes and Chile's distance from major oilfields, expect to pay about 1.5 times the average U.S. price for equivalent fuel (but still less than in most of Western Europe). Self-service is illegal, so you must know enough Spanish to ask for the correct octane and to tell the attendant on duty to fill it up.
The concept of hitchhiking as a form of travel is not common or well comprehended. Nevertheless, many people will stop to take you for a ride, either because you are a tourist or the believe the bus is not very frequent and you might be stuck. Thus, hitchhiking in Chile is not difficult, given enough time and patience. It is seen as a common form of travel for tourists or young, adventurous Chileans.
On large highways such as the Panamerican Highway, hitching is really great and easy because there are many trucks going between big cities. Also, more often you will be lucky with workers traffic and less with (local) tourists. Hence, depending on the region, a holiday or Sunday can sometimes be difficult. Smaller, more scenic roads such as the Carretera Austral in the south, can leave you waiting for half a dozen hours in the more remote sections but the rides will generally get you a long way and are worth waiting for. If you are a tourist be sure to show it with your backpack, flags attached to your backpack, etc. The locals love chatting with foreigners.
Due to the lack of budget accommodation in many regions and even larger cities off the touristy routes, as well as because of the large distances, it is advisable to carry a tent with you. There are many opportunities along the coast or backcountry to put it up. However, along the central Ruta 5, it is advisable to rather take a bus as a last resort.
Along larger highways always wait somewhere convenient at the ramp towards the highway where cars enter. Waiting directly at the highway can be highly unsuccessful, because of the speed cars have then. They will often not be willing to slow then. Ruta 5 becomes more and more difficult to hitch-hike the closer you get north to Santiago, because then it is mostly local traffic that often takes exits to cities that are contrary to the direction you travel. E.g. entering the city in the south because this is were you come from. However, you actually want to go north, so most traffic north leaves at the northern entry to the highway. Therefore, get to the coast from Temuco or at least Concepción if going north, even though Concepción might be difficult to cross. Traffic along the Ruta del Mar is less frequent but more gracious, and camping opportunities are more frequent and less worrisome. South of Valdivia things are more bearable, because towns and cities have just one entry and exit to/from the highway.
- Also, find many helpful tips in the hitchhiking guide of WikiVoyage.
Chile is an excellent place for hiking and trekking, both in the (volcanic) mountains and the lush forests, providing many interesting trails. However, due to the often remote nature of these trails, it is important that you are well prepared and have a proper and reliable map with you. In addition, using GPS adds an extra layer of safety, both in cities as well as the countryside. For reliable (offline) maps and comprehensive trails and map information, consult OpenStreetMap, which is also used by this travel guide, and by many mobile Apps like OsmAnd (complex with many add-ons) and MAPS.ME (easy but limited).
Stretching from 17°S in the north to 55°S in the south, Chile is latitude-wise among the longest countries in the world, with several climate zones and types of nature. High mountains are present everywhere in the country. On the Chilean mainland you can visit three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Old Valparaíso, the Sewell mining town in Rancagua and the Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works outside Iquique. Just off the coast are the churches of Chiloé Island, and five and a half hours by plane across the Pacific Ocean will get you to maybe the most famous "Off the Beaten Path" destination in the world: Easter Island.
- Hiking and trekking. Chile is a great country to seek out the nature, glaciers, lakes and mountains for a couple of days with a tent, sleeping bag and cooking ware. Many of Chile's (southern) sights are spotted with beautiful hiking trails of varying quality and level. Often you will have to climb up a mountain to see a glacier or a lake, just to return later—in that case consider leaving your (heavy) luggage where it cannot be found and enjoy the trail without the burden, but remembering where you left your backpack before. Also, see the general Hiking and Wilderness backpacking guidelines of WikiVoyage. Check out the following great destinations:
- Chiloé Island and its beautiful coastal national park
- Valdivia, the Reserva Costera Valdiviana and many other destinations around Valdivia
- Cochamó Valley, the Yosemite of Chile and the huge area south of it, even into Argentina
- Talca and everything to its east
- Torres del Paine National Park, impressive, touristy and expensive
- Surfing. Everything between Cobquecura and Pelluhue, like Curanipe, Cardonal, Tregualemu and Buchupureo are exceptional surfing destinations and mirror the shape and conditions of the Californian coast on the northern side of the continent. This region is still a hidden gem and is receiving a lot of state support for development. However, beaches and breaks are far from overrun and you can find many lone opportunities to try out your board.
