The South American country of Chile is host to a startling array of diversity. Officially called the Republic of Chile, the country is a grand swathe of coastal land that runs from the arid Atacama desert at its northern tip, to the formidable and other-worldly glaciers of southern Patagonia.
Lying narrowly between the Andes Mountains to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Chile is unique in its combination of miles and miles of idyllic coastline and vertigo inducing, overwhelming peaks. This, shared with the fact that Chile is the longest country from north to south in the world, means that a visit can offer the traveller the opportunity to negotiate their way through a huge and eclectic range of climates and terrains that incorporate geysers, volcanoes, forests and lakes, amongst many other spectacular sights.
The official language of Chile is Spanish, and is spoken by the majority of the population. The Amerindian language Aymara is also spoken in Northern Chile by the Aymara people; an ethnic group of the Andes region. Rapanui, an eastern Polynesian language, is spoken on the Chilean province, Easter Island.
Chilean Spanish is famously incomprehensible, even for those who speak fluent Spanish. Chileans talk faster than the people of most other Spanish speaking nations, and use large amounts of slang in their day-to-day speech, while other unusual features of their spoken language only make their Spanish more difficult for the visitor to understand. Despite this peculiarity, travelling in Chile is rarely a problem. English is widely spoken as a second language, and the country is extremely well developed, with information and help in multiple languages available for tourists.
Prices in Chile are much lower than those in Europe, and you can still find some beautiful Chilean artefacts for very little money if you look carefully. The currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP), and the exchange rate is generally 1,017 CLP to the Pound (GBP), 691 CLP to the Euro (EUR), and 539 CLP per 1 US Dollar (USD). You can check current exchange rates at www.xe.com.
Given its extensive length and difference of landscapes, Chile’s weather patterns are understandably variable, depending on where you are.
To the north, Chile is very arid, and at the very top of the country there is virtually no rain at all, only heavy mists. By contrast, the south is cold and damp throughout the year, with an almost indiscernible difference between seasons. Central Chile has the most hospitable climate, and is warm and temperate with defined seasons, probably best described as 'Mediterranean'. The capital, Santiago, is a perfect example of the central Chilean climate, with hot summers peaking at temperatures of 26-32°C, whilst in winter low temperatures can occasionally fall to below 0° C.
As Chile lies in the southern hemisphere, summer is from December to March; autumn from March to June; winter from June to September; and spring from September to December.
Chile has a number of breathtaking national parks, and the Parque Nacional Lauca, in the northernmost part of the country is particularly special. Declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, here you will be able to see snow-capped volcanoes, rippling lava fields, and enormous volcanic lakes. There is also an exceptional array of wildlife, and you could be lucky enough to see pumas, foxes, vicunas, or alpacas, not to mention guanacos, guemuls, llamas, and a stunning array of birds, including blanquillo, huairavo, flamingos or giant taquas. You can find out more at www.visit-chile.org
Chile is certainly the place to visit if you have an adventurous nature. In Chile you can more than indulge a passion for extreme sports. You can ski throughout the summer, from June until October. Nestled at the foot of the Andes, you may well encounter unexplored territory and, if you visit Chile’s Portillo Resort, you can also explore the lower slopes of the 22,800 ft. high Mount Aconcagna, the highest mountain on the continent. Information about skiing, and Chile’s numerous ski resorts, is at www.gochile.cl/ski
Surfers are also beginning to realise the potential of Chile’s lengthy coastline, and many areas are rapidly becoming surfing hotspots. If you look for them you will find endless miles of quiet beaches and totally uncrowded conditions in the water. Like on some of the more hair-raising ski slopes though, surfing in Chile is not for the fainthearted, or the beginner. The majority of Chile’s surf-able waters are rocky, unexplored, and frequently subject to strong currents, not to mention large waves, though in the north, surf tends to be smaller and so a little more approachable. Details about surfing in Chile can be found at www.gochile.cl/surfing
For those who would rather savour the culture of Chile, the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolumbino in Santiago is an essential destination. Northern Chile was an integral part of Inca culture in the Early Modern and Medieval empires, and you can discover some of the history of this culture in the museum, which is open Tuesday-Sunday, from 10.00 am – 6.00 pm. Perhaps more exciting, though, are the Chinchorro Mummies, a product of Chile’s indigenous culture, which are thousands of years older than their Egyptian counterparts and make a visit to the museum truly unmissable.
