Chile is the world’s longest and thinnest country, spanning just 150km at it’s widest point. Without a doubt, it’s also one of the most naturally diverse countries in South America, if not the world. Due to its length, it boasts a variety of different climates and microclimates that allow for it to have the world’s driest desert in the north and some of the most beautiful mountainous and forested terrain in the south. Only in Chile can you be high up in the Andes mountain range in the morning and finish the day with a sunset at the coast. Many travellers come to Chile to enjoy its landscapes, mountains, forests, hot springs and delicious and affordable wine. Travelling in Chile isn’t difficult but there are a few travel tips for Chile you should know about before you set off on your trip of a lifetime.
I’ve lived and travelled around Chile for the last 5 years and during that time I can definitely say I’ve picked up more than my fair share of advice when it comes to travelling this beautiful country. From safety measures to practical, sustainable travel tips for Chile, this post is a must-read if you’re planning a trip to this beautiful country.
Wondering where to visit in Chile? Best Places To Visit in Chile |The Top 10 Bucket List
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR CHILE
↠ Avoid the high season – probably one of the best travel tips in Chile! High season in Chile runs from the end of November until the end of February, with January and February being the busiest times, the height of the Chilean summer. In February most Chileans go on vacation meaning national parks are extremely busy and so are beach towns, campsites and popular hotspots like Valle del Elqui, Pucon and of course Torres del Paine. During this time prices skyrocket, and you’ll have to deal with crowds. The best time to visit Chile is late October to December or March to early April. The North can be visited comfortably at all times of the year, however, in Patagonia, the season is short due to the extreme weather.
↠ Pack for all seasons – Climate and weather could not be more variable in Chile so if you’re planning a trip throughout the country you’ll need to bring clothing for all seasons. In the summer temperatures in Santiago often exceed 35°C (95°F) while on the same day the temperature won’t go above 12°C (53°F) in Patagonia. There are also very large temperature disparities between the highest day temperature and the lowest night temperature, so it’s best to pack a lot of layers.
↠ Leave the mosquito repellent at home– In my 5 years of living and travelling around Chile, I might have seen about 2 mosquitoes total however sand flies can be an issue near Patagonian lakes in the summer.
↠ Consider camping– Despite being located in South America, Chile isn’t cheap, especially when it comes to accommodation during the summer season. If you are on a small budget consider bringing a tent and camping. The camping culture in Chile is very developed and you’ll find good campsites almost anywhere. They are also extremely affordable and a great option for those not wanting to stay in hostels all the time.
↠ Learn some Spanish – Spanish is spoken in Chile, however, it’s pretty different from the Spanish spoken in Spain and Chileans tend to use a lot and I mean a lot of slang, making it difficult to understand. English is spoken by many people in Santiago, but outside the big cities and in rural areas almost nobody speaks English so it really helps to know the basics. Before I arrived in Latin America, I learned Spanish with Rosetta Stone and I learned so much in a short space of time, allowing me to travel around with ease. I can’t begin to describe what an amazing investment this was.
Click here to sign up and learn Spanish with Rosetta Stone before your trip.
↠ Money– Currency is Chile is the Chilean peso. ATMs are widely available in banks and supermarkets around the country and Casas de Cambio are available mostly in Santiago. Dollars generally aren’t accepted so make sure to have Chilean pesos on you. International credit cards are accepted widely for paying for supermarkets, stores, hotels etc.
↠ Electricity– Standard volatane in Chile is 220V and you’ll need a type C plug i.e. the standard Euro plug. Type L also works.
HEALTH & SAFETY TIPS
↠ Petty crime – Chile is considered one of the safest countries in South America. Most crimes towards tourists come in the form of pickpocketing and bag/phone snatching. Unfortunately, though, these two are pretty common, especially in Santiago. Make sure you are aware of your belongings at all times especially at bus stations, on public transportation or in crowded places. Don’t leave anything of value in your checked luggage when travelling by bus and generally speaking when going out in Santiago it’s better to leave valuables at your hotel/hostel/Airbnb.
↠ Scams – Scams targeting tourists in Chile aren’t common but there is one place where they do happen- Santiago International Airport. If you’ve booked a transfer don’t let anyone else tell you that they are from that company and that your transfer has been cancelled. There are often random taxi drivers posing as pre-booked drivers that will take you to the city and charge you an extortionate amount. Just say a polite but firm no thank you or ‘No, gracias’ to anyone who approaches you offering a ride and instead take the Centro Puerto bus to the city centre- it’s cheap, fast and effective.
Another common scam targeting tourists in the city centre is where one person throws a poo-like, tar substance over you and/or your bag without you realizing who did it. The same person will then help you to clean it, while their partner in crime will snatch your bag without you even noticing. If you feel yourself getting covered by such a substance, ignore anyone trying to help you and keep walking.
↠ Tap water is potable– Tap water in most places around Chile is safe and clean to drink, meaning you won’t need to buy any bottled water during your trip. I recommend bringing a reusable water bottle or better still, one with a filter such as this insulated, self-cleaning LARQ bottle. With this bottle, you’ll also be able to fill up from rivers and taps in more rural areas too as it cleans and disinfects 99.9% of all bacteria, parasites and chemicals.
