Tourist information

From fancy hotels to simple hostels, you will find a range of accommodation in all major cities and vacation areas. In recent years, new hotels and bungalow complexes have been built in remote areas and in National Parks. The latter - so-called cabañas - are fully equipped small buildings that include kitchenette, a cheaper alternative for families then hotels.
Value for money can vary considerably among hotels (hotel, hostería). There is no general classification system, and claims to so many stars do not say anything about the quality of a place. When making one's selection, it's always a good idea to look at size and location of a room, private bathroom (baño privado), amenities (TV, phone), and service. Breakfast is usually included, but it's only worth mentioning when it's designated as desayuno americano or buffet. In high season (December to February), prices for medium and top hotels can be compared to European ones.Single rooms are usually not much cheaper than double.
Hostels (residencial, Hostal, hostería, casa de familia) vary enourmously from upmarket country inns to the most simple of lodgings with few facilities. Usually they are small, family run establishments. While some hostels are little more than an economical place to sleep, the better hostels, run with a personal touch, can provide guests with an excellent insight into the local area as well as an opportunity to interact with like-minded travelers. Some hostels (especially those in the countryside) will provide meals. Others will have kitchen facilities for the use of its guests.

A selection of Chile's best hostels can be found at www.backpackerschile.com
If you are travelling by car, you will find many motels along the Panamericana where guests usually stay in small bungalows. This discrete arrangement is not surprising given the these hotels are socially acceptable, sometimes quite fancy, locations for undisturbed romantic encounters, which often also function as normal hotels outside the big cities.
Room reservations are only necessary during high season and in tourist areas. Starting from medium category up, you can use credit cards for paying. International tourists need not pay the 19% value-added sales tax when paying in USD (cash or traveler's' checks), but this discount is not always applied automatically.
For longer stays in Santiago, the agency Contactchile offers housing alternatives with families or students.
The voltage is 220 V / 50Hz, with three round pins. Adapters (adaptadores) to plug foreign appliances into chilean sockets can be found in supermarkets or hardware stores.
Local crafts markets (Ferias de Artesanía) offer regional products made of wool, leather, clay, wood, cane, silver or copper. Products made from or with lapis lazuli are a Chilean specialty, Lapiz lazuli is a blue semi-precious stone found only in Afghanistan and Chile that is worked into artistic creations with silver and other metals (workshops/stores in Santiago's Bellavista sector, sold at most crafts markets).

Markets in Santiago
  • Santa Lucía: At Alameda and Carmen, right in the Center (Metro Santa Lucía). Across the road from the Santa Lucía hill, a little hidden from view, you will find a decent craft market.
  • Bellavista: At Pío Nono and Santa María/Bellavista, standard goods, good prices. Pío Nono and Antonia López de Bello streets are filled with small stalls on Friday and Saturday night, and all day on Sunday.
  • Los Domínicos: Av. Nueva Apoquindo 9085, Las Condes, former Dominican monastery, good for Sunday outing. Tasteful products, higher prices, good quality. Closed on Mondays.
Artisans' Villages
  • Pomaire: Lively potters' village halfway between the capital and the coast on Autopista del Sol (approx. 80 km from Santiago). Dark earthenware galore: rustic dishes, round jugs, cheerful figures at modest prices. Another specialty of Pomaire are the monster empanadas each weighing over a kilo. Buses leave from the Terminal San Borja.
  • Doñihue: This village, about 20 km west of Rancagua, is the secret capital of the huasos. This is where their fancy capes (chamantos, mantas), cummerbunds and belts are woven and sold at steep prices. Buses leave from Rancagua.
  • Chimbarongo: Practically right on top of the Panamericana, the famous basket weavers of Chimbarongo sell their varied and cheap wares: containers of all kinds, dolls and decorations including living-room furniture. 18 km south of San Fernando.
  • Rari: Between the thermal spas of Quinamávida and Panimávida east of Linares, the modest town of Rari has developed a unique tradition: items crafted from dried horsehair, especially small witch dolls.
  • Chillán: While Chillán is a sizeable city rather than a picturesque village (and as such, not a must-see), it does have what may well be Chile's prettiest market: fruit, vegetables, crafts, and huasos hats - lots to choose from.
  • Quinchimalí: Potter's village 35 km west of Chillán, a lot less hectic than Pomaire, but with at least equally attractive brown and black clay products. Buses leave from Chillán.
To rent a car, you have to be at least 21, have an internationally recognised driver's license, and leave a blank payment slip with your credit card number as a guarantee. In addition to the major international agencies, there are often also local companies at the airports.

