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Introduction to Chile

From salty-desert top to glacier-crowded bottom, Chile is a gobsmacking reminder of nature's beauty and power. This narrow trickle of a country is jammed with enough geysers, mountains, beaches, forests and volcanos to keep adventure nuts slavering for a lifetime.

Although no one says no to a casual meander along its grand urban boulevards, travellers are mostly drawn to this string bean country because of its spectacular Pacific coastline and Andean highlands, and because of the opportunities it offers for adventure sports.

Chile's distinctive culture has survived the violence and repression of its recent history and is thriving once again thanks to a people noted for their warmth and resilience. Despite having the most European community in South America, indigenous traditions persist in the Andean foothills and in the southern plains, while some of South America's finest national parks draw trekkers and guanaco spotters alike.

Full country name: Republic of Chile

Area: 748,800 sq km

Population: 15.5 million

Capital City: Santiago (pop 5,000,000)

People: 95% European descent & mestizo, 5% Indian

Language: Spanish, Rapanui, Aymara

Religion: 89% Roman Catholic, 10% Protestant, less than 1% Jewish

Government: republic

Head of State: President Ricardo Lagos Escobar

GDP: US$156.1 billion

GDP per capita: US$10,100

Annual Growth: 3.5%

Inflation: 4.5%

Major Industries: Copper, fishmeal, wine.

Major Trading Partners: USA, Japan, Germany, UK

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most Western European countries do not require a visa although US citizens do pay a 100.00 levy (cash only). Canadians pay a 55.00 levy and Australians 34.00, while there is no levy for EU or New Zealand residents. A 90-day entry permit, renewable for another 90 days, is received on entering the country.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4

Dialling Code: 56

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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The Easter and Christmas holidays are the most important national celebrations, but there's a conglomeration of secular holidays in September, including Fiestas Patrias (mid-September); National Independence Day on the 18th (a day of spirited partying and rodeos); and Armed Forces Day on the 19th. Of the innumerable local cultural festivals, the mid-north town of Andacollo's Fiesta de la Virgin del Rosario is perhaps the weirdest. Drawing pilgrims every December from as far afield as Bolivia, Asian-inspired team dancing fringes a procession of the Virgin's image to a huge shrine. Horse racing and cock fighting provide ancillary entertainment for the crowds camped on surrounding hillsides.

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Best time to Visit

Chile's geographical variety can make a visit rewarding in any season. Santiago and Middle Chile are best in the verdant spring (September through November) or during the fall harvest (late February into April), while popular natural attractions like Parque Nacional del Paine in Magallanes and the lakes region are best in summer (December through March).

Conversely, Chilean ski resorts draw many foreigners during the northern summer (June through August). Easter Island is cooler, slightly cheaper and much less crowded outside the summer months. The same is true of the Juan Fernandez archipelago, which can be inaccessible if winter rains erode the dirt airstrip; March is an ideal time for a visit.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Peso


Budget: US$3-5

Mid-range: US$5-20

High: US$20-30

Deluxe: US$30+


Budget: US$10-20

Mid-range: US$20-35

High: US$35-60

Deluxe: US$60+

Revaluation of the Chilean peso and tourist sector inflation have increased travel costs substantially in the past few years, so that Chile is no longer inexpensive. It is still possible to travel on a budget, since modest lodging, food and transport are still more economical than in Europe, North America or even Argentina. Allow a minimum of USD25.00 per day for food and lodging, but if you purchase your food at markets or eat at modest restaurants you may be able to get by more cheaply.

Travelers' checks are unquestionably safer than cash, but in smaller towns and out-of-the-way locations, it can be difficult to find a bank that will change them, so carrying some cash is a good idea. Only ATMs in larger cities will be compatible with international debit systems like Plus or Cirrus. Credit cards are fairly widely accepted.

In restaurants, it is customary to tip about 10% of the bill. In general, waiters and waitresses are poorly paid, so if you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip. Taxi drivers do not require tips, although you may round off the fare for convenience. Long-distance bus or shared taxi fares are negotiable. Purchases from handicrafts markets will be subject to bargaining, and haggling on hotel prices is possible in the off-season or for long stays.

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Santiago de Chile is a modern metropolis with a shiny face and one of South America's most dynamic economies. At the same time, struggling street vendors board city buses to hawk everything from pins to ice cream, and housemaids ride for hours to scrub floors and change nappies in exclusive suburbs.

It's first and foremost a city of commerce, but visitors will find much to enjoy in the city and its surroundings. Less than an hour from the city centre are world-class ski resorts and white-water rafting opportunities, famous beaches and the colorful port city of Valparaíso.

La Serena

Important both historically and economically, the beachside city of La Serena is one of Chile's oldest post-Columbian cities. The region's silver, copper and agriculture were so important that the city had its own mint. Today, La Serena maintains a colonial air, although it is threatening Viña del Mar's supremacy as the premier beach resort. Apart from a string of beautiful beaches, attractions include a handful of museums and a number of nearby quaint villages and vineyards.

Parque Nacional Puyehue

Situated in the beautiful Lake District, this is Chile's most popular national park. It preserves 107,000ha (264,290ac) of verdant montane forest and starkly awesome volcanic scenery. Dense forest hides puma, the rare pudú (a miniature deer) and prolific bird life, including the Chilean torrent duck. Nature trails, lake views, ski resorts, thermal springs, waterfalls and examples of some of Chile's strange plant life, in particular the umbrella-leaved nalca and multi-trunked ulmo, are some of the many attractions which draw visitors.

Puerto Montt

Settled by German colonists in the mid-19th century, this is one of southern Chile's most important cities. It features middle-European architecture, with shingles, high-pitched roofs and ornate balconies. The redwood cathedral on the city's plaza is the city's oldest building, dating from 1856. Puerto Montt is the transport hub and access point to the southern Lakes District, the island of Chiloé and Chilean Patagonia. The nearby port of Angelmó and the island of Tenglo offer a more relaxed atmosphere. Angelmó has an outstanding crafts market and fabulous seafood.


Lying 120km (74mi) northwest of Santiago, Valpo is Chile's principal port and second-largest city. Despite its size, it is Chile's most distinctive city and one of South America's most intriguing. Occupying a narrow strip of land between the waterfront and the nearby hills, its convoluted centre has distinctive, sinuous cobbled streets, and is overlooked by precipitous cliffs and hilltop suburbs which are accessed by funicular railways and stairway footpaths. It is conducive to maze-like strolls and rides on the funicular, and its natural history, fine arts and maritime museums are justly famed. Muelle Prat, the redeveloped pier, is a lively market area.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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