- The Salar de Uyuni tour from San Pedro de Atacama is one of the most impressive things to do in South America. Although, actually part of Bolivia, it is very popular to do the tour from San Pedro itself. The town even offers other impressive sights around it and inside Chile, which are worth exploring. However, if you are heading to Uyuni, only Valle de Luna is really worth doing.
- Chile is home to the second largest recreational pool in the world (formerly the largest until its builder finished an even larger pool in Egypt in 2015) at the San Alfonso del Mar resort in Algarrobo. You will want a sailboat to complete its 2 km length.
Exchange rates for Chilean peso
As of January 2019:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Chile's currency is the Chilean peso (ISO code: CLP), denoted by the symbol "$". Wikivoyage uses the notation "CLP$" for clarity. Other currencies are not widely accepted, but most cities have exchange bureaux with reasonable rates for euros and US dollars. The rates should be published on widely visible boards.
The colloquial term luca is used for 1000 pesos, so for instance "tres lucas" is 3000 pesos.
The 5-peso and especially 1-peso coins are rarely used. Most prices are in multiples of 10 or even 100, but if you end up needing to pay an amount that isn't, the cashier will likely ask if you want to donate a few pesos to bring the total to a round number. Say yes; don't make them dig out the tiny change that you'll never manage to spend anyway.
Never exchange money on the street, especially if a "helper" indicates you to follow them. Rates at exchange bureaus are too good to take this risk.
It's not advisable to exchange currency in the hotel or the airport as the rates are awful. Just be patient. Banco Santander has a monopoly on the ATMs of the airport and will add a surcharge of CLP$2,500 for retrieving cash but it's still better than the exchange bureaus.
The automatic teller machine (ATM) network in Chile is respectable in coverage—they're all connected to the same service and enable standard transactions. Different banks will charge you different amounts of money for extracting cash—you will be advised on the screen of the surcharge. Banco Estado does not add a surcharge for MasterCard. However, as of Mar 2018, Banco Estado charges CLP$4,000 and Banco de Chile charges CLP$6,500 on Visa cards. Withdrawals of up to CLP$200,000 are possible with Banco Estado. Some travellers were even able to withdraw CLP$280,000, which brings down the percentage of fees further.
Criminals sometimes install hard-to-detect skimmers and micro-cameras in some less surveiled ATM facilities. These devices are meant to read your card's information to produce a clone. Several international crime gangs have been arrested for this. Always check if the card slot looks suspicious or is easy to move or detach and always cover the keyboard with your hand while punching your PIN.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in most of the independent commerce of major cities and in all chain stores, no matter where they are. The PIN security system has been introduced for credit cards, so you will mostly only need your personal PIN (four digit code) as it exists in other parts of the world. For some cards you will not be asked for your PIN and they will use the four last numbers of the credit card entered manually and you will have to show a valid ID.
Money exchange, accommodation, VAT, etc.
Considering the withdrawal fees at ATMs, it is a good idea to bring some US dollars or even Euros to Chile. Money exchange rates are quite competitive with an included fee of around 1%—the fee is 4% when withdrawing CLP$100,000 from an ATM. Of course carrying larger amounts of cash is not that preferable on the other hand.
Nevertheless, having US dollars is also handy for paying at your accommodation, because if can paying in foreign currency as foreigner, you do not have to pay VAT. This is true also for credit card payments in foreign currency, but most smaller places will often not support US dollar credit card payments or even just credit card payments, because it needs to be registered with the tax office of Chile (SII) for this purpose. But sometimes you are lucky, and they will not charge the VAT at all, even if paying in local currency, which is kind of illegal.
When using US dollars, make sure to always have and receive proper notes. US dollar notes that are flexed too much, have writings on them or discoloration (stains) are barely excepted. Even though, banks seem to be more forgiving than smaller money changing offices. Which is fine, because banks have quite competitive rates. However, exchange office can sometimes even beat these rates, e.g. in Valparaíso.