The rates are relatively high; but lower in Santiago than in the provinces. With smaller companies, you can try haggling; expect a discount for a long-term rental. The price should include free mileage (kilometraje libre), insurance (seguro), usually with deductible, and value-added tax (IVA). Also inquire about roadside assistance, parts service and liability in case of accident. It usually costs more to take a rental car across national borders, and it requires additional paperwork and insurance; not all rental companies offer this service.
City
If you want to use the micros (city buses), you should know your way around a bit. The most important stops are listed on the window. You will need exact change for the fare dispensed by the driver. In Santiago you need a prepaid Bip Card to use the local buses.

Inter-Regional
Long distance buses run to all major and medium-sized cities offering three price ranges (Salón Cama - Ejecutivo/Semi Cama - Clásico). For longer rides (usually at night) the more expensive sleeper (Salón Cama) is recommended since it offers more leg room, reclining seat, and better service on board. On long holiday weekends and when the vacation period starts and ends, prices will rise; so, get your tickets in plenty of time! On the main routes, there is a lot of competition, and it's worth comparing prices and levels of service while at the bus station or by phone or over the internet.

Regional
Provincial bus services and those to more remote destinations are usually served by smaller bus companies, usually with less comfortable vehicles. On short runs between neighboring towns there are also the cheap shared taxis (usually yellow; see Colectivos).

Bus Terminals in Santiago
  • Terminal Alameda: next to Universidad de Santiago Metro station; the companies "Tur-Bus" (www.turbus.cl) and "Pullman Bus" (www.pullmanbus.cl) leave from here to all destinations; to Viña/Valparaíso every 15 minutes.
  • Terminal Santiago: (formerly Terminal Sur): Alameda at Nicasio Retamales, just across the road from the Alameda terminal; all companies going to the coast and south.
  • Terminal Los Héroes: Tucapel Jiménez at Alameda, close to Los Héroes Metro station; various companies going to the north.
  • Terminal San Borja: (Terminal Norte): San Borja at Alameda, next to Estación Central: to the north and Greater Santiago.
In some National Parks, camping is the only sleeping option. Most campsites have only modest facilities; showers and hot water are an exception. In the tourist centers, privately run sites often offer more comfort, but sometimes only at a considerable price. Unregulated camping is legal in some National Parks, and it is usually not a problem in remote areas; however, one should try and ask the owner of the land for permission. Important: leave no traces and take your trash.
These reasonably priced shared taxis run along fixed routes indicated on the signs on their roofs. They usually wait at the metro stations in Santiago, or at other central locations and leave when there is a minimum of passengers. In other cities, they operate like buses. A colectivo can also be stopped anywhere along the way. At night, they will take you to specific addresses for an additional fee, and as long as it is close to their route (a domicilio).
By Air
About a dozen European and North American airlines serve Santiago, some even daily.

By Land
For travel from Peru, Bolivia or Argentina, there are several border crossings. From May through September, inquire ahead of time about the road conditions for the Andean passes in Central and Southern Chile. Between Mendoza (Argentina) and Los Andes (Chile), the border is occasionally closed for a day or two after heavy snowfall.

