Unlike some South American countries, bargaining is generally not the norm in Chile.
Dangers & Annoyances
Compared with other South American countries and much of North America, Chile is remarkably safe. Petty theft is a problem in larger cities and bus terminals and at beach resorts in summer, so always keep a close eye on all belongings. Photographing military installations is strictly prohibited.
Dogs & Bugs
Chile's stray canines are a growing problem. Scabies can be common in street dogs; don't pet those that have bad skin problems, it's highly contagious. If driving, be prepared for dogs barking and running after the bumper.
Summer in the south brings about the pesty tábano, a large biting horsefly that is more an annoyance than a health risk. Bring along insect repellent and wear light-colored clothing.
Earthquakes are a fact of life for most Chileans. Local construction often does not meet seismic safety standards; adobe buildings tend to be especially vulnerable. The unpredictability of quakes means there is little that a traveler can do to prepare.
Active volcanoes are less likely to threaten safety, since they usually give some warning. Nevertheless, unexpected eruptions in recent years have the country monitoring volcanoes more closely than ever.
Many of Chile's finest beaches have dangerous offshore rip currents, so ask before diving in and make sure someone onshore knows your whereabouts. Many beaches post signs that say apto para bañar (swimming OK) and no apto para bañar (swimming not OK) or peligroso (dangerous).
In winter, the smog in Santiago can become a health risk. The city declares 'pre-emergency' or 'emergency' states when the level of smog is dangerously high and takes measures to limit emissions. Children, senior citizens and people with respiratory problems should avoid trips to downtown Santiago at these times.
Personal Security & Theft
Crime is more concentrated in the dense urban areas, though picks up in tourist destinations in summer. Those staying in cabins should close and lock windows before heading out, particularly in popular resort towns. At the beach, be alert for pickpockets and avoid leaving valuables around while you go for a swim. Never leave an unattended car unlocked, leave seats and floors bare and keep all valuables in the trunk.
Don't fall for distractions, such as a tap on the shoulder, spitting or getting something spilled on you; these 'accidents' are often part of a team effort to relieve you of some valuables. Be mindful of your belongings and avoid conspicuous displays of expensive jewelry.
Stay clear of political protests, particularly in the capital; they have a tendency to attract violent clashes.
Baggage insurance is a good idea. Do not leave valuables such as cash or cameras in your room. Some travelers bring their own lock. Some hotels often have secure strongboxes in rooms.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
- Australian Government (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canadian Government (www.travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories)
- German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en)
- Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mofa.go.jp)
- Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.belastingdienst.nl)
- New Zealand Government (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
An ISIC international student card or youth card will grant you varying discounts at some museums and tourist sites, though most national parks do not offer reductions. Some bus companies offer 25% discounts to students. Senior discount cards are not generally used.
The electricity current operates on 220V, 50Hz. Electrical sockets have two or three holes and accept round (European) plugs.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|International Access Code||three-digit carrier + 0|
|National Tourist Information (in Santiago)||562-731-8310|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entry is generally straightforward as long as your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your arrival date.
Check Chilean customs (www.aduana.cl) for what and how much you can take in and out of the country.
- No restrictions on import and export of local and foreign currency. Duty-free allowances include purchases of up to US$500.
- Inspections are usually routine, although some travelers have had more thorough examinations. Travelers leaving the duty-free Regións I and XII are subject to internal customs inspections.
- When entering the country, check your bags for food. There are heavy fines for fruit, dairy, spices, nuts, meat and organic products. SAG (Servicio Agrícola-Ganadero; Agriculture and Livestock Service) checks bags and levies fines to prevent the spread of diseases and pests that might threaten Chile's fruit exports.
- X-ray machines are used at major international border crossings, such as Los Libertadores (the crossing from Mendoza, Argentina) and Pajaritos (the crossing from Bariloche, Argentina).
Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days. Australian citizens must pay a US$117 'reciprocity fee' when arriving by air.
- Nationals of the US, Canada, Australia and the EU do not need a visa to visit Chile.
- Passports are obligatory and are essential for cashing traveler's checks, checking into hotels and other routine activities.
