Chile is a great place to visit. Santiago’s International airport is extremely busy and easy to access, the country has most of the day-to-day comforts that you would expect to find in the USA, Australia or the UK and the geography of the country means that you can visit deserts, snow fields, mountains and icebergs all without crossing any national borders. Chile seems to have not kept up with this influx of tourism however, and local information can be difficult to find, as well as per-departure information.
Between the two of us, we have experienced Chile as a childhood home, as a backpacker and now as a kind of homecoming. These experiences have all lead us to different impressions of this long thin land, and we have put our heads together to give you our list of 10 Hot Tips for Traveling Chile, which are also a great stating point for anyone looking to relocate to the South American nation.
Pack a thermal layer, and your bathers
The temperature varies greatly on any given day due to the altitude of most of the country. The nights are cold. We had a friend visit from Canada and even she was cold. From May and all through winter you will want to wear your ‘primera capa’ (first layer) aka thermals under your pants and sweaters from about the time the sun sets until you head to bed. That is if you don’t just end up wearing them all day. On the flip-side, the waters in the north are warm and are swimmable right up until the winter months. If you’re heading south you might also want to take advantage of the volcanic thermal springs!
Tipping in Chile
Chile is slowly shifting to the same tipping system that the USA and Canada uses for restaurants and cafes. On top of this, there are some professions that only get paid through tips. You should always tip the people who bag your groceries at the supermarket. They do not get paid a wage, in fact they have to pay the supermarket for the privilege to work there. Standard rate is 100 pesos per bag. If you are driving in Chile, you should also tip the person who ‘helps’ you park your car in the supermarket or street. 100-200 pesos is sufficient. When it comes to tipping in restaurants and cafes, legislation has been recently introduced to include a minimum 10% tip in your bill, please ask the restaurant if the tip has been included or if you should pay it on top of it, restaurants are sometimes reluctant to obey the new rules and the wage some of them pay to their workers can be pretty low.
Be aware, but not afraid of the street dogs
Street dogs are everywhere in Chile. They are unavoidable and generally healthy and harmless. Attacks do happen, however are not common. It is best to be aware of the dogs around you, take note of their mood and position and keep going on with your business. It’s okay to yell at the dogs to leave you alone, however try not to appear scared of them. Some look quite viscous but are probably more wary of you then you are of them. If you get bitten (very small chance of it occurring) please go to the doctor immediately to get a shot for rabies, although no cases are registered in the country it is the normal procedure to prevent this disease from spreading.
Not a lot is advertised or sign posted in Chile. It is also home to the most outdated websites we have ever seen. Most opportunities arise through contacts. Do not expect to turn up to a new town and head to the tourist information centre and it’s likely there will not be one, even in the most frequented of places. Searching for information online can lead to many dead ends and it is always best to ask locals for information. You will get the best experiences, best prices and have more doors open to you if you make friends. Chile is a harsh country and the people can seem hard on the outside, however as soon as you crack their shell they are all soft and warm, and full of manjar (Chilean milky caramel spread, find it and eat it, its awesome).
Watch the patterns of the sunset reflected onto the mountains
Being east-coasters in Australia, seeing the sunset onto the ocean is a novelty that we never tire of. However while in Chile try to make the time to see the reflections that are cast over the mountains at sunset also. Every minute the light dances on the hills in a different manner, constantly changing the texture of the land. The colours cannot be described and there is a warmth in the Andes that can only be seen at sunset.
Leave your watch at home
When we were in Australia and Anai or any other Chilean friend was running late, we would always joke that they were still operating on Chilean time. That joke became our reality on this trip. Chilean time means that if you make plans to meet someone for lunch at 1pm, they may turn up anywhere between 2-4pm. This lateness is completely normal and we suggest you let go of any qualms you may have with tardiness as soon as you hit Chilean soil. People and services will be late. Just learn to roll with it. Also, because of the shortage of services be prepared to queue, especially in pharmacies and banks. With banks be especially careful: they only open on weekdays and they close at 4pm. Due to this, Fridays can be a nightmare as a lot of workers will be paid on Thursday with a cheque that needs to be cashed at the bank. If your’e looking to change money, there are lots of exchange houses alongside Pedro de Valdivia Street in Providencia and Amunategui Street in Santiago City, they normally offer a better rate and smaller queues than the banks.