↠ Altitude – In the north of Chile, altitude can be a problem so keep it in mind when planning a trip. Some well-known sights such as the Geysers del Tatio in the Atacama Desert or Lauca National Park are located at dizzying altitudes which may be an issue if you tend to suffer from altitude sickness. When travelling in these areas, first research the altitudes of your destination and plan your itinerary to go from the lowest altitude to the highest in order for you to fully acclimatize. Alternatively, check out our Ultimate Self-Driving Itinerary for Atacama Desert, Chile + Must-See Spots which takes all the altitudes into account in the Atacama Desert.
↠ Earthquakes – Without a doubt, one of the scariest parts of living in Chile, earthquakes are pretty frequent. If you happen to be travelling and experience one it’s good to be prepared. Make yourself aware of your nearest emergency exit and if you happen to experience a strong one, stay calm in a space where nothing can fall on top of you and wait it out. If you’re in a closed room or apartment open the door so that it can’t jam and trap you inside and of course, make note of the most important emergency numbers.
↠Get a Bip! Card– If you’re in Santiago for a few days you’ll probably need to use public transport a few times during your stay. You can buy individual journey metro tickets, but you can’t do the same for buses (micros). If you need to use a micro, invest in a Bip! card which costs $1,500 CLP and can be bought at any metro station. While other travel tips in Chile posts may tell you to have to get one, getting a Bip! card is only really necessary if you need to take the bus.
↠ Avoid public transportation at rush hour– The rush hour in Santiago lasts a lot longer than one hour and it’s absolutely crazy. You’ll be pushed inside a metro car by a stampede of people behind you, as people here have a varying concept of personal space. It’s a highly uncomfortable experience so if you can, try to avoid it. With luggage, it’s practically impossible.
Read more: What To Do In Santiago, Chile In 36 Hours
↠ Hitchhiking is an option – Hitchhiking, especially in Patagonia is fairly accepted and quite common. Nowhere is it 100% safe but generally speaking, people will be happy to give you a ride. As a general rule, try to stick to main roads that have a higher flow of traffic.
↠ Take the bus or plane – Buses and planes are the only way to travel around Chile for the most part. The most convenient and cheapest way is by bus, however, distances are long. In recent years many budget airlines such as Sky Airline and JetSMART that have drastically reduced flying prices around Chile, so, if you’re planning to travel a long distance its best to compare the prices of the plane fare with the bus fare as sometimes catching a flight is worth it.
WELLNESS TRAVEL TIPS IN CHILE
When thinking about wellness travel, Chile probably isn’t the first destination that springs to mind, however, the country does have some amazing destinations to feel at one with nature and to really relax and rejuvenate. It is also, the perfect country for an active destination and if you like adventure like hiking, cycling, rafting and kayaking it’s a great place to come.
Some of the best hotels spa hotels in Chile for wellness travel are:
NOI Casa Atacama– A luxury retreat in the Atacama desert, these serene place offers fine dining as well as a sauna, steam room and massage service as well as beautiful rooms and private excursions around the desert.
Hotel Termas Puyehue Wellness Resort & Spa– This resort in Northern Patagonia sits in an area famous for its hot springs and thermal baths. Make the most of their natural thermal pools, fitness centre as well as the calm and beautiful countryside location.
Hotel Boutique Solaz Bella Vista de Colchagua– The Colchagua Valley is one of the most famous wine-growing valleys in Chile but why not explore this area while combining it with a bit of wellness? This affordable property perfectly combines Chilean rural charm with a touch of luxury. Explore the vineyards during the day and relax in their on-site pool and spa as the sun goes down.
For adventure travel make sure not to miss the areas of the Atacama Desert, Pucon and Villarica National Park, Patagonia and Torres del Paine National Park as well as the iconic road trip route, the Carretera Austral.
PLANT-BASED TRAVEL TIPS
Chilean cuisine, much like in Argentina is dominated by meat and animal products but in recent years it has started to embrace alternative lifestyles and different ways of eating. Nowadays, especially in Santiago, there are many places that serve delicious plant-based food and every day there are more and more newcomers on the scene. This is a lot different in the regions however, where it’s still a struggle to get a vegetarian meal let alone a fully vegan one.
↠Use the app Happy Cow to find vegetarian/plant-based food near you.
↠ When staying in small, off-the-beaten-track towns, opt for Airbnbs or hostels with a kitchen or even camp so you can prepare your own food. Fruit, vegetables, grains and pulses are high quality and widely available, except in the far south of Patagonia where fresh food gets a little more expensive and scarce.
↠ Towns and cities that are popular with tourism e.g. Puerto Natales, Viña del Mar, San Pedro de Atacama, Pucon, Puerto Varas and of course Santiago generally have good plant-based options.
Do you have any comments or questions about travel tips in Chile? I’d love to help you out so let me know in the comments below!
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