Covid-Related Travel Update, July 2023: Chile is open to international tourists. Visit the Chilean government’s official website for travel-related information and regulations. Don’t forget to read the government’s rules to be followed in public spaces here. My guide to Chile visa would be helpful for Indian citizens.
What does this Chile Travel Guide contain?
- Where is Chile?
- How did I decide to travel to Chile? What inspired me to visit Chile?
- What is English Open Doors program? – Volunteering in Chile.
- But why should you travel to Chile or South America? What is so special about Chile?
- How is the landscape of Chile?
- What are the natural disasters of Chile that you should be worried about while traveling in Chile?
- The Geography of Chile (Along with the things to do in Chile).
- The North of Chile.
- The Central Valley of Chile.
- The Lake region of Chile.
- The South of Chile
- Chile is far. What about the long flights and the insane timezone shifts?
- How to stay connected with family?
- Didn’t I feel homesick or lonely that far away from my home country and friends?
- What about the rough Latin American Spanish? What language do Chileans speak?
- Why do I say that Chile people are the nicest?
- Is Chile expensive on a traveler’s budget? What is the cost of travel in Chile?
- How much did the tickets cost for the flight to Chile?
- What about the tourist visa for Chile?
- What is the best time to travel to Chile?
- What to pack for Chile?
- How to move around in Chile?
- How should you carry money when you travel to Chile?
- Is Chile Safe? This Backpacking Chile guide is updated for the current uproar in Chile.
- How is Chilean food?
- Now let’s get real – the drinking scene of Chile.
- Some closing FAQs and tips.
While watching the traditional Balinese Ramayana performance in Ubud where men and women dressed as Ram, Sita, and Ravan danced around the fire, my close friend Anish asked me that why haven’t I published a comprehensive Chile travel blog, yet.
You would find the occasion of the question strange, but he was concerned that even though I was on a long South America travel trip (nine months), alone, and indulged in the continent’s culture intricately, I didn’t write about it enough.
I pen down my cultural experiences, the people I meet, and the places I travel to, but a lot of my travel stories are still hiding in the folders. Like we never serve our curries without garnishing them with garam masala and coriander, I have to add final touches to these stories, too, before publishing them.
This massive backpacking Chile guide is one such postponed piece. I was traveling in Chile for around six months as a part of a longer nine-month journey through South America, solo, and returned to India in 2017.
Since then I have been writing and traveling, full-time from around the world, as you all know.
Recently after traveling in Southeast Asia (again) relentlessly for two months, I am staying put for a month now and editing a good bunch of my content; most of my writing is about to come out of its closet before I move onto further adventures.
Assuming that we both do justice to this ambitious travel guide to Chile, let us continue.
Update July 2023 – Now I have written most of the South America content, so feel free to indulge here.
Where is Chile?
Chile, the world’s narrowest country, is located at the western edge of the South-American continent. Chile country leads our way up to the end of the world, for the southernmost tip of Chile, Cape Horn, is the last inhabited place that gives way to South Antarctica, a no man’s land.
The extreme south of Chile or Patagonia is mostly devoid of humans due to its cold and inhospitable climate, and the temperature stays low throughout the year. Even the Spanish conquistadors were not able to colonize this part of Chile, a country that they had conquered in entirety.
Would you be now amazed if I tell you that the northern part of this long country is the driest desert of the world, Atacama, which we all studied in our Geography classes?
Have you ever seen such geographic contrasts within a country before? (I know the Himalayas and the Thar desert, but this is a rhetorical question.)
To answer a popular Google question:
- Is Chile in South America?
Yes. Chile is a country in South America.
How did I decide to travel to Chile? Or What inspired me to visit Chile?
As Chile is a long way from India and isn’t a popular destination amongst Indian travelers, yet, many people ask me why did I go to Chile.
Until a friend of mine, who also went to Chile to teach English with the English Open Doors program (EODP) that I volunteered for later, mentioned Chile, I didn’t even know that the country exists. Or maybe I knew, but I had forgotten the petite country thriving on the extreme edge of the South-American continent for here in India we don’t hear about Chile often.
Drooling over the Chile pictures of my friend and accepting that the creative English writing programs I had applied to (a story best told another day) would reject me, I applied to EODP. As part of EODP, I had to teach English in Chile for four months in exchange for food and accommodation.
Fast forward a couple of months — I was rejected by the English writing programs and was selected by EODP. To pursue my travel dreams, I quit my investment banking job (that inspired me as much as spinach inspires a cat) and finally called home to disclose my plans to my parents. As soon as they heard about my decision of traveling to Chile to volunteer, my tiny world was struck by so much chaos that even Ved Vyas would have felt ashamed of not adding more family drama to the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
Escaping the parents-induced guilt fire by a few inches, I booked a one-way ticket to Santiago, months before applying for a Chile visa.
And when I applied for the visa, the program requested the Chile consulate to approve my visa on priority so that I could join at the earliest. By the time the Chilean embassy in Delhi sanctioned my visa, I still didn’t have much Chile travel information as I had been busy traveling in Southeast Asia and seeing off my Indian friends for I didn’t know when I would see them again.
When I arrived at the Mumbai airport to board my 36-hour flight to Santiago, I had sold most of my belongings, packed the rest in bags, and released myself from a two-year failed relationship.
After a two-hour agonizing phone conversation with my mother about the men she thought I should have married, I pushed my loaded trolley towards the Emirates counter at the Mumbai airport. I remember knowing back then that I wasn’t coming back soon.
While my family lost it, I rollerbladed into a new life.
In July 2016, I landed on the remote Southern island Chiloé where I had to teach English to the government school students. While I was surprised by Chilean customs and the people, most of the islanders were perplexed with my brown complexion and kohl-eyes for they were seeing an Indian for the first time.
Though I didn’t know about Chile much, I had always found the South-American culture intriguing. When I heard the Latino prisoner group chatter away in Spanish in Orange Is the New Black, I had goosebumps. Later when I learned Spanish while living in Chile, I fell in love with the language.
Please note: I have also prepared a list of 50 best things to do in Chile. Do give the article a read for an exhaustive list of experiences Chile has to offer.
Leaving aside all the troubles that I faced in traveling to the other end of the world (of which you would hear much about in this Chile travel guide), my South America trip is one of the best journeys of my life. Even today, after having returned from the continent for
over a year over two years, I reminisce over the days I spent there and cry with nostalgia whenever I hear anybody speak Spanish. I wept for about an hour when I wrote this list of common Spanish phrases for travelers visiting South America.
So to answer your question – I wasn’t searching for a big inspiration. I wanted some changes in my life, and Chile happened.
But why did I stayed on in Chile even after the program ended? My celebrity-like status in the Chilean countryside might have prolonged my Chile trip but that’s a rant (show-off?) for another day.
What is the English Open Doors program? Volunteering in Chile.
English Open Doors Program or “Ingles Abre Puertas” (EODP) is a volunteer program run by the government of Chile in coordination with the United Nations(UN). EODP has given a boom to Chile Tourism.
As part of the program, I had to teach English to the students of a government school, and, in return, the program hosted me in Chile. The program provided me accommodation with a Chilean family, food, free visa, a tiny stipend, a certificate of teaching English as a second language(ESL), and health insurance during my entire stay in Chile.