You might decide to generally pay with your credit card, in local or foreign currency, due to the competitive exchange rates of your bank and the low 0-3% payment fee. However, credit card fraud in South America is not uncommon, and you are better off to only use your card with respected businesses.
Tipping is not obligatory but is generally expected. It is usually assumed that customers will leave a tip of 10%, if the service is considered satisfactory. Sometimes restaurants automatically add it to the bill.
It's also important to tip the baggers at grocery stores; CLP$300-500 is fine.
For basic supplies like groceries, there are many convenience stores and corner grocery stores. Large supermarkets such as Lider, Jumbo, Tottus and Santa Isabel are often found both as stand-alone stores and as mall anchors. Lider will seem a little familiar to North Americans in that it is owned by Walmart and has reconfigured its store signage to look somewhat like Walmart stores. However, Chile's strong consumer goods economy is dominated by local brands, which means almost all the brands on the shelves will be new to most visitors from outside South America.
The dominant pharmacy chains in Chile are Cruz Verde, Ahumada and Salcobrand. Only cosmetics are kept in the public area. All drugs and supplements are kept behind the counter and must be asked for by name, which can be tricky if you cannot speak Spanish.
Nowadays, the word artesanal is used in inflationary manners in Chile and Argentina mostly without any added value. It has become a marketing term used by many places in hope of selling things at an inflated price, pretending extra quality where there is none. Generally, you are better off ignoring this term and skipping goods, food or places that emphasis this wording.
Chilean cuisine has a wide variety of dishes that emerged from the amalgamation of indigenous tradition and Spanish colonial contribution, combining their food, customs and culinary habits. Influences from German, Italian and French cuisines are thanks to immigrants who arrived during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Chilean Creole food in general is presented as a mixture of the meat and agricultural products of each area. In the north and south fishing is a major economic activity and this is reflected in the variety of dishes: the desert area's ceviche (fish seasoned with lemon and onions) and curanto (cooked seafood, meat, sausages and potatoes made in a hole in the ground) are the ultimate expression of chilota kitchen. The potato is also key in other chilota preparations as milcao and chapaleles. The central area uses corn (maize) and beef for foods such as tamales. Pie pine casserole and charquicán are some of the most recognized within the region. The roast, meanwhile, stands as the main preparation for informal gatherings and family; take this opportunity to learn more about Chilean society. Desserts include alfajores and Curicó cakes, while German immigrants introduced the kuchen and strudel pastry.
Chile's extensive geography allows development on its shores of several varieties of seafood: the top highlights are the croaker, pomfret, conger eel and salmon, which is produced industrially in the south of the country. For shellfish: oysters, as well as certain crustaceans such as crab and lobster. Beef, chicken and pork are the main meats, although in the Patagonian area one can easily find lamb. Chile is a major exporter of fruit, so you can find a variety of apples, oranges, peaches, strawberries, raspberries and custard, in good quality and much cheaper than in Europe or North America.
Despite this wide variety of dishes and products, normal food in a Chilean home is not very different from any other Western country; during your stay you will certainly see more dishes with rice, meat, potatoes or pasta than corn pies or cakes.
In Santiago and major cities, you can find a wide range of restaurants serving both local and international food. Although optional, it is customary to add a gratuity of 10%, delivered directly to the waiter. He or she will always welcome more. Not giving a tip is considered quite rude, performed only when there has been very bad service.
The major fast food chains in the world have several branches in the country. If you resort to fast food, it is better to have one of the wide variety of sandwiches that exist in the country: the Barros Luco (meat and cheese) and Italian full (hot dog with tomato, avocado and mayonnaise) are the most traditional. If you are in Valparaíso and have good cholesterol levels, do not waste the opportunity to try a chorrillana. On the streets you can find many stalls selling buns (fried pumpkin masses) and the refreshing mote with ossicles. Food prepared in stalls will generally give few problems, although don’t try if you have a weak stomach.
- Pastel de choclo: corn casserole filled with ground beef, onions, chicken, raisins, hardboiled egg, olives, and topped with sugar and butter.
- Empanada de pino: a baked pie filled with ground (minced) beef, onion, raisins, a piece of boiled egg and a black olive. Watch out for the pit.
