Perhaps no other South American country offers as much geographical diversity as Chile. In an area less than 750,000 sq. km, and spanning more than 4,300km of spindly coastline, Chile is host to a multitude of outdoor marvels that is sure to excite and enliven the senses, ranging from volcanoes, geysers, beaches, lakes, rivers, plains, deserts, glaciers and numerous islands, including Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The birthplace of Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, home to some of the world’s best wines and a prime destination for outdoor adventure, Chile captures the traveler’s imagination that will leave you wanting more.
5 things to avoid:
- Avoid using marijuana or soliciting illegal drugs, penalties include severe fines and possibly imprisonment.
- …And don’t think about bribing a police officer.
- Avoid carrying bills larger than CH$5000 in rural areas, as it may be difficult to find change.
- Pointing with your finger at something or to hit your left palm with your right hand is considered an offensive gesture.
- Avoid flaunting jewelry or flashing expensive electronics in public.
- Nov – Feb – Rainfall: 0-0.5 in. Temp: 50-85 °F. The best time of year (and most expensive) to visit Patagonia, and with plenty of crowded beaches to boot.
- Mar – Jun – Rainfall: 0.5-4 in. Temp: 35-75 °F. Pleasant weather takes over Santiago, as wine connoisseurs flock to taste the season’s newest grape harvest offerings.
- Jul – Oct – Rainfall: 0.5-2 in. Temp: 30-65 °F. July is skiing weather in Chile, a perfect time to head to the slopes!
Local time is GMT minus four hours. Daylight savings time runs from December to March, which means a three-hour difference from GMT is in effect.
Citizens of the US, Canada and Australia can enter Chile without a visa for 30-90 days (depending on your country). However, if you arrive by air, a USD $160/132/95 reciprocity fee will be levied for US, Canadian and Australian nationals, respectfully. The good news is that this is a one-time fee, and will be valid for the entire duration of the passport. Irrespective of your nationality, you will receive a 90-day tourist card (do not lose it!), which you will need to show upon entry and exit of country. Keep in mind that you may also be asked to show proof of ‘sufficient funds’ prior to entry, in which case, showing a couple of credit cards will help you with that.
Here are a few phrases you should know:
- Hello = Hola (o-la)
- Goodbye = Adiós (a-dyos)
- How are you? = ¿Qué tal? (ke tal)
- Fine, thanks = Bien, gracias (byen gra-syas)
- Excuse me = Perdón (per-don)
- Sorry = Lo Siento (lo syen-to)
- Please = Por favor (por fa-vor)
- Thank you = Gracias (gra-syas)
- You are welcome = De nada (de na-da)
- Yes = Sí (see)
- No = No (no)
- My Name is… = Me llamo… (me ya-mo…)
- What’s your name? = ¿Cómo se llama usted? (ko-mo se ya-ma oo-ste) / ¿Cómo te llamas?(ko-mo te ya-mas)
- Do you speak English? = ¿Habla ingles? (a-bla een-gles) / ¿Hablas ingles? (a-blas een-gles)
- I don’t understand = Yo no entiendo (yo no en-tyen-do)
Chileans are very friendly, hospitable and affectionate, so expect hugs and a kiss on the right cheek when greeting friends and relatives. Always make direct eye contact, whether in conversation or in passing on the street with other; Chileans are not shy about staring, so it’s okay to stare back.
Despite petty thievery in big cities, Chile is known to be a very safe country. Obviously be careful with pickpockets or bringing and leaving valuables unattended in public places such as a beach or restaurant.
Chile uses the peso (CH$). Banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000.
Look for casas de cambio (exchange offices) to change money, as few banks offer such services (unless you carry US dollars, which is always a great currency to carry since it is always in demand).
There are many ATM machines (also known as redbanc) readily available in Chile. Exceptions are in San Pedro de Atacama, Pisco Elqui, Bahia Inglesa, where the quality of machines are not very reliable, so it’s best to bring cash before arriving at one of these towns.
Though many well-known businesses accept credit cards, be careful when making purchases with plastic, as foreign transaction fees may be steep. It’s important to check with your bank before you head to Chile.
Skype, Google+ Hangouts and FaceTime are still the best options when calling international, though there are still call centers available with reasonable rates, if you need another option. The country code is 56.
Many people prefer to bring their own phone (make sure it is unlocked and funs on a 850MHz or 1900 MHz frequency). You could also purchase a cheap mobile phone for as little as CH$12,000 (about $20). All cell numbers in Chile begin with 09 and are eight digits long.
Chile is equipped with excellent Internet access connections, including Wi-Fi, with prices ranging from CH$400 to CH$2000 per hour (USD $0.64 to USD $3.21).
Chile uses two and three rounded prong outlets, operating on 200 volts at 50 cycles.
Tap water is fine to drink, except in rural regions such as in the Atacama desert. If you need to drink outdoor water, use chlorine tablets or a water purifier.
The customary 10% tip is expected in restaurants and bars. There’s no such expectation with taxis but feel free to round up to the nearest whole amount.
All major cities and towns will have taxi service available. Be sure that the meter is running when you get in. Colectivos (taxis with fixed rates) are metered at around CH$400 (USD $0.64) per ride
Free walking tours:
Get to know Santiago like a true local with Free Tour Santiago. They offer free tours in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and operate solely on tips (so be generous and tip at something).
Another great tour company is Tours 4 Tips, who also operate on (you guess it) tips. They have tours available in Valparaiso and Santiago.