Where was this government school and who were these students? I didn’t come to know until the day I arrived in Chile.
I had filled up a form wherein I mentioned that I would prefer south Chile over north and that I was okay with villages or remote locations. As EODP mentioned during the application process, all the volunteers were assigned a location as per their preferences, mostly, and then they were sent to a school within that location, which could be remote and icy or warm and metropolitan. But this assignment happened close to the program dates.
The day I had to board my Chile flight, I received an email from the program which said that I had to teach in a school in Castro on the island of Chiloé in southern Chile.
When I Googled Castro, I saw gorgeous, rainbow-like pictures in which colorful stilt houses fringed the shores of a turquoise-blue ocean.
I beamed. It looked like my sort of place, and it was.
All of this sounds good.
But why should you plan a trip to Chile or South America? What is so special about the place?
I grin whenever someone asks me this question.
Though notorious for criminal activities and drug trafficking, South America (SA) has Windows-wallpaper-like landscapes, warm and caring people, and ancient culture. And the Latin-American countries I visited — Chile, Peru, and Bolivia — have none of the horrendous crime problems.
How do I know? I spent nine months in these three countries alone with only one disturbing incident (of mobile snatching in Santiago) that can happen in any part of the world. Had I been more aware, I could have easily avoided that incident, too.
So let us keep aside the safety angle for a while, and I would write about traveler’s safety in Chile amongst other travel tips for Chile later.
But is it worth to travel to this remote continent that is known for rough Spanish, bold Latin-American people, long flights, unknown geography, seemingly high cost of living, and who knows what else?
For those who haven’t been to SA, these are fair questions.
Let me resolve your doubts one by one.
How is the landscape of Chile?
My friend, you are in for a treat.
An Indian artist in Pushkar told me that Chile is like a river that flows unhindered and pure from the north to the south on the western edge of South America. The gigantic Andes mountains shade the country from the eastern sun, while the rowdy Pacific runs parallel to the entire west coast of Chile.
Chile is essentially a thin strip of land sandwiched between the ocean and the mountains.
Pablo Neruda, a famous poet from Chile, said the following about the Pacific ocean, that cradles Chile all her life, day and night,
Del brazo sumergido que levanta una gota
no queda sino un beso de la sal. De los cuerpos
del hombre en tus orillas una húmeda fragancia
de flor mojada permanece. Tu energia
parece resbalar sin ser gastada
parece regresar a su reposo.
Of the sunken arm that throws up a drop of water
nothing remains but a kiss of salt. Of the bodies of mankind
along your shores a misty scent of wet flowers is all that lasts.
Your energy seems to slip away without ever being
exhausted, it seems to circle back into your calm.
The Chilean landscape is still largely untouched by commercialism, hotels, giant corporates, smoky factories, or urbanization. Though there are ethical issues of salmon fisheries, mining, and water privatization that the Chilean citizens are fighting the present government for, Chile is rich in natural beauty.
Llamas and vicunas grazing freely in open pastures, horses and donkeys chilling next to high azure lakes, furry dogs sprinting through rain-ridden streets, giant volcanoes backdropping mundane towns, deserts as vast as oceans, vast white salt-flats, and salt lakes, lakes as blue as clear summer sky bedazzling throughout the country, nights so starry that you would spend years counting the stars, dense forests being protected by the local people, rivers sometimes as white as ocean froth for they are flowing straight from glaciers, long beaches next to wooden cottages and tall buildings, snow-capped peaks visible from crowded cities, graffiti covering uninteresting walls, and people smiling and laughing.
Families still have farmlands, people live on picturesque islands, herd cow, and make wine at home, artists are respected, cherry trees and apples fill the courtyards, and shore-side residential hills are filled with graffiti. Are we dreaming?
I have not even mentioned the treacherous icy mountains, sinewy fjords, and the deep-blue glaciers hung atop hills of the South.
If you don’t have goosebumps by now, then either you are devoid of emotions, or maybe I am a terrible writer. Let us believe the latter is true, for a lot of travelers agree that Chile is one of the most gorgeous countries in the world.
What are the natural disasters of Chile that you should be worried about while traveling in Chile?
All the natural beauty comes with its own hazards.
Situated at the triple junction of the Geologic plates, Chile suffers frequent earthquakes, which also sometimes cause tsunamis and floods because of the long coast that runs along with the entire country. Due to this frequent shaking of Chilean earth, high volcanoes have sprouted out of the land and now stands tall at almost every turn of Chile.
While walking around, I was surprised by the omnipresent tsunami, earthquake, and volcano evacuation signs. But soon I got used to them. Many earthquakes struck Chile when I was there. At such times, the house shook, the roads were blocked, the government stopped the ferries, and all my friends from Chile called me to check where I was and if I was okay.
Though we could feel that the house was shaking, Chileans were pretty cool about the mild tremors for they have seen much worse.
So do not worry much about these calamities because the people of Chile know how to deal with them. The government takes precautionary actions. Tsunamis are expected in case of strong earthquakes but such strong tremors aren’t frequent at all. All the earthquakes that I felt during my 6-month in Chile were pretty minor. Volcanoes are active but most of them aren’t close to eruption. Otherwise, how could we climb the active Volcano Villarrica?
We can never control nature. So when I travel to a country that is prone to natural disasters, I just tell myself that whatever has to happen will happen irrespective of where I am.
Please decide if you want to visit Chile as per your point of view.
We have discussed the Chilean landscape, but that wouldn’t make much sense without understanding Chilean geography.
The Geography of Chile – Along with the top things to do in Chile.
As per Chilean administration, Chile is divided into 16 regions, and each one of them has its own administrative rules, geography, climate, culture, food, and specific things to do and places to see.
But for this Chile attractions guide, I would divide the country into four main divisions that I think describe Chile’s geography best. And to make the guide an easy read, I will combine the geography with the best places to visit in Chile from each region.
The North of Chile
The Northern end of Chile is the Atacama desert that marks the boundaries of Chile from its neighbors, Peru and Bolivia. When I visited the Atacama, the surreal landscape of this part of Chile blew my mind.
Snow-capped volcanoes play hide and seek with you as you drive along the dusty roads that wind through the Atacama. This driest desert ironically hosts salt and freshwater lagoons. Pink flamingos settle around these dazzling blue beauties, which are not the only water bodies as hot natural geysers and thermal pools are strewn throughout the desert. Deep moon-like valleys, that were once under the ocean, shine white amidst the arid land. Also, the Atacama puts up the stariest show at night.
The entire desert is at a minimum height of 2500 m and shamelessly adds nauseated drama to the already crazy journey of world travelers who visit Chile.
Please note- Though the things to do in Chile list is numbered, the numbering doesn’t signify any priority or order in which you should visit these Chile destinations.
# 1 of the places to visit in Chile, South America
Chill in the quaint San Pedro de Atacama (Antofagasta Region as per Chilean administration) — This tiny village is a gateway to the Atacama desert.
The houses in the village are made of abode, a mixture of mud and other organic material, and so is the village church that was constructed by the Spanish conquerors in the 17th century. Next to the church is the Plaza de Armas or the main square where you can sit at twilight and sip wine at one of its many posh restaurants while watching the budding jugglers throwing around clubs whose ends are on fire.
