Chile Travel Guide
Spanning over five thousand kilometers from the dry deserts of the Atacama, to the sub-antarctic grasslands that are typical in Patagonia, Chile is a nation of contrasts. Indeed, those that enjoy natural attractions will enjoy their time in this nation, but it also contains a cultural component that can be found in places such as Valparaiso, or on Chiloe or Easter Island.
If nations such as Bolivia have been making you want for modern conveniences, you will be in for a treat, as Chile is easily one of the most prosperous and advanced nations in South America.
However, expect prices to be considerably higher than most other nations on the continent (except for perhaps Argentina), as the great distances involved in shipping goods make life here more expensive than other parts of Latin America.
Currency: Chilean Pesos
What To Do
If you are entering Chile from the north, the first place you want to visit is San Pedro de Atacama. As the name suggests, San Pedro de Atacama is located in the world’s driest desert, where less than a couple millimeters of rain per year fall.
In fact, there are some places within this desiccated land where no rain has fallen in over four hundred years of weather record-keeping. Within a short drive of this tourist hotspot, you will find Valle de la Luna, which is so named because its terrain resembles that of the Moon very closely.
With many rocky outcrops that have been molded by wind and water over the years, the landscapes here are as beautiful as they are alien. In addition to this, there are many geysers that are also located within a short drive to San Pedro de Atacama, as well as many saline lagoons, where one can photograph the flamingo, one of South America’s most iconic species of bird.
When you make it down to Santiago de Chile, there are many attractions within the limits of this prosperous metropolis that you can spend several days exploring. However, if you are using it as a transit point to get the different parts of this lengthy country, do take the time to explore the sombre exhibits that exist within the halls of the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos.
Dedicated by the current President of Chile during this country’s Bicentennial celebrations, it casts a necessary view back to the days of the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet. During this repressive regime, thousands of Chileans were disappeared due to their opposition to Pinochet’s authoritarian agenda, which included a dramatic round-up and mass execution of political opponents at the start of his rule.
While a fully democratic government exists in the present day, such an institution is wholly necessary to ensure that the same mistakes that led to those dark days never happen again.
If you are into street art of any kind, spending a week in the city of Valparaiso is something that you simply must do during your time in Chile.
Once a powerful port city, Valparaiso has seen a resurgence in recent decades, as it has leaned on the artistic talents of its community of artists and youth to create a city that has been filled with artistic expression of all kinds.
The most prominent of these are the graffiti murals that you will see on the sides of buildings throughout the hilly sections of this coastal city, though there are many art galleries where you can admire visual art in a more traditional setting.
Heading futher south will bring you to Chiloe Island, which is commonly considered to be the gateway to Chilean Patagonia due to the dramatic views of the Andes from its eastern and southern shores. On the island itself though, the attraction isn’t dramatic mountains or fjords, but a simple pastoral way of life that will charm you from the second that you arrive here.
Clapboard houses painted in mood brightening colors, piers that extend over shallow coastal inlets which are exposed at low tide, and countless seafood feasts will become all too common during your time on Chiloe.
One thing that you should not miss seeing here are the wooden churches that are scattered throughout the island, as they have garnered UNESCO recognition for their unique architectural style.
While some are easily visible in Ancud and Castro, the best way to visit the rest of these gems is to rent a car, as it will give you the greatest flexibility out of all the transport options in this rural corner of the country.
If you want to go deep into the mountains of Chilean Patagonia, there is no better place to do that in this country than to go to the doorstep of Torres del Paine National Park.
If you are going by road, you will have a long bus ride ahead of you, as buses that leave Chiloe Island have to venture into Argentina (remember to apply for and print your TASA before booking your bus ticket) on their way to extreme Southern Chile, a journey which commonly takes 30 hours to complete.
A much easier way to get to extreme southern Chile is to fly from Santiago to the small city of Punta Arenas. Once there, you can take a short bus ride to the port town of Puerto Natales, which is a short drive from the gates of Torres Del Paine National Park.
Within the boundaries of this special place, not only will you have a chance to view the three twisted granite spires that give this park its name, but you will also have a variety of trails that you can hike on from anything from a full day, to adventures that can span an entire week.
If heading to the colder parts of Chile is something that definitely isn’t on your list of things to do, you can still get to an exotic place within this country actually by hopping on a plane and flying out to the center of the Pacific Ocean to visit Easter Island.
Subtropical in climate, and home to the mysterious Moai Statues that have made it a cultural icon in the minds of people around the world, it will be a destination that you won’t forget.
While the platforms upon which the moai statues stand are easily the most popular destination on the island, the place where the statues were quarried is also a place that you will want to check out, as well as the volcanic craters that formed this island many eons ago.
What To Eat
While the cuisine of Chile hasn’t been making waves on the world stage, its down to earth dishes will go a long way towards satisfying the gnawing hunger within your gut in a most pleasing way.
If you are looking for a simple lunch, then perhaps a Completo will be what you are looking for. A type of hot dog that has become a national icon, it is defined by a huge sausage with in a hot dog bun that has been topped with mayonnaise, avocado, and chopped tomato. Resembling the Italian flag, it is often called a Completo Italiano, and given its ingredients, it will do a great job of relieving any hunger pangs that you have during the middle of the day.
Another treat that will not make your cardiac doctor happy, but will certainly make your tastebuds sing for joy, ordering some Chorrillana will get you a plate that is filled with french fries, sliced beef, onions, and a big fried egg.
There are various types of Chorrillana, but the above listed ingredients tend to be the most typical ones that are found in this dish … even if you follow a relatively strict diet, take one day out of your travel schedule and give this dish a try; after all, you only live once!
Finally, those that are fans of seafood will get a chance to sample what is commonly considered to be Chile’s national dish. The best place to sample Curanto is on the island of Chiloe, where the ingredients for this stew are found in abundance.
Commonly cooked in the ground, but often cooked in stew pots or in pressure cookers to satisfy Chilean food inspectors at commercial establishments, it will give you a unique taste of a dish that has endured in Chilean Society for hundreds of years.