Chile Travel Guide

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Area

For anyone who has ever been fascinated by geography, the long, slender line that is Chile has always proved irresistible. Chile stretches over 4,300 km (2,700 mi) along the south-western coast of South America, a distance roughly the same as that from San Francisco to New York, or Edinburgh to Baghdad. At the same time, its width never exceeds 240 km (150 mi), making it more than eighteen times longer than its widest point. The most eye-catching landmark of Chile's unique shape is the massive, virtually impassable wall of the Andes, a mountain range which is still rising and which boasts more than fifty active volcanoes. It would however be a misconception to picture Chile as nothing more than the Andes falling away into the Pacific Ocean. All along its length the country is marked by a narrow depression between the mountains and the sea. To the north the land rises and becomes more arid, until one reaches the forbidding Atacama Desert, one of the most inhospitable territories on earth. To the south exactly the opposite can be seen: the land between mountains and ocean fades into the mystifying archipelagic labyrinth that terminates in Chilean Patagonia. Chile's southern extremity is marked by Cape Horn, a treacherous headland surrounded by almost continuously storm-tossed seas and passable only through the foggy stillness of the Strait of Magellan. At the heart of the country one comes across a long and expansive river valley, a five hundred mile corridor dominated in the north by top-quality vineyards and farmlands and in the south by primeval forests and enchanting lakes. Whilst Santiago anchors the northern and more prosperous part of the central valley, the lush Lake District to the south is the homeland of Chile's indigenous people, the Mapuche. Chilean territory also includes two Pacific jewels: the Juan Fernandez Islands and the famous Easter Island, both of which are managed as National Parks. The Juan Fernandez Islands lie around 670 km / 416 mi off the Chilean coast, while Easter Island is situated 3.700 km / 2300 mi away in distant Polynesia. Chile's climate is as diverse as its geography. Aside from the extreme climatic conditions of the Andes and the Atacama, the country enjoys a temperate climate.

Buses

The public transportation in Chile is a great option to travel. There are several companies that offer services both locally, nationally and even taking international routes. Buses are safe, clean and run on time. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that some routes take over 12 hours on the road.

Car Rental

Driving in Chile is fun and safe; car rental companies are represented in most major cities and at airports which makes it easy to connect several destinations in one trip. In order to rent a car you need a valid driver’s license and to be over 25 years of age.

Cruise Ships

There are several cruises possible in Chile. The most interesting ones are the ones that explore the Patagonian fjords and channels with a focus on exploration rather than a standard mainstream cruise. Cruises leave from Puerto Montt towards the Southern regions as far as Antarctica.

Customs & Immigration

At the airport visitors will have their passport and visa (if required) checked. Chilean airports have separate lines on arrival for Chilean passport holders and foreign visitors. EU and UK passport holders do not require a visa to enter Chile. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the returndate. You will be admitted in Chile for a stay up to 90 days that can be extended for another 90-day period.

Diving

Diving in Chile is possible but the view isn’t too good. The best spot within the country to do this is probably Easter Island which features amazingly clear waters. For outdoor enthusiasts there is a large variety of options which include mountaineering, hiking, white water rafting, etc.

Dress

Chileans dress casually outside of the office. None of the top restaurants insist on collar and tie, although the occasional private business club may. Collar and tie still predominate in formal office and business surroundings in Santiago and other big cities.

Drink

Chile is famous for its great wines, and tastings can therefore no be missed during your visit to Chile. Another drink made out of grapes is the Pisco, with which the national drink Pisco Sour is made; a mixture of Pisco, lemon juice, syrup and egg white. The legal age to purchase alcoholic beverages in Chile is 18 years.

Eating Out

In the metropolitan areas you find kitchens from all over the world. Thanks to the large coastline, Chile offers a lot of seafood in just about every part of the country. You will find squid, sole, codfish, hake, salmon, tuna, and shellfish like prawns, clams, crab, shrimp, oysters, lobsters, percebes and eels. The Southern area is famous for its Curanto, which originates in Chiloe, but is available in the area surrounding the island as well. It is a dish of shellfish, meat, potatoes, milcaos and chapaleles (potato bread-like) and vegetables. In the entire country you will find the Chilean empanada, not to be compared with any other empanada, since it is filled with meat or vegetables, egg and always one single olive. The traditional kitchen is popular among the Chilean population and you will find “typical restaurants” all over the country.

Electrical Current

The current in Chile is 220 volts (50 cycles).

Guide Books

There are many guidebooks one can use to learn more about Chile; Footprint is a great one, the Rough Guide, Frommer´s and the Lonely Planet are all great practical guides and give background info at the same time.

Health & Insurance

Chile has a good network of private hospitals in major cities. Make sure that you have a medical and travel insurance, since medical care is expensive.

Language

The official language of Chile is Spanish. The indigenous language of Mapudungun is spoken by approximately 200.000 people living in the Araucania area northeast of Temuco.

Media

The Santiago Times publishes world news in English on a daily basis and you can find foreign written books and magazines in shops in the bigger cities. Many hotels have satellite or cable television and show international news channels like CNN, BBC-World; RTVE, TV5 and DW-World and entertainment channels like HBO for instance.

Money, Banks & Credit Cards

The Chilean monetary unit is the chilean peso. The official exchange rate is published daily in the newspapers. Current value nov 2010: 1 USD ≈ 500 CLP.

There are ATM machines in all cities and even the smaller villages frequented by tourist have ATM´s. You can both use your bankcard (Cirrus, Maestro) and Credit Cards (Mastercard and Visa).

Population

Chile counts a population of approximately 17 million, of which about 40% lives in the metropolitan area around Santiago.

Public Holidays

There quite a few national holidays in Chile:

1 January
Good Friday
1 May: Labour Day
21 May: Navy Day
29 June: St Peter & St Paul
15 August: Assumption
11 September: Reconciliation Day
18 September: Independence Day
19 September: Army Day
11 October: Columbus Day / Día de la Raza
1 November: All Saints Day
8 December: Immaculate Conception
25 December: Christmas

Railways

There are few train journeys to be made in Chile, mainly due to lack of maintenance. The bus companies have filled the transportation gap a long time ago. There is the Wine train in the Central Region that offers a tourist service and a passenger service runs between Santiago and Temuco on a not too regular basis. Buses however are cheaper and more efficient and are therefore the preferred means of transport.

Taxis

Taxis are easy to find in every town and city and cheap compared to Europe. In comparison to other Latin-American countries, most taxis have meters and trustworthy.

Telephone Services

Chile has a well-developed telephone network and it is possible to direct dial to anywhere in Chile or outside. In remote areas you will not have coverage or limited network.

Time

The time in Chile is 3 hours behind GMT in the winter of the Northern Hemisphere (October – march) and 4 hours in the summer.

Vaccinations

There are no vaccination requirements for entering Chile. The normal childhood vaccinations of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP), and polio should be up-to-date.

Visas

UK passport doesn’t require visa.

Duty Free

Chile´s international airports offer duty free goods on arrival and visitors are allowed to purchase up to USD 500 worth of duty free products. (400 cigarettes/500gr tobacco, 2,5L of alcohol, reasonable quantity of perfume for personal use only).