You can only guess how cool this wifi-enabled main square is until you see it yourself.
Though thousands of tourists travel in Chile and visit the Atacama desert and tonnes of hostels, tour companies, and restaurants are spread throughout the tiny village, none of those have been able to disturb its serenity.
Visit this village for its centuries-old culture and to immerse in a perfect fusion of the contemporary with the traditional.
Where to Stay in San Pedro:
I stayed at the La Casa EcoExplor in San Pedro de Atacama. This gorgeous hostel fitted perfectly in my budget and taste. EcoExplor is an eco-friendly place with budget rooms and dorms, a seating area, hammocks, a fully-functional kitchen, wifi, hot water, and kind staff. I booked all my Atacama tours with them, and they helped me find the ones at a good price and also explained what all I could see in the desert. The hostel is located close to the center, but still a bit away so you are not in the middle of the chaos. The bus stand is only about 200 m from EcoExplor, and you shouldn’t miss the views on the way from the bus stand to the hostel (hint: volcanoes).
If you don’t like EcoExplor, browse through more hotels in San Pedro and choose one as per your priorities.
Did you know that you can even cross into Bolivia from the Atacama desert via the Atacama-Uyuni border? Have a look at this GetYourGuide multi-day tour that will pick you up in the Atacama but can drop you in Uyuni after showing you the very famous reflective salt flats of Uyuni.
# 2 of the things to see in Chile
Wander in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert of the world—
The Atacama desert is not the flat desert valley you think it would be. Snowy volcanoes, emerald lagoons, cavernous valleys glittered with salt, and flocks of pink flamingos would welcome you as you tread in this fathomless desert.
As I told above, at whichever hotel or hostel you stay in San Pedro, it would offer tours to the many natural wonders of the Atacama. Or you can hire a car and drive around in the desert at your pace. You can also book GetYourGuide Tours prior to heading to San Pedro. I have written about the tours in detail in my San Pedro guide. This (to piedra Rojas and blue lagoons) and this (to the Moon Valley) are my favorite.
Related read: See my photo-poetry essay on the Atacama and decide for yourself if you want to add the Atacama to your list of things to see in Chile.
The Central Valley of Chile
As you move south of the Atacama, you find yourself in the central valley of Chile. The major cities of the central valley are Santiago, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, and Concepcion.
The central valley is known for its cosmopolitan life, vineyards, beaches, commercial ports, graffiti, and art. Though the beaches stay cold almost throughout the year except for the summer month of December, Chileans do get out on the beach to relax and many other travelers join them, too.
While I visited these cities I was influenced by the art and street graffiti, amazed by the fluffy street dogs even in the busiest part of the town, watched the residential hills that light up like a star-studded sky at night, drank homemade delicious red wine and visited lush vineyards throughout the countryside, ran around in big farmhouses and apple farms, listened to the seagulls who flew down to the shoreside houses to pick food, and talked to the contemporary artists and the self-involved tattoo artists who simmer down the metropolitanism of the cities with their art.
You might want to spend a few days in the valley to see and experience at least a few cities.
# 3 of the best things to do in Chile.
Visit Santiago, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, and Concepcion — If you fly to Chile, you will land in Santiago, and all the other cities are easily accessible from there.
Stay in the central valley for a few days to observe the Chilean culture, immerse in the art, taste some good Chilean wine, chill at some warm beaches, and soak in urban Chile, for this part of Chile is the most urbanized and a lot of people and students speak English.
Visiting the Central Chilean valley is one of the best things to do in Chile for this side of the country has the densest Chilean population. If you love understanding cultures and want to see regular Chilean life, Central valley is a good place to be in.
Do not forget to go to the local grocery and food markets, fish stalls, quaint cafes, sushi restaurants, art galleries, museums, performances, for you all get a good mix of all these in the cities that I mentioned.
I would write a separate article on either the central valley or on each of these cities so I can tell you in detail what is worth experiencing there. I have now written in detail on the things to do and places to see in Central Valley. Read here.
You can view or book my Santiago Airbnb here. I stayed at this Airbnb for two weeks, and Victor is an amazing host.
Here are some other stay options in Santiago:
I stayed in Santiago at a friend’s place and at the Airbnb that I linked above. But if you do not use Airbnb or don’t like the place I mentioned, feel free to go through the accommodation list below. I have handpicked these places from throughout Santiago as per the locality, reviews, experiences, prices, and services provided.
Guest House Mery, Barrio Brasil – Run by a Chilean family, in downtown Santiago, close to historical places and metro, amazing reviews, kind staff, beautiful rooms, and patio, and pick up and drop from the airport at reasonable prices. Best for solo or couple travelers.
Look at the hotel here on Booking and check their availability or book. This place gets sold out well in advance.
Amistar Apartments – In downtown Santiago near Santa Lucia hill, entire apartment for 3/4/5 people, clean accommodation, kind owners, great reviews, and pick up and drop service from the airport. Best for a group of friends or families.
Browse the apartments here on Booking and book if you like.
And now for the hostel lovers.
Hostal Rio Amazonas: In central Santiago near Baquedano Metro Station, boutique hotel, gorgeous interiors and paintings, comfortable rooms with private bathrooms, friendly staff, in-house bar, and wifi. Best for couples, family, and solo travelers.
Click here to see the availability and book Hostal Rio Amazonas.
Valparaiso: To book your stay in Valparaiso, look at the stay options on Booking and choose one as per your preferences. Click here to go to the list of hotels.
Viña del Mar: This beach-side town has gorgeous places to stay and a very high-class feel to it. Browse through the Viña accommodations here and book.
Concepcion: I didn’t go to Concepcion but my friends volunteering with the program had an amazing time there. Go through this list of hotels and see if you like something.
The Lake Region of Chile
The central valley then leads the way to the lake region that is known as Los Lagos in Spanish. The lake region marks the beginning of Patagonia, one of the most inhabitable and inaccessible parts of Chile that attract tourists from around the world.
The major towns in Los Lagos are Puerto Varas, Osorno, and Puerto Montt. Puerto Montt is also the access point of Chiloé, the island that was my home for five months.
The lake region is full of lakes (how genius), active volcanoes, thick rainforests, treacherous mountains, absolutely azure rivers and other water bodies, and has cold and rainy weather due to its location and geographic nuances.
Though all of Chile is stunning and offers many adventurous and cultural activities, the Lake Region is even richer in culture for its numerous islands. You would also notice that the scenic beauty of Los Lagos is even purer and serene as from here Chile starts getting less populated and nature overpowers everything else.
# 4 of the Best Places in Chile
Visit the legendary island of Chiloé — A must-have on your Chile itinerary.
If I say that I left my heart in Chiloé when I returned to India, I wouldn’t be exaggerating.
This lush-green island, its open pastures on which stout sheep and cows graze freely, its deep-blue beaches and national parks, its antique wooden churches, its colorful “palafitos” or stilt houses, its unique culinary history, its apple trees, its seafood markets and countryside bars, its tiny villages, and its humble people who stop their car for every pedestrian and open their home for every traveler made my stay on the island once in a lifetime experience.