- Empanada de queso: a deep-fried pastry packet filled with cheese. Found everywhere, including McDonald's.
- Cazuela de vacuno: beef soup with a potato, rice, a piece of corn and a piece of squash.
- Cazuela de ave (or de pollo): same as above, but with a piece of chicken.
- Cazuela de pavo: same as above, but with turkey.
- Porotos granados: stew made with fresh beans, squash, corn, onion and basil.
- con choclo: with grains of corn.
- con pilco or pirco: with corn thinly chopped.
- con mazamorra: with ground corn.
- con riendas: with thin sliced noodles.
- Curanto: lots of seafood, beef, chicken and pork, potatoes, cheese, and potato "burguers," prepared in a hole in the ground ("en hoyo") or in a pot ("en olla"); a dish from Chiloé.
- Southern sopaipillas: a fried pastry cut as 10-cm (4-in) circles, with no pumpkin in its dough (see Northern sopaipillas in the desserts section). They replace bread. They are known South of Linares.
- Lomo a lo pobre: a beefsteak, fried potatoes, a fried egg (expect two in restaurants) and fried onions.
Besides typical foods, you should expect food normally found in any Western country. The normal diet includes rice, potatoes, meat and bread. Vegetables are abundant in central Chile. If you are concerned about the portions, consider that the size of the dish increases the farther south you travel.
With such an enormous coastline, you can expect fish and seafood almost everywhere. Locals used to eat bundles of raw shellfish, but visitors should be cautious of raw shellfish because of frequent outbreaks of red tides. Chile is the world's second largest producer of salmon, as well as a number of other farmed sea products, which include oysters, scallops, mussels, trout and turbot. Local fish include corvina (sea bass), congrio(conger eel), lenguado (flounder), albacora (swordfish), and yellow fin tuna.
- Hotdog or Completo (meaning 'complete' in English). Not similar to the US version. This one includes mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, tomato or sauerkraut (chucrut), mashed avocado (palta) and chili (ají). These ingredients make a full sandwich, called un completo. With mayonnaise, tomato and avocado it's un italiano (an Italian) with the colors of the Italian flag.
- Lomito. Cooked pork steaks served with anything that can go in a hotdog. Italiano is the preferred form but German purists prefer it with sauerkraut (chucrut).
- Chacarero: a thin beefsteak (churrasco) with tomato, green beans, mayonnaise and green chili (ají verde).
- Barros Luco: Named after President Ramón Barros Luco. Thinly-sliced beefsteak with cheese.
- Choripán: Bread with "chorizo", a highly seasoned pork sausage. Named that way because the contraction of "Pan con Chorizo" or "Chorizo con Pan".
A common combination is meat with avocado and/or mayonnaise, e.g. Ave palta mayo (chicken with avocado and mayonnaise) or Churrasco palta (thinly-sliced beefsteak with avocado). The strong presence for avocado is a Chilean standard for sandwiches that influences the fast food franchises to include it in their menus.
- Northern sopaipillas: a fried pastry cut as 10-cm (4-in) circles, which includes pumpkin in its dough, and normally is eaten with chancaca, a black treacle or molasses. It's customary to make them when it rains and it's cold outside. Sopaipillas as a dessert are only known north of San Javier. From Linares to the South, they are not dessert and pumpkin is left out, so, when it rains, Chilean Southerners must cook picarones. In Santiago, Sopaipillas can be served covered with a sweet syrup as a dessert, or with spicy yellow mustard.
- Kuchen (or cújen, pronounced KOO-hen) is German for pie. In the South ask for kuchen de quesillo, a kind of cheesecake.
- Strudel (pronounced ess-TROO-dayl). A kind of apple pie.
- Berlín. When they translate John Kennedy's famous quote (often mistakenly thought of as a gaffe) they say it's a “jelly doughnut”. The Chilean version is a ball of dough (no hole) filled with dulce de membrillo, crema pastelera or manjar. Powder sugar is added just in case you have a sweet tooth.
- Cuchuflí. Barquillo (tube of something crunchy like a cookie) filled with manjar. The name originally comes from cuchufleta which means deceit or trickery, as they used to be filled only at the tips of the barquillos, leaving the middle part empty.
