Chile Travel Tips
Pura Aventura's brief guide to the practicalities of travelling to and around Chile. We've included practical tips on money, health and vaccinations, safety, language, and airports to help you plan your holiday to Chile.
Chile is GMT -5 (ie the same zone as US Eastern Standard Time).
220V, 60Hz, American Style two-pin plugs.
All domestic calls can be dialled directly - numbers start with a '0'. For international calls you must route through a carrier. To call the UK dial 123 044 followed by the number (removing the first '0'). Alternatively call the following free number to speak to an operator who will help connect you: 800 800 600.
Chile mobile networks operate at 1900Mhz which means that tri-band GSM phones work. The main carrier is Entel PCS.
There is good coverage across Santiago. There is good coverage in the Atacama but not in the town of San Pedro itself. You can get a signal from just outside town.
In the Chilean lakes, there is good coverage away from the main hills. In Patagonia, coverage is very limited.
The internet craze has hit Chile and you can find internet access everywhere. Most internet cafes also offer cheap international calls.
Phone cards (Telefonica) can also be bought and used for international calls. Note: 'Alt' '6' '4' on the number keypad will produce the'@' sign for emails.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of completion of your visit and you should have at least one blank page.
Citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand just need a valid passport to enter Chile.
Before entering Chile, you'll need to fill out a tourist card that allows visitors to stay for 90 days. You'll need to present this tourist card to Customs when leaving the country, so don't lose it.
Tourist Visa Charges
Most visitors are unaware that Chile charges a steep reciprocity fee for citizens of some countries when they arrive at the Santiago airport before passing through customs.
UK citizens and New Zealanders do not pay a fee.
The U.S. recently upped the fee for Chileans seeking a U.S. tourist visa to $100, so now Chile has responded by charging visitors from the U.S. $100.
Visitors from Australia pay $33 and visitors from Canada pay $55.
The entrance fee must be paid in cash and in U.S. dollars only.
This fee is levied only to tourists entering by plane, not crossing the border by vehicle, and the one-time charge is good for the life of your passport, so keep the stub stapled on a page in your passport for future visits.
If you lose your tourist card outside Santiago, any police station will direct you to the Extranjería police headquarters for that province (usually the nearest principal city).
In Santiago, go to the Policía Internacional, Departamento Fronteras, General Borgoña 1052 (tel. 2/737-1292), open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 12:30pm and 3 to 6pm.
If you lose your passport, contact your embassy for a replacement. It is imperative that you carry a photocopy of your passport with you and another form of ID to facilitate the process.
Consult the UK FCO's Know Before You Go page for latest advice.
Before departure from home, please obtain two photocopies of the information pages of your passport and other travel documents, keeping one set in a different place from that of the originals.
A good idea is to scan a copy of your passport into your computer, should you lose your passport you have a copy which can be emailed to you. Although an emailed copy is not a legal document it may aid your application to get a new passport and visas quicker.
Your passport is your most valuable and important document when travelling, it should always be carried with you under your clothing in a small cotton pouch or money belt. NEVER store your passport in any part of your luggage! You may need to show your passport when checking into hotels, changing money.
We suggest that you deposit your passport in the hotel safe while in cities and carry a photocopy of it around as identification.
DO NOT bring in any fruit or produce into Chile. The Andes form an amazing natural barrier to pests and infections.
Customs are very stringent about maintaining this barrier at the airports and will fine you if they find any fruit or fresh produce on your person.
Either leave it on board the plane or you will see large apple shaped bins on arrival for disposal of fruit.
Visitors entering Chile may also bring in no more than 400 cigarettes, 500 grams of pipe tobacco, or 50 cigars, and 2.5 litres of alcoholic beverages per adult.
U.K. citizens returning from a non-EU country have a customs allowance of 200 cigarettes; 50 cigars; 250 grams of smoking tobacco; 2 litres of still table wine; 1 litre of spirits or strong liqueurs (over 22% volume); 2 litres of fortified wine, sparkling wine, or other liqueurs; 60cc (ml) perfume; 250cc (ml) of toilet water; and £145 worth of all other goods, including gifts and souvenirs.