In the capital of Chiloé that is Castro, I taught English, practiced Spanish, ate Chilote food (Chilote means belonging to Chiloé), cooked Indian delicacies, danced with the islanders, shopped for fish in the morning Saturday markets, strolled by the beachside, and soaked in the island life for about five months. Those were some days!
Chiloé people believe in natural powers, and the many legendary stories that are passed onto Chilote generations will make your just-for-a-few-drinks visit to cozy bars into all-nighters. Castro, Ancud, Dalcahue are just some names of the many small villages and towns in Chiloé.
You would definitely want to visit Chiloé if you want to see a culturally-rich island of Chile that speaks Spanish in a rhythmic way, is respectful, and has more fiestas more than you can imagine. You would have to slow down in Chiloé. Consider this tour that will take you to parts of Chiloe and then goes to the Caulin and Puñihuil Penguins Colony.
You can take a bus directly from Santiago to Chiloé or fly to Puerto Montt and then board a bus from Puerto Montt to the island. The island has many Airbnb’s, hostels, and hotels.
The bed-and-breakfast of my courageous host mother is centrally located in Castro. If you tell her that you went to her after reading my blog, you will get special treatment. Though she only speaks Spanish, you wouldn’t face a problem as she is used to conversing with foreigners who only speak English. But she hasn’t listed her place online yet. So go to 471 Los Carrera, Castro and ask for lodging. She lives in the back of a blue house and has the warmest home in town.
Another lovely friend’s Airbnb in Castro – Private domes amidst nature, and the warmest hosts ever who make amazing pisco sours and seafood preparations.
But if you are not on Airbnb or want to book a place beforehand, here are some stay options that I know for a fact are good for maybe I crossed them at least a few times every day.
Palafito WaIwen – Located by the Gamboa river and only about .6 miles from the Castro center, double rooms and dorms with heating, ocean and city views, wifi, kind staff, complimentary breakfast, shared kitchen, and a terrace overlooking the ocean. Best for couples and solo travelers.
Click here to book this palafito or wooden stilt house that is customary to Chiloe.
Casa Chilota B&B – In downtown Castro, a typical Chilote home with wooden flooring, friendly and kind Chilean owners, and clean rooms with a complimentary breakfast spread. Best for families, couples and solo travelers.
Look at the pictures and see Casa Chilota on Booking.
Cabañas Lomas de Ten Ten– Located in Ten Ten, a small countryside area about 4-5 km away from Castro downtown, beautiful wooden cottage, kitchen included, and ocean view from the cabin. Ideal for families or a group of friends.
Book these cabins on Booking here.
# 5 of the Places to Go in Chile
Hornopirén, the majestically beautiful and serene town—This breathtaking town is a landscape painting of the most imaginative kid who painted volcanoes, lakes, mountains, jungles, hot thermal pools, rivers, and flocks of birds and all of that came to life and is called Hornopirén now.
I spent a very laid-back yet adventure-filled birthday in Hornopirén. I started the day by drinking mate, a hot herbal tea typical of South America, watched horses grazing in sunlit pastures, ran behind the flocks of thirsty birds that filled the swampy pastures, hiked in the Hornopirén national park, biked up the peaks of Andes only to come down flying, watched the Blanco river (the white river) melting away in its milkiness, and ended the day with another cup of mate and cheese empanadas at a local artisanal restaurant.
What a birthday!
The day wasn’t clear so we couldn’t hike the volcano Yate or volcano Hornopirén. Though both the hikes are challenging so prepare for a tough day.
Hornopirén might not be on the list of famous places in Chile, it was one of my favorites.
In Hornopirén, you should stay in one of the many wooden cabins that Hornopirén is known for and ask your host for a bike and explore like a child.
Have a look at the wooden cabins of Hornopirén here and see what suits you the best.
# 6 of the Places to See in Chile
Pucon (Araucanía Region, but just above the lake region) — Pucon is a travel hub and is on Chile must see list of many solo and group travelers. Pucon offers so much to do that you might find it hard to rest, though there are many tranquil options for that, too.
Here my Canadian friend Alison and I went crazy and hiked the active volcano Villarrica, kayaked in the quiet Villarrica lake to find remote beaches, jumped in it and swam there with the stunning volcano in the backdrop, and hitchhiked to the deserted Leon waterfalls.
You can also ski in the Centro de Ski Pucon (ski center of Pucon) and hike to the tallest peak of the park Santuario el Cani for stunning views, but we didn’t do any of this as at that time the snow wasn’t deep enough for skiing, and we forgot about the park.
Having done tonnes of activities, we chilled in our hostel, cooked and hogged on enormous amounts of chicken and mushroom curries, spaghetti, and sandwiches, and relaxed at the Caburgua lake beach while gulping down a few beers and talking about our travel and life plans.
We stayed at the Chilli kiwi hostel which was comfortable and had ample double rooms and dorms. You can also book any of the adventure activities, hikes, or tours from Chilli Kiwi. Click here to find the availability in the hostel and to book it.
Consider this guided tour to climb the volcano as you can’t do this on your won. The hike would take your entire day.
# 7 on your list of Where to Go in Chile
Spend a few days in Valdivia, the city of rivers (Region Los Ríos or the Region of Rivers, just next to Los Lagos) — During my volunteer program, I went to Valdivia, which is set at the junction of Calle-Calle and Cau-Cau rivers and was the fourth city founded by the Spanish when they conquered Chile.
The Spanish built many forts and castles in and around Valdivia. I took a day trip to the Niebla fort, one of the many forts, and visited the war museum, took a walked on the beach (playa grande), clicked pictures with canons, ate chicken and pork anticuchos (grilled skewers) and drank chicha, a homemade fruit juice with insignificant alcohol content, in the Niebla market. If you fancy, you can also get your ears or nose or cheek pierced by one of the many professional ladies in the market(not speaking with experience.)
My favorite place has to be the Mercado Fluvial or the local grocery market of Valdivia which was a colorful assortment of street food, fresh fish, local vegetables and fruits, and handcraft artwork and wooden artifacts. And while we admired the fresh avocados and drooled over the salmons and trouts, the sea lions basked in the sun in the Valdivia River, while seagulls flew around to sneak out a fish or two from in front of the fish sellers.
Mercado Fluvial is also the starting point of a boat ride through the network of waterways that are spread through the many rivers of Valdivia. I didn’t take the boat ride, but I have heard that you can visit many more forts and historical places through these waterways while cruising along with a refreshing view.
My Chilean friends would kill me if I talk about Valdivia and don’t mention the brewery of Kunstmann beer, one of the oldest and popular Chilean brands, where you can sip the frothy beer while watching the brewing process. Honey flavor was my favorite.
Stay Options in Valdivia:
Airesbuenos Hostel y Permacultura, Valdivia – I stayed at Airesbuenos for about 2 nights. As the hostel was about 350 m from the bus terminal, I walked to the place and took a bed in a dorm. It’s a great place for solo or couple travelers who are looking for an affordable yet comfortable stay. Wifi, breakfast, and a shared kitchen is available to all guests.
You can book Airesbuenos on Booking here.
And if you don’t like this hostel, then feel free to browse through other options in Valdivia.