Central Chile is a major tempered fruit producer, you can easily get fruit for dessert, including apples, oranges, peaches, grapes, watermelons, strawberries, raspberries, chirimoyas and several other varieties.
Temperate fruit is of very high quality and prices are usually much lower than in most of the U.S. and Western Europe, while tropical fruit is rather rare and expensive, except for bananas.
- Wine: Chile produces some excellent wines, competing with France, California, Australia and New Zealand on the world market. Notable are the Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere in red, along with whites from the Casablanca valley.
- Mote con Huesillo: A delicious summertime drink made of wheat seeds (mote) and dried peaches (huesillos) boiled, sweetened, and served cold. Typically sold on sidewalk or park stands.
- Chilean Pisco: Brandy made from Muscat grapes. Popular brands are Capel, Alto del Carmen, Mistral and Campanario.
- Pisco Sour: One of Chile's most popular mixed drinks, this consists of Pisco mixed with lemon juice and sugar. It has a delicious tart sweetness.
- Mango Sour: Pisco mixed with mango juice.
- Piscola: Pisco mixed with Coke.
- Borgoña: Red wine and strawberries.
- Terremoto: ("Earthquake"): a typical Chilean drink that consists in a mix of pineapple ice cream with pipeño (like white wine).
- Schop: Draught beer.
- Fan-Schop: Beer mixed with orange Fanta or orange crush soft drink. A refreshing alternative on a hot summer day.
- Beers: Cristal and Escudo are the most popular (light lagers). Royal Guard is a fair bit tastier, Kunstmann is on pair with European imported beer.
- Jote*: wine and Coke.
- There's a very known conflict between Chile and Peru about the origin of Pisco. Although Pisco was registered as a Chilean drink for some countries in the last century, it is historically Peruvian in origin for much longer. Further, Chilean and Peruvian drinks are not the same product, they have different manufacturing procedures, different varieties of grape and not the same taste.
Unlike other Latin-American countries, in Chile it's illegal to drink in unlicensed, public areas (streets, parks, etc.) The laws also restrict vendor hours depending on the weekday (in no case after 03:00 or before 09:00).
Chileans drink a lot of alcohol. So don't be surprised to see one bottle per person.
Chile has many types of hotels in the cities: some of the most prevalent chains are Sheraton, Kempinsky, Ritz, Marriott, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn.
There are also hostels of varying quality. On the backpacker trail, a local hostel version can be found in every small city residential. However, as soon as you are off the backpacker trail, you will find it hard to find hostels, which unfortunately is true for many nice and interesting places around Chile. Contrary to the believe of locals and common marking of accommodations (e.g. on OpenStreetMap), hospedaje and hostal is not to not be confused with hostel, i.e. they do not offer dormitories. If a generalisation is possible, hospedaje generally means guest house, and hostals are small hotels. Hence, the frequency of real hostels is very low.
There is also a variety of accommodations in the mountain ski centers, such as the world-class resort Portillo, 80 km (49 mi) north of Santiago; "Valle Nevado" in the mountains approximately 35 km (22 mi) away from Santiago, and the Termas de Chillan ski resort and hot springs, which lies about 450 km (280 mi) south of Santiago.
Many camping places are available officially with amenities, and backcountry along the coast or near hiking trails. So, if you bring a tent the scarcity of hostels can be dealt with in this way. Consult OpenStreetMap, which many mobile Apps like OsmAnd and MAPS.ME use, to find sites which have been tagged by other people as possible camping sites.
Walking in without reservation is not recommended during high season and will generally not give you a better rate than online.
Rates on the common reservation website(s) are often quotes without VAT (19%), which has to be added when paying. As a tourist you might be exempted from paying the VAT when paying in foreign currency, but many accommodations do not support payment in foreign currency (either in cash or credit card). On the other hand some accommodations will give you the price without VAT even in Chilean pesos because your are a tourist. The situation is highly confusing and sometimes frustrating. It is nevertheless a good idea to have some US dollars with you and ask before paying.
