Chile is an extremely exciting country with a storied past, beautiful natural environment, and world class attractions. Here at Say Hueque, we love arranging tours through Chile and introducing travelers to our next door neighbor – be sure to check out our 12-day “Best of Chile” trip.
There are so many incredible sights to see, things to do, and people to meet. But if you’re planning a visit, you’ll need to do your research first. To help you get started, take a look at the top 10 things to know before traveling to Chile below. Feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comments below!
1. No Visa Necessary!
This is definitely one of the most important things to know before visiting Chile. As a U.S. citizen (as well as citizens of the E.U.), you won’t need to acquire a visa or pay a fee to enter the country. In fact, you’re permitted to stay in Chile for 90 days (3 months) at a time on a tourist visa. Nonetheless, many people who want to stay in Chile for longer will either extend this visa for another 3 months or just leave the country and come back. Many times, expats will cross the border to Mendoza, Argentina for the weekend and come back.
2. Not the Spanish You Learned in High School
Students traveling to Chile to learn Spanish tend to be frustrated that it’s not exactly the same as the Spanish they were taught in high school. Yes, you’ll have to learn to use phrases like ¿cachai?and weon and maybe you’ll even start to conjugate verbs differently. Nonetheless, I promise that the Chilean dialect is not as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. Moreover, once you get the hang of it, it’s actually kind of fun.
3. When it Comes to Weather – Expect the Unexpected
All I need to explain here is that the northern part of Chile is a desert, while southern Chile is Patagonia. You know, the snow-covered mountains? If you were to check the weather for San Pedro de Atacama and then Puerto Natales (like I just did), you’d notice a huge difference in their highs for the day. When planning a trip to explore the whole of Chile, pack for extreme variations in weather.
4. Pack a Snack!
Look, I’ve always known that Americans are supposed to eat larger quantities than other countries, but who knew that we eat our meals so much earlier than everyone else? In Chile, finding a place to eat lunch at 11:30 isn’t a thing. In fact, most restaurants won’t open for lunch until about 1 P.M. Oh, and dinner? It’s not at 5 o’clock – more likely to have dinner around 10 or 11 p.m.
5. You Didn’t Imagine That…It Was Indeed an Earthquake
Being from the Southeastern United States, I’m not used to them. To be honest, I don’t even remember having felt one before I moved to Chile. Nonetheless, I remember my first Chilean earthquake vividly. I was terrified upon feeling the movement under my feet, but the Chileans around me weren’t even reacting and told me it was just a “temblor”. When visiting Chile, know that the country is 100% equipped to deal with earthquakes (and temblors). Oftentimes, earthquakes that would be considered to be large-scale in other countries barely do any damage in Chile. So, if you happen to experience an earthquake in this country, my advice is to look to the locals and follow their reactions.
6. It’s Not as Cheap as You Might Think
While I still think that Chile is cheaper than Europe, I’ve also noticed that foreigners often have a misconception about all of South America being cheap. Among the top things to know things to know before visiting Chile, know that this generalization is not always true, especially in the case of Argentina and Chile. Keep in mind that, especially in Santiago, it’s the capital of the country and it houses approximately 1/3 of the entire country’s population, so expect it to be expensive.
7. Who is Lucas?
No..it’s not a person that everyone keeps mentioning. “Lucas” is definitely not a very common name in Chile, but you’ll hear it used commonly. That’s because the word refers to money in multiples of thousands. If someone says, for example, “cuatro lucas”, that person is not talking about “four people named Lucas”, but about “4000 pesos.”
8. Getting Around
To use public transportation, you must buy a card called BIP, that costs 1350 pesos, and it’s sold at all Metro stations or at the Centros BIP. With it, you can add multiples of 500 pesos with a minimum of 1000 pesos, at the selling points or at any other associated stores that enable to charge BIP cards. The card allows you to travel by bus (which are called micros in Chile) and by subway (also known as the metro). At the Metro you can buy tickets for single trips, that have different prices on rush hour (hora punta) or non-rush hour (valle).
9. Santiago de Chile has Multiple Barrios
The capital city has many different barrios (neighborhoods), all of which can be easily explored through the city’s extremely efficient metro system. The different barrios are scattered across a hill. The basic rule of thumb is: the further up the hill you go, the richer and safer the neighborhoods become. The wealthier neighborhoods are often safer due to an increased police presence within the area. The safest comunas are Providencia, Vitacura and Las Condes. Some of the more popular tourist areas, like Plaza de Armas and Bellavista, are often safe during the day, however travelers need to exercise extreme caution in these areas during the night, as in any cosmopolitan city.
10. Be Smart and Observe Your Surroundings
This one may seem a bit obvious if you’ve traveled internationally, but it’s worth mentioning. When paying for something avoid pulling out your wallet in public and flashing large amounts of cash. Grab and runs are extremely popular in Santiago and if someone sees that you are carrying large amounts of cash on you, they will probably target you. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself.
So there you have it! To learn more about Chile, feel free to read through our previous blog posts covering the country here.