Buying Duty Free
Please bear in mind that restrictions on taking liquids onto a plane are stringently applied.
If you buy any form of liquid in duty free at Santiago airport you will be able to take it on board with you.
However, since all flights (to the UK at least) transit through another airport, you will not be able to carry your duty free with you onto the second flight.
Assuming you transit via a European hub, most commonly Madrid, any bottles of duty free you have bought in Chile will be taken from you as you go through the first security check in Madrid.
We strongly advise that you therefore do not buy drinks in Santiago's duty free airport shop but instead buy them beforehand and pack them in your main bags. Allowances as above.
We band the country into some broad areas starting in the north and working south.
Broadly speaking, the north of the country is high and dry and can be visited at any time of year.
Santiago has a Mediterranean climate so has pleasant enough weather year round though high summer (December through February) is very hot.
From June to September there is snow on the mountains and the ski resorts are open.
The winelands to the south of the capital have a fairly benign climate year round.
From the Lake District to the far south winter is much more noticeable and you probably will not want to visit during the winter months (June-September).
The exception to this is the area around Torres del Paine which can be dry and calm in mid-winter.
Warm days, cold nights. In mid-winter (July-August) temperature ranges from 3-19c with negligible rainfall. In summer (Dec-Mar) temperature ranges from 9-28c with some chance of showers.
These temperatures relate to San Pedro which is in a fairly protected spot at 2,000m. On excursions you can find yourself at altitudes of over 5,000m where temperatures can easily be -5c with windchill on top.
Take 4 layers of clothing for the body, 2 for legs plus hat and gloves. The sun is fierce at this altitude.
Has a Mediterranean climate so even in the depths of winter (July-August) temperatures range from 5-15c with rainfall of around 100mm. Even in winter, daytime temperatures tend to be pleasant in the city with a light jacket only really necessary at night.
In summer (December-March) temperatures rise dramatically to 20-35c with negligible rainfall. The city tends to be very warm and muggy, light & loose clothing is ideal.
The main resorts of Portillo, Valle Nevado and Chillan claim 80% sunny days in a season which runs from mid-June to the end of September.
When the sun is out, daytime temperatures can be quite pleasant with skiing in short sleeves not impossible.
Nights are obviously very cold as you are at around 2,500m-3,000m.
Lake District Weather
Expect high levels of precipitation at any time of year, particularly in the southern Lakes around Puerto Montt/Puerto Varas and Chiloe.
Pucon is inland and therefore has a relatively sunny and dry summer climate.
Conditions are usually such that you can comfortably spend daytime in shorts & t-shirt with a fleece only needed at night. A waterproof is always handy.
In winter (June-August) temperatures range from 4-12°c with quite a lot of rainfall.
Torres del Paine, i.e southern Patagonia, is on the same latitude, relatively speaking, as Manchester. You will also generally be at or near sea level.
Weather is therefore not extreme in and of itself.
Summer daytime temperatures can reach the 20°c dropping to around 10°c at night.
You can expect rain, wind and even snow at any time of year given the proximity of the ice fields.
In winter temperatures are generally 5-10°c during the day, falling back at night to around 0°c.
Levels of rainfall do not vary greatly by season though summer has slightly higher precipitation.
Winter is the time of year with least wind so can actually be a very nice time to visit, though days are shorter.
The Peso: very simple to navigate as there are just over 1,000 Chilean Pesos to 1 pound. Knock 3 decimal places off any Peso price for a rough sterling equivalent.
Notes come in denominations of 500,1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000; coins in 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100.
US dollars cash is most useful and widely exchangeable but is not acceptable to most shopkeepers or restaurants.
Always have pesos available.
Travellers' cheques are difficult to change and frankly to be avoided.
Visa and MasterCard are very widely accepted in restaurants, hotels, etc.
ATMs are found across the country in towns and cities for withdrawals of up to US$250.
There are no ATMs in San Pedro as electricity is cut off at night though an ATM van does show up sometimes.
A tip 10% is standard practice in restaurants.
Tipping your guide and drivers is discretionary but customary assuming they have done a good job. A reasonable guideline is US$6 per passenger per day for the guide and US$3 per passenger per day for the driver.