A potential way to avoid the discussion, if you want to pay in US dollars without VAT, is by reserving your accommodation online and immediately sending a message to the place asking them to cancel the reservation in case they do not accept US dollars without VAT payments. Mostly always, prices are quoted in dollars, and this way you save the time and trouble of understanding the place's actual VAT policies besides the ones quoted online. Accommodations will barely make the effort to demand money in case your reservation is cancelled unexpectedly—often you can even reserve without a credit card.
Along with Mexico and Argentina, Chile continues to grow as a preferred destination for studies abroad. It is not uncommon to find groups of European or North American students taking interdisciplinary studies in Spanish language or latinamerican culture and history in one of its many reputed universities:
- In Santiago
- In Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
- In Southern Chile
- Universidad de Concepcion
- Universidad de La Frontera
- Universidad Austral de Chile
- Universidad de Los Lagos
- Universidad de Magallanes
Foreigners need to apply for a work visa before arriving (it can be done after, but it is a lot harder to get one). Temporary permits are issued to spouses and people with a contract. Under-the-table jobs are normally not well paid, lack the mandatory health insurance and retirement plans, and are a reason to get deported.
Another way to work in Chile is to Volunteer for the English Opens Doors Program. It is sponsored by the United Nations Development Program and the Chilean Ministry of Education and places volunteers in schools throughout Chile to be English teaching assistants. The program provides volunteers a home-stay with a Chilean family, meals, a participation bonus of CLP$60,000 for each month of completed service, health insurance, TEFL training, and access to an online Spanish course. There is no fee for participation.
Like most big cities in South America, Santiago suffers from a high rate of pickpocketing and muggings. It's advisable not to travel in the downtown area wearing expensive-looking jewelry or watches, even during the day. Stay alert and be especially careful in all crowded areas in Santiago. It is recommended to wear your backpack at the front of your body in crowded areas. Laptops and the newest mobile phones can be lucrative for thieves, so remember to be on your guard once using them in public places.
For tourists or other "beginners" lacking experience in over-the-counter transactions with hard Chilean currency, you can reduce the chance of your wallet getting stolen by following some advice:
- Separate coins and bills. Coins are frequently used when paying for public transport (except in Santiago buses, where you need to board with the Bip card), newspapers or snacks, store them in a small handbag so that your bills will remain concealed.
- 1000-, 2000- and 5000-peso notes should be easily accessible. Notes of higher value should be stored in another, more secure place in your wallet so you don't accidentally pay CLP$10,000 instead of 1000, for example. All notes have different sizes and they all are very differently coloured and designed.
- Do not reach for your wallet until the vendor tells you the price.
Chilean Carabineros (National Police) are trustworthy: call 133 from any phone if you need emergency assistance. Some municipalities (such as Santiago or Las Condes) have private guards; however, they usually don't speak English.
Do not try to bribe a carabinero, since it will get you into serious trouble! Unlike other South American police corps, Chilean Carabineros are very proud and honest, and bribery would be a serious offence against their creed.
Regarding driving conditions: Chilean drivers tend to be not as erratic and volatile as those in neighboring countries.
Some parts of Chile are still racially homogeneous and locals will be curious if they see a person who is either Asian or black. Being of Middle Eastern origin and wanting to blend in amongst Chileans, getting dressed as a local will help you, though naturally, if you speak with a foreign accent, people will pick up on that right away. Cities like Santiago, Viña del Mar or Antofagasta have become more multicultural in the last few years with immigrants from Haiti, Colombia, China, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, so being a foreigner in those places will not be met with curiosity. Some Chileans who have a low opinion of foreigners might yell "negro" (Spanish for black) or "chino" (Spanish for Chinese), but only report to Carabineros if you are physically assaulted by someone. Racist attacks are infrequent in general but the Carabineros know how to deal with such crimes, so don't hesitate to report if something happens.
Inmigration from countries where Islam is the state religion is very small compared to countries in Europe. There are mosques in the country but the average Chilean is not used to seeing a woman in a hijab or burqa so many will stare or make a comment. There have been reports of verbal harassment by Chileans of women who are dressed traditionally and some have even reported boys or men dragging them by the hijab. Though infrequent, it can happen and report such matters to the police. Some people will also defend your right to be dressed with a hijab or burqa, so do not assume that all Chileans are racist. There is a sizeable Palestinian community but most of them are Christians.
