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Chile is one of the most diverse countries we’ve ever been to. From the deserts of the north, to the beaches of the centre, rolling lush green hills of the south and glaciers even further down, this country has something to offer everyone. We spent just over 4 weeks in Chile, popping into Bariloche in Argentina and back when we headed down south.
Both Argentina and Chile have extremely stringent border control processes. Everything you own will be dog-sniffed, and if you look especially gringo your luggage will be searched too.
Make sure you’re not taking anything stupid with you, and keep in mind that foods such as fresh fruit are also forbidden, so eat your lunch before the border.
If crossing by bus, get the earliest bus you can get through these checks before sunset, and also to avoid the queues of the hundreds of school kids that pop over to see god knows what every day.
Don’t lose your migration slip
When you arrive in Chile, you will be given a slip that says ‘PDI’ on the top. This is not just a receipt that you can pop straight in the bin, it’s a police proof of entry, and you need it when you exit the country (well, they won’t do anything if you don’t have it, but we recommend avoiding the patronising lecture we got from the self-important border officer if you can).
Get to grips with colectivos
Chile is the first country along our route to make real use of colectivos – old, colourful minibuses that have no timetable; they simply leave when they’re full.
These are painfully cheap, often 4-500 pesos for up to half an hour of driving, and although unpredictable there are normally enough of them to get to where you need in good time. There are no designated stops, so you just have to shout when you want off.
Check all the T&Cs of your long-haul bus tickets
Long-haul buses are generally comfortable and on time. However, if you ever book through an online collator such as Recorrido.cl or Busbud.cl and you reserve a seat with an affiliate of Pullman (Atacama VIP, Cidher, Sol del Sur, Elqui, FichTur, Los Corsarios, Los Conquistadores del Sur), be aware that the brand you reserved with may not be the brand that’s on the bus.
We learnt the hard way at 11pm in Valparaíso, when we were told that our Pullman bus had left an hour before, and we’d been sitting right in front of it waiting for a green Atacama VIP bus as described on our ticket.
We’d even gone to the Pullman desk an hour before departure to ask where to go as they were written in the smallprint as a potential place to confirm the ticket, but the guy at the counter cursed and shooed us away.
Finding ourselves without accommodation at midnight in a dodgy part of the city, we ended up with no other choice than to follow a woman with ‘hostal’ written on a cardboard sign to her house in a sketchy area and pay 16,000 pesos for a night in her smoky basement that had blood all over the shower-curtain and could be padlocked from the OUTSIDE.
Select taxis wisely
Taxis in Chile are cheap, so this is normally the best way to get around within the centre of a town. As is the case in much of South America, look out for ‘Radio Taxi’ rather than just flagging any old car down on the street.
As always, be really careful when hitch-hiking, and avoid doing it when travelling alone. Transport is generally quite cheap in Chile so weigh up whether it’s really worth the risks.
Pack for all climates in Chile
As we mentioned earlier, this country’s terrain ranges from deserts to glaciers, so one of the most important tips for Chile is to make sure you’ve brought the right kind of clothing to cope. Layering is always good, but down south you’ll need an effective waterproof jacket too.
Up north, expect to absolutely swelter in the close heat, and you’ll need factor 30 as a bare minimum (though good to know they sell up to SPF 100 here).
If you want a real-time example of how quickly the weather can change in the south of Chile, take a look at this skyline in Puerta Varas:
Work out where to find free ATM transactions in Chile
Most banks in Chile charge for foreign bank transactions, however, if you can get yourself to a Scotia Bank your transactions will be free, at least on the Chilean side. Luckily, the cash limit is normally 200,000 pesos (around £215), so much more lenient than in Argentina!
If you have a good grasp of Spanish and want to chat to the Chilean locals, keep in mind that Chile is known across the Spanish-speaking world as having one of the most slangified versions of the language, and in certain regions of the country they talk super quickly and merge words and sounds together.
This can make Chilean Spanish a little overwhelming at first, but as the locals are fully aware of this they tend to give you a break if you look confused! They’re used to even native speakers from other countries asking them to slow down and repeat what they said.
Now that you’ve reached the end of my tips before you travel to Chile, have a read of: