Frequently Asked Questions: Chile
Have you ever wondered what Chile has to offer travellers, or whether you need a visa or vaccinations to visit? Find out the answers to these common queries and more with our FAQ.
What are the main things Chile has to offer travellers?
Chile is a fantastic introduction to Latin America as a whole, and so is an excellent choice for first-time visitors to this region. Having quite a European feel, the country eases visitors into Latin American culture more gently than other other destinations.
One of the chief attractions of Chile is its spectacular and highly diverse scenery, which includes the dramatic Andes, the desert of Atacama and the wilderness of Patagonia, with its dramatic mountains, glaciers and lakes.
Plus, Chile's contrasts extend beyond the landscape. You'll also find them running through the culture, and the kind of experiences you can have here.
What are the country's top destinations, and what sort of experiences do they offer?
Chile has four main destinations - Santiago, the Atacama desert, Patagonia and the Lake District, and Easter Island.
Santiago, like many of the more central destinations, is among the best places in the country for culture and art – the beautiful cathedral and bustling market are just a few of the highlights. It's also very easy to drive out and visit a vineyard from here, which is an excellent way not only to taste some wonderful Chilean wines, but also take in some of the country's impossibly scenic landscapes.
Travel to the Atacama desert in the north of the country to discover beautiful scenery of a very different sort. Also a fantastic spot for pursuits such as stargazing, this part of Chile is particularly perfect for nature lovers – as is Patagonia and the Lake District, which sit at the other end of the country.
A journey south can take you to Patagonia and the Lake District, where you can discover stunning lakes and Torres del Paine National Park – great places for rewarding walks and stunning views.
Visiting the Polynesian Easter Island will give you the opportunity to explore another side of Chile – one that doesn't have the distinctly Spanish influence that you will notice in the rest of the country. The highlight here is the stone Moai statues; averaging 4 metres in height, these are the vestiges of ancient Polynesian culture, and are an unforgettable sight – especially as there is still a lot of mystery surrounding them.
Chile is known for its contrasts – are there any I should particularly look out for?
Its landscape contrasts are perhaps the most spectacular of all. Atacama in the north, for instance, is where you'll find Chile's deserts and salt flats, while in the south you'll encounter lakes and glaciers. What's more, as the country is so narrow, you'll find the stunning backdrop of the Andes is an almost perpetual delight, wherever you happen to be.
Chile's geographically narrowness also means that it's possible to have starkly contrasting experiences in the same day. You can, for instance, go skiing in the morning and relax on the beach in the afternoon – something that few destinations offer.
Cultural contrasts are also well worth exploring. For instance, in Santiago you can very much get an impression of the colonial Spanish influence, with this city having a rather European feel – look out in particularly for its colonial buildings. In the south of the country are the Mapuche people, whose culture predates the arrival of the Spanish, and who still adhere to centuries-old traditions.
Is it easy to travel around Chile, and what are the best transport options?
There are decent roads in the centre of Chile, but on the whole flying is the best option when it comes to travelling from one part of the country to another, simply because the nation is so vast. For instance, travelling from one end of the country to the other takes five hours by air.
When's the best time to visit Chile? Does this differ from destination to destination and if so, how?
Overall, Chile is a year-round destination, but if you are planning to visit Patagonia you should time your travels for between November and February (the summer months) to avoid the freezing temperatures of winter.
What's the climate like?
This varies depending on whereabouts in the country you are. The Atacama desert, for example, is dry all year round, and is typically hot during the day and cold at night.
Santiago has a much more temperate climate, and doesn't reach the extremes you'll come across in the desert. Patagonia and the south suffer from very cold winters, which means they are best visited during the summer months of November to February.
Do you need a visa to visit Chile?
No, provided you have a valid British passport.
Do you need any vaccinations to visit Chile?
While there are no mandatory standard vaccinations for visiting Chile, you should speak to your GP and check whether you may need any inoculations and make sure you are up-to-date with shots such as typhoid, polio and tetanus.
What is the national cuisine like?
As a general rule, Chilean food is very similar to Spanish cuisine, while its vast coastline also means that seafood is a staple. Among the most unmissable dishes are empanadas, which are perhaps best described as being similar to Cornish pasties. Absolutely delicious, they can feature a variety of fillings and are among the most popular foods in the country.
You should, of course, not pass up the opportunity to sample Chilean wine too, which has long held international prestige. If possible, visit a vineyard for a professional tasting. Some will allow you to stay onsite for several days, which has the added advantage of giving you the chance to sample fine cuisine and explore some of the country's glorious landscapes by bicycle or horseback.
Does Chile have any lesser-known attractions or hidden gems?
Chile certainly has plenty of attractions you might not immediately guess. For example, parts of Chile rank among the best places in the world for stargazing, so if this is an interest of yours – or you are simply curious about the pursuit – it is worth considering a trip to Atacama. What's more, the recent opening of a new observatory here has enhanced its stargazing appeal.
Pisco distilleries can also be found in this part of the country – you can join fascinating tours to find out more about how this Chilean drink is made.
Cruising through the fjords and venturing further south than Torres del Paine National Park (which few travellers do) is an excellent way to get off the beaten track and discover some truly spectacular – and little-seen – landscapes.
Is there anything else worth bearing in mind when organising my trip?
Yes. Important practical points include the fact that Atacama has a high altitude, which you should be prepared for before travelling, and that there are no direct flights to Chile from the UK. So, you will need to fly via Madrid, the US or Sao Paulo.
It's also worth bearing in mind that Chile works really well as part of a wider itinerary encompassing several countries. For instance, a trip to Chile works very well with travels around Bolivia and Argentina, so consider whether you would enjoy extending your journey to see either of these nations as well.
View Cox & Kings' holidays to Chile.