Priyanka Gupta shares all the Chile travel tips you need before embarking on a trip to this South American country.
Many travelers who visit the river-like country of Chile located on the southern edge of South America consent that Chile is one of the world’s most gorgeous countries.
During my six-months-long solo travel through Chile, I never ran out of stunning places. Whether it be the graffitied walls of Santiago, the azure shores of the Chiloé island in the South, the icy glaciers of Patagonia, the numerous rivers and natural parks of the central lake region, or the dry desert of Atacama where one can easily lose herself in the millions of stars under the star-studded sky, each place in Chile has its unique charm.
As a pretty long (about 2,600 miles to be precise) and a petite (only 220 miles at even its widest) nation, Chile needs time and patience to be explored. Home to some of the kindest people on earth, Chile can seem a bit challenging to move around in the beginning because most of the Chileans only speak Spanish. But don’t worry, our tips on traveling in Chile will soon tell you how to manage your way around with Chilean Spanish.
Home to some of the most bizarre and special landscapes, Chile also has a rich social and food culture. Not only you would be invited to many homes within a minute of a friendly conversation with a local, but you might also end up drinking all night long with them until the rising sun suggests that you head back to your hotel. And don’t be surprised if then your hosts insist you stay with them and ditch the hotel.
Everything is possible in Chile.
Now without any further delay, let’s get on with these travel tips to Chile that will make your Chile trip hassle-free.
- Tips on the best time to visit Chile
- Tips for reaching Chile
- Tips for carrying money in Chile
- Tips on staying safe in Chile
- Tips for moving around Chile
- Tips on managing your way around with Spanish in Chile
- Tips on the best places to visit in Chile
- Tips on enjoying Chilean food
- Tips on the best places to stay in Chile
- Tips on the time needed to explore Chile
Tips on the best time to visit Chile
- Chile’s wettest and coldest months are June, July, August, and September. You wouldn’t want to land in Chile during these chilly months.
- Most of the Chilean homes don’t have central heating. But homestays and even some hotels would have a wood fire in a stove in the middle of their kitchen which would keep at least a part of the house and the common area of the hotel warm.
- Chile has different weather in the various regions – North, Central, and South. So though Patagonia is the best in summers, Santiago gets hot at the same time.
- The best time to visit Chile would be the summer season – from October/November to March.
Tips for reaching Chile
- Chile gives a 90-days free entry to citizens of most of the countries.
- You can fly directly to Santiago, the capital of Chile. Connecting flights via Sao Paulo or Lima are the most affordable way to reach Chile.
- If you are crossing borders in South America, Peru and Bolivia are the countries from where you can cross into Chile. In Peru, head to the Arica-Tacna border to visit Chile, and in Bolivia, enter Chile via the Uyuni Salt flats-San Pedro de Atacama border.
Tips for carrying money in Chile
- You can change money at the Santiago airport or around the Plaza de Armas in Santiago. It is recommended not to carry a lot of cash in Santiago and the surrounding area.
- You can easily withdraw from the many ATMs using your international bank cards. Banco Estado has good conversion rates, and its ATMs are spread throughout the country.
Tips on staying safe in Chile
- Chile is one of the safest countries in South America. Apart from Santiago, Viña del Mar, and Valparaíso — the three adjacent cities in Central Chile, most of Chile is safe for tourists.
- Be careful about your belongings in these three cities. Do not keep your phone in hand while walking or on a bus in Santiago. Hold onto your bags tightly in the Santiago metro. Do not listen to random strangers on Santiago streets who will tell you that your clothes are stained. For you wouldn’t know but the next moment they will whisk away your bags.
- Chile’s Southernmost part is pretty much risk-free for travelers, and people mostly mind their own business. Chiloé Island and Patagonia are some of the safest places in Chile.
Tips for moving around Chile
- You can take the Pullman or Cruz del Sur bus to travel between cities. Both are well-established and provide great service.
- Book your bus tickets at least a day or two in advance for some popular routes do get booked.
- Chile doesn’t have trains, so you can either take buses or drive.
- Driving around Chile isn’t a hassle as the roads are good. But do check your license eligibility in Chile before traveling to the country.
- For commuting within a city, you will find microbuses and enough ferries. Yes, I said ferries for Southern Chile has tonnes of islands commuting between which would involve ferry crossings.
- Santiago has Uber.
Tips on managing your way around with Spanish in Chile
- Most of the people in Chile speak only Spanish. Even in the hippest areas of Santiago, you would have trouble making your way with just English.
- Download Google Translate offline Spanish file. Use the voice feature of Google translate for communicating.
- Keep a list of essential Spanish travel phrases that travelers should know handy in a soft or a hard copy. The above-linked list has the most-commonly used Chilean Spanish words and phrases that will help you get around in Chile. Understanding Chileans is hard as they speak fast and have their particular style of speaking while omitting certain alphabets and sounds. The above guide to the basic Spanish phrases not only has the most used phrases for everyday routine and travel words but also contains the English phonetics of each of these phrases to help you speak like the locals.