After the Chiloé island, Chile divides into tiny islands scattered near the coast, and the Andes rise on the mainland forming Patagonia. What is Patagonia? An icy and mountainous nomad terrain that is home to endemic animals, national parks, hanging glaciers, deep blue and turquoise rivers, fjords, and lakes, marble caves, and vast wilderness.
The proximity of this region to Antarctica makes it the coldest area of the country.
The Carretera Austral or the Southern highway runs along with this nomad land from Chaiten till the Tierra del Fuego or the land of fire which culminates in Cape Horn, the last stop before Antarctic Peninsula — Patagonia leads our way into the end of the world.
# 8 on the list of What to See in Chile
Visit Patagonia, the end of the world— Patagonia is a collection of jugged, icy mountains with glaciers atop, turquoise-blue lakes, labyrinthine fjords, and impenetrable ice sheets.
The only significant occupants of Patagonia are the generations of the early European migrants from the nineteenth and twentieth century who came here to find a new life.
I couldn’t go to the interiors of Patagonia, but I did enough research to suggest you the right places.
The central attraction of this treacherous landscape is the Torres del Paine National park. The famous, 100-km-long W circuit goes along the park through its mountains and jungles. You would have to pre-book the limited camping sites and the food packets that the travel companies in the park offer to hikers as they get sold out. You can also book the entire W trek with some tour company to take off the burden of booking everything individually.
I came across this brilliant guide to the campsites of Torres Del Paine while doing my research and am sure this information would help you in your planning and booking places in Patagonia and the treks within.
After completing your treks, you can picnic at the Laguna Azul, a shiny blue lake with snowy mountains in the backdrop and guanacos grazing on the golden grass nearby.
Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are the two major cities of Patagonia that are connected by air. From Punta Arenas, you can visit the Isla Magdalena which the penguins have colonized unabashedly. Visit before March as then they start their swim to the Brazilian side.
Should you book Patagonia in advance? Patagonia is a popular destination amongst travelers from around the world, especially in the summers (Nov-Feb). Either you can explore the Torres del Paine park from Puerto Natales with a tour company for a full day and then decide what you would like to do. Or pre-book the tours online. Accept the W trek which has limited slots and get booked beforehand sometimes, most of the activities would be available in the high season, too.
If I were you, I would research about Patagonia before going there, book one or two nights at a hotel in one of these cities, walk around, explore, talk to the many tour companies, and then see which one suits me the best as per the prices and the itinerary. Also, you can go to most of the places on your own and hire a local guide for a hike or a glacier trek, if needed. Else explore on your own or book a tour then.
If you want to travel through Patagonia freely on a bike or your own car, you should think of getting Argentina visa, too, for you have to cross many times between the two countries due to the geography of the mountains. Else you would be limited in what you can do.
Have a look at this comprehensive Patagonia guide to plan your trip.
If you are coming down from Chiloé, you can take a ferry to Chaiten and then enter the Carretera Austral or the Southern Highway from there.
I have marked all the destinations in Chile that I visited on this map. If you are planning a trip to Chile, this map would give you an idea of the relative locations of the various places you want to visit.
Though I have given you a lot of recommendations about the best places to travel in Chile, the country is so amazing that in whatever direction you turn, you are bound to find unadulterated nature. Build your own Chile travel itinerary as per the time you have and the places you want to see. And as I mentioned above, you should read my list of 50 incredible things to do in Chile to get more ideas on what to do in Chile.
The landscape of Chile is breathtaking. But what about your other doubts?
The Logistics of Traveling to Chile
Chile is far. What about the long flights and the insane timezone shifts?
South America is far from Europe, India, the UK, Australia, Asia, and Africa. Except for the US, we are all in for a treat if we plan a Chile travel.
From India to Chile, I changed the aircraft twice, spent a night at the Dubai airport, flew a 14-hour flight from Dubai to Sao Paulo, and spent a few exhausting hours in the Sao Paulo airport. The journey took me about thirty-six hours.
Do you know what I did throughout these thirty-six hours? I slept.
How did I do that? I carried this extremely comfortable memory foam pillow which fit around my neck and gave me the best neck support that I could expect in a flight. Given that flights also provide food and movies, I was more than comfortable.
What about the jet lag? Jet lag hits everyone differently.
I slept throughout the flights like a kumbhkaran (read the Ramayana to know more about this sleeping devil who didn’t wake up even when drums were beaten next to his ears), woke up to eat, and then dozed off again at my window seat. I was in such a deep sleep during the night halt at the Dubai airport that I didn’t even use my food coupon.
And then I arrived at my hostel in Santiago, and then fell asleep again.
Please don’t worry about the time zone shift. You will gradually adjust to it.
Note: Consider pre-booking this pickup from the airport to your hotel if you are arriving in Santiago for the first time. If you are going to stay in Santiago a bit longer, consider this introductory tour to Santiago with a local guide.
Is that all to long flights and insane distances? No.
How to stay connected with family while you travel Chile? Or what are the various modes of communication a traveler can use for long-distance calls?
The 17,000 kilometers between India and Chile and the time difference of 8-9 hours further strangled my relationship with my angry parents. Mostly I used to call just after waking up or before going to bed, which is what most of the travelers did.
But this distance also meant that I wasn’t expecting any calls during the day, and sometimes I didn’t even look at my phone for hours.
If you are visiting for a few weeks or a month, the distance isn’t a problem. If you plan to travel Chile for a long duration, you can use video calls.
For making international calls, try the app Rebtel that lets you buy unlimited international credit for 10 USD. When I visited Chile, I didn’t know about the application, and I used Skype credits and Whatsapp calls. You should Whatsapp for even the FB messenger video calls have better connectivity than Whatsapp (believe a girl who video-called for hours to save her long-distance relationship recently).
But I used Rebtel on my other international trips, and the app worked wonders.
Didn’t I feel homesick or lonely that far away from my home country and friends? – The challenges of traveling solo to new countries.
The beginning of my solo Chile trip was challenging because I didn’t understand even basic words of Spanish. To get over the social awkwardness, I started learning Spanish. When I could put together the words to frame basic Spanish phrases, I felt at home. (I speak about the challenges I faced with Spanish and how I learned it later in this guide).
Once I started speaking Spanish, I could talk to the local people much better, and thus slowly I grew comfortable in Chile. South Americans, especially Chilean people, are very warm people, and they opened their homes and hearts and made me a part of their families.
Needless to say, when you travel solo, you meet a lot of solo travelers who share the same fears and anxieties, so you never feel that lonely.
Having said all this, I admit that I was out of my comfort zone for the first few weeks in Chile — but isn’t getting out of the comfort zone a dictionary meaning of travel? And once I started hanging out with the local people and start communicating in broken Spanish, I had the time of my life.
What about the rough Chilean Spanish?
When I landed in Chile, neither could I speak Spanish nor could I understand it. The language learning app DuoLingo had introduced me to words such as cat, cow, dog et cetera, but that’s all.
When my cab driver picked me up at the Santiago airport, he conversed with me using the voice feature of Google translate. During my solo travel in Chile, I talked with many tech-savvy Chileans with the voice feature. But when I went to Castro, I got to know that most of the islanders didn’t speak English and didn’t use Google translate or any application that could help me communicate with them.