Santiago is not Chile – get out of there.
Santiago is only a small city in area, however it houses over 7 million people. The city and its barrios are crowded and quite polluted. Never have I used the words taste or see in relation to air before, however in Santiago they are more than applicable (especially in late autumn and early winter). The city certainly does have its charms, each barrio is different and the CBD boast some spectacular architecture and history, however the ‘real Chile’ can only be seen once you leave the city’s boundary. With 13 different climates (and almost every micro-climate in between) the 13 regions of Chile have an enormous variety in offer. The scenery is beautiful, the people more relaxed and the food sweeter and fresher outside of the capital. Have your pick between glaciers in the very south, volcanoes and lakes in the south, wineries and farms in the middle south, or Mediterranean and semi arid climates in the “little north”, or the driest desert in the world or the semi-tropical beaches of the far north, also pick if you want to see their altitudes or their coast. It does not matter where you travel in Chile; I promise you that you will not regret leaving Santiago.
How to get a cheap lunch
Forget about McDonalds or Burger King. Fast food ain’t cheap in Chile, but it is instead an “aspiration food” for middles classes who would prefer to think they are part of the USA than a South American citizen. For cheap and tasty street food head to a churrasqueria in town and you can have a massive steak sandwich for about $5AUD or a completo (hot dog with avocadoes, mayo and tomato) for $3AUD or sometimes less. When you go to a restaurant (any type) ask if they have a “colacion” option, most of them do and it consist in a salad or soup, a simple main dish like spaghetti bolognese or steak and potatoes, a dessert, a drink and a coffee for under $8AUD. More up-market restaurants will also have the “staffs meal” option, it wont appear on any menu but if you ask the waiter nicely you will be able to have, for $2 or $3AUD, a plate of whatever food the chef prepared that day for the staff. When travelling on a budget, especially in the south, this was a great way to get a good hearty warm meal in the middle of the day without too much fuss.
9. Figure out a neat trick for quick currency conversions
Chilean currency is confusing, the numbers are large and shopping can easily leave any gringo feeling dumbfounded. We recommend that you do as the locals do and start by dividing any price by 1000. For example, locals will call 50,000 pesos 50 lucas, or 3,500 pesos 3.5 lucas. At the time of writing the Australian dollar is worth approximately 500 pesos, or 0.5lucas, so to find our conversation we simply doubled the lucas to get the Australian dollar. 50 lucas was $100AUD, or 3.5lucas equalled $7AUD.
Whatever your currency, you’re best to find a trick at the start of your trip for conversions as you can easily get lost in all the 0000s.
Beware of the hidden costs
Chile prides itself on having the most open economy in the world, or in other words on being the most capitalist country there is. What this means for you as a tourist is that there is a broad range of services on offer (yay!) and that almost none of them are public (boo). Because of the need for people to survive without a welfare system, entrepreneurial citizens have turned every opportunity possible into a business; you will see people at the street lights doing shows for tips, or washing your windows for a coin: make sure you say no before they start or you will have to tip them afterwards. There will be people singing and selling food and goods in the metro and the buses, on the road, in the street and the sidewalk, beware of those who are trying to skim you by selling you the Santa Lucia Hill for a ‘fair price’.
Street parking in the night becomes the turf of car “minders” who will inform you about their tariffs on your arrival (it can range from 1,000 to 5000 pesos) and if you chose to park there you better pay the fee or expect your car to be scratch when you come back. Highways in Chile are private and there are no alternative routes to them, every 80 km expect to be charged between 2,000 and 5,000 pesos dollars to keep going. There are also no such things as public toilets in Chile, the price to use the facilities varies in between 250 to 500 pesos. Big parklands (quiet ones) like the botanical gardens or places where you can make a barbecue (like bicentenario, padre hurtado or mahuida) will charge you a fee for every person, dog and car your are bringing, you will also be charged for the table and the barbecue if you choose to use one. Don’t think that because you paid for entrance the toilets are included in the price, sorry guys, we didn’t made the rules, is just the way they do things. So, make sure you go to the toilet before you leave your hostel, and carry coins with you.
When planning activities try to factor a daily allowance to pay for these things and always, always ask what are you entitled to when paying an entrance fee to anywhere, it will save you some headaches along the way. :c)
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