- Always carry your passport: Chile's police can demand identification at any moment, and many hotels require you to show it at check-in.
- If your passport is lost or stolen, notify the police, ask them for a police statement, and advise your consulate as soon as possible.
On arrival, you'll be handed a 90-day tourist card in the form of a receipt with bar code. Don't lose it! If you do, go to the local policía internacional or the nearest police station. You will be asked for it upon leaving the country.
It's possible to renew a tourist card for 90 more days at the Departamento de Extranjería. Bring photocopies of your passport and tourist card. You can also visit the Departamento de Extranjería in a regional capital. Many visitors prefer a quick dash across the Argentine border and back.
Chile requires travelers to have a return or onward ticket. You may be asked to provide evidence at the flight counter in your departure country. The solution is to either purchase a refundable return air ticket or get the cheapest possible onward bus ticket from a bus company that offers online sales and print your receipt.
- Greeting Say buenos dias or buenas tardes (good morning/good afternoon) when you walk into a room. Accept and give besos (kisses) on the cheek with friends. Address strangers or elders using the formal usted, señor or señora.
- Farewell Adios or hasta luego means goodbye.
- Excuse mePermiso
Gay & Lesbian Travelers
Chile is a very conservative, Catholic-minded country yet strides in tolerance are being made. Chile legalized civil unions for same sex couples in January 2015. Then President Michelle Bachelet shifted the national conversation to the left in her second term, sending a bill to congress to legalize same sex marriage, although progress on this issue may stall under new President Sebastián Piñera.
Many of the hipper urban bars and clubs also have an active gay scene. In Santiago, the gay scene is surprisingly good, with nightlife centering on Barrio Bellavista. Movil H (Movement for the Integration and Liberation of Homosexuals; www.movilh.cl) advocates for gay rights and organizes the Gay Pride parade every June, with thousands of marchers. For listings in English, try VamosGay (www.vamosgay.com). Guia Gay Chile (www.guiagay.cl) lists some Santiago clubs.
In general, signing up for a travel-insurance policy is a good idea. For Chile, a basic theft/loss and medical policy is recommended. Read the fine print carefully because some companies exclude dangerous activities from coverage, which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking. You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and make a claim later.
Make copies of all insurance information in the event that the original is lost.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Most regions have excellent internet connections; it is typical for hotels, hostels and coffee shops to have wi-fi. Much of Patagonia lags behind in this area, though free public wi-fi is available in some communities on the plaza. Internet cafe rates range from CH$500 to CH$1200 per hour, with very high rates only in remote areas.
Chile's carabineros (police) have a reputation for being professional and polite. Penalties for common offenses are similar to those given in much of Europe and North America. Chile has a zero-tolerance policy toward drinking and driving, avoid alcohol if you plan to drive. Drug possession, use or trafficking – including soft drugs such as cannabis – is treated very seriously and results in severe fines and imprisonment.
Police can demand identification at any time, so carry your passport. Throughout the country, the toll-free emergency telephone number for the police is 133.
Chileans often refer to police as pacos, a disrespectful (though not obscene) term that should never be used to a police officer's face.
Members of the military take themselves seriously, so avoid photographing military installations.
If you are involved in any automobile accident, your license (usually your international permit) will be confiscated until the case is resolved, although local officials will usually issue a temporary driving permit within a few days. A blood-alcohol test is obligatory. After this, you will be taken to the police station to make a statement and then, under most circumstances, released. Ordinarily you cannot leave Chile until the matter is resolved; consult your consulate, insurance carrier and a lawyer at home.
Don't ever make the error of attempting to bribe the police, whose reputation for institutional integrity is high.
In Santiago, the Instituto Geográfico Militar, just south of the Alameda, produces excellent maps, also sold online. The IGM's 1:50,000 topographic series is valuable for trekkers, although the maps are out of date and those of sensitive border areas (where most national parks are) may not be available.
JLM Mapas publishes maps for all of the major regions and trekking areas at scales ranging from 1:50,000 to 1:500,000. The maps are widely distributed, easy to use and provide decent information, but they don't claim to be perfectly accurate.