Chileans speak super fast Spanish.
In the initial days, I didn’t understand a word of what was being said. Then I started learning Spanish, and within a few weeks, I spoke conversational Spanish.
So if you are wondering what to do in Chile if you can’t speak Spanish, I will be honest that traveling in Chile would be tough in the beginning as you wouldn’t understand much. You wouldn’t find any signs in English, and most of the people, including cab drivers, bus drivers, shopkeepers, won’t speak English.
But that shouldn’t deter you from planning a Chile vacation for the Chileans are helpful. They don’t expect you to speak Spanish or understand what they say. People of Chile know that not only they talk fast, but their Spanish is one of the worst forms of spoken Spanish.
Ask any Chilean, and he or she would confirm this.
But I met tonnes of long-term travelers who started speaking at least the essential Spanish words and phrases in a few weeks. People who were on short trips were managing more with applications and sign language.
Download Google Translate and the offline file of Spanish and use the voice feature. Try DuoLingo but don’t expect too much as it would teach you how to say avocado and chili and cheese but you wouldn’t still be able to say “I want to go to the toilet.” You can also download Spanishdict, an app that gives all Spanish nouns and verb forms.
Now I have three important guides that will help you:
With these three combined, you should be good to go.
Do try learning at least some Spanish if you plan to travel to South America for long. Of course, the best way to learn any language is to immerse yourself in the culture. So don’t try to practice too much at home. Bring these guides with you and then learn Spanish while traveling and talking to native Spanish speakers. If your trip is short, then you can bring a print out of the phrases, start speaking, and, soon, you will pick up simple words and sentences to make your way.
If nothing else, start using your hands and face for making expressions. Believe me, Chile people would never get tired of you.
Good luck. Buen suerte!
Why do I say that Chile people are the nicest?
Chileans grow up amidst the strong forces of nature and see many natural calamities happening around them from early childhood. These natural disasters and the extreme climate teach them how to be helpful. The challenges that Chilean see while growing up also show them the importance of living in the present without worrying too much about the future – My Chilean friend told me this, and she seems right.
While traveling through Chile, the locals directed me to the right place when I was badly lost, listed down the various Chile tourist attractions that I should visit, gave me their spare phone when mine was stolen, talked to me using the voice feature of the Google translate, stopped their car for us pedestrians to cross the road, enquired every morning about how I had slept, wished me to enjoy fully every time I went out, helped me translate my CV into Spanish, translated Spanish words and hand gestured from early morning to late evenings, invited me to their homes and opened their best wine and cooked sumptuous meals, and I can go on and on.
Chileans are one of the most passionate and helpful people on the planet.
One of my best Chile travel tips that I can give you – In Chile, Be outspoken about your troubles. Express what makes you happy. And I bet that Chileans would join you as they love sharing.
Is Chile expensive on a traveler’s budget? What is the cost of travel in Chile?
Chile is one of the most financially stable and economically strong countries in South America, and, hence, one of the most expensive ones, too.
As per currency conversions, 10 US dollars is about 8,500 Chilean pesos.
Chile’s purchase power is higher than in India. Even though the conversion rates seem to make Indian rupee more valuable, everyday things, such as towels, shampoo, oil, bread, snacks, fruits, vegetables, et cetera, cost slightly higher. For the people from the US and the UK, the prices were lower or almost similar.
I will give you a general idea of the travel costs in Chile, but how much money you spend depends on your travel style and the time you stay in Chile.
Water: You can drink tap water, so don’t spend money on buying water bottles. I also use my LifeStraw, a water bottle with an inbuilt filter, that can help you save a lot of money while traveling the world.
Wine: Chilean wine is delicious and cheap; you can even get a bottle of good wine in about 2500 Chilean pesos (CLP). Of course, you can spend more, but buying these cheap wines from regular supermarkets is a thing in Chile. So while you are there, get drunk often on the finest wine in the world. Hello El Gato!
Food: A meal at a local fair or in a food market/stall would cost you somewhere between 3000 to 6000 Chilean pesos. But dinner in a fine dining restaurant could make you shed more than 10,000 Chilean pesos.
If you have a kitchen at your hostel or Airbnb, you may also cook your own food if you want to stay really low budget. I cooked a few times in Chile for my friends wanted to taste Indian food. In the central part of Chile groceries aren’t that expensive, but as soon as you go on the islands, or in the extreme North or South, prices soar for the transportation costs add up.
Accommodation: The prices for one night’s stay would depend on the location and timing of your visit. You could get a dorm bed with breakfast for about 10,000 CLP if you go to a hostel or a local budget hotel anywhere in Chile.
On the Chiloé island, I got a room with meals included for 10,000 Chilean pesos. But that was because my host mother had already hosted me as part of the program, and later on, when I stayed at her place, she charged me a low price.
But big cities like Santiago and touristy places like Pucon were more expensive. A budget room and a shared kitchen in a Santiago Airbnb cost me about 10,000 CLP without any food, and a dorm bed in a good hostel in Pucon was around 16,000 CLP. If you go for better options or private rooms, expect to pay more, of course.
Transport costs: The local micros or buses that travel within a town or within an island would cost you between 2000 to 4000 Chilean pesos depending on where you are going. The long route buses cost higher, for example, my semi-cama or half-bed bus from Santiago to Castro or vice-versa cost me about 38000 Chilean pesos.
Total Costs: I spent about 30,000 to 40,000 CLP per day on an average. I took a mix of private rooms and dorms, ate at local stalls, bought groceries sometimes, did basic activities such as the Atacama tours, museums, performances, and bought wine. Your travel costs would vary as per your accommodation and eating habits.
Overall, among the many South-American countries, travelers considered Chile and Argentina the most expensive ones.
How much did the tickets cost for the flight to Chile?
I booked both my flights (Santiago to Mumbai and vice-versa) about 2-3 months before the travel dates. In total, the tickets cost me around 1,800 US dollars for the return flights.
The Emirates flights from Mumbai to Santiago cost me about half of the Ethiopian return flight from Santiago to Mumbai and was a much better experience. I would strongly suggest you avoid the Ethiopian airlines which is a frequent flyer on this route.
Use Skyscanner to compare the ticket prices and never forget to click the “Add nearby airports” button. Though you might have to fly for longer with this option, you would get cheaper flights. You can also see a new place as you fly to a connecting destination first.
I would write about finding cheap flights in a separate article.
What about the tourist visa for Chile?
Chile gives free visa for ninety days to most of the countries. But not to India, of course.
I was stuck on the Chilean-Bolivian border once because I thought that I could also get free access. And then I had to go back all the way to La Paz, Bolivia to apply for a Chile tourist visa. (I would publish this story soon on the blog.)
What is the best time to visit Chile?
As Chile is in the Southern hemisphere, our summer is Chile’s winter and vice-versa. So when New York is buried under snow, and trains are canceled in New Delhi due to the fog, heat waves strike the North of Chile (that’s how Chilean newsreaders call those hot days in Santiago.)
The coldest months of Chile are June, July, August, and September during which the Lakes region and Patagonia are freezing and wet, and that is when I landed in Castro.
October brings in the spring which is followed by the shining summer that lasts until March. Visit Patagonia and the lake region during the summer, mainly from November to February, for the mild weather and friendly sun.