Be careful when taking photos in areas with military buildings or where you see soldiers guarding an entrance for example. They have the right to arrest and confiscate your camera. Be prepared to spend time answering questions and having every single photo examined by a soldier or marine. You will avoid imprisonment due to the fact that marines/ soldiers will understand that you did not understand the warnings being a foreign tourist and interrogation is done because the soldiers are expected to do that when such situation occurs. But it's better to avoid such situation and instead ask if you can take a photo. Some marines or soldiers might speak little English, otherwise point at an object and say "si?", while showing your camera so they understand that you want to take a photo. If they reply with a "no", then it's wise to respect their decision.
Stay out of political protests in any city, especially Santiago. The student protest that shocked the country during 2011 ended with violence. If you want to watch, then stay in a safe area and avoid getting close. The Carabineros are always on the alert as soon as there is a political demonstration and some people join only because they want to cause violence. Also avoid celebrations of sports like Chile winning a tournament for example, since they can end in violence.
If you go out to bars or clubs, be careful when ordering a drink. If you want to be safe, order beer in a bottle or pay for a bottle of wine or hard liquor if possible. Problems with spiked drinks have increased so make sure to always have an eye on your drink when ordering. Places for young people or students tend to have cheap drinks, wine and beer which should be avoided altogether since they are poorly made and can be dangerous for you. Instead, order well known brands like Cristal or Casillero del Diablo in a bar or nightclub.
Walking in the streets in many cities, you will see a lot of stray dogs. The are probably carrying diseases so avoid touching them. They are everywhere and places popular with tourists are full of stray dogs. Don't get involved in an argument if you see local people being aggressive to the stray dogs. They see them every day and will not take kindly to a tourist who has only been in Chile for a couple of days, having an opinion on how to treat the dogs that they feel are aggressive towards the local people. In addition to stray dogs in the cities, in rural areas many places and farms have dogs, but they generally do not tend to leave their premises, which can still happen and they might block your way. In either case, if you feel a dog is getting too close for any reason, even if it looks harmless, pick up one, two or three stone(s), and most dogs will understand the gesture, back down and disappear into the distance. If this does not help and a dog is running towards you aggressively barking, use the stones for your defence.
Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, all of Chile is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.
Having relatively good standards in medicine throughout the country, it is not difficult to stay healthy. However, one will usually find more refined resources at a private medical facility. In case of emergency, call 131, but don't expect an operator fluent in English.
Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all travelers. Other potential vaccines, depending on your travel situation include: Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Rabies and Influenza.
Tap water is safe to drink. Just know that water is produced from the mountains, so it might be harder for foreigners. In that case, it is advisable to buy bottled water.
- Although modern in many ways, Chile remains basically traditional. You will do far better if you do not openly denigrate or flout those traditions.
- Unlike other countries in Latin America, the Chilean police force is admired for its honesty and competence. Report any complaints to the police immediately, including criminal activity. Bribes are not acceptable in Chile in contrast to the rest of Latin America, and you will likely get arrested if you attempt it.
- Do not assume that your hosts in Chile will have a low opinion of Pinochet. It may come as a surprise, but his government still has many supporters, so be careful when raising the issue. Even if you want to discuss other political subjects, people still can get very opinionated and even raise the tone when it comes to politics. Depending on your opinions, they might either call you "communist" or "fascist".
- Chileans are very friendly people. Most of them will be willing to assist you with directions or advice in the street, bus stop, subway station, etc. Just use common sense to avoid danger.
- Be careful with what you say: many younger people can speak and understand English, French, Italian or German. Be polite.
- Chileans hate arrogance. Be arrogant and you will have problems; be kind and everyone will try to help you.
- Chileans will know that you are a foreigner no matter how good your Spanish is. Don't get upset if they call you "gringo" - most foreigners are called that, it's not meant to be offensive.
- If you are of black race or dark skinned, you might be called "negro" in a friendly way. This is by no means similar to the n-word. Most Chileans are not racist, but unlike other South American countries, nearly every person of African heritage is a foreigner. Besides, "negro" is a common nickname for people with dark skin. (Negro is the Spanish word for black).
