Chile travel guide
A narrow slither of land wedged between the Pacific and the Andes, Chile stands as a nation apart in South America – both literally and figuratively. The mountains cut the country off from Argentina and Bolivia to the east, while the expansive Atacama Desert separates it from Peru to the north. And to the south, beyond the country’s infamous Cape Horn headland, lies nothing but ocean and Antarctica. But far from being a curse, this isolation has created a very special destination indeed.
Whether you fancy road-tripping the endless Carretera Austral, climbing the peaks of Torres del Paine National Park or surfing the brutal waves of Punta de Lobos in Pichilemu, Chile is deserving of its reputation as one of the world’s best destinations for adventure tourism. It’s not just for thrill-seekers, though. From its incredible night skies and Mapuche Indian heritage to its vibrant arts scene and vertiginous vineyards, this is a country that caters for travellers of all hues. The Chileans themselves, meanwhile, tend to be warm and open, so absorbing what the country has to offer is generally a joy.
The country hasn’t always had it easy, of course, and the tribulations of the Pinochet era can be explored in the dynamic capital, Santiago. The city’s buzzing boulevards and arty neighbourhoods feel a million miles away from Chile’s more famous attractions, and this in itself tells you how broad the country’s offering is – this is a land that not only includes vast swathes of Patagonian wilderness and the glacier-threaded waterways of Tierra del Fuego, but also incorporates the remote, statue-studded landmass of Easter Island.
Whether you’re seeking solitude as a leisurely backpacker or taking on the big sights in unbridled luxury, consider yourself warned – once you’ve experienced the myriad attractions Chile has to offer, you may find other destinations fall somewhat short.
756,102 sq km (291,932 sq miles).
18,131,850 (UN estimate 2016).
24 per sq km.
President Michelle Bachelet since 2014.
President Michelle Bachelet since 2014.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with with either two circular pins or three pins in a line are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Pick pocketing and muggings are common in many cities throughout Chile, particularly around well-known tourist sites, bus stations and areas visited by foreigners. Pay particular attention to your belongings in popular foreign cafes and restaurants where there has been an increase in bag theft.
Don’t put any valuables in the storage compartments of buses and coaches – keep them with you at all times.
Book a taxi in advance rather than hailing one from the street, especially late at night. Keep in groups and don’t walk alone late at night.
There have been a few reports of people being given ‘spiked’ drinks in nightclubs and bars, particularly in the Suecia and Bellavista areas of Santiago. These can leave the victim open to theft or assault.
Leave your passport and other valuables in a safe place and carry a photocopy of the details page of your passport with you at all times.
Landmine accidents mainly affect livestock and local people crossing borders at unauthorised points. Most minefields are near the borders with Peru and Bolivia in the extreme north of Chile (regions XV, I and II) and Argentina in the south (region XII). Although most minefields are clearly marked, some signs and fences are old and damaged, and may be hard to spot. In some cases, minefields are laid right up to the edge of highways. Check with local authorities before travelling to more rural areas, stick to clearly marked roads and observe all warning signs.
If travelling to national parks in Chile you are advised that open fires (outside permitted camping areas) are strictly forbidden. Local authorities may revoke tourist permits from anyone caught starting a fire within a Chilean National Park and ask them to leave Chile voluntarily within 72 hours or face deportation. Additionally, if the open fire results in a larger forest fire, there may also be criminal penalties and fines.
If you plan to go exploring or mountaineering, notify the local authorities before you set off. For further information on mountaineering, contact the Federación de Andinismo de Chile, Almirante Simpson 77, Santiago, Chile, Telephone: (56 2) 2220888. For any other type of exploring, contact the Chilean Embassy in London, to see if permits are required. There are good rescue facilities in Chile. You may be charged for the service they provide.
You can use your UK driving licence while in Chile if you’re visiting as a tourist. You must have your passport and entrance card with you while driving. If you hire a car, take out adequate insurance including for windscreen damage, which can be expensive.
There is no car insurance available on Easter Island. In case of accidents or any damage to your vehicle, you will have to pay for the repairs yourself.
Main roads in Chile are surfaced, but you may need a four-wheel drive vehicle in the countryside. Be prepared for a range of driving conditions, from snow and ice to hot sandy deserts. Road tolls are increasingly common. Between June and September, winter weather sometimes temporarily closes the Chile-Argentina border crossing high up in the Andes, including the main Los Libertadores crossing between Santiago and Mendoza.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines, but the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
Nationwide protests often take place on 11 September (anniversary of the military coup), 29 March (‘day of the young combatant’) and 1 May (Workers’ Day). Even peaceful protests can become violent. The largest protests usually take place in central Santiago. Police can use tear gas and water cannon against protesters. Other public demonstrations, often led by students or indigenous rights defenders, can occur around Chile. You should avoid all demonstrations.
The following Santiago districts have in the past been the focus of strong protests:
the boroughs of:
- Estacion Central
- San Joaquin
- La Pintana
Downtown university neighbourhoods can also be the location of large demonstrations which may become violent after dark. Please be particularly aware of possible disturbances in those areas.