Extending 2,653 miles from north to south but only an average of 110 miles wide, Chile is one of the most geographically unique countries in the world. From its arid far north—where the Atacama Desert sees an annual rainfall of less than an inch—to its lush south, where Valdivia boasts almost 100 inches, the country offers staggering contrasts and epically beautiful landscapes. In the Central Valley, ecologically unique palm forests skirt the foothills of the sky-scraping Andes. Further south, the Colchagua Valley is one of the world’s finest wine-producing regions and Chilean Patagonia takes center stage with its untouched splendor of soaring massifs, colossal glaciers and magnificent fjords.
National identity is central to daily life in Chile. Most residents are descended from Spanish Basques and Araucanian Indians, a heritage they embrace as uniquely Chilean. Chile is a presidential constitutional republic. Its capital is Santiago, located near the Argentine border in the center of the country, surrounded by the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range.
Chileans take great pride in their isolation from the rest of South America. In this thin country squeezed onto a narrow ribbon of land between the soaring Andes and the Pacific Ocean, residents have a sense that they live at the end of the world. With little outside influence, a singular culture has evolved that is wholly their own, from the cultural heritage of the nation’s coastal towns and cities and unique wine-producing region to the unspoiled beauty of Patagonia.
Language: The official language of Chile is Spanish. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish for helpful hints. Country Walkers also recommends a phrase book or two in our Reading Guide that you’ll receive after you reserve.
Life in Chile
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. In rural areas, most stores close during the lunch hour. General office hours are typically Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Banks are open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Shopping and bartering: Always agree on prices in advance of purchasing goods or services. Often merchants do not have abundant cash on hand, so try to have an ample supply of small bills. Bartering in outdoor markets for clothes and crafts is an appropriate and expected practice. If moderate bargaining does not conclude with a fair and acceptable price, there is no obligation to purchase the item. Once in Chile, with your tour representative’s assistance, you will develop a sense of a fair price—but you can often start by offering half of the vendor’s first price.
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is served from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 7:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Tipping: In restaurants it is typical to leave a gratuity of at least 10 percent of the total bill. Some establishments will include a 10 percent gratuity on the bill itself; in those cases, it is customary to give at least 5 percent directly to your server. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip, but in most cases you will not receive any change for bills given. As a general rule, do not tip in U.S. coins as they do not have much value in Chile.
Chile public holidays: Chilean public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the Chilean tourist board’s website chile.travel/en/events/ for a list of public holidays and festivals.
Charitable donations to children: We recommend that you do not acquiesce to the temptation of rewarding children who beg for sweets, pencils, or spare change. As difficult as this may be, you can make a more positive impact by giving donations of school supplies or books to your guide, who will ensure that they reach one of the villages visited on the tour, or by making a donation to a nongovernmental organization working in Chile.
As one might imagine, the food and wine in Chile is certainly a highlight. This tour provides the opportunity to sample an array of delectable cuisine. Regional specialties include empanadas (small tasty pies traditionally filled with meat or seafood) and fresh grilled seafood. You will also find fresh homemade pasta on many menus—part of the fine legacy of Italian immigration to the country. Wine is included in your tour cost and your guides will be happy to assist you in selecting regional vintages.
A typical breakfast includes cold buffets, which offer fruit, yogurt, breads, and cereals as well as cooked plates with eggs, bacon, or sausage. Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are served at breakfast along with a choice of fresh fruit juices. Lunch may consist of sandwiches, meats, and salads. For dinner, you can expect meat, fish, fowl, vegetable dishes, soups, pastas, and salads.
Chilean wines are world renowned, and you will have an opportunity to savor both reds and whites from some of the country’s most prestigious wineries.
Food tips: Country Walkers and our guides take great care to select and work with hotel properties and restaurants that meet our rigorous standards in food safety. Outside of these establishments, it is wise to avoid eating foods sold by local street vendors, peeled fruit or unwashed vegetables. We recommend following the simple rule, “If you can’t peel it, don’t eat it.” Avoid fresh salads, with the exception of those served in fine restaurants, and fruit juices unless they are 100 percent juice. In addition, eating lightly, especially the first few days, will help with altitude adjustment.
Water: We advise that you drink only bottled water, including for ice cubes in drinks and brushing your teeth. Bottled water (“aqua”) is widely available—ask for it “sin gas” (uncarbonated) or “con gas” (carbonated). You may also wish to avoid juices unless they are bottled or freshly squeezed with no added water.
Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, therefore the seasons are opposite those in the Northern Hemisphere, so winter is from April through October and summer is from December through March.
With its unusually long and thin shape, Chile has several climate regions. Central Chile, where we’ll be for the entirety of our tour, has a Mediterranean climate, with rain during the winter and dry weather during the summer. The average temperature is 46 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and 68 degrees in summer (with highs sometimes reaching above 90 degrees).
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. Tourist Card: When entering Chile, you will be asked to complete a tourist card. This card must be retained and surrendered upon departure. We recommend that you keep it with your passport.
Chile uses the Chilean peso (CLP). As of August 2016, 1 USD = 647 CLP. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s) and some small-denomination U.S. dollars to exchange. Bills with rips or tears will often be denied or exchanged at a significantly lower rate.
It is important to note that the symbol for the peso is the dollar sign. Please bear this in mind when reading prices. It is not recommended to change money on the street. Instead, use casas de cambio (exchange houses) or banks. Unlike in some other South American countries, U.S. dollars are rarely accepted in Chile. (The exception is large hotels where rates are quoted in dollars.) Some international businesses no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Always contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when traveling.
No immunizations are required to enter Chile. Always consult a travel clinic at a local university, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, and/or your personal physician for the most up-to-date recommendations and routine vaccinations. Hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations are generally recommended for all travelers. For the threat of malaria, you should consult the CDC or your physician for the most current information.
Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 877-394-8747), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Personal Safety: Traveling in Chile requires the common sense and exercise of above-normal precautions for personal safety that apply in many countries and cities worldwide; in addition to being aware of your surroundings, keep your valuables close and hidden while in public (avoid dangling cameras or other “tourist bait”), and avoid walking alone at night. Please follow accommodation and/or tour representative guidelines about securing valuables.
Electricity: Alternating current of 220V and 50Hz is used in Chile. Wall outlets generally take plugs with two round prongs. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Chile’s country code is “+56.” Cell phone coverage throughout Chile is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to countrywalkers.com/phones.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Chile is an hour later than Eastern Standard Time. However, because the country does not observe daylight savings, the hour difference only occurs between November and March. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
A wealth of travel information is available at chile.travel/en.
Most international flights arrive at Santiago’s Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (nuevopudahuel.cl). There are six other regional airports with flights to neighboring countries.
International Airports in Chile
- Antofagasta – Cerro Moreno International Airport
- Concepción – Carriel Sur International Airport
- Puerto Montt – El Tepual International Airport
- Punta Arenas – Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport
Chile has a rail system, La Empresa de los Ferrocarriles del Estado (EFE). Visit it online at www.efe.cl. Please note that the system is limited and doesn’t service all parts of the country. Travelers may prefer taking buses or renting a car to explore other parts of the country on their own.
Other local transportation
Both long-distance buses and car rentals are available in Chile. Travelers visiting for fewer than 90 days can rent a car and drive with a valid U.S. license.