I’ve just spent a couple of months in Chile, and it sure is an amazing country with spectacular natural beauty, wonderful people and great food and drink, but there are a few things that I’d wish I’d known before my trip…
Not only is Chile quite expensive, but in order to actually get your money out of an ATM you have to pay crazy charges.
On top of whatever your bank charges you, every ATM will charge you between 4,500 to 6,000 CHP ($7 – $9) every time you withdraw.
The maximum that you can withdraw is only 200,000 CHP, so this is quite a chunk of your spending money going to the ATM vendors.
The good news, however, is that credit cards are widely accepted in Chile and in pretty much every shop, restaurant, bus station or hostel you should be able to pay by credit card, which means you need to carry less cash with you.
They operate either a contactless payment method or a chip and pin method and when you enter your card you’ll be asked to choose ‘sin quotas’ or ‘con quotas’. Basically this means whether you want to pay in installments or not so always choose ‘sin quotas’
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a country where the temperature range between day and night can swing so much.
There was a bit of a heatwave going on when we were in Santiago which meant that it got up to 39 in the day, but by the time the evening came this had fallen to just above double figures so fleece and long trousers were needed.
If you’re in Chile for a while then you’ll also need to pack for a full range of seasons. The south gets a lot colder, so you’ll need to pack a warm jacket, fleece, long trousers and be prepared for rain at any point, whereas the further north you get, generally the warmer and dryer it gets as well so you’ll need your flip flops and light Tshirts.
The other thing to note is that the sun is particularly strong in this part of the world and the Ozone layer isn’t in the best of conditions.
Slip on a hat and slap on the sun creme even on cloudly days to avoid the beetroot gringo look. The good news is that sun creme is widely available in Chile and is pretty cheap.
A final thing to mention about Chilean weather is the wind that whips through the country. Particularly in the South and Patagonia there is a fiendishly cold wind that’s going to bite you at some point.
There are a number of days when I’ve been both hot and cold at the same time due to the penetrating sun and the impish wind gnawing away at me, so make sure you’ve got a decent wind proof jacket to hand!
In Chile there is a lovely thing called IVA Tax, which is an extra 19% tax that can (and often will) be applied to your accomodation bill.
Theoretically this should only apply to tourists who stay over 59 days in the country but the hotel/guest house must be registered with the Chilean tax authority in order to offer this.
To get this exemption you will also need to pay in cash dollars, but it’s always wise to check at the place you want to stay beforehand to see the situation.
In most places that you eat or drink you’ll be paying by credit / debit card and will be asked whether you want to pay a tip ‘Con propina‘ or not.
Every bill will have an extra 10% added, which is ‘optional‘ and the waiter/waitress will always ask you if you want to add this or not.
If you don’t usually give tips in your culture then you need to get used to this pretty quickly, or be brave enough to decline the opportunity each time, which is pretty hard to do when the waiter is holding the credit card machine in front of you.
Cost of Travelling
All I can say is Chile is NOT CHEAP. In fact it’s one of the only countries I’ve been to recently where it’s often more expensive than London.
I think the biggest bug bear for me has been the accommodation prices, compared with what you actually get.
Admitedly we’d been travelling in peak season and didn’t book far enough in advance, however, typically a budget double room has been costing around $50 – 60 a night and a lot of the places we’ve stayed at didn’t feel particularly homely!
An evening meal for two people, with a glass or wine / beer is going to cost you 20 – 30,000 CHP or $30 – 40 although the portions are going to be enough to fill you up for the whole day.
If you’re on more of a budget then look out for the set meals of the day that are served in a lot of the local restaurants. These will usually include a starter, main and dessert and you can get these for as cheap as 3,500 CHP each.
Most places that we’ve stayed in give you access to the kitchen facilities, so if you’re staying for a longer time and money is a bit tight, it’s best to cook your evening meals and take snacks with you on your day trips.
On the positive side bus travel is fairly reasonably priced, of good quality and fairly regular.
I’ve found that the cost averages at about $2 per every hour that you travel on the bus, which is a relief given the crazy distances you’re likely to travel.
The other option is to fly, and again internal flights in Chile are really competitively priced and often cheaper than long distance bus rides.
Check out LATAM and Sky for low cost airlines in the country, but you’ll find flights for around $15 for every hour that you are in the air, which is great value.
OK, so you know a bit of Spanish do you? Pretty sure you can order some food and ask for directions? Well think again…
My Spanish isn’t great but I managed to travel through the rest of South America and generally have an idea of what was going on, but Chile is another ballgame completely.
Firstly, they speak incredibly fast, and if you ask them to slow down, they’ll repeat the first word slowly then the rest of the sentence at normal speed!
Secondly, the pronounciation is quite unique here with words being shortened and letters being swallowed like there was some kind of famine!!!
Thirdly, Chileans have a distinct vocabulary that you won’t find in other parts of South America for example:
- Caña – hangover
- Al lote – disorderly, without rules
- Al tiro – immediately, right now
- Luca – 1000 pesos
If you don’t believe me, check out this video below where native Spanish speakers are trying to figure out what they’re talking about in Chile!
You Need A Car
Public transport in Chile is good. Within the City and between cities, you’ll find plenty of options to get you around and about.
However, alot of the attraction to Chile lies in its natural beauty and unfortunately, if you want to go and see this, then you’ll either need to jump on a pricey tour (if available) or drive a car to get there.
Most of the national parks are obviously going to be in remoter places away from roads and traffic. In some places you might find a road that goes near to the entrace of the park, but if you want to go trekking then a lot of the trailheads start kilometres within the park itself.
This can be a major pain in the butt as it will add on hours of walking not in the idealic scenery or make it impossible to do the treks.
One option is to try your luck with hitchhiking and particularly within the park most people would give you a lift to the entrance. However, there is always the risk that you spend all day hiking and then can’t get a lift back to public transport and could be stranded in the park… not a particularly appealing prospect given how temperatures can plummit.
For this reason, most people either hire a car, or take a tent with them and stay within the park for a few days.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a driving license so this wasn’t an option for me, and I felt this really limited my options to go and see some of the natural wonders of this country.
Chile is the second longest country in the world, and don’t forget it!!!
It’s second only by 95 KM to Brazil, which spans nearly the entire continent of South America, so you need to make sure you allow yourself enough time in your itenary to get from A to B or focus on one specific region of the country.
It seems that there are more attractions and diverse natural wonders in the south of the country, but flights are reasonably priced so you could hop around from North to South quite easily.
However, if you’re driving or going overland by bus, then make sure you plan in days of travel. Buses are pretty good and the sceneary is pretty amazing, so just make this part of your journey, stick some music on, sit back and relax!!!
What Must You Do Before you Go to Chile?
- Bring lots of dollars in cash
- Pack wisely (Lightweight multi season clothing that is wind proof and a good hat)
- Prepare for going camping
- Try and learn some Chilean phrases and vocabulary
- Make sure you have a valid driving license
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