Tips are not expected in taxis.
Baggage porters will expect in the region of 300 pesos (US$0.50) per bag.
Departure tax for most visitors is US$18.50 although it seems that most people are not asked to pay.
Sales tax is 13% and is included in the price of goods.
For up to date, journey specific health advice, consult your GP or NHS Direct. You might also like to visit the NHS Fit for Travel website.
Most health problems are minor stomach complaints. Wash hands regularly. Exercise reasonable caution when eating: avoid undercooked or reheated meats and fish, drink bottled water and make sure that ice is made from purified water.
Diarrhea and intestinal problems - few visitors to Chile experience anything other than run-of-the-mill traveler's stomach in reaction to unfamiliar foods and any microorganisms in them.
Chile's tap water is clean and safe to drink; however, a small percentage of travelers with delicate stomachs report having experienced tummy upsets.
Bottled mineral water is widely available throughout Chile if you'd rather not take any chances.
Do not under any circumstances drink tap water in San Pedro de Atacama.
Other things to guard against are sunburn and dehydration.
Insects can be a nuisance in some areas, notably around Puerto Varas and the southern Lake District in February. A DEET based repellent is worth taking.
When travelling In northern Chile some people may suffer the affects of altitude sickness 'Soroche'. It's caused by the lack of oxygen in the thin mountain air.
It can affect anyone, regardless of physical condition.
Symptoms include headache, shortness of breath and loss of appetite.
Drink plenty of bottled water. Walk slowly and take things at a relaxed pace. At least for your first few days avoid alcohol, smoking and heavy food.
Altitude can aggravate any pre-existing medical condition.
Travellers with heart conditions and high blood pressure should check with their doctors before undertaking travel at altitude.
The shrinking ozone layer in southern Chile has caused an onset of health problems among the citizens who live there, including increased incidents of skin cancer and cataracts.
If you are planning to travel to Patagonia, keep in mind that on ""red alert"" days (typically Sept-Nov), it's possible to burn in 10 minutes.
If you plan to be outdoors, you need to protect yourself with sunblock, a long-sleeved shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.
Chile is rife with pharmacies, and you'll find them in odd locations, such as shopping malls and gas stations -- and, strangely enough, they always seem to be packed with ailing clientele.
Many stay open 24 hours a day, and a few chains will deliver for a small fee. Chilean pharmacies sell numerous kinds of prescription drugs over the counter, including antibiotics and birth control pills.
We recommend that you use an antiseptic handwash (the sort that you rub in and it evaporates) during your travels.
If you apply the handwash in the morning and then do not wash your hands, the antiseptic continues to work.
Any time you wash your hands with water you will have to reapply.
This trick does more than anything else to avoid stomach bugs whilst on your travels.
Chile is a generally very safe country and crime rates are lower than in the UK.
However, property crimes do exist so you should exercise caution by spreading money and credit cards across several pockets and don't wear jewellery or expensive watches or sunglasses.
When traveling in taxis, lock the doors and keep bags on the floor, at your feet rather than on your lap.
Spanish is the official language.
English is not widely spoken but Chileans are generally a friendly and patient bunch.
Arriving by Air
International flight allowances vary between 20kg (European carriers) and 64kg (US carriers).
Internal flights within Chile have a 20kg allowance.
Passengers are responsible for their own excess baggage, currently $2.50 per kilogram on domestic flights. Hand luggage is limited to 5kgs, not much more than a small day-pack.
Check in: For domestic flights 2 hours in advance, for international 3 hours.
Departure tax for most visitors is US$18.50 although it seems that most people are not asked to pay.
For domestic flights 2 hours in advance; for international 3 hours.
Remember to pack any pocket-knives and sharp objects in your check-in luggage as security is tight in the airports. The 100ml maximum liquid container rule will probably be enforced on international departures.
Flying via the United States
If you are flying via the USA you must have a machine-readable passport otherwise you will need a full visa. If you have a line of chevrons and numbers on the photo page of your passport then it is machine-readable.
If you have not entered the USA within the last couple of years you will be asked to provide a scan of all 10 fingers (light scan, so at least no mess). Those who have previously entered the USA will only be asked to scan one finger.