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Chile is a land of extraordinary beauty and diversity, weaving along much of the Pacific coast of South America. Santiago, the Chilean capital, is set against the stunning backdrop of the Andes. Chile also lays claim to one of the southernmost towns on earth, Punta Arenas. And, if that is not enough, it also is a host of the driest places on earth, where no rain has fallen for years in a row. These can be found in the upper north in the Atacama desert. Even larger coastal places like Arica and Iquique see very little rain, due to the cold Humboldt current.
In between these two extremes is a land with beautiful lakes and forests, volcanoes, beaches, glaciers, fjords and some fine colonial buildings in pleasant cities and towns. It is a perfect country for both relaxing as doing some serious activities like skiing, climbing and hiking.
Add to this a range of animals which you don't find anywhere else and one of the best places on earth to watch the stars in the sky, and you will understand why this country sees more and more visitors every year, especially after the dictactorial period of Pinochet had ended.
It is one of the safest countries in Latin America and has one of the best infrastructures, which of course considering the length of 4,500 kilometres is not a bad thing.
The territory of Chile has been populated since at least 12,000 BC when migrating Native Americans settled in the fertile valleys and coastal areas of what is present day Chile. Pre-Hispanic Chile was home to over a dozen different Amerindian societies. Specific early human settlement sites from the very early human habitation in Chile include the Cueva del Milodon and the Pali Aike Crater's lava tube.
In the 16th century the Spanish began to subdue and colonize the region of present-day Chile. The first European to sight Chilean territory was Ferdinand Magellan, who crossed the Strait of Magellan on November 1, 1520. However, the title of discoverer of Chile is usually assigned to Diego de Almagro. He organized an expedition that brought him to central Chile in 1537. The territory became a colony from 1540 to 1818, when it gained independence from Spain.
The beginning of the Independence movement is traditionally dated as September 18, 1810 when a national junta was established to govern Chile in the name of the deposed king Ferdinand VII. Chile's first experiment with self-government, the "Patria Vieja" (old republic, 1810-14), was led by José Miguel Carrera. The second period was characterized by the Spanish attempts to reimpose arbitrary rule during the period known as the Reconquista of 1814-17. A declaration of independence was officially issued by Chile on February 12, 1818 and formally recognized by Spain in 1840, when full diplomatic relations were established.
Chile's economic development was successively marked by the export of first agricultural produce, then saltpeter and later copper until the 1980s. The wealth of raw materials led to an economic upturn, but also led to dependency, and even wars with neighboring states like Bolivia and Peru. The country was governed during most of its first 150 years of independent life by different forms of restricted democracy, where the electorate was carefully vetted and controlled by an elite. Failure to address the economic and social disparities and increasing political awareness of the less-affluent population, as well as indirect intervention and economic funding to the main political groups by both the KGB and the CIA, as part of the Cold War, led to a political polarization under socialist President Salvador Allende which in turn resulted in the Chilean coup of 1973 and the government of General Augusto Pinochet.
The 17-year military-led government was marked by severe human-rights violations and deep market-oriented economic reforms. In 1988, Chile made a peaceful transition to democracy. Chileans elected a new president and the majority of members of a two-chamber congress on December 14, 1989. Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, received an absolute majority of votes (55%). President Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994, in what was considered a transition period. In December 1993, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, led the Concertación coalition to victory with an absolute majority of votes (58%). Frei Ruiz-Tagle was succeeded in 2000 by Socialist Ricardo Lagos. In January 2006 Chileans elected their first woman president, Michelle Bachelet, of the Socialist Party and she was sworn in on March 11, 2006, extending the Concertación coalition governance for another four years.
Chile stretches over around 4,500 kilometres north to south, but only 430 kilometres at its widest point east to west. This encompasses a remarkable variety of landscapes. It contains 756,950 square kilometres of land area. It is situated within the Pacific Ring of Fire. Including its offshore islands, but excluding its Antarctic claim, Chile lies between latitudes 17° and 56°S, and longitudes 66° and 81°W. Chile shares international borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.
The northern Atacama Desert contains great mineral wealth, primarily copper and nitrates. The relatively small Central Valley, which includes Santiago, dominates the country in terms of population and agricultural resources. This area also is the historical center from which Chile expanded in the late 19th century, when it integrated the northern and southern regions. Southern Chile is rich in forests, grazing lands, and features a string of volcanoes and lakes. The southern coast is a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, and islands. The Andes Mountains are located on the eastern border. Chile is the longest north-south country in the world, and also claims 1,250,000 km2 of Antarctica as part of its territory. However, this latter claim is suspended under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, of which Chile is a signatory.