I also visited the Atacama desert in the scorching sun of February and got the best views of all the places, though the nights were chilly.
For the central valley, the temperature ranges from 0-13C/30-50F in winter and 16-35C/60-90F in summer. The locals from the central valley go for a holiday to the colder parts of the country in summer, and everything is cheaper (something to remember if you are traveling to Chile in summer).
The best time to travel to Chile is different for each part of the country. But you can see most of the best places in Chile if you explore Chile in the summers.
I would say choose your battles wisely.
What to pack for Chile? – My Chile Packing Guide.
As you have read about the colorful Chilean weather, you must be already thinking about carrying a range of clothes from summer essentials to winter jackets. But remember that you can buy some of the woolen clothes for affordable prices at the local artisanal markets in Chile. (Like if you stopover in Chiloé, you can buy homemade llama-wool sweaters, gloves, and caps.)
Here are some of the essential things you should carry to Chile for a comfortable and adventurous stay.
I have a piece of special advice for my Indian readers —Take your favorite snacks along as you wouldn’t get any of those in Chile. I took along Indian spices, too, which helped me cook Indian food, and then I gave them away to a 70-year-old Chilean friend who relished them.
Also, take along some affordable Indian things such as bindi, henna, bangles, light jewelry like earrings, rings, and bracelets, light-weight sweets, incense sticks, and other such small artistic items that you can gift to your Chilean friends or Airbnb hosts.
Chilean people love Indian stuff, and you can’t find any of these things easily there. I searched an entire island and Santiago for henna but couldn’t find it. Your gifts would cheer up your hosts, and they would go out of their way to help you, for such are Chileans.
And last but not least, if you plan to work and travel in Chile, bring your degrees and mark sheets in original. You would need the original copies for you would have to get them notarized to show them to the ministry for the visa (you can also get these documents notarized in India).
How to travel in Chile?
Chile doesn’t have trains, and most of the intercity travel happens by buses, cars, ferries, and flights.
You can book the major buses, which are Pullman, Turbus, Cruz del Sur, online. I generally checked the timings and purchased my ticket from the counter at the bus station.
The buses have two options – half bed (semi-cama) and a full bed (salon cama). The full bed means that you can recline the seat a bit more than in the half bed, but it isn’t a full bed similar to the one you get in Indian buses. All the buses in Chile have toilets, except the local short-distance micros that run within a city(intracity) or on an island.
To explore the Carretera Austral and the Atacama desert, you can also hire a car and drive on your own. I met a lot of travelers who were driving their caravan vans and paid a small amount to a camping place or a hostel and then parked their van inside. These self-sufficient vans are a cheap and fun way to travel. If you want to experience them, South America is a good place to start. The distances are long, routes are extremely scenic, roads are good, and plenty of places would allow you to park your van.
Carretera Austral, which is mostly gravel, also has scheduled buses and is also a popular cycling route.
I only flew once during my entire stay in Chile, and I picked LATAM airlines for it is one of the best of Chile.
Buses and taxis run within bigger cities such as Santiago and Valparaiso. Santiago also has Uber. Intracity and intra-island buses are called micros.
On islands, you have micros or local buses, that stop frequently and you pay when you leave, a custom that I couldn’t get enough of and appreciated it when it happened recently in Pushkar, too. When the bus has to go to another island, it gets onto a ferry, and you sit on your bus and enjoy. Or get out of the ferry and enjoy the dancing dolphins in the water ( a regular scene on the ferry from Puerto Montt to Castro.)
For me getting into a bus and crossing to distant islands was one of the most fun things to do in Chile.
Colectivos are a favorite mode of travel in many small places. These are taxis that run on specific routes, carry four or five people, and charge low rates. For example from my home to school in Castro, I used to pay about 1000 Chilean pesos to the collectivo.
Ask the locals for these collectivo and micro routes as they aren’t written anywhere in most of the places.
How should you carry money when you travel in Chile?
Though I carried a travel card and some US dollars, I wouldn’t suggest you do so. The card didn’t help much for it always applied conversion rates and some transaction charges, too. For most of my trip, I withdrew with my debit card from the BancoEstado government bank ATM. The US dollars helped, but were not necessary.
Carry at least two working debit cards and inform your banks that you are traveling internationally. Else they might block your card (after a certain amount of international withdrawal), and you would wonder if you went bankrupt.
Do check the international withdrawal limits before you leave your home country. I couldn’t withdraw any money after a few weeks, and when I enquired the bank, the phone banker told me that I had exceeded the international withdrawal amount.
Keep a working Indian mobile number for you would receive all the one-time passwords (OTP) on it, without which you cannot do online transactions ( a thing specific to India). Only HDFC allowed me to enter my online pin instead of the one-time passwords.
Is Chile Safe? What is the situation of Chile Tourism after the civil revolt?
This Chile Travel Guide is updated for the current uproar in Chile.
Chile is one of the “safest countries in South America” for its economy is stable, and people have basic work and money, mostly, and believe in making their ends meet by working.
The simple rule that you should not walk alone at night in any part of the world, unless it is Singapore, still applies in Chile. Most of the cities of Chile were safe during daylight, except Santiago which is known for drugs and delinquency.
The young (and some old) crowd of Santiago deals in drugs for easy and quick money. Be careful while walking around in Santiago for the city is known for many tourists traps. One of the popular tricks is that someone would put some paint on you when you aren’t looking, and then they will point out that you have paint on your shoes or your trousers. While they engage you in a conversation, someone from their group would run away with your bag.
But I never heard any such stories in any other parts of Chile except Santiago. Also, some residential parts of Santiago didn’t feel so safe even during the day for they were frequented by delinquents looking for easy targets. How do I know? I stayed for about a month in Santiago and walked around the city quite a bit.
Having said this, Santiago’s central area, or downtown, was pretty safe. But don’t take the risk of going out alone at night in Santiago.
Chiloé was extremely secure, and I even walked around alone at night, when I returned from some late-night parties.
Apart from the limited instances of Santiago, I didn’t hear of any other crime or robbery during my entire stay from any volunteer or local.
Update 2019: Since the protests have started in Chile, many people have asked me is it safe to travel to Chile now. I asked my Chilean friends about the situation.
Chileans say that this revolt or protest was long-awaited. The present (and past) Chilean government have done a lot of things such as selling water to private foreign companies, damaging natural resources, cutting fruit trees, and more. Due to these actions, rivers have dried, animals have died, and much damage has been done to the natural resources of Chile.
If people complain, the government puts fine on them, increases the metro fares, and so on. People are also very angry for the current president has a very big house in the South, and he hasn’t paid any taxes for the past thirty years. Also, the economic inequality within Chile has angered the common masses who want the government to bring some reforms so that the financial conditions improve.
A lot of questions are unanswered, and the people don’t want to stay silent anymore.
My friends told me that most of the people want to march and protest peacefully. There are only some delinquents who are taking advantage of the situation and are burning buses and supermarkets and are stealing stuff.
Now for how long would this go on? I don’t think Chileans are ready to settle down until the government resigns, and a new government brings some revolutionary changes regarding the concerned issues.