- Chile was involved in the War of the Pacific between 1879-1883 against Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Patagonia was once part of Chile but since Argentina threatened to attack, the area was annexed by the Argentinians which angers many people even today. Both Peru and Bolivia lost territory in what today is northern Chile and the conflict still causes heated debates. Some even express racist comments towards guest workers and illegal immigrants from either Peru or Bolivia. Bolivia still wants to get back lost territory or an "exit to the ocean", which has angered many Chileans. Some will agree on giving Bolivia a corridor with access to the sea but be careful saying that Bolivia or Peru has the right to have their old territory back from Chile; that will get you in a lot of trouble. Ask questions rather than expressing your opinion since Chileans will become angry and have a heated debate with what they consider "an uneducated foreigner who has listened to propaganda from the enemy".
- Chile has the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Arab world and a lot of them express pride about their heritage, but also their support for the Palestinian cause. You will also encounter some who know very little about their ancestors, the conflict with Israel etc. Don't get upset; keep in mind that they primarily see themselves as Chilean and not Palestinian or Arab. It has been estimated that less than 1% of them speak Arabic, so don't expect to talk with them in the language if you are from an Arabic-speaking country or have some knowledge in the language.
- In the south of Chile there are a sizeable number of people claiming German heritage and they are very proud of it. Even if they don't have a German surname and most likely just have a grandmother or great grandmother from Germany, they will identify as German-Chilean. Like with the people of Palestinian heritage, very few speak German at all. Some southern villages have German-speaking populations but you will be unlikely to visit them. Every single person speaks Spanish so there is no need to know German if you want to travel to the south of Chile.
While credit cards are commonly accepted throughout Chile, there are two differences to be aware of. For credit cards that require signing, there is a line below the signature line labeled C.I. (cedula de identidad or identity card). Foreigners are expected to write down their passport or national ID number. Not all locations will require CI to be filled. Even fewer will ask to confirm the number with your ID. The other difference is credit cards machines will ask sin cuotas or con cuotas. As a foreigner, you should always selection sin (which means without). Cuotas literally translates to fees and is a way for Chilean banks to offer a payment plan over the period of months.
Many national parks and reserves have strange visiting times, only allowing entrance between 09:00 and 15/17:00 for instance, requiring you to leave before sunset. The reason for that is that Chile had some negative experience, mostly with locals, leaving the national parks in terrible conditions when allowing them to overnight. This circumstance can be a little off-putting, especially if you are used to travelling with a tent. However, there are often great alternative routes nearby that you can visit instead. Some people even suggested an entrance before or after opening hours, because office are often not staffed all the time. Either way, leave nothing but footprints and take all you rubbish back with you.
- Public phones on streets are very likely to be tampered or vandalized, so it's better to use a phone inside a business or a station.
- Prepaid cards for mobile phones and landlines are sold at most newspaper kiosks, supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies and phone dealers.
- Mobile GSM networks are ubiquitous in all major cities and most of the territory of central and southern Chile.
- A basic prepaid cellular phone usually costs about CLP$15,000, most frequently charged with CLP$10,000 worth of prepaid minutes. No ID is required to buy a prepaid phone.
- GSM SIM cards from ENTEL, Movistar or Claro are usually available for CLP$5,000, but without credit, so you'll need to buy some prepaid minutes to be able to call.
- Money can be charged into a cellphone from almost any ATM using a credit or debit card and from some pharmacies (Ahumada, Cruz Verde and Salco Brand) on the counter and in cash. Also, one can charge money directly into the phone by using a credit card through an automated service operator, with directions in Spanish or English.
- Chilean phone numbering scheme is simple.
Due to an initiative of the government, many rural towns nowadays have free WiFi somewhere in the centre (plaza) or near the bus station. However, the reliability of the Internet can vary.
Also, check if there are other Wi-Fi hotspot around. They're usually in metro stations, airports, malls, cafes, public buildings and several public spaces. (Check for the ones that say "gratis"—for free.)
Furthermore, there are cybercafes in every major and midsize city and at all tourist destinations. Some libraries are in a program called Biblioredes, with free computers and Internet (they may be very sensitive if you plug in your camera or something like that). In some remote locations, public libraries have internet satellite connections.