Tourist Card
Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, the USA, South Africa, as well as most EU countries do not need a visa, just their passport. Upon entry, they will receive a "Tarjeta de Turismo" (Tourist Card) which is valid for 90 days and has to be presented when leaving the country. Find a safe place for this inconspicuous piece of paper! If you lose it, get a replacement in plenty of time before your departure (Policía Internacional in Santiago, General Borgoño 1052, or at a police station in other regions). Those trying to leave without the card may be kept waiting at the border for a long time.
Citizens of most African, Asian and formerly Soviet States will need a tourist visa that can be applied for at any Chilean Consulate.

Extension
The Tourist Card can be renewed by leaving and re-entering the country (this can be done on the same day). Many foreigners use this completely legal procedure to extend their stay in Chile. However, if this is repeated too often border officials can start asking uncomfortable questions and renew the Tourist Card only for 30 days.

An official extension for 90 days can also be applied for without leaving the country) . It has to be applied for during the month before the previous tourist card expires, from the Extranjería in Santiago or any provincial capital. Santiago address: San Antonio 580, 3rd floor, close to Plaza de Armas Metro station.

Luggage
Most airlines will only let you check one pieces of luggage at 20 or 23 kgin addition to one piece of carry-on luggage – flights via North America and Brazil may let you take two pieces - inquire beforehand to make sure! Some airlines may have a special allowance for sporting equipment such as a surfboard or a bike. Make sure to find out from your airline in plenty of time what requirements they might have for such items; i.e. bikes will generally need to be boxed, and you need to prepare for the required disassembly and assembly.

Customs Regulations
You can bring the following items into the country duty-free: unlimited amounts of cash, 400 cigarettes, 2 ½ liters of alcoholic drinks, as well as all personal use items. Bringing fresh food such as fruit, vegetables and milk products is strictly prohibited and can lead to a hefty fine. Plants and animals require a special permit from the health authorities, which has to be applied for in advance from any Chilean Consulate.
During the Chilean summer (November to March) you should be prepared for warm or hot, dry days and cool nights in Central Chile. Protect yourself adequately against the strong sun with a hat or cap, sun glasses and cream. For those who continue from here to the south, a warm sweater, a good raincoat and weatherproof shoes are essential. For tourists, the following would only apply for formal occasions (such as concerts, lunch/dinner invitations): Chileans emphasize conventional dress. If you don't want to raise eyebrows in the city, don't wear sandals and shorts. The same is true for too-revealing clothes for women who want to avoid unpleasant catcalls (piropos) from Chilean machos.
Stores open between 9 AM and 11 AM and close around 7-9 PM; smaller stores close for siesta between 2 PM and 4 PM. Department stores and supermarkets stay open longer in the evening (until 10 or 11 PM) and they are also open on sundays.

Over the past few years, numerous malls have sprouted up all over the country. And it is worth a visit to one of the typical fruit, vegetables and fish markets for the atmosphere alone (i.e. Mercado Central in Santiago, Mercado de Chillán). In smaller stores, at market stalls and in the streets it's OK to try and haggle a bit.
Some airlines require you to confirm in-country and international flights or check in to your flight 24 hours before departure. This can usually be done online at the respective airline's website.
Chile's mail system works well, if somewhat slowly. The main post office on Plaza de Armas in Santiago is open Mon-Fri from 9 Am to 7 PM, and on Saturdays from 9 PM to noon, and there are additional post offices in the suburbs. International mail is usually sent by airmail automatically (vía aérea), and it takes 4-8 days to Central Europe; which can be speeded up for a fee (expreso). Important letters and packages should be sent by registered mail (certificado). If you want to have someone send you mail to Chile, ask them to mark "Lista de Correos" (poste restante). The post offices will save this mail for 30 days. Nice postcards can be found at the Museo de Bellas Artes and the Museo Precolombino.
In contrast to other Latin American countries, Chile does not suffer from shortages, but it is relatively expensive. A wide range of luxury consumer goods can be found in all major cities, but they are mostly imported and generally more expensive than in Europe or North America. Food is available in vast quantities, and it is of good quality and cheap, especially fruit and vegetables. Tourism-related services are more expensive in Santiago and some tourism centers than in the rest of the country. Public transportation, bus travel and simple restaurants are relatively cheap.
Currency
The official currency is the Chilean peso (CLP), which uses the confusing symbol for USD ($). Inflation is generally low.
Spending Money
Exchange rates are generally better for US dollars than Euros. Exchange money in official bureaux de change (never in the streets) or banks (usually worse rates, and only open from 9 AM to 2 PM). Santiago has the best currency conversion rates; several exchange places are located on Agustinas between Ahumada and Bandera (open Mon-Fri 9 AM-7 PM, Sat morning), as well as near Manuel Montt, Pedro de Valdivia, and Los Leones Metro stations. Travelers cheques are accepted in ever fewer places and with poor rates of exchange.

