Travellers are offered a rich natural setting when visiting Chile offering a wealth of possibilities for outdoor adventures. Chile offers excellent skiing, horse riding, trekking and rafting, and an adventure playground for adrenaline junkies. Set between the Andes and a coastal mountain range is the country’s capital, Santiago, which is a vast and often smoggy sprawl. The capital offers many museums and attractions together with a reasonable choice of restaurants and accommodation.
Chile is the land of contrasts with Arica basking in tropical heat at the tip and Punta Arenas shivers at its icy tail just short of Antarctica. This country offers snow-capped peaks, the world’s driest desert, ancient forests, rich vineyards, shimmering lakes and milky blue glaciers. Not only are there opportunities abounding for outdoor fun there are also hot springs for you to relax and soak in until your skin wrinkles, stargaze alongside top international observatories or soak up the urban buzz of Santiago. Chile promises travellers an inspiring, surprising and never, ever disappointing experience.
Where is Chile?
Chile has over 5000 km of coast on the South Pacific Ocean and narrowly stretches along the southern half of the west coast of South America. The bordering countries are Peru and Bolivia in the north and over the Andes to the east lies Argentina. Chile has a remarkable geography which ranges from parched northern deserts to the icy glaciers of the south. Defining the country’s easterly border is the rugged and beautiful Andes mountain range.
History of Chile
Chile is well known for its copper industry as this is the mainstay of the country’s income although Chile now faces a challenge to diversify it’s exports. The country is presently a stable political nation after emerging from Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship in 1990.
Chile Visa Requirements
Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days for citizens of many countries including Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland and many others. Transit passengers continuing their journey on the same or first connecting aircraft do not need a visa provided they are holding the required travel documents for onward destinations and do not leave the airport transit lounge.
For travel to Chile a passport valid for at least six months is required by all nationals. Passports issued to children must contain a photo and state the nationality.
If travelling with children aged under 18 years, parents may be asked to provide a copy of the child’s birth certificate, particularly if they do not share a common surname.
Children under the age of 18 years who are not accompanied by both their parents must present a notarised document certifying the agreement of the absent parent(s) and a copy of the child’s birth certificate when arriving in or leaving Chile. A parent who has sole custody of a child must present the court order conferring custody. These documents must be notarised by a Chilean consular officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Santiago or at a Chilean Embassy or Consulate overseas prior to travel. The date of execution of the documents must not be more than three months prior to entry or departure. The same document may be used for entry and exit. It is recommended you carry three copies of each document.
Nationals of Australia, Canada and the USA entering Chile for tourism purposes will be charged a reciprocity fee payable on arrival and in cash only. For nationals of Australia, the fee is US$95; for nationals of Canada, the fee is US$132; and for nationals of the USA, the fee is US$140.
(Please note this fee changes frequently so please make sure you check with your local consulate or embassy to confirm the current fees. A link to the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs is below)
For travellers entering Chile (by cruise, vehicle or plane) will need to fill out a tourist card that allows them to stay for up to 90 days at Customs. Travellers will also need to present this tourist card at Customs when leaving the country. Be aware that hotels waive Chile’s 19% room tax when the guest shows this card and pays with U.S. dollars. On flights leaving Chile, there is an airport tax of US$18, or the equivalent in Chilean pesos. On domestic flights, airport tax is included in the price of the ticket.
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
Chile Travel Health
Overall Chile has good health care throughout the country however the best resources are generally at private medical facilities with more modern equipment and a faster response. Most doctors are bilingual. Pharmacies in Santiago are relatively easy to find and prices for medicines are quite low. Health insurance is essential for all travellers. No vaccinations are required for travel to Chile however tetanus, diphtheria, rabies, hepatitis A and typhoid are sometimes recommended depending on the season and region visited. Tap water is safe to drink.
Santiago lies in one of the most seismically active regions in the world so you are almost certain to experience more than one tremor while visiting Chile. Earthquakes are common, however major ones only strike every decade or two.
Santiago, the capital of Chile, suffers from a high rate of pick pocketing and muggings. Stay alert and be especially careful in all crowded areas and when travelling in the downtown area avoid wearing expensive-looking jewellery or watches, even during the day. If you have a laptop leave it in your hotel room and visit an Internet café if you need to be connected. Wallets, cameras and cell-phones regardless of price and quality are lucrative amongst criminals for their own use or sale in the black market so take special care with these items and keep them out of sight when outdoors.
When dealing with Chilean currency it is advised to separate coins and bills as coins are frequently used when paying for public transport, newspapers or snacks. Store them in a small handbag so that your bills will remain concealed and keep in mind that all bills are the same size, yet, 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 very trustworthy. Do not try to bribe a carabinero, as it will get you into serious trouble as they are very proud and honest, and bribery would be a serious offence against their credibility.
