You’re never far from the ocean in Chile, a sliver of land squeezed between the Andes and the Pacific. But this is not solely a beach destination—the country encompasses a bone-dry desert, sprawling glaciers, and snow-covered volcanoes that perpetually smolder. The variety of attractions here, from the city of Santiago to first-rate vineyards, sprawling ranches and glittery resorts by the sea, will satisfy any type of traveler.
- Entry – Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa as well as citizens of EU countries do not need a visa, just their passport. At the border you will get a tourist card which is valid for 90 days and extendable. The copy of the form must be kept in a safe place until the departure. If the form is lost, you will need to get a new one (Policia Internacional in Santiago, General Borgoño 1052, or any other police station).
- Money – Use of credit card is very common in Santiago and they can be used almost everywhere instead of cash. If you’re planning on visiting small towns however you will probably need to use cash. If you are driving, you will need cash for tolls, some rental car companies will have some toll road coverage in Santiago but very few do elsewhere. Some hotels offer currency exchange at favorable rates. Hotels are also a potential source of information for the closest casa de cambio (exchange house) with the best rates. There are manycasas de cambio within the country, and one is usually located inside each shopping mall.
- Transportation – Primary roads in Chile are good. The main highways are toll roads and are in good condition. Toll roads within the Santiago Metropolitan area are paid electronically, while toll roads outside Santiago must be paid in cash. Secondary roads, especially outside of Santiago, are sometimes in poor repair. Gravel and dirt roads are common in rural areas. Public transportation, especially in Santiago, is reliable and affordable. Expect to pay around 550 CLP per ride. In the non-summer seasons, the local buses (micros) become less frequent, especially in tourist areas.For intercity travel, buses are the cheapest way to get around. Expect to pay at least 22,000 CLP per person from Santiago to Antofagasta. From Santiago to Punta Arenas, expect to pay at least 50,000 CLP (this is an incredibly long distance, and you will be better off breaking into stages or flying). Flying around the country is possible, though not cheap.
Plan ahead -Most importantly, decide when to go depending on where you want to go. Chile stretches from the tropics almost all the way down to Antarctica, so when it’s lovely in the north it can be miserable in the south, and vice-versa.
If you want to explore Southern Patagonia and hike in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, visit in summer (December – February), or in the shoulder season (November or March) to avoid the crowds. Warning: by end of March, many services and attractions in Patagonia close for the season.
Middle Chile is best in spring (September – November) or fall (late Feb – April). Ski season runs June through October.
The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile can be explored year-round but summer (December – February) is very hot and rainy.
- Food – Food in the country isn’t too expensive, though prices get a lot higher the further south you go. Most places in the country offer a set menu for lunch with a starter, main, dessert and drink for about 5,000 CLP. A steak dinner with wine and an appetizer will cost around 20,000 CLP. Starbucks is around 2,500 CLP while a domestic beer can be as cheap as 1,200 CLP. Grocery shopping can save you a lot of money if you have access to a kitchen. Expect a week’s worth of groceries to cost around 25,000 CLP. As everything has to be shipped south, food prices in Patagonia are about 30% higher than elsewhere.
Tips – It’s customary to tip 10% in restaurants. No need to tip taxi drivers, although you can round up the fare.
- Take a free walking tour – There are some great options available when it comes to free walking tours in Santiago, like Tours 4 Tips or Free Tour Santiago. If you want to explore the city while learning about its history, architecture, and people then be sure to take a free tour!