I think people can still travel to Chile but they should keep more time at hand for unexpected issues. Instead of hotels or average-rated accommodations, travelers should try to choose home stays so that they stay close to the locals and can get help if anything comes up. All big cities such as Santiago, Valdivia, Osorno were all in an emergency zone. So do your research and read the news while traveling to Chile and see which places you can visit.
Do you think that Chile is safe to travel to? Please let me know your thoughts about traveling to Chile in the current political conditions in the comments.
Update July 2023: Since the new government in Chile, the situation for travelers in Chile is more or less stabilized. Please do consult your embassy for more guidance.
Also Read: My Worst Travel experience in Santiago, Chile
How is Chilean food?
I have written about Chilean food in the guide to Chile culture, but a lot more has to be said.
Chileans are mostly non-vegetarians with their favorite meat being beef, pork, chicken, and seafood (hello, the 4,300-kilometer coastline). They love steaks and grilled meat or prepare soups that they eat along with potatoes and rice or bread. Kurkuma (turmeric), oregano, and paprika (similar to chilly but milder) are the only spices Chileans use (if at all), along with the occasional garnish of coriander and lemon.
Chile people love bread, mostly made from white flour, and buy it every day or once every 2-3 days from the local bakery. They pair the bread with cheese, ham, eggs, butter, and tea or Nescafe filter coffee for breakfast.
Generally, Chileans don’t eat a lot of vegetables, and as you go to the colder parts of the country and islands, the consumption of vegetables decreases further giving way to the meat.
There is also this food tour in Santiago that you can take to get close to the local food scene.
Most of the foods that I mention below would be served along with pebre — the finely chopped onion, tomato, green chili, garlic, oil, and coriander mixture would save your life when you miss some chili in your food.
Not to miss food preparations of Chile:
- Sopaipilla – Fried flatbreads which are eaten with pebre or ketchup.
- Empanadas – Empanadas are brothers of samosas because they are fried and stuffed. Some people also prepare empanadas in the oven, and then they are called empanadas de al horno. The most popular is empanadas de pino or beef empanadas. But my favorite was the mariscos(seafood) or pollo(chicken) empanadas.
- Pasta del choclo and humitas – Both are made with corn. Pasta del choclo is like a corn paste, while humitas are prepared by stuffing corn paste in corn leaves and then boiling the stuffed leaves.
- Cazuella – Cazuellas are soups of seafood, chicken, or pork, made by simmering the meat with peas, pumpkin, onion, ginger or garlic, corn on the cob, tomato, carrots, oregano, and other vegetables.
- Completos — The Chilean hot dog that comes overloaded with avocado, tomatoes, and mayonnaise — a Chilean favorite.
- Porotos Granados – Red or white beans made with mashed corn, onions, pumpkin, garlic, tomatoes, and basil. Though this dish is more popular in the countryside, I loved how my friend in Santiago made them, and I ate bowls of them every day.
- Churrasco – Grilled beef or beef steaks extremely popular in Chile and eaten in a sandwich form. I didn’t try this.
- Chorizos – Pork sausages. A favorite of Chileans.
I drooled over all the above preparations, except for the extremely meaty ones such as churrasco, chorizo, completo, or asados (barbequed meat). But if you are a meat lover, you should try all of them.
Not to miss preparations of Chiloé, known for its unique culinary:
You could find all the above food items on the island, but some exquisite preparations were only local to the island. Also, the size of every dish was bigger on Chiloé, and if the food could have a deep-fried version, Chilote people took out their woks and oil.
If you visit the island, definitely incline towards trying the seafood whenever you can. Chiloé people have come up with exciting and yummy seafood preparations.
- Cazuella Chilota – The Chiloé preparation of cazuella. The seafood version of this soup was nowhere better than in Chiloé. And even better if my host mother made it.
- Milcao – A grated and mashed potato preparation that is stuffed with pork and other ingredients and is then deep-fried. I will admit that this yummy bowl of carbs lured me a few times.
- Algas or algae soup – You can only find it in Chiloé. It has a very explicit sea smell and taste but is delicious and healthy.
- Ceviche – A preparation of raw mussels, clams, and salmon, red and green peppers, onion, coriander and lemon.
- Curanto – Curanto is generally prepared in an activity called as “minga” in which a group of friends come together and dig a hole in the ground, make a fire, and then place a huge dish full of mussels, clams, Chilote potatoes, white wine, pork, and then just let the ingredients cook. Then they dig out the dish and share it with friends.
Don’t forget to taste the papa Chilota or colorful potatoes from the island.
Go to the local markets on the islands and in the cities, look for seafood restaurants, try food from streetside stalls, buy empanadas and sopaipillas wherever you see them, and bite into some purple and pink potatoes.
Surviving as a vegetarian is a bit tough in Chile and South America, but definitely manageable. You can always go to a supermarket, buy some fresh bread, and eat it with fresh avocado, the first love of all Chileans.
Insider Tip: Do read the Spanish food phrases in Simple Spanish phrases for travelers guide to be able to say your food preferences.
Now let’s get real – the drinking scene of Chile.
If you have read through the article, you would know by now that Chileans love to drink. Otherwise, why would they all make delicious wine and store it in ten-liter containers at home?
Pisco sour, wine, navegado (wine boiled with orange and cinnamon), terremoto (literally earthquake), beer with chili and lemon, wine with strawberries, wine in pomelo shell – Chilean get high on all of these, and I joined them because they always invited me with love.
I didn’t see many people drinking hard drinks such as whiskey, vodka, or tequila, except in the big bars of Santiago.
As I said above, don’t miss the Kunstmann beer. Though Kunstmann is a little more expensive than the regular beers, it is worth the price.
Don’t shy away from drinking when you are in Chile, because Chileans don’t. Drinking is part of the Chilean culture, and Chile people are never bad drunks. Drinking is one of the top Chile things to do.
Also Read: A Memoir on Chile Independence Day – Or As The Chileans Call It, Fiestas Patrias.
Some Closing FAQs and Tips
What is Chile?
Believe me, a lot of people ask this question. Chile is a country in the continent of South America.
Do you need to carry your passport when you go out?
No. And this is universally true for all countries and all nationalities. If you like, bring a printout or a soft copy on your phone.
Can you teach English in Chile?
Would you be a millionaire by teaching English in Chile?
No. I talked to and interviewed many English teaching institutes in big towns and small cities and even with schools and colleges. No one would have researched as much as I did. So if you are looking forward to just staying in South America, especially Chile, and want a work visa with some money, go ahead.
Most of the teaching jobs, except the online ones, involve traveling throughout the city to teach business clients, students, and homemakers. The pay was between $6/8 to $15 per hour (though finding the $15 ones would take time.)
Does Chile have the Amazon jungle?
I hope that with this Chile travel blog, I have done justice to my long travel through this beautiful country. Hope you enjoy the guide and use it to the fullest when you travel to Chile.
Que Disfrutes! Enjoy!
It took me a week to write this exhaustive and honest Chile guide. So if you like it, please pin it!
Are you still wondering what to do in Chile?
Or are you are already planning your Chile adventures?
Let me know in the comments 🙂
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to products I like; If you choose to click through and make a booking or purchase a product, I will earn a little bit at no extra cost to you. Thank you.
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