Cards
A good alternative is drawing cash (pesos) with your credit or debit card from the many ATMs in all major cities. You may have to pay a fee (find out from your bank before you leave). You can use your regular credit cards to pay in many places. Only Hotels and tourists agencies accept US dollars in cash directly.
New Year's Day (January 1st), Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Sunday (varies); May Day (May 1st), Naval Combat of Iquique (May 21st), St Peter and St Paul (June 29), The feast of the Virgin of Carmen (July 12), Assumption of Mary (August 15), Fiestas Patrias (National Holiday, September 18), Army Day (September 19), Discovery of America (October 12), Evangelican and Protestant Church day (October 31st), All Saints (November 1st), Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (December 25). A number of holidays are moved to a Monday to create a long weekend.
From the travel books about Chile we recommend the Chile Handbook from Footprint Press which is updated every other year, or their South American Handbook published new every year. The Australian publisher Lonely Planet has also published several good guide books on Chile; most recently, the handy Santiago Guide. The Chilean travel guide Chiletur Copec which is updated annually has lots of detailed information (in Spanish) and good maps. It comes in three volumes plus road and camping maps, and can be bought from the larger Copec gas stations.
The sate-owned tourism agency Sernatur (Servicio Nacional de Turismo) maintains offices and information booths in all major cities and at the airports. The main office is at Av. Providencia 1550 (Metro Manuel Montt). Mon-Fri 9 AM-5 PM, Sat 9 PM-1 PM; phone: 02-236 1416, www.sernatur.cl
Simple maps are handed out at tourist information offices and at travel agents. More detailed ones can be purchased from kiosks and bookstores. The most current and complete map of Santiago is in the Yellow Pages of the phone directory.
Newspapers
The biggest daily with an extensive cultural section is the conservative El Mercurio, one of the oldest newspapers in Latin America. El Mercurio Corporation also owns several other papers in Santiago and in the provinces. Other dailies are La Nación (the state owned newspaper), La Tercera, the popular La Cuarta, the evening paper La Segunda and the free papers MTG and La Hora. Current and independent information can be found in the online paper El Mostrador (www.elmostrador.cl). On line newspapers in English include www.newsreview.cl and www.santiagotimes.cl

Magazines
The market for magazines is dominated by gossip zines such as Cosas and Caras; political analysis can be found in Qué pasa (liberal) and Ercilla (conservative). Biting satire, but also hard-hitting reporting is provided by the biweekly The Clinic.

International Press
International newspapers and magazines can be found - much more expensive - and with a delay of about two days at some kiosks, especially in the center of Santiago (Paseo Ahumada).

TV
Chilean TV is dominated by soccer, series and entertainment. The evening news are at 9 PM on most channels. Cable is standard in the better hotels, and more than 80 channels from all over the world are available.