Chilean drivers tend to be not as erratic and volatile as those in neighbouring countries. Chileans do tend to become curious around foreigners and may stare so be prepared if you are blonde, black or Asian. Although they are infrequent there have been reports of racist attacks, however the police (carabineros) have become better at handling these situations. If you are from the Middle East, it will be easier to blend in and will not get the same level of attention as a black or Asian would.
Avoid taking photographs of navy ships and buildings or other military buildings as this could lead to being arrested and all your photos being erased. Chile lives in peace with its neighbours Argentina, Bolivia and Peru however the country is always preparing for an attack. Some cities like Talcahuano and Punta Arenas are naval cities so be extra careful when taking photographs here. Some marines may speak a little English so always ask before taking any photos and never provoke the guards.
Emergency numbers are: ambulance 131, police 133, and fire 132.
What is Chile Local Currency?
The currency in Chile is the Chilean peso (CLP). Notes are in denominations of CH$20 000, 5 000, 2 000, 1 000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of CH$500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1. Other currencies are not widely accepted however there are exchange bureau’s that offer reasonable rates on Euros and US dollars. Foreign exchange transactions can also be conducted through authorised shops, commercial banks, restaurants, clubs and hotels.
Credit/debit cards are widely accepted and ATM’s are largely available in all large towns and cities. Traveller’s cheques may be difficult to exchange outside the major towns however are easily exchanged in the larger cities. Traveller’s cheques in US dollars generally offer a better exchange rate. Banking hours are Mon-Fri 0900-1400. As of September 25, 2009, US$1 = CLP 544 and €1 = CLP 799.
What is Chile’s Weather?
Chile has a wide variety of climatic conditions from extreme aridity in the northern part of the country to cool and rainy conditions throughout the year in the southern region. The north experiences an average annual rainfall of 0.04 inches and temperatures are moderate along the coast all year round and more extreme inland particularly in the central basin. The average temperatures for the coldest (July) and hottest (February) months are 8 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius.
Central Chile has a Mediterranean type of climate with cool and rainy winters (April to September) however does not experience a dry season. Temperature decreases toward the south and the average annual precipitation in this area increases substantially. The climate in the southern region is characterized by abundant low clouds and is cool and rainy throughout the year with snow covering the mountains.
There are four seasons in most of the country including summer (December to February), autumn (March to May), winter (June to August) and spring (September to November). Recommended clothing for travel to Chile is lightweights and natural fabrics. Rainwear is essential for the wet season and more substantial waterproofs are often needed in the south.
Culture of Chile
Chileans are friendly people and most speak and understand English, French, Italian or German. Chileans hate arrogance so be kind and everyone will help you. The family occupies a central role in Chilean life with family and business intertwined to the extent that nepotism is seen as a positive concept.
Chile remains fairly traditional with ladies wearing dresses or skirts of modest design and men wear long pants particularly in the cities. People tend to speak in conversational tones and the usual greeting is a hand shake between men and a pat on the right forearm or shoulder between the women. Dining etiquette is quite formal with men waiting for the women to sit and the hostess invites people to eat. If invited to a Chilean home take sweets or wine for the hostess.
In Chile 10% on top of your restaurant bill is considered an acceptable tip. As a general rule you tip porters, beauty parlours and the person who packs your supermarket shopping however you do not tip taxi drivers.
Most Chileans are Roman Catholics with religion playing a large role in defining social and political life. Religious instruction in public schools is nearly exclusively Roman Catholic and due to the Church’s influence abortion is illegal and divorce was illegal until 2004.
The Chilean police force is admired for its competence and honesty and bribing is not acceptable in the country and you will likely be arrested if you try.
What Languages Are Spoken In Chile?
Spanish is the official language of Chile with English, German and many native languages also spoken. The country code for Chile is 56 and mobile phone coverage is good in built-up areas and not so good outside of the towns. It is cheap and easy to buy your own phone if you are visiting the country for a length of time. Public phone boxes are unreliable and it is advised to use phones in call centres or Internet cafes located in the main towns and tourist areas.
The postal service is fairly reliable and airmail to Europe and the USA takes approximately four days to a week. Post office hours in Santiago are Mon-Fri 0830-1900, Sat 0830-1300. Post offices in villages can have reduced service.
Chile Transport Options
The main airport in Chile is the Santiago International Airport and Chile’s main airline is LAN which deals with international flights. Chile has a good domestic airport infrastructure with the main hub for flights being the Arturo Merino Benitez Airport in Santiago. The four Chilean airlines that serve even the remotest corners of the country are LAN, Sky Airline, Aerolineas del Sur and Principal Airlines. It is recommended to reserve your tickets when travelling within Chile before entering the country. Due to the shape of the country many routes are subject to several time consuming layovers so take this into account when booking your flights.