In most major Chilean cities the Automóvil Club de Chile has an office that sells highway maps, although not all of them are equally well stocked. Drivers might find Copec maps by Compass (www.mapascompass.cl) useful, available in Copec gas stations. Some local government websites have interactive maps that allow you to search for a street address in major cities. The Plano Digital de Publiguías (www.planos.cl) has mapping from the yellow pages.
The best resource for detailed topographic maps to destinations in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, including Torres del Paine, is SIG Patagon (www.facebook.com/sigpatagon).
- Newspapers Read Chilean news in English from the Santiago Times (www.santiagotimes.cl). Chile's El Mercurio (www.elmercurio.cl) is a conservative, dry but hugely respected newspaper. La Tercera (www.latercera.cl) is another mainstream option. Alternative newspaper the Clinic (www.theclinic.cl) provides cutting-edge editorials and satire on politics and society.
- Radio A recommended radio news station is Radio Cooperativa (103.1FM).
- TV Direct TV is common; most hotels and hospedajes (budget accommodations) have a hookup.
ATMs are widely available, except along the Carretera Austral. Credit cards are accepted at higher-end hotels, some restaurants and shops. Traveler's checks are not widely accepted.
The Chilean unit of currency is the peso (CH$). Bank notes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000 pesos. Coin values are one, five, 10, 50, 100 and 500 pesos, although one-peso coins are fast disappearing, and even fives and 10s are uncommon. Carry small bills with you. It can be difficult to change large bills in rural areas; try gas stations and liquor stores by asking, '¿Tiene suelto?'.
Exchange rates are usually best in Santiago. Chile's currency has been pretty stable in recent years. The value of the dollar seems to decline during peak tourist season and shoot back up again come March. Paying a bill with US cash is sometimes acceptable, especially at tour agencies (check their exchange rate carefully). Many top-end hotels publish rates in US dollars with a lower exchange rate than the daily one. It's best to pay all transactions in pesos.
Wire transfers should arrive in a few days. Chilean banks can give you money in US dollars on request. Western Union offices can be found throughout Chile, usually adjacent to the post office.
Chile's many ATMs, known as redbanc, are the easiest and most convenient way to access funds. Transaction fees can be as high as US$10, so withdraw larger sums to rack up fewer fees. Some travelers report that they cannot use Banco del Estado.
Most machines have instructions in Spanish and English. Choose the option tarjeta extranjera (foreign card) before starting the transaction. You cannot rely on ATMs in Pisco Elqui, Bahía Inglesa or in small Patagonian towns. Throughout Patagonia, many small villages only have one bank, Banco del Estado, whose ATMs only sometimes accept MasterCard affiliates.
Those crossing overland from El Chaltén, Argentina to Villa O'Higgins should bring plenty of Chilean pesos, as the nearest reliable banks are in Coyhaique.
Some foreign banks will reimburse ATM transaction fees; it's worth checking in advance. Also, withdrawals are limited to a sum of CH$200,000.
Some banks and casas de cambio (exchange houses) will exchange cash, usually US dollars only. Check the latter for commissions and poor rates. More costly purchases, such as tours and hotel bills, can sometimes be paid in US cash.
Plastic (especially Visa and MasterCard) is welcome in most established businesses; however, many businesses will charge up to 6% extra to cover the charge they have to pay for the transaction. Credit cards can also be useful to show 'sufficient funds' before entering another South American country.
- Restaurants It's customary to tip 10% of the bill in restaurants (the bill may include it under 'servicio').
- Taxis Drivers do not require tips, although you may round off the fare.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Hours given are generally for high season. In many provincial cities and towns, restaurants and services are closed on Sunday and tourist offices close in low season.
Banks 9am–2pm weekdays, sometimes 10am–1pm Saturday
Government offices & businesses 9am–6pm weekdays
Museums Often close Monday
Post Offices 9am–6pm Monday to Friday, to noon Saturday
Restaurants Noon–11pm, many close 4–7pm
Shops 10am–8pm, some close 1–3pm
Correos de Chile, Chile's national postal service, has reasonably dependable but sometimes slow postal services. To send packages within Chile, sending via encomienda (the bus system) is much more reliable and efficient.
