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South America Destination Specialists 12 months ago

Chile Destination & Travel Guide

  • Torres del Paine mountains

Essential Facts

Currency

The Chilean peso is the main form of currency in Chile. US dollars are also accepted in most places throughout the country. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in major cities and tourist areas, but cash is still preferred and recommended for local markets. ATMs are common in the country and are easily found. Official currency exchange centres in Chile are also easy to find.

Language

The official language of Chile is Chilean Spanish. English is spoken by some locals in tourist areas. However, do not assume every individual you meet will be able to converse in English. If you plan on travelling to more remote areas, learning a few basic words and phrases in Spanish will be helpful.

Best Time to Go

Chile is a year-round destination and the best time to travel is dependent on activities and regions of interest. Chile’s summer season (December to March) is the driest and warmest season in most regions and is considered the high season, which allows for more activities and adventures to be had. For travellers interested in visiting the Atacama Desert, June and August are the best times to visit. For wine aficionados, September to November and March to May are harvest time and many wine festivities can be found in Santiago and in the main wine regions like Colchagua. Peak season for Patagonia is November to April with February being the best month as the wildlife is most active and the foliage is at its peak.

Climate

Chile has a variety of different climates and experiences all four seasons: spring (September to November), summer (December to February), fall (March to May) and winter (June to August). In the north, daytime summer temperatures average around 32°C/90°F, while winter is around 22°C/72°F, with an average of 15mm of rainfall per year. Some areas also receive fog known as camanchaca. Easter Island is windy year-round, with summer averages around 27°C/75°F and winter around 20°C/68°F, with most rainfall in April and May. The south is the coolest part of the country, with summer averages around 22°C/72°F and winter dropping to 0°C/32°F, with even cooler wind chills. Winds can reach up to 120km/h (74mi/h) and there is heavy rainfall in April and May and snow from June through September. In Central Chile, summers are warm and sunny with average temperatures climbing up to 30°C/86°F and winters are mild and wet with temperatures dropping down to 13°C/55°F with July being the wettest month.

Ideal Traveller

Chile is especially attractive to travellers who enjoy being outdoors. Bucket list travellers, adventure and thrill seekers, nature and wildlife enthusiasts, and photographers will find Chile a dream destination. Chile also has plenty to appeal to history buffs and foodies.

Getting There From North America

Santiago in front of mountains

Major airports 

The majority of international flights fly into Arturo Merino Benitez Airport (SCL) in Santiago and from there connect onto various other destinations throughout the country.

Major Air Routes from the United States

In the United States, many airlines have direct flights to Santiago from New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Houston.

Major Air Routes from Canada

In Canada, Air Canada is the only airline that has direct flights to Santiago from Toronto. Throughout the rest of Canada, travellers will have to connect via the United States or Toronto.

Essential Sights in Chile

moai of Easter Island

Easter Island/Rapa Nui

This Polynesian Island and special territory of Chile is home to the infamous Moai, monolithic statues that dot the landscape. Rich with history, this beautiful island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the artistic and architectural culture that emerged from a society that was completely isolated from outside influences.

Torres Del Paine National Park

Named after the three peaks (towers) of the mountain ranges that dominate the area, this wonderous park in Patagonia is one of Chile's largest and most important national parks, with the Cordillera del Paine at the centre, Bernardo O’Higgins National Park bordering to the west, and Los Glaciares National Park to the north in Argentina. In 1978, UNESCO named this park a World Biosphere Reserve and it’s considered one of the most beautiful and biologically uncontaminated places in the world as it hosts mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers.

Atacama Desert

The driest and oldest nonpolar desert in the world, the Atacama Desert boasts an incredible scenic and diverse landscape that includes salt flats, thermal pools, geysers, marshes, lagoons, and volcanoes. At night, visitors can stand in awe of the endless sky and abundance of stars.  Travellers can also visit the town of San Pedro de Atacama that lies in the heart of the desert or its surrounding villages.

Santiago and Surrounding Areas 

A modern city that appears more western than many of its neighbours, Santiago is a cultural hub that hosts many universities, as well as a thriving art and culinary scene. While there is much to do within the city itself, its stunning setting among the Andes ensures many opportunities for activities like trekking, hiking, kayaking, and more just beyond the city limits. The city of Santiago is also surrounded by six wine producing valleys, so day trips to various vineyards are fun and easy.

Other Highlights of Chile Off the Beaten Path

Valparaiso in Chile

Valparaiso

Located central northwest of the capital, Valparaiso is one of the country’s most important sea ports as well as a hub of Chilean culture. Built upon steep hillsides that overlook the Pacific Ocean, the unique architecture found in the city has resulted in the nickname “The Jewel of the Pacific” and a UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2003. Former home of chilean poet Pablo Neruda, this bohemian and colorful city has plenty of gems for travellers to discover.

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas is the capital city of the country’s southernmost region, located on the north shore of the Strait of Magellan. Due to its location, this city’s port is often used for cruise ships and is a starting point for Antarctic expeditions, but it is also a good starting base for exploring Torres Del Paine National Park. Punta Arenas is relatively laid back during the day while offering an energetic nightlife. Both Seno Otway and Isla Magdalena penguin colonies are nearby and are popular with tourists. Seno Otway is home to around 3,000 penguins and Isla Magdalena, the larger of the two, has an estimated 100,000 penguins.