Chile controls Easter Island and Sala y Gómez Island, the easternmost islands of Polynesia, which it incorporated to its territory in 1888, and Robinson Crusoe Island, more than 600 kilometres from the mainland, in the Juan Fernández Islands. Easter Island is today a province of Chile. Also controlled but only temporarily inhabited (by some local fishermen) are the small islands of Sala y Gómez, San Ambrosio and San Felix. These islands are notable because they extend Chile's claim to territorial waters out from its coast into the Pacific.
The Atacama Desert is an area of mainly salt basins, sand and lava flows in South America. It stretches Peru and Chile and the part in the latter country is well known to travellers who visit places like San Pedro de Atacama. The Chilean part is also the driest and on the whole the Atacama is the driest desert in the world (some places never receive rainfall and some have been known to be completely dry for 400 years!) and together with the Namib desert the only cool coastal deserts. Still, due to the warm tropical air that cools off above the cold water of the Humoldt Current, fog (locally know as Camanchaca) penetrates inland up until 50 kilometres, sometimes more. It might not rain, but the coastal area is still suitable for agriculture. This doesn't apply to places more inland, where it is just too dry for agriculture and almost no rain falls as well.
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Easter Island (Rapanui: Rapa Nui, Spanish: Isla de Pascua) is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. You can find this interesting little dot on the world map between Chile and French Polynesia, over 2,000 kilometres from the nearest inhabited place, the Pitcairn Islands.
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The Juan Fernandez Islands are 3 islands, about 700 kilometres west of the Chilean mainland. The smallest is Isla Santa Clara near the main island of Isla Robinson Crusoe. The third one is a bit more east and is named Isla Alejandro Selkirk, after the Scottish maroon, who spend more than 4 years on Isla Robinson Crusoe.
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Running between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales in Patagonia, the route runs through a number of channels along the coast of Chile, giving tourist views of mountainous islands covered with evergreens and waterfalls. the boat sails for 4 days through the fjords and channels, only spending 8 hours in the open ocean. Wildlife that can be viewed includes sea lions, killer whales and dolphins. For more information about the schedules and prices, have a look at the Navimag ferry article.
Pucón's unrivaled location by a lake and a volcano make it a popular destination for tourists. It offers a variety of sports and adventure/recreational activities, including water skiing, snow skiing, backpacking, white water rafting and kayaking, horse back riding, natural hot springs, zip line rides, and guided ascents of Villarrica volcano. In the area you can access superb nature and wildlife at Villarrica National Park, Huerquehue National Park and Villarrica National Reserve.
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Torres del Paine National Park is named after the 2,000-metre tall granite pillars that dominate the landscape of the park. In addition to the towers, visitors can see glaciers, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife. There are also a number of multiday hikes that visitors can undertake, but also shorter walks of an hour or several hours are possible. You can also visit parts by bike or even car, but you won't get into the real wilderness that way. The park is located roughly 112 kilometres north of Puerto Natales and 312 north of Punta Arenas. Argentinian El Calafate is not that far away either.
As Chile is such a stretched country and the land rises from sea level to over 6,500 metres in just about 100 kilometres, the country has different climates.
The north has a typical desert climate and the Atacama desert is actually the driest desert in the world. Arica has practically no rain at all and other places more inland haven't seen rain in years. Despite this, the Atacama desert is not particularly hot, mainly because of the average hight of about 2,300 metres. Temperatures occasionally hit 35 °C or a bit more, but that's it. Arica is named the city of eternal spring, with temperatures always very welcome between 15 °C and 25 °C. On the high altiplano in the Andes, it can get very cold, particularly at night when temperatures normally drop below zero.
The centre has a more temperate climate with hot summers and mild winters. Santiago can get pretty hot in summer and together with the smog it is not a place you fancy being in summer.
Further south, summers are cooler and winters a bit colder. This part around the lakes and volcanoes of Chile sees more rain than other parts of the country.
In the bottom south (Patagonia) summers are short en cool, sometimes even cold, and snow can fall almost every month of the year. In Punta Arenas, temperatures of 20 °C or more aren't recorded that much.
