Chile is a land of contrasts, where one holiday can include trekking scorched desert, meandering lush green hills bursting with flowers and skiing down the snowy powder of The Andes. Chile is a magnet for adventure seekers, culture vultures, nature lovers, city slickers and everyone in between. Add to that, salt-of-the-earth people, delicious food and impeccable wine and you’re onto a winner. Here are some things to note before your stay.
Packing for Chile
Chile prides itself on being a projection of European civilisation on the Pacific – big towns and cities are modern and buzzy and move like the contemporary urban centres that they are. Travel here poses no major problems except for the one that lies within your suitcase. Chile is one of the longest countries in the world and when it’s hot in Atacama (think light cotton and linen), it’s snowing in Patagonia (think thick jumpers and thermals). Add in Easter Island (sarong and flip flops), and Chilean packing lists can get very complex. Pack lightly and with versatility and you’ll nail it – luckily the dress code here is anything goes. Aside from a small number of luxury establishments, sportswear and casual dress is the order of the day.
Travelling in Chile is relatively straightforward – driving is on the right-hand side, the roads are signposted and in a generally good condition, including Patagonia. In Santiago, an automatic congestion charge is debited on any cards provided for a rental car. After the Central Valley and the suburbs of Santiago, traffic is much lighter. In Atacama it’s not unusual to be the only car on the road – views from every angle extend far and wide. The same goes for Patagonia, where an occasional person or animal crossing the road will be the only sign of life.
The winds in Patagonia are something else – prepare for the onslaught as parking against it can mean a car door glued open. Patagonia is in a world all of its own in Chile – a land of magical and mystery that’s often the catalyst for many travelling adventures. Weather is unpredictable, and it can be sunny one moment and torrential the next. Temperatures range from 5C to 15C and colder at night.
In Atacama, the days are hot and the nights are cool. The heat is tempered by altitude, with some geysers souring over 4,000 meters. Sunrise tours of the geysers are a popular option – you’ll need to set your alarm for 4am and climb aboard a jeep or minibus to arrive in time to watch the steam emanate from the landscape as boiling water hits the sub-zero temperatures. Altitude sickness is something to be aware of – guides are equipped with oxygen and trained to care for symptoms, but if you have any doubts about your form, it’s best to give the expedition a rethink.
Is it risky to travel to Chile ?
Travelling in Chile is relatively safe and it’s no riskier exploring its streets than any big European city. Avoid the old towns of Santiago and Valparaiso at night however and be aware of pickpockets in crowded areas, but crime is lower in Chile than most other Latin American countries.
Currency & Tips
The country’s currency, Chilean peso, is accepted everywhere and can be exchanged in various banks and there are also ATMs dotted around regularly. Most restaurants, shops and hotels accept all credit cards. Unlike many other South American countries, haggling is generally not the norm in Chile.
It’s considered good tipping etiquette to extend a monetary nod of thanks to any service provider who does a good job. Around £5-£10 per person per day for guides and £3-£5 for drivers will be gratefully received. £2 for porters and valets and £3 for the housekeeping service will suffice, while it’s usual to leave 10% of the bill at restaurants. Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip at the end of your journey although it’s polite to round up the fare to the nearest peso.
Chile is a true land of plenty – with excellent food, stunning scenery and incredible geographical and natural diversity, a holiday to this part of the world will exceed your wildest dreams beyond measure.