Known for its fine wine and rich culture, Chile is a destination for those who like to travel slightly off the beaten path. Though Chile draws many tourists each year, it is still less of an attraction than its more touristy neighbors such as Peru, Argentina, and Brazil.
Chile is a country that will surprise you with its variegated geographical terrains. From its verdant Isla Robinson Crusoe ensconced like a pearl in the Pacific to the mammoth volcano Villarrica located by the eponymous lake in Pucón, Chile’s touristy offerings are in such great abundance that chalking out an itinerary can be quite a gargantuan task!
For the adventurous tourists seeking novelty though, here are a few pointers on traveling to Chile.
As an elongated but narrow country, Chile has a varied climate throughout its 4,300 kilometer long coast. With Atacama, the world’s driest desert being in the north, and a rainy, temperate climate being a predominant feature of the extreme south, Chile is very diverse weather-wise. Unlike some other small countries, it is not possible to merely check the weather in the capital city when packing. If you plan on traveling throughout the country, you will need to bring clothes for many different types of weather.
Citizens of a number of countries can enter Chile for up to three months (90 days) without a visa. This applies to most of the European Union countries, South Africa, the United States, other South American countries, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. Citizens of the countries, such as the UAE and India require tourist visas.
Although Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Mexicans are not required to have a visa, they are required to pay a “reciprocity fee” (about 15 USD for Mexicans and 160 USD for Americans). It is a one-time fee lasting the life of your passport. Each time you get a new passport and travel to Chile, you must pay the reciprocity fee again. Citizens of the United Kingdom are exempt from the reciprocity fee.
Getting There By Plane
The most common point of entry for international travelers is Arturo Merino Benitex International Airport which is close to downtown Santiago. The other international airport in the capital, the Santiago International Airport, has flights entering mainly from Europe.
Getting There By Land
If you are in South America already, then it is easy to enter Chile via bus from Argentina, Peru, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Most of these places have buses leaving for Chile on a daily basis. Traveling from Argentina through the Andes Mountains, however, requires crossing a high altitude. Travelers are advised to keep this in mind, particularly if they have any health issues that might get aggravated due to high altitudes.
Places to Visit
Santiago – The capital city of Chile throbs with about 5 million people. As a city, it has a European flair while still holding true to its Latin American identity. From Santiago it is easy to travel to the mountains and the sea, both within only a couple of hours. Just as many people get medical procedures like dental implants in Cancun, Mexico, people also travel to Santiago for combining affordable healthcare with a great vacation.
Easter Island Stone Heads – This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an island with 887 stone heads. The island is halfway between Chile and Tahiti. You have to fly here, but visiting one of the most remote locations in the world is worth the journey.
San Pedro de Atacama – Atacama is the driest desert in the world and San Pedro is a small oasis in the midst of it. The entire Atacama covers a 600-mile strip. Experience this vast desert and stay in San Pedro.
Water – Like in many countries, it is not advisable to drink tap water in Chile. Always drink filtered or bottled water to avoid getting sick.
Wine – Chile is known for its wine (in fact, the copious wine production also sometimes ensures that it is cheaper than water; so much for your teetotalism!). Chilean wine is exported to all the nooks and crannies of the world and ranks up there with French, Californian and South African wines. It is very popular to go on a wine tour to some of the vineyards. Many travel to Santa Cruz solely to do so.
The usual Chilean diet consists of rice, potatoes, meat, and bread. Chile is also known for its seafood as it is a coastal country. It is the second largest producer of salmon in the world. Travelers, however, should beware of consuming raw shellfish because of red tides (or algal bloom which can lead to accumulation of paralysis-inducing toxins in shellfish).
Chile is slowly gaining popularity as a medical tourism destination. Patients travel to Chile for everything from dental care to weight loss surgery. While each year, the number of medical tourists traveling to Chile for treatment is on the rise, it is still not as popular as other destinations like Mexico or Costa Rica. Though only a small number of tourists travel to Santiago for weight loss surgery, hundreds or more travel for procedures such as gastric plication in Tijuana and other major Mexican cities every year.
Other Things to Know
A tip on tipping – In Chile, most people tip 10% in restaurants. It is not required to tip other people like drivers, but you can round the fare up if you desire.
A tiny tissue roll is a must in your bag – You should carry a tissue roll with you wherever you go, particularly because toilet paper is not the norm in most places.
Be “bill smart” – Keep your 1000, 2000, and 5000 peso bills (notes) easily accessible but your larger bills tucked away in a more secure spot. This way you don’t have to pull out all of your bills each time.
Do not bribe the local police (carabineros) – Unlike the police in other developing countries, the Chilean police are very trustworthy and any intentions to grease their palms will land you in major trouble. Bribes are a largely offensive to the Chilean police and they will take action against anyone who offers one.
So, now that you’re armed with the information required for making a successful trip to Chile, just book your tickets and leave.