- Don’t worry about not knowing Spanish. Chileans don’t expect you to speak Spanish.
Tips on the best places to visit in Chile
- As Chile is long, your best bet is to start from either the top of the country or from the bottom and make your way to the other end.
- Best places to see in North of Chile — Visit the laid-back village of San Pedro de Atacama and the Atacama desert for some of the most unique landscapes including but not limiting to moon-like craters and hot geysers, to see the Atacama desert, to wander in pristine-blue lakes that are home to pink flamingoes, and for gorgeous views of star-studded night skies.
- The best places to see in Central Chile — Santiago, Viña del Mar, and Valparaíso are the major cities of Chile and all are located adjacent to each other. Though I have mentioned that these aren’t the safest Chilean cities, a mix of culture and art makes them a must-visit for every traveler visiting Chile for the first time. Expect some thoughtful street art, relaxed beaches, farmer’s markets, lush vineyards, and modern art and music performances when you visit this intriguing trio.
- Best places to see in Southern Chile — Going from Central Chile to the Southernmost point of Chile, you would cross Los Lagos or the lake region of Chile (Chile is divided into sixteen regions) and end up in Patagonia, one of the most sought-after places in Chile. In Los Lagos, go to the Chiloé island, Osorno, and Hornopirén. While Chiloé is all about legends, customary Chilote food, and rolling green hills cradling the Pacific, Osorno is home to the best volcano views. Hornopirén is a magical place dense with rivers, lakes, waterfalls, volcanoes, national parks, and you should consider living in a cabin there.
- Patagonia is a must-visit place in Chile for it is one of the most uninhabited areas due to its bizarre and extreme climate and landscape. Treacherous icy glaciers hung atop tall hills, frozen lakes, chilly winds thrashing the area throughout the year, proximity to the Southern Pole all makes Patagonia a challenging but an out of the world place to visit.
- Don’t try to do everything on your first trip to Chile for the country has a lot to see and do. Travel slow to enjoy the beauty and culture of Chile.
Tips on enjoying Chilean food
- Chilean food is never spicy, and some might even say that it is a bit bland, so you need not worry about chilies in Chile.
- Though Santiago and other Chilean cities thrive on modern food like most of the international cosmopolitans, Chilean do enjoy their traditional steaks and grills.
- Mostly meat-eaters, Chileans include a lot of fish and seafood in their diets but not many vegetables. So if you like to eat salads, head over to the fancier cafes and fusion restaurants.
- If you are looking for traditional food, go to Chiloé for this island’s food is the oldest style of cooking in Chile. Empanadas, Cazuellas or soups, milcaos, ceviches, curanto are some of the best dishes here.
- If you are a vegetarian, do learn the English phrases for vegetarian food and non-vegetarian, too. Even if someone promises you a vegetarian meal, do confirm for egg and fish.
- People in Chile eat a lot of bread, and you can buy any variety of bread at the bakeries spread around Chile. Also, expect to eat a lot of bread in local meals.
- Don’t leave Chile without enjoying the wine of Chile that is the finest in the world. And oh, Chilean pisco sours are to die for.
A bonus tip: A special time to visit Chile would be around the 18th of September. This is when the Chileans celebrate their independence day, and food and wine flow freely for about a week. Expect to drink some of the weirdest Chilean drinks such as terremoto (literally earthquake) and the most delicious Pisco sours and wine during this time along with some delicious homemade empanadas.
Read more: The Best Countries For Food Around The World
Tips on the best places to stay in Chile
- Though Chile is one of the expensive countries in South America, you can stay in cheaper hostels as compared to the expensive cabins and hotels.
- Chile has a lot of nature and seaside, so while looking for accommodations make sure you search for unique experiences.
- Book your travel accommodations in advance if you are visiting Chile in the peak season, that is the summers.
- Expect to pay anywhere from 7000/8000 Chilean pesos or about 10-11 USD for basic accommodation in Chile. Santiago and other bigger cities are more expensive and so is the Chiloé island and the Patagonia area.
- Airbnbs, Booking, and HostelWorld are the top platforms to find accommodation in Chile.
Tips on the time needed to explore Chile
- Though petite, Chile has a lot of places to see. As I said above, don’t try to see all of Chile on the first trip for you would end up tiring yourself.
- The minimum ideal duration of a Chile trip would be about three weeks. Anything less than that and you would have to skip an entire region or more.
- If you have time, plan a month’s trip to Chile and then see how you like the place and then extend if you would like to stay for longer.
These are some of our best tips to enjoy Chile which will help you immerse yourself in Chile’s culture, landscape, food, and people. Chile is a country still unexplored by many, and this is probably the right time to visit Chile as the country has been gaining popularity amongst travelers recently.
Please feel free to leave comments if you have any further questions.
Note that, at the time of publication in November 2019, some parts of Chile are experiencing unrest and protests have been going on for 4 weeks.
Contributing members are responsible for the accuracy of content contributed to A World to Travel.