Santiago International Airport, also called Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport or Pudahuel Airport, is the main airport in Chile and located in Pudahuel, west of the capital. It's the largest airport in the country with almost 10 million passengers a year.
LanChile is the national carrier of Chile, but many other major airlines fly into Chile as well, including Iberia, several South American airlines and airlines based in the USA.
Some travellers arriving by air are required to pay a "reciprocity fee." This fee is in response to costs levied against Chileans travelling abroad, and will match the amount of the fee charged to the Chileans. Citizens from the USA pay $US160, Citizens from Canada pay $US132 and citizens of Australia pay $US95. This fee can be paid in US dollars, Chilean Pesos or with travellers checks.
To/from the airport
Chile - Bolivia vv
There is a train between Uyuni in Bolivia and Calama in Chile. Although there are better ways to travel between the two countries, like a trip between San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni, this train offers one of the rare occasions for enthusiasts to travel between two countries in South America. It leaves once a week and should take about 24 hours, although delays are not unheard of. Bring sufficient food and drinks and some warm clothing as temperatures plumid during the night.
Chile - Argentina vv
Although it is not an international connection, the Tren de las Nubes (lit. 'train of the clouds') connects the city of Salta in northwestern Argentina with the border of Chile high in the Andean mountains. The train leaves once a week and takes about 15 hours to complete the whole journey. Due to several problems the train hasn't been running for a few years, but service is scheduled to be resumed in 2008.
Travelling to and from Chile with your own car is fairly straightforward and there many crossings with Argentina and a few with Bolivia and Peru. The most spectactular crossings are those to Mendoza from Santiago and between San Pedro de Atacama and Salta in the northwest of Argentina. Crossings to Boliva (except the road from Arica to La Paz are more difficult. To Peru, you can cross north of Arica, towards Tacna. For some routes a 4wd might be required. Be sure to have the proper documentation and insurance and you will be fine.
There are overland border crossings between Peru, Boliva and Argentina. There are a number of bus companies that service routes between these countries. In general, border crossing are relatively easy.
The main border crossing with Peru is between Arica and Tacna. Buses also travel directly between Santiago and Lima along the Panamericana. To Bolivia the main regular crossing is the road between Arica and La Paz but an increasing number of travellers use tours to the Bolivian saltlakes to travel between San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni in Bolivia. To and from Argentina, the main crossings are San Pedro de Atacama to Salta, Santiago to Mendoza and Puerto Montt to Bariloche by a combination of buses and boats. In Patagonia, the most used crossing is between Puerto Natales and El Calafate and on Tierra del Fuego between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia you will cross borders north of Rio Grande. There even are buses all the way to Brazil which include direct buses from Santiago to Curitiba (52 hours), Porto Alegre (36 hours), Sao Paulo (56 hours) and Rio de Janeiro (72 hours!).
The most notible option to travel by boat between Chile and Argentina is the crossing between Puerto Montt and Bariloche, which is partly by boat as well. In the south, there are crossings between Chile and Argentina in the far south, from Puerto Williams on the Isla de Navarino to Ushuaia. Puerto Williams is one of the most southern permanent settlements in the world.
Many towns in Chile have airports, and domestic flights are offered by LanChile, Ladeco and other carriers, like Sky Airline. For such a long country, taking a plane sometimes comes as a relief and travelling to the south of Chile by land takes a long time, as most of the transport options go through Argentina, except boats or your own wheels.
Note that Easter Island can only be visited by plane (well, there are cargo ships) and taking a plane in Chile is almost inevitable if you want to cover large distances in a short amount of time. Also, it's the best way of reaching the Juan Fernandez Islands.
The major roads in Chile are paved and smooth, and bus services are generally comfortable and well-maintained. There are different classes of service. Pullman has regular seats with a slight recline, semi-cama has seats with extra legroom and seats the recline further and cama has fully reclining seats.
Distances are vast, Peru to Puerto Montt being almost 3500 kilometres for example, so it makes sence to brake up your journey a few times.
Some of the main bus companies are TurBus and Pullman, Cruz del Sur, Tas Choapa and Bus Norte.
The State Railway Company has a few options, including regular trains between Santiago and Temuco. Still, options are limited and buses are usually just as fast, if not faster and are even just as comfortable.