You can receive mail via lista de correos (poste restante; equivalent to general delivery) at any Chilean post office. Some consulates will also hold correspondence for their citizens. To collect your mail from a post office or embassy, you need your passport as proof of identity. There is usually a small charge, about CH$200 per item. Mail is held for one month.
Send important overseas mail certificado (registered) to ensure its arrival; this costs around CH$600. Airmail takes around a week to both Europe and the US.
Sending parcels is straightforward, although a customs official may have to inspect your package before a postal clerk will accept it. Vendors in or near the post office will wrap parcels upon request. International courier services are readily available in Santiago, less so outside the capital.
Simply take the package to a bus company that goes to the destination. Label the package clearly with the destination and the name of the person who will pick it up, on arrival or from the company's office.
National holidays, when government offices and businesses are closed, are listed here. There is pressure to reduce these or to eliminate so-called sandwich holidays, which many Chileans take between an actual holiday and the weekend, by moving some to the nearest Monday.
Año Nuevo (New Year) January 1
Semana Santa (Easter Week) March or April
Día del Trabajo (Labor Day) May 1
Glorias Navales Commemorating the naval Battle of Iquique; May 21
Corpus Christi May/June; dates vary
Día de San Pedro y San Pablo (St Peter and St Paul's Day) June 29
Asunción de la Virgen (Assumption) August 15
Día de Unidad Nacional (Day of National Unity) First Monday of September
Día de la Independencia Nacional (National Independence Day) September 18
Día del Ejército (Armed Forces Day) September 19
Día de la Raza (Columbus Day) October 12
Todo los Santos (All Saints' Day) November 1
Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception) December 8
Navidad (Christmas Day) December 25
- Smoking Banned indoors in public places, including restaurants and bars, in workplaces and on public transport.
Taxes & Refunds
A 19% value-added tax known as the impuesto de valor agregado (IVA) is levied on all goods and services.
When using US dollars or a foreign credit card to pay for lodgings or tour packages no IVA, or tax, is charged.
Throughout Chile, call centers with private cabins are rapidly being replaced by internet cafes with Skype. Remote tour operators and lodges may have satellite phones with a Santiago prefix.
Calling from cell phones or land lines requires different prefixes. Lonely Planet listings have phone numbers as called by cell phones, given the prevalence of travelers who buy local SIM cards.
Foreign travelers with unlocked cell phones can only use a Chilean SIM card after registering their own device in Chile. The national telecommunications website lists companies that certify phones (www.multibanda.cl/empresas-certificadoras). Register online or at a local office, a five-day process.
Local SIM cards are cheap and widely available, for use with unlocked GSM 850/1900 phones. There's 3G or 4G access in urban centers.
Cell-phone numbers have nine digits, starting with 9. If calling cell-to-landline, use the landline's area code.
Cell phones have a 'caller pays' format. Calls between cell and landlines are expensive and quickly eat up prepaid card amounts.
Purchase a new SIM card from a Chilean operator such as Entel or Movistar. Then purchase phone credit from the same carrier in kiosks, pharmacies or supermarket check-outs. In Patagonia, Entel has much better coverage than other companies.
There's reception in most inhabited areas, with the poorest reception in the middle of the Atacama Desert and parts of Patagonia.
Chile's country code is 56. All telephone numbers in Santiago and the Metropolitan Region have seven digits; all other telephone numbers have six digits except for certain toll-free and emergency numbers. The toll-free number for the police is 133, ambulance is 131. You'll reach directory assistance at 103.
Long-distance calls are based on a carrier system: to place a call, precede the number with the telephone company's code: Entel (www.entel.cl), for example. To make a collect call, dial 182 to get an operator.
Calling Argentine Cell Phones
When dialing an Argentine cell phone from another country, dial your international exit code, then 54, then 9, then the area code without the 0, then the number – leaving out the 15 (which most Argentine cell phone numbers start with).
