As an incredibly long and thin nation, Chile is full of surprises, as well as extremes. The landscape is incredibly diverse with one side bordered by the Pacific Ocean while the Andres rest along the interior border.
Dry desert, glaciers, volcanoes, and lush forests also dominate the terrain as you move inland. But what makes Chile special is that most of the land has remained untouched and travelers can experience the pristine beauty of nature in this South American nation.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Places to Visit: Cities
- Points of Interest
Bienvenidos – Welcome to Chile
But a part of exploring Chile is also what happens along the way to your next destination. With a slower paced lifestyle, the country is perfect for adventure travelers who like to meander to off the beaten track places. Whether you’re going with private or local transportation, Chile is sure to satisfy your travel bucket list.
Santiago is the capital of Chile and it has been since the days of colonization. With a mix of art deco and neoclassical architecture, the city’s old-world style has been revamped, preserved, and filled with museums, fine dining, cafes, hotels, galleries, and shopping malls. With plenty to explore, the quirky personality of this capital is guaranteed to delight and entertain.
Culture and Language
While humans have lived in Chile for 3,000 years, more recent events from the 16th century have helped shape and change the country with effects that can still be witnessed today. Spanish conquistadores came to Chile by 1540, when Ferdinand Magellan first set sights on the land, though the title of discovered is often given to Diego de Almagro. But Chile was overlooked upon the first glance and it wasn’t until Pedro de Valdivia asked for permission to invade the southern portion of the country in order to conquer more land for Spain.
Valdivia’s quest earned him the title of the first governor of the Captaincy of Chile, and he helped maintain Spain’s control of the country. But with less fortunes than other South American nations, Chile remained rather economically stagnant and it wasn’t until it gained its independence that growth began to reform and shape the country. By 1818, Chile became independent, though it wasn’t recognized as independent by Spain until 1840.
But with a similar story to many countries, Chile struggled to stabilize, and it went through periods of deep political trouble. Augusto Pinochet is Chile’s infamous dictator, who sent the country back in time. It wasn’t until he was voted out of power that Chile began to stabilize and become a democratic nation.
With a rather offset and remote location from the rest of South America, Chile’s culture has always centered around Spanish and indigenous culture. Folk culture is an integral part of Chilean identity with different regions of Chile expressing themselves through music and dance.
Religion is also important within Chile’s culture and the majority of the population are Roman Catholic. There are various religious holidays throughout the year and religion has shaped the dynamics within the family and home. However, a surprisingly large portion of the country doesn’t have a defined religion, which tends to match the easy-going lifestyle. This unique mix has made Chile the perfect destination where people can simply enjoy the everyday connections in life as they explore this vast terrain.
Spanish is the official language of Chile and it is spoken by the majority of its population. However, many Spanish speaking people will find that Chilean Spanish is very different from Castilian and they will have to learn a lot of local slang to become fluent when traveling in Chile. Alongside Spanish, there are also 6 indigenous languages spoken throughout the country. These include Mapudungun, Quechua, and Rapa Nui.
English is also common within educated population of Chile as there are many British English schools that were started by British immigrants in the 19th century. While English is not likely to be spoken, in touristy areas you may hear it being spoken on the street more frequently.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Chile, you do not need to obtain a tourist visa prior to your arrival in the country if you are staying for less than 90 days. However, this only applies to tourist passports and the document must be in good condition. Upon arrival you will be given a tourist card and you may as for one 90-day extension if you wish to stay for more time.
But if you overstay your tourist visa or lose the card that you were given upon arrival, you will be fined before you are cleared to leave the country. If you do lose your tourist card, it will need to be replaced at an International Police Office or the airport before you can depart Chile.
However, other requirements for entry into Chile include having a US passport that remains valid for the duration of your stay. You will need to have one blank page for your entry stamp available. There are no vaccination requirements, but it is recommended that you are up to date on all boosters, prior to your arrival. With no currency restrictions, you may also take in or out as much money as you wish.
Finally, the US government has placed a Level 2 Travel Advisory on Chile due to civil unrest in major cities like Santiago. You should be cautious when traveling around Chile and avoid large crowds. It is safer to keep a low profile and be aware of your surroundings. You can also register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which will give you current alerts from the US Embassy.