Radio
Among FM stations, the fare is mostly music and entertainment; especially popular with young people: Rock&Pop (94.1) and Radio Zero (97.7). News at 93.3 (Cooperativa) and 100.9 (Chilena).
Santiago's fast, clean and safe Metro is as good as any in the world, but so far, there are only five lines. The main line (1) runs modern French trains along the central east-west axis Alameda - Providencia - Apoquindo serving the center as well as the business districts of Providencia and Las Condes. At San Pablo, Los Héroes, Baquedano and Tobalaba stops, you can change to one of the other lines connecting the rest of the city to the center. Single tickets can be bought by cash or by using a rechargeable Bip card which allows free bus connections within a fixed time period.
In Chile there are two police organizations, the uniformed police (Carabineros) and the plainclothes detectives (Policía de Investigaciones). The Carabineros are responsible for safety in the streets and enjoy a high level of trust among Chileans. It's important to always carry your papers with you in case you get stopped, in which case you will be asked for identification (this is legal, if rare, in Chile). Never try to bribe a policeman!
In restaurants a tip of about 10% is expected. Check to see if it included in the bill. It is customary to take all the change first and then leave a tip. Gas station and parking attendants also expect a tip of 100 or 200 pesos, but cab drivers are not tipped
Diseases
In Chile there is no need to fear any specific health hazards. No special shots are necessary; there is no malaria or cholera. It is, however, advisable to update one's standard protection against typhoid, poliomyelitis, hepatitis, and tetanus. Beware of raw fish or other seafood, raw eggs, and food offered in the streets. Wash and/or peel all fruit and vegetables carefully.

Dangers of the Outdoors
Besides the hazards of certain high risk sports there are two dangers to your health that lurk in comparatively tiny format: catching the hanta virus, and insect bites. In Chile, there are two poisonous spiders, and north of Talca, there is the vinchuca bug that can transmit the Chagas disease. There are no dangerous animals of prey or snakes. You should also be aware of acute mountain sickness.

Medical Services
Medical treatment in private hospitals in Santiago and other major cities is comparable to any top international standard. Before you leave for Chile, check with your existing health insurance on their coverage of international travel, or get additional insurance. All prescription drugs are available, and many doctors speak English. Appropriate medical care can be more difficult to get in rural hospitals or at First Aid posts.
Compared to most Latin American countries, Chile is very safe for travelling. Exceptions are, as everywhere, the slums and the centers of the big cities. Beware of (well dressed) pickpockets who practice their swift tricks especially on buses, on the Metro and in crowds on busy streets. As a foreigner you may stick out, so you should heed the following:
  • Do not flaunt valuables, cameras, jewelry, etc.
  • Leave larger amounts of cash, travelers cheques, credit cards, airline tickets, passport, etc. in your hotel safe, or carry them around your waist or on your chest in a special money belt/pouch.
  • Always keep an eye on your bags and luggage, and keep purses and daypacks in front of your body.
  • Do not allow anyone to distract you (a popular ruse) in a crowd, i.e. when getting on and off the Metro or a bus.
  • In Cafés and restaurants, never hang your bag over the back of your chair, and never leave it unattended.
  • Make a copy of your passport and keep it in a safe place (separate).

Cases of robberies at gunpoint or muggings are rare. When in doubt, don't try to be a hero; hand over your money! It is better not to go for walks alone on Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago, as well as on some of the hills of Valparaíso, and also avoid Cerro Santa Lucía in Santiago at night.
Leaving your luggage where you are staying is usually not a problem, even if they should not have a safe.
If you are robbed, go to the nearest police station, have a report filed (dejar constancia) and make a note of its number (for your insurance company).

Travelling alone
Chile is safe even for those travelling alone, as long as they use common sense and safety rules. Women need to be resolute enough to get rid of unwanted attention. Chilean machos are usually only a nuisance when in groups and verbally; otherwise, they are quite harmless. Never hitchhike alone!
Before travelling to Chile, it's advisable to buy comprehensive coverage against loss of luggage and for international health insurance, as well as liability insurance. Private hospitals will recognize credit cards as a guarantee.
Taking a taxi is safe and relatively cheap. The black cars with their yellow roofs can be hailed anywhere. The rates are posted on the windscreen; the meter has to be where you can see it. For longer hauls or cross-country, you can negotiate a price beforehand. Tipping is not customary. You cannot always rely on your driver's sense of orientation, often they barely know their way around. The more you know about how to get to your destination, the better.
You can request a radiotaxi by phone to pick you up from your place (Yellow Pages under "Taxis"). See also Colectivos, Airport Shuttle.
Public Telephones
With the rise of cell phone use, phone booths are becoming less common, but can still be found in city centres as well as many airports and bus and train stations. The eight digit cellphone number needs to be preceded by 9.