For most of the year, Chile is four hours behind GMT, but from mid-December to late March, because of daylight-saving time (summer time), the difference is three hours. The exact date of the changeover varies from year to year. Note that Southern Patagonia uses the summer time for the entire year. Easter Island is two hours behind Santiago.
Pipes and sewer systems in older buildings are quite fragile: used toilet paper should be discarded in wastebaskets. Cheaper accommodations and public toilets rarely provide toilet paper, so carry your own wherever you go. Better restaurants and cafes are good alternatives to public toilets, which are often dirty.
Every regional capital and some other cities have a local representative of Sernatur, the national tourist service. Offices vary in usefulness – some have astonishingly knowledgeable multilingual staff, but others have little hands-on knowledge of the destinations that they cover.
Many municipalities have their own tourist office, usually on the main plaza or at the bus terminal. In some areas, these offices may be open during summer only.
If you plan on hiking, buy good topo maps of the area you plan to visit from an outdoor store, as parks rarely have detailed maps of their own for visitors.
Some official international representatives for Chilean tourism can be found abroad. Consulates in major cities may have a tourist representative, but more accessible and comprehensive information can be found through specialized travel agencies and on the internet.
Chile has a few general travel agencies that work with affiliates around the world. Chilean Travel Service has well-informed multilingual staff and can organize accommodations and tours all over Chile through your local travel agency. STA (www.statravel.com) offers travel services for students.
Conaf (Corporación Nacional Forestal; www.conaf.cl) runs Chile's national parks.
Travel With Children
Chile is a top family destination where bringing children offers up some distinct advantages. Little ones are welcomed and treasured, and empathy for parents is usually keen. Even strangers will offer help, and hotels and services tend to accommodate. There are lots of active adventures and family-oriented resorts and lodgings.
Best Regions for Kids
Brimming with children's museums, parks and winter resorts with easy terrain, fun events and kids' classes. Eco-adventure parks, horseback riding and ziplines offer excitement in nearby Cajón del Maipo.
- Sur Chico
For horseback riding, lake dips, farm visits, water sports and volcano thrills. Lake towns Pucón or Puerto Varas provide the best bases to explore the region, with kid-centered events in summer.
- Norte Chico
Seaside resorts provide beach fun, swimming and surf lessons. Kids love playing in the tide pools of La Piscina in Bahía Inglesa. The gentle, sunny climate here helps keep your plans on target.
Children love plenty of adult sports such as hiking or cycling, as long as they can go at their own pace. Scale activities down, bring snacks and have a plan B for when bad weather or exhaustion hits. Routine travel, like crossing fjords on a ferry or riding the subway, can amount to adventure. Activities like guided horseback rides (usually for ages eight and up), rafting and canyoning usually have age limits but are invariably fine for teenagers.
In rural areas, agritourism can be a great option, which can involve farm chores or just hiking with packhorses taking all the load. Some rivers may be suitable for children to float or raft; make sure outfitters have life vests and wet suits in appropriate sizes.
Chile is as kid-friendly as a destination gets, though it's best to take all the same travel precautions you would at home. Free or reduced admission rates are often given at events and performances. In Chile, people are helpful on public transportation; often someone will give up a seat for parent and child. Expecting mothers enjoy a boon of designated parking spaces and grocery-store checkout lines.
Though upper-middle-class families usually employ a nana (live-in or daily childcare), finding last-minute help is not easy. Babysitting services or children's activity clubs tend to be limited to upmarket hotels and ski resorts. If you're comfortable with an informal approach, trusted acquaintances can recommend sitters.
Formula, baby food and disposable diapers are easy to find. In general, public toilets are poorly maintained; always carry toilet paper, which tends to run out in bathrooms, and hand sanitizer, as there's rarely soap and towels. While a woman may take a young boy into the ladies' room, it is socially unacceptable for a man to take a girl into the men's room.
There are no special food and health concerns, but bottled water is a good idea for delicate stomachs.
While restaurants don't offer special kids' meals, most offer a variety of dishes suitable for children; none are spicy. It is perfectly acceptable to order a meal to split between two children or an adult and a child; most portions are abundant. High chairs are rarely available. The only challenge to dining families is the Latin hours. Restaurants open for dinner no earlier than 7pm, sometimes 8pm, and service can be quite slow. Bring a journal or scribble book and crayons for the kids to pass the time.