When you are going away, it is important that you consider how much money you can spend for the duration of your trip and what the minimum amount needed is to explore Chile – hint, it’ll cost a bit. Chile is South America’s most developed country and it is often considered to be the continent’s most European like country. This means that prices are high to travel around Chile and you will need to plan your budget accordingly. The most important parts of your budget will be airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Airfare will be a large portion of your budget, but there are multiple direct flights available. The average cost for a flight from a major American city like Los Angeles or New York City is $700 US dollars. However, there may be special deals that will lower the cost to about $500 US dollars.
But other factors like when you travel to Chile and how far in advance you book your ticket can also affect the cost. The tourist high season in Chile runs from November to February, but there are also peaks in tourism from September to October and March to April during specific days of those months. High tourist season means that plane tickets will be more expensive. You can save some money by booking your ticket in advance and not waiting until the last minute.
Once you have managed to establish the cost of your flight, it is important to consider where you will stay while you are in Chile. Accommodation in Chile can be affordable, if you are willing to stay in backpacker type hostels and not hotels. Most hostels will cost $13-$32 US dollars per night. The large range in prices is due to the location and type of room that you book.
However, hotels are more expensive, and you should expect to pay $60-$120 US dollars per night. Nicer hotels will cost more than $120 US dollars per night and may even cost more than $400 US dollars per night, if you are staying in a luxury location. You will also find that everything is more expensive in big cities like Santiago, so don’t be surprised if you pay more for a hostel or hotel in the capital.
Once you’ve found a safe place to rest, your next conquest will likely be scouring the local cuisine for a tasty meal. Food is a great way to connect and experience the local culture, which further enrichens your trip. Chilean cuisine combines flavors from Spain and the indigenous Mapuche people with influence from other European cultures too.
Empanadas are a part of traditional Chilean cuisine and they are a tasty on the go meal that are made all-year round. With a long coastline, ceviche is also popular and is made from local fish. On cooler days, cazuela is Chile’s take on soup, which is a broth with beef, potatoes, noodles, pumpkin, and cilantro. Finally, choripán is Chilean barbeque, which is served with a spicy condiment called pebre.
The good news is that delicious food can be affordable, if you are willing to eat locally. Local meals usually cost $4-$8 US dollars. There may also be lunch or dinner specials at restaurants that can make food even more affordable. However, nicer restaurants will cost more. For a mid-range meal, you should expect to pay $20-$40 US dollars.
Drinking may also be an important part of your budget, if you wish to experience the nightlife. You can drink in Chile and there are plenty of local or import options. Local alcohol will be the most affordable and beers will normally cost less than $2 US dollars. However, mixed drinks or imported options will usually cost about $5 US dollars per drink. In touristy areas, you should expect drinks to cost more, but most options will be less than $7 US dollars per drink. But for many connoisseurs, Chile has become a hotspot for wine.
Chilean wines have grown in popularity and they are affordable. A good bottle of wine will cost about $8 US dollars, while a better bottle will cost about $20 US dollars. But you shouldn’t expect to find the same wines locally, as what is exported. There are often different types of wine available within Chile, but all still have strong flavor and a good taste.
Overall, travelers on a budget should expect to spend about $40 US dollars per day with proper planning. Backpack’s can get by with this amount, but you should expect to stick to local places. More moderate travelers will likely spend about $100 US dollars per day, which would give you private options and a few nights of fine dining. Luxury vacations can easily cost hundreds of dollars per day.
How to Get Around
The chances are that you’ll want to travel around Chile, which means that you’ll have to consider the cost of transportation and how it fits into your budget. The two most popular ways to travel around Chile are by bus or plane. Buses are the most affordable options with tickets costing about $25 US dollars for a long-distance trip. Shorter bus rides can be as affordable as spending $6 US dollars for a ticket.
But if taking the time to travel by bus is not ideal, you will need to travel by plane. But domestic flight is not cost friendly and budget travelers will have to forgo airplane travel. Domestic flights can cost up to $200 US dollars for a single ticket with the prices fluctuating slightly. Planes are the best way to see more of the country, but buses are ideal for saving money and still visiting top tourist destinations.
When you are getting around cities, local transport or walking is the best way to go. It will be safe to use, and you can explore the exciting streets of the big cities. However, you should always be aware of your surroundings for your safety. You should also avoid walking at night or taking a stroll solo.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
With so much to explore, Chile is a long country that has plenty of different areas to explore. From the coast to the mountains, here are the top city destinations in Chile.