Shopping in Chile can be quite an experience. Throughout Chile, and in particular central Chile, you will find artesanias and local markets selling traditional goods, often in the Andean style. Here you can find the handmade alpaca jumpers and hats that are identified worldwide with Chilean and South American culture. You are also likely to come across an abundance of Lapis Lazuli and silver jewellery; singularly Chilean, one of the world’s only Lapis Lazuli mines can be found here and the local people have used the semi-precious stone for centuries.
In Santiago you can find a full range of modern and international products, although it is also well worth seeking out the capital’s many flea markets and antique shops. Here you will see an eclectic mixture of goods, from furniture and books, to traditional crafts.
Chilean nightlife is best sampled in Santiago. There are three main areas for going out here, all with slightly different crowds and cultures. In the bohemian Bellavista area there is an informal café culture, where live music seems to be playing everywhere, with many Latino and guitar-based bands filling the narrow streets with exuberant tangos. In contrast, Nunoa is the centre of Santiago’s more underground scene, and is popular with travellers as well as with the city’s students. Providencia is the most up-market region of the city for socialising. You are likely to see a large number of expats and professional or upper class Chileans mixing in the classier bars, drawn by the American influenced scene.
It is fairly easy to rent a car and to drive in Chile. In Santiago the streets are carefully signposted and well organised, so you are unlikely to get lost. The only disadvantage to driving in the capital is that rush hour can be stressful, as can parking, or trying to find a parking space.
Outside the capital the roads are pretty good and driving is very straightforward, though it is worth remembering that the police do check for vehicle registration and a valid driving license with reasonable regularity. An international driving license is a legal requisite, and strongly recommended; although police do tend to accept licenses issued by most countries if you have not got an international one, this is not always the case and it is better to be prepared.
Food and Drink
Chilean food is influenced by the huge diversity of seafood found off the country’s expansive coastline, and there are numerous simple but satisfying South American dishes made with sea bass or scallops, amongst other delicacies. If you are feeling brave, you could take the opportunity to sample one of the more unusual local specialities, such as Almejas con limon – a dish composed solely of raw clams and fresh lemon juice, or Caldillo de congrio – a soup in which conger-eel is the main ingredient. You could accompany these dishes with an equally-adventurous glass of Pisco; a potent Chilean brandy liquor, made from the distilled grapes of Chile’s Valle del Elqui region. A comforting alternative is the seasonal Cola de mono, a wintry mixture of Aguardiente liquor, milk, coffee, cinnamon and sugar.
Chile also produces a number of high quality wines, and the country’s red wines are particularly appealing. It is definitely worth hunting down red wine made from the Carmenere grape; once found in Bordeaux and exported to Chile, the grape is now extinct everywhere except in the vineyards of Chile, and so is now a unique Chilean experience.
Information about Chile can be found at the official Tourist Board website: www.visit-chile.org
The website www.officialtravelguide.com/chile is also useful, and is sponsored by Chile’s Central Tourist Board.
AirportChile’s main international airport is the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport. Located on the northwest side of Santiago you get to enjoy sumptuous, awe-inspiring views of the Andes as you land here. Detailed information about flights to Chile from London and New York, as well as from other major locations, can be found at Chile’s main air-travel information resource www.lan.com
All car hire locations in Chile
- Balmaceda Airport
- Carriel Sur Airport
- Cañal Bajo Carlos - Hott Siebert Airport
- Cerro Moreno Airport
- Chacalluta Airport
- Chamonate Airport
- Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport
- Diego Aracena Airport
- El Loa Airport
- El Mirador Airport
- El Tepual Airport
- Gral. Bernardo O´higgins Airport
- La Florida Airport
- La Serena
- Los Cerrillos Airport
- Los Ángeles
- Maquehue Airport
- Panguilemo Airport
- Pdte. Carlos Ibañez Del Campo Airport
- Pichoy Airport
- Pucón Airport
- Puerto Montt
- Puerto Natales
- Puerto Varas
- Punta Arenas
- Rodelillo Airport
- San Antonio
- San Pedro De Atacama
- Teniente Vidal Airport
- Tte. Julio Gallardo Airport
- Vallenar Airport
- Viña Del Mar
- Viña Del Mar Airport