Chile has a sophisticated bus system providing cheap and comfortable travel. Companies that cover almost the entire country are Turbus and Pullman and prices vary daily and are more expensive on weekends and holidays. Larger towns have cross-town bus routes at reasonable prices however there are no maps with all the routes so ask around and you should be able to guide your way around quite effectively. There is also a metropolitan railway system operating in Santiago, Valparaiso and Concepcion which is a reliable method to move around the city. You only have to pay once (when you enter the system) and you can ride around as much as you wish.
Chile’s roads are generally good with traffic driving on the right and all traffic signs are in Spanish only. Some of the more remote areas in the country require four-wheel drives and when visiting these remote areas it is advised to carry plenty of water, spare petrol and a spare tyre. Car rentals are widely available in the larger cities and a credit card, driver’s license and a passport are required. Parking spaces and street lanes are narrow so it is recommended to rent a small vehicle. Drivers must be over 21 and seat belts are mandatory. Smoking, using a mobile phone or a personal music player with head phones is prohibited for the driver. Taxis all should have meters however it is recommended to find out the fare beforehand and tipping is not expected.
Hitchhiking in Chile is very common and is not difficult except on large highways where it is nearly impossible. In more remote areas you could be waiting for a lift for many hours however the rides should get you a fair distance. Generally the locals love to chat with foreign travellers.
Chile Travel Tips
In general Chile is a very safe place to travel with a police presence even in the most remote areas of the country. However it is important while travelling to be cautious and take precautions such as keeping your documents and money in a safe place. In busy streets and markets always keep your bag in front of you and have a lock on your bag if possible.
Beware of con-artists acting like the civilian-dressed police as they have been known to tag tourists so always ask for identification and never hand over any money or identification to them. Be careful of anyone spraying a condiment on you seemingly by mistake as they steal your watch or wallet or anything else while they are apologising.
Price bargaining is acceptable with only some street vendors. Chileans are very conscious of social etiquette so when bargaining always be polite, humble and very courteous otherwise this may prove to be unsuccessful.
The threat from terrorism is low however travellers should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be against civilians particularly in places frequented by tourists. Dengue fever is endemic to Latin America and the Caribbean and can occur throughout the year. The Llaima volcano in southern Chile erupted in January 2008 so visitors should follow any guidance and warnings given by the local authorities. Minefields are located in regions I, II and XII and again it is recommended to check with local authorities before travelling to the border areas of these regions. Pick pocketing, muggings and other thefts are common and have been on the increase for the last couple of years.
Chile Local Food
The normal Chile diet includes rice, potatoes, meat and bread. In central Chile vegetables are abundant and as a general rule the size of the portions increases the further south you travel. There is plenty of fish and seafood available in Chile with the country being the world’s second largest producer of salmon amongst other farmed sea products including scallops, oysters, trout, mussels and turbot. Local fish includes sea bass, conger eel, swordfish, flounder and yellow fin tuna. Visitors should be cautious of raw shellfish due to frequent outbreaks of red tides.
National specialities include empanada (a combination of meat with onions, eggs, raisins and olives inside pastry), cazuela de ave (soup with rice, vegetables and chicken), bife a lo pobre (steak with French fries), padre (salsa) and strudel. Central Chile is a major tempered fruit producer so you will find an abundant variety of apples, oranges, grapes, watermelons and many other fruit.
National drinks include wine, pisco (brandy distilled from grapes after wine pressing), chicha (a sweet drink made from grapes), beer (popular brands include Kuntsman, Cristal and Escudo) and cola de mono (a chocolate and coffee based liqueur). The legal drinking age is 18 and it is illegal to dink in unlicensed public areas. It is customary to add 10% to the bill with some restaurants and bars automatically adding this.
Chile Local Timezones
The standard time in Chile is GMT-4. Daylight Saving Time is in operation in Chile from mid-October (first Sunday on or after 9 October) until mid-March when the time gets wound forward an hours to GMT -3 (3 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time)
Electricity in Chile is 220 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travel to Chile with a device that does not accept 220 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter. Outlets in Chile generally accept 1 type of plug with two round pins. If your appliances plug has a different shape, you may need a plug adapter.
Chile Dutyfree Limits
The following goods may be imported into Chile without incurring customs duty: items bought duty-free to the value of US$500, 400 cigarettes and 500g of tobacco and 50 cigars, 2.5l of alcohol (only for visitors over 18 years of age), a reasonable quantity of perfume for personal use.
Prohibited imports include: fruit, seeds, unprocessed vegetables and animal products.