Puerto Varas

The tourist capital of Chile’s Lake region, Puerto Varas is located on the western shore of Llanquihue Lake in the Los Lagos region of Southern Chile. It’s a great place for outdoor adventure and sports enthusiasts. Travellers have plenty of activities they can do such as kayaking, climbing, canyoning, hiking, and even skiing as the Osorno Volcano provides a ski resort less than an hour away. With noted German influences, the incredible cuisine and architecture is a highlight of this charming village. This city is also a great starting point to see the best of the lakes region like Chiloe Island.

Top Activities and Experiences in Chile

Chilean vineyard

Wine tasting

Chile, famous for its wines, has many wine producing regions and a wide variety of wineries to explore. Many of the wine regions are easily accessible from Santiago making for an easy day trip or a stopover on route to another destination. A wine tasting is a definite must for wine aficionados and foodies or even travellers looking to learn more about wine while enjoying the fruit of their studies.

Stargazing in the Atacama Desert 

The Atacama Desert is the perfect place for stargazing due to its high altitude, lack of pollution, and almost no clouds. These are the ideal conditions to ogle at the abundance of stars that are rarely seen in other parts of the world.

Hiking in Patagonia

A hiker’s playground, Torres Del Paine is the perfect outdoor escape. With towering peaks, groaning glaciers, forested valleys, and crystal clear lakes, Patagonia has plenty of activities for travellers within its uniquely untouched and pristine landscape.

Essential Chilean Foods to Try

fruit market in Chile

Cazuela

A traditional dish with both Spanish and Indigenous Mapuche origins, this tasty broth is made with large pieces of tender beef or chicken along with potatoes, pumpkin, corn noodles, and cilantro. It’s great for colder evenings or anytime you’re craving a bit of soul food.

Choripan

A Chilean barbecue staple that can be found at any local corner store, choripanes are grilled sausages wrapped with fresh bread and covered with a variety of topping like mayonnaise, mashed avocado, and pebre (a spicy Chilean condiment made with pureed peppers, chopped onions, garlic, olive oil, and cilantro).

Humitas

This is a native South American dish that can be found throughout South America that originated from pre-hispanic Andean cultures. Reminiscent of a Mexican tamale, this sweet steamed corn cake is made with corn flour, butter, onion, and basil wrapped in corn husks.

Mote con huesillos

A traditional Chilean summer drink made with mote (kind of like a peach nectar), which is made with dried peaches cooked in sugar, water, and cinnamon that is cooled and mixed with huesillos (fresh cooked husked wheat).

Tips for Sustainable Travel

biking in Atacama

Explore parks and gladly pay park fees, as they go back into conserving this unique environment. Respect that campfires are banned in many Chilean parks, especially in windier regions like Patagonia. In remote areas, waste disposal can be a big issue, so be mindful of your waste. Try using refillable water bottles, avoid plastic bags, and try to take rubbish with you when you can. A good mental note: if it came in your luggage, it can leave in your luggage. When in Chile try to buy Chilean. Visit local communities and buy souvenirs where you know items are handcrafted by local artisans so that money goes back into the local communities. Also, make sure the company you are booking your tour or trek with treat their guides and porters fairly and find out how they respect the cultures and environments their tours are based in. Book with tour operators who are dedicated to sustainable travel and are committed to responsible and ethical practices. You can also rest peacefully and stay in eco-lodges and hotels when possible as they focus on providing sustainable accommodations that reduce the impact on the local environment and the locals living there.

Where to Go Next

With Chile bordering various countries such as Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, it is easy for travellers to add stopover trips or another destination to their holiday itinerary. Travellers can choose from numerous exciting destinations such as visiting La Paz and the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, Machu Picchu and Lima in Peru, Iguassu Falls and Buenos Aires in Argentina, or take a trip of a lifetime and head to Punta Arenas to begin your journey to Antarctica and visit the South Pole.

Most Popular Itineraries for Chile

The 8-day Tierra Chile Top to Bottom takes travellers from north to south seeing some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world and two of Chile’s major regional attractions, the Atacama Desert and Patagonia, both gifts of nature. The 3-day Santiago Stopover takes travellers to the capital of Chile to explore its colonial neighbourhoods, parks, and modern districts. Torres del Paine Explorer is a 4 to 6-day escape to Patagonia to hike the world-famous trails around the Torres Del Paine National Park and enjoy views of glaciers, rivers, lakes, and forests as you head on excursions throughout the park that will take your breath away. Atacama Experiences takes travellers to the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa, an all-inclusive accommodation tucked away in a tranquil valley located next to San Pedro de Atacama. Enjoy over 35 daily tours and excursions, which include bicycle rides, volcano treks, photography safaris, picnics, and visits to the geyser fields and hot springs. Visit one of the world’s most mysterious islands and one of the most intriguing destinations, Easter Island/Rapa Nui, to experience Polynesian traditions and be amazed by the eeriness of the Moai statues that have made this island famous.

6 Aug 2020, 8:14 p.m.

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