We completely fell in love with Chile over the course of the three months we were there. This diverse country stretches 4,300 kilometres from arid desert in the north to wild and beautiful national parks in the south. Not to mention, a handful of very cool cities.
1. Learn the lingo – Chilean Spanish is notoriously more difficult to understand than other Latin American Spanish. They tend to use a lot more slang and speak very fast, which can be very disorientating when you first arrive in the country, especially when coming from Bolivia who have very clear and quite pure Spanish. Handy phrases to know are ‘cana’ which means hangover and ‘weon’, which can mean a number of things, including ‘asshole’. Thankfully, Chileans are well aware of this and if you speak a little Spanish and can communicate you don’t really understand, they’ll switch to a less slang heavy Spanish to help you out.
2. Market etiquette – Santiago has three excellent markets to explore and eat at, La Vega, La Vega Chica and Mercado Central. It is useful to know some market etiquette and lingo whilst browsing. Two important phrases are ‘casera’ which is an affectionate term for the lady selling to you, and ‘la yapa’ which is the little bit extra that they will have saved for you when they make your drink or when you buy something in a market. It is polite to always except food offered to you (even if you don’t fancy it) and unlike in most other Latin countries, it isn’t really the done thing to bargain. They have fixed prices and you wont get far with trying to bargain them down.
3. Hitch hiking – Travel in Chile can be very expensive. If hiring a car is out of your budget, then hitch hiking is a really great way to travel in the country, especially down the Carretera Austral in Patagonia. It’s a safe, fun and easy way to travel and you are guaranteed to meet some interesting locals and tourists along the road. For some more top tips on hitch hiking you can read our Top Tips post here.
4. Avoid peak season – Travel during the peak season (mid-December to early March) is best avoided if possible. The schools and universities are on their summer holidays and everywhere gets packed with local and international tourists. It is much better to travel in the shoulder season in either October or November or late March and April. The weather in Patagonia is still nice and warm, much less windy, less rain and you can also see the beautiful colours on the trees if you’re there in autumn. The hotels, hostels and buses are also much less busy and cheaper.
5. Visit Jumbo – Jumbo is a huge supermarket in the Costanera shopping mall in Santiago and is a great place to stock up on any bits you might need for your trip. We purchased some good-value warm sleeping bags for CLP$22.000, a little cooking set for camping and walking poles for CLP$11.000 each.
6. Free walking tours – In Santiago and Valparaiso there are excellent free daily walking tours with the company Tours 4 Tips. In Valparaiso the morning tour departs from Plaza Sotomayor and takes you around the less touristy areas and ends at the graveyard. We really loved this tour as you get a glimpse of the other side of the city and hear a bit about Chile’s recent history and political situation. We also did the afternoon tour which departs at the same place at 3.30pm. This tour takes you around the touristic parts of town and is more focused on the street art. In Santiago we just did the morning tour which departs from the Museo del Bellas Artes at 10am. It was really enjoyable and took us around the three markets and on to the graveyard. We usually tipped around CLP$6,000 each at the end of the tour. They usually also have a nice touch at the end where they offer you a free traditional drink or snack.
7. Get cash out from Banco Security – This particular bank has no fees and will save you rather a lot of money. In terms of ATMs, there’s at least one in Santiago and one in Puerto Montt opposite the McDonald’s. Withdrawing money at these will save you around CLP$4,000 a pop, so it’s definitely worth finding them and stocking up on cash!
8. Book in advance – If you are travelling in peak season it is definitely worth booking buses as soon as you get to town, as popular routes can sell out fast. A useful app is Busbud where you can book some of them in advance. It is also a good idea to book accommodation in advance, just in case. Although if you are camping, there is usually always room when you turn up on the day.
9. Camping in Patagonia – If you are travelling on a budget in Chilean Patagonia then camping is a good way to do it. Campsites cost on average CLP$4,000 per person per night and usually have good facilities including hot showers, wifi and an indoor area to cook and relax. If you want more tips on how to travel around Patagonia on a budget, read our piece on travelling Patagonia on a budget.
10. Strict border control – When entering Chile, make sure you aren’t carrying any fresh fruit or veg, grain or animal products as Chile has very strict border controls with hefty fines. If you are unsure about what food is allowed, declare it on the form and they will confiscate anything that you aren’t allowed without charging you. We did this a couple of times when we concerned about what we had in our food bags.
At the time of writing (May 2017) CLP$8,000 equates to approx. £10.