Centro de Llamados
Phone centers are a common sight throughout the country and are probably the best option for making cheap long distance and international calls. They generally have private booths where you can talk for as long as you want and then pay at the end of the call.

Cell Phones
These have meanwhile become standard in Chile. Foreigners without permanent visa (i. e. most tourists) can only buy prepaid phones that are more expensive to use, and work for international calls, but at a steep price. There is hardly any difference between the three most important Prepago providers, Movistar, Entel and Claro. Watch for special offers with free minutes of airtime in exchange for some of the purchase price.
If you bring a compatible (GMS only) cell phone to Chile, it will only work if your provider offers roaming for the country (check before you leave).
Cell phone numbers have 8 digits which must be prefixed with a 9 when dialing from a land line. From abroad, dial +569.

Important Phone Numbers:
  • Ambulance 131
  • Fire 132
  • Police 133
  • Directory Assistance 103
  • Chile's Country code: +56
Foreign tourists are officially prohibited from paid work in Chile - unless their activity is entirely paid for from abroad (i. e. for artists, exchange teachers, etc.). A temporary work permit will only be issued in exceptional cases (from the Extranjería in Santiago or in the provinces), and it is usually restricted to international artists. However, there is a large, informal (gray) area in the Chilean labor market. However, if you receive a formal long-term job offer under contract it is relatively easy to get a work permit.
Santiago
Safe and comfortable vans run from door to door taking several people to the requested address.This service can also be requested by phone for pick-ups from your Santiago address when leaving by plane: phone 677 30 00, www.transvip.cl. For two people, a taxi can be cheaper (negotiate the price beforehand). Airport buses run between the airport and Metro Los Héroes. www.centropuerto.cl
Passenger trains, which had been pushed out of the market by the competition from buses and by a lack of timely investments, have now been modernized and they again offer an excellent service. They run from Santiago south to Chillán (approx 410km) – see www.terrasur.cl. Compared to the bus, this train is faster and safer. There are also regular suburban services from Valparaiso to Limache, Santiago to San Fernando, Talca to Constitución and around Concepción. See also Buses.
Greetings and introductions take some getting used to. Men shake hands with each other, while men and women as well as women among each other will kiss each other on the right cheek, even if they have never previously met. The same holds for saying good-bye. Polite spoken greetings are as follows: Buenos días (until noon), Buenas tardes (noon to nightfall) , and Buenas noches (after nightfall). To take leave say Hasta luego or Adios. When turning down an offer, always say No, gracias; just Gracias will usually be taken to mean consent (Sí, gracias). For appointments you usually have about 15 minutes "wiggle room". Long distance buses and planes are usually on time. Little things such as long hair and earrings in men, short skirts, unshaved legs and armpits in women, as well as insufficient deodorant are equally repulsive to conservative Chileans. At work, dress is formal and, in most offices, ties are required. However, people will quickly make the transition from the more formal address usted to the more casual tú with colleagues and acquaintances, except in very formal contexts, and young people (up to about 35 years of age) are not very likely to be addressed with usted. When in doubt, it is safer to stick with the more formal (usted), especially with older people.
Chileans are very hospitable towards most foreigners. If possible, do not turn down invitations.
If you should leave via one of the small, not-networked border crossings to Argentina, i.e. on a tour of the Central Andes, you first need to obtain a Salvoconducto in one of the major cities from the Policía de Investigaciones to present with your Tourist Card at the border crossing.
Two private airlines - LATAM Chile (www.latam.com), Sky Airline (www.skyairline.cl) serve all major cities of the country between them, with modern fleets. Because of the enormous distances, flying is a fast and safe alternative for travel within Chile.
UCT/GMT minus 4 hours. Daylight saving time in Chile runs from August until May.