If you plan to rent a car in Chile, there are many international car rental companies operating there, such as Avis and Hertz. A local company worth checking out is Econorent. If possible, try to rent from a local company, since these can often be cheaper than the major competitors. Many won't have a website, so just ask at the tourist office for a list of local car rental companies and arrange it while you're there.
Running between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales in Patagonia, the Navimag Ferry
runs through a number of channels along the coast of Chile. There are quite a few ferries offering services in the region between Puerto Montt in the north and Punta Arenas and even further south to Isla Navarino (Puerto Williams), but only on certain legs. Frequencies are higher in summer though on most routes, and some routes might not have scheduled services during winter. Routes include those between Chiloe Island and Chaiten east on the mainland, where there are onward buses to Coihaique. There are also ferries between Punta Arenas and the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego and even a few to Puerto Williams, the southermost village in the world.
There are boats once a month between Valparaiso and the Juan Fernandez Islands and between the islands are more frequent boats. Flying is a better option to get there initially though. Even less recommended, there are irregular cargo ships going from Valparaiso to Easter Island.
Citizens of the following countries may be exempted from tourist visa requirements:
Some travellers arriving by air on an international flight in Santiago are required to pay a "reciprocity fee." This reciprocity fee is in response to fee levied against Chileans travelling abroad, and will match the amount of the fee charged to the Chileans. Citizens from the USA pay $US 160, Citizens from Canada pay $US 132 and citizens of Australia pay $US 95. This fee can be paid in US dollars, Chilean Pesos or with a credit card. The reciprocity fee is good for the life of the passport in the case of Canadians and citizens of the USA. For Australians it is good for multiple entries over a 90 day period.
Upon arrival, travellers will be issued a tourist card for a 90-day stay. The stay can be extended for another 90 days by visiting an office of the Departmento de Extranjera. Extensions cost $US 100. It is often cheaper and easier to simply leave the country and re-enter.
Chile does not officially require onward tickets for travellers, however travellers may be asked some questions if arriving on a one way ticket.
See also Money Matters
Chile's currency is the peso. Notes come in denominations 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 and 20,000 pesos. Coins come in denominations of 1,5, (these two are not useful at all), 10, 50, 100 and 500.
ATM machines are easy to find in most cities. In smaller towns, ATMs are not very common, and some ATMs will not be on the CIRRUS or PLUS networks.
If exchanging money, US dollars are preferred. Traveller's checks in US dominations can be converted to cash in larger towns. Never exchange money on the streets, specially if a "helper" indicates you to follow them. It's not advisable to exchange currency in the hotel or the airport as the rates are awful.
Santiago has a good stable economy that has been powering on despite the current crisis. If you want to live and work in a South American country, Chile could not be easier for English teachers. Due to the government´s attempts to open up its economy to the world and their current policy of ´English Opens Doors´ the demand in Santiago for English classes is huge. Unlike Europe, a TEFL certificate is not even necessary (although I would recomend it) and you can find many private institutes that are willing to take on new-comers and give them some training. VISAs can be acquired in the country once you´ve found the institute you want to work with so no prior paperwork is needed before you arrive. You need a work visa or temporary residence visa to work legally in Chile. Although some people work illegally on their tourist visa and simply exit and re-enter Chile every 3 months to renew it, Chile has been cracking down on people working illegally in the country and you may be denied re-entry if they suspect you have been working.
Your wages will be around 500,000 pesos per month for around 22 hours teaching time, which is ok but no brilliant, Chile can be quite expensive in some areas such as food produce. It is however, enough to live well, enjoy life and save a little for further travel around the country.
Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases
Spanish is the official language of Chile, with indigenous languages relegated to minority status after colonisation.
Chileans use a distinct dialect called Castellano de Chile with a variety of differences in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and slang usage. Spanish-speaking foreigners won't have problems understanding it and will only think it sounds funny, but non-native speakers often struggle to understand it, even with years of practice.
Chile, due to its common history with its neighbours, shares many of its typical dishes. There is one thing however that people will tell you is Chile's specialty and they'll be right. That is of course, mariscos or seafood. There are many seafood dishes in Chile such as Ceviche and seafood empanadas and they get better along the coastal towns. One famous and delicious dish that you should try is the Paila Marina, a soup filled to the brim with mariscos of many shapes, sizes and colours that will leave you very content.