Bursting with Chilean culture, Santiago is filled with museums, galleries, and theaters that showcase the beauty of the country. The cultural scene is a major draw for tourists, who are eager to experience the never-ending energy of these city streets. With hundreds of barrios for exploring, you can bounce from fine dining and expensive homes to local bars and parks. With a unique location between the beach and mountains, you can also explore the hot sand and switch to the cold snow, all in the same day.
Overflowing with street art, Valparaíso has become popular due to its Bohemian vibes and quaint cafes. With an odd blend of sophisticated and shambles, the city is a unique juxtaposition. With narrow streets that overlook an ocean view, you can relax in this funky little area. But be aware that some neighborhoods are not tourist friendly.
As a small seaside town, La Serena isn’t packed to the brim with activities, but it’s beautiful landscape and impressive architecture are enough to draw in tourists. There are also multiple markets that you can explore for local goods. There are also nearby vineyards so that you can get a taste of great Chilean wine.
Iquique is one of the top beach resorts in all of Chile, which is most famous for its large sand dune that towers over the modern architecture. With everything you need for entertainment, you will find gambling, shopping, paragliding, and surfing are all popular activities. Pristine beaches are also great places to relax and spend a day in the sun.
As a jump off location to the famous Torres del Paine National Park and Argentina, this city has grown in popularity. While the city is still developing its tourism, there is still plenty to explore like shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Vina del Mar
As a popular seaside resort, Vina del Mar is entertainment central with plenty of visitors coming to swim in the ocean or dig in the sand. The beautiful beachfront homes are scattered throughout entertainment establishments like top class restaurants, shopping, and casinos. With plenty of greenery, the city has also been nicknamed the Garden City for its various botanical installations.
Influenced by German settlers, Valdivia is known for its youthful vibe, arts, and affordable entertainment. There are plenty of cheap bars that a scattered on the streets and waterfront, while vibrant colors are highlighted in the street art. A more modern feel also makes the city popular for bierfest celebrations like music performances.
Points of Interest
Where the cities are abundant with fun, there are also various points of interest that make Chile exciting too. Here are the top tourist points of interest in Chile.
Torres del Paine National Park
Located within the Patagonia area of Chile, the Torres del Paine National Park is easily the country’s most famous preserved space which features jagged mountains, cool glaciers, and turquoise lakes. The granite peaks are often the highlight, but there is also rolling grass in the beautiful Paine Massif. Trekking, hiking, and horseback riding are the most popular activities with many tourists opting for a guided tour.
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world. It is filled with caverns, cliffs, and vast stretches of nothing. The Valle de la Luna is one of the most popular places to go, which was named for its resemblance to the Moon’s surface. Chinchorro mummies were once found in the area, though they have been removed and preserved, you can still visit the caverns where they were once held. Finally, the Laguna Cejar used to be a sinkhole that flooded with water and is now a hotspot for tourists to visit.
While Easter Island is most famous for its South Pacific culture and the Moai figures, it technically is a part of Chile. The country is the closest area to the island that has flights to this remote piece of land. On the island, you can see the massive Moai figures and take a walk through its green landscape. While there isn’t much else on the island, small communities will happily house tourists and provide them with tours of the island.
Chilean Lake District
Actually, a vast stretch of land, the Chilean Lake District spans from Temuco to Puerto Montt. In this area, you can enjoy various outdoor activities like hiking, biking, horseback riding, and kayaking. With multiple tall volcanoes, the area is scattered with deep lakes, which are ideal for any adrenaline chasing adventurist.
Lauca National Park
Lauca National Park has some of the country’s most important historical sites, as well as the best chance to see Chilean wildlife. Early European settlers once inhabited the area and built small towns, some of which are still standing today. The ancient ruins are supported by a stunning backdrop of snowcapped mountains. Flamingoes, alpacas, and condors are just some of the wildlife you may encounter along your journey.
Suited for travelers who want to go way off the beaten path, Humberstone is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and current ghost town. What was once a bustling place with saltpeter mines, the area has been left exposed to nature. With minimal preservation, the fading buildings are an eerie sight amongst the sand dunes, but this historical importance showcases the strength of the Chilean people. However, it is recommended that you hire a guide due to the remote location and harsh weather conditions.
Get Out and Go
While Chile may not seem like much from its size and stature, the country is filled with impressive sights. From the beauty of nature to the upbeat vibe in the cities, tourists are beginning to flock to this adventure driven landscape. With stunning views, you can visit one of Earth’s last untouched frontiers and bask in its beauty.