Bring a first-aid kit. There are no special food and health concerns, but bottled water is a good idea for delicate stomachs. Street dogs are common but usually mild-mannered and after food scraps.
- Patagonia asados Bring barbecues, best sampled outdoors at an estancia (grazing ranch) or a specialty restaurant like Asador Patagónico.
- Soda fountain fun in cities Try Punta Arenas, where you can eat burgers on stools in retro restaurants like Fuente Hamburg.
- Teahouses, Lakes District Serve fresh berry küchen (sweet German-style cakes) on rural roads throughout the region.
If renting a car, communicate ahead if you will need a child's seat; you might have to bring one. If you don't want to be tied town to a schedule while traveling, plenty of activities can be booked last minute.
When to Go
- Summer (December to February) for good weather and outdoor fun.
- The desert north can be visited year-round.
- Avoid the south during the rainiest months (May to July).
- Winter (June to August) is fun as kids can try out skis.
- Hotels often give discounts for families and some can provide cribs.
- Aparthotels in cities are convenient and offer good value.
- Cabins are widely available in summer and often have self-catering options.
- Campgrounds in the south may have quinchos (barbecue huts) for some shelter from the rain.
What to Pack
- Bathing suit, sunhat and warm clothing
- Nontoxic bug spray
- Good, broken-in walking shoes
- Baby backpack – strollers aren't always convenient
Travelers with Disabilities
Travel within Chile is a robust challenge for those with disabilities, though patient planning can open a lot of doors. Even top-end hotels and resorts cannot be relied upon to have ramps or rooms adapted for those with impaired mobility; an estimated 10% of hotels in Santiago cater to wheelchairs. Lifts are more common in large hotels and the law now requires new public buildings to provide disabled access.
Santiago's Metro has elevators and Transantiago has access ramps and spaces for wheelchairs on new buses. Some street lights have noise-indicated crossings for the blind. Those in wheelchairs will find Chile's narrow and poorly maintained sidewalks awkward to negotiate. Crossing streets is also tricky, but most Chilean drivers are remarkably courteous toward pedestrians – especially those with an obvious disability.
Wheel the World (https://gowheeltheworld.com) makes Chile's extremes more accessible to those with disabilities, with some very cool off-the-beaten-track opportunities in Patagonia and Easter Island.
American organization Accessible Journeys (www.disabilitytravel.com) organizes independent travel to Chile for people with disabilities.
National parks are often discounted and sometimes free for disabled visitors (check ahead with Conaf; www.conaf.cl). Cruises or ferries such as Navimag sometimes offer free upgrades to disabled travelers, and some of the ski resorts near Santiago have outrigger poles for disabled skiers.
Experienced outdoor guides may be able to exchange labor for accommodations during the busy high season, if you can stick out the entire season. Language schools often place students in volunteer work as well. Spanish-language skills are always a plus.
AMA Torres del Paine (www.amatorresdelpaine.org) Located in the national park, works with a limited number of volunteers.
Experiment Chile (www.experiment.cl) Organizes 14-week language-learning/volunteer programs.
Go Voluntouring (www.govoluntouring.com) Canadian organization that consolidates listings from various NGOs, such as Earthwatch, in addition to social and teaching programs.
Un Techo Para Chile (www.untechoparachile.cl) Nonprofit organization that builds homes for low-income families throughout the country.
WWOOF Chile Volunteers (wwoofers) live and learn about farming on organic properties.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Use the metric system except for tire pressure, which is measured in pounds per square inch.
It's increasingly difficult to obtain residence and work permits for Chile. Consequently, many foreigners do not bother to do so, but the most reputable employers will insist on the proper visa. If you need one, go to the Departamento de Extranjería.
In Santiago, many youth hostels offer work, an offer usually stated on their websites. It is not unusual for visiting travelers to work as English-language instructors in Santiago and other cities. In general, pay is hourly and full-time employment is hard to come by without a commitment to stay for some time.