If you're not a big fan of seafood, you can find other traditional meals almost everywhere, especially in the center of Santiago. Some of these meals include Pastel de Choclo, which is a corn pie with meat, onion, olives, chicken and raisins, Humitas (mashed corn with different herbs such as basil in the shape of a bow tie and wrapped in the corn leaves), and of course Empanadas de pino (meat empanadas with olives, onion and eggs in it).
Chile has a wide range of accommodation options, from camping grounds to posh 5-star hotels and skiresorts. There are lots of backpacker options though, like hostels or cheaper pensions, B&B's and budget hotels. In general, the midrange options tend to be the most charming.
Every once a year for only a couple of weeks around the most celebrated day in the Chilean calender, the typical and delicious alcoholic drink appears for all to enjoy. Chicha Can be made from either apples or grapes and both types make a strong but incredibly sweet beverage that can be deceptive. It is a relatively cheap drink that you can buy in huge quantities from the bodegas that open up around two weeks prior to the 18th of September.
If you're visiting Chile, you must try a Piscola, which is like the national cocktail and very famous among the youngest and the eldest. Piscola is a combination of Pisco (a distilled made out of grapes very common in Chile and Peru) and Coke.
Due to the German influence in the south of Chile, many German style beers can be found and are generally favoured by locals and foreigners. One such typical example would be Kunstman.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Chile. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Chile. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Like most big cities in South America, Santiago suffers from a high rate of pickpocketing and muggings. It's advisable not to travel in the downtown area wearing expensive-looking jewelry or watches, even during the day. Stay alert and be especially careful in all crowded areas in Santiago. It is recommended to wear your backpack at the front of your body in crowded areas. If you have a laptop it can be relaxing being outside in a café doing some work but thieves may see you. For your safety, go to an internet café if you need to be connected and leave your laptop at home. It will save you from losing it and it can rescue you from a violent attack from thieves.
There are cybercafes in every major and midsize city and at all tourist destinations. Some libraries are in a program called Biblioredes, with free computers and Internet. Wifi is getting more and more common. They're usually in metro stations, airports, malls, cafes, public buildings and several public spaces. Check for the ones that say gratis - for free. McDonald's and Starbucks are chains which almost always have free wifi.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Chile is: 56. To make an international call from Chile, the code is: 00. Emergency phone numbers include 131 (Ambulance), 132 (Fire) and 133 (Police).
Public phones located on streets are very likely to be tampered or vandalized, so it's better to use a phone located inside a commerce or a station. Prepaid cards for mobile phones and public phones are sold at most newspaper kiosks, supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies and phone dealers. Mobile GSM networks are ubiquitous in all major cities and most of the territory of central and southern Chile. A basic prepaid cellular phone usually costs about 15,000 pesos, most frequently charged with 10,000 pesos worth of prepaid minutes. No ID is required to buy a prepaid phone. GSM SIM cards from ENTEL, Movistar or Claro are usually available for 5,000 pesos, but without credit, so you'll need to buy some prepaid minutes to be able to call. Money can be charged into a cellphone from some pharmacies (Ahumada, Cruz Verde and Salco Brand) on the counter and in cash, or by using a credit card through an automated service operator, with directions in Spanish or English.
Correos de Chile is the national postal service, and although relatively slow it is reliable with post offices throughout the country. On the website you can find more information about prices to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. Post offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 6:00pm and Saturday until 2:00pm, although there are sometimes longer opening hours in the bigger central post offices and shorter ones in small places. Ask around. If you want to send packages internationally, you might consider companies like DHL, TNT or UPS, which are fast, reliable and usually competitively priced as well.
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Ask Utrecht a question about Chile
As it is one of my favorite countries, I know a lot of many places in Chile. Especially the northern and southern most parts have my interest: Atacama and Patagonia.
Ask pipita a question about Chile
I can help with the language, and city tours, and tip of the Santiago capital of Chile, maybe i can help with tips of other cities.
Anything contact me
Ask vagamundo a question about Chile
Travelled the Chilean fjords for many years and know about all the villages along the way, from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas.
Ask rolivares a question about Chile
Chileno y viajero, puedo ayudar en lo que sea a los viajeros que pretenden visitar Chile.
Ask kamuria a question about Chile
information about trips and hotels specially in the north of chile, also bolivia and peru
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