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Chile

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A narrow slither of land wedged between the Pacific and the Andes, Chile stands as a nation apart in South America – both literally and figuratively. The mountains cut the country off from Argentina and Bolivia to the east, while the expansive Atacama Desert separates it from Peru to the north. And to the south, beyond the country’s infamous Cape Horn headland, lies nothing but ocean and Antarctica. But far from being a curse, this isolation has created a very special destination indeed.

Whether you fancy road-tripping the endless Carretera Austral, climbing the peaks of Torres del Paine National Park or surfing the brutal waves of Punta de Lobos in Pichilemu, Chile is deserving of its reputation as one of the world’s best destinations for adventure tourism. It’s not just for thrill-seekers, though. From its incredible night skies and Mapuche Indian heritage to its vibrant arts scene and vertiginous vineyards, this is a country that caters for travellers of all hues. The Chileans themselves, meanwhile, tend to be warm and open, so absorbing what the country has to offer is generally a joy.

The country hasn’t always had it easy, of course, and the tribulations of the Pinochet era can be explored in the dynamic capital, Santiago. The city’s buzzing boulevards and arty neighbourhoods feel a million miles away from Chile’s more famous attractions, and this in itself tells you how broad the country’s offering is – this is a land that not only includes vast swathes of Patagonian wilderness and the glacier-threaded waterways of Tierra del Fuego, but also incorporates the remote, statue-studded landmass of Easter Island.

Whether you’re seeking solitude as a leisurely backpacker or taking on the big sights in unbridled luxury, consider yourself warned – once you’ve experienced the myriad attractions Chile has to offer, you may find other destinations fall somewhat short.

  • Capital:

    Santiago.

    Geography:

    Chile is situated in South America, bordered to the north by Peru, to the east by Bolivia and Argentina, to the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the south by the Antarctic. The country exercises sovereignty over a number of islands off the coast, including the Juan Fernández Islands and Easter Island. Chile is 4,329km (2,690 miles) long and nowhere more than 180km (112 miles) wide.

    The Andes and a more westerly coastal highland range run parallel with each other for much of the country's length. The coastal range forms high, sloped cliffs into the sea from the northern to the central area. Between the ranges runs a fertile valley, except in the north where transverse ranges join the two major ones, and in the far south where the sea has broken through the coastal range to form an assortment of archipelagos and channels.

    Wide variations in soil and a vast difference in climate are reflected in an uneven population distribution, and in a wide range of occupations. The Atacama desert, the driest in the world, is in the northern part of the country, which is also the main mining area. The central zone is predominantly agricultural, and is often referred to as the breadbasket of Chile. This is where the two-thirds of the population reside. Below Concepción, there are large tracts of forested land, although the area also has some agriculture. Chile is prone to frequent powerful earthquakes as the Liquine-Ofqui Fault lies just under the northern Patagonian Andes and runs for 1000km (621 miles).

    Government:

    Republic.

    Head Of State:

    President Michelle Bachelet since 2014.

    Head Of Government:

    President Michelle Bachelet since 2014.

    Electricity:

    220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with with either two circular pins or three pins in a line are used.

    Timezone:
  • Currency Information:

    Chilean Peso (CLP; symbol CH$) = 100 centavos. The local symbol is simply $. Notes are in denominations of CH$20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of CH$500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1, although the latter is no longer in circulation.

    Credit Cards:

    Visa and MasterCard are commonly accepted – although Diners Club and American Express slightly less so - in towns and cities, where ATMs are also largely available. Outside of the larger, more tourist-centred towns, currency exchange can be tricky.

    ATMs:

    Credit/debit cards (Visa, Diners Club, MasterCard and sometimes American Express) are widely accepted in towns and cities, where ATMs (also known as redbancs) are also largely available.

    Travellers Cheques:

    The government does not regulate the market of foreign currency in Chile, making it possible to exchange money and traveller's cheques at any casa de cambio at market-driven exchange rates. However, exchanging traveller's cheques in Chile has been reported to be problematic.

    Banking Hours:

    Mon-Fri 0900-1400.

    Currency Restrictions:

    The import and export of local and foreign currencies is unlimited, however amounts exceeding the equivalent of US$10,000 must be declared.

    Currency Exchange:

    Foreign exchange transactions can be conducted through commercial banks, casas de cambio, or authorised shops, restaurants, hotels and clubs. Casas de cambio are open daily 0900-1900 (Mon-Sat) and 0900-1400 (Sun). Ask to be given smaller denomination bills as these will be easier to spend, and you may run into trouble trying to get change from larger notes.

    Currencies: Exchange Rates:

    • 1 AUD = 447.86 CLP
    • 1 EUR = 711.46 CLP
    • 1 GBP = 1002.17 CLP
    • 1 USD = 639.18 CLP

  • Best Time To Visit:

    Due to its long coastline, clearly Chile's weather is extremely diverse and unpredictable although it is seasonal in much of the country. Summer runs from December to February, and winter from June to August.

    It is difficult to pinpoint temperatures ranges for the country as a whole as they're so variable. There's the dry, arid Atacama desert in the north where temperatures reach a maximum of32°C (90°F) and can drop to -2°C (28°F). Chile's central region has a Mediterranean feel in its central region with a colder, wetter season (May to August), while it is usually cool and damp in the south. Easter Island has its own humid sub-tropical temperatures, while much of the south, from Region VII down has a very high annual rainfall.

    Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, La Serena and Coquimbo are the principal summer beach hubs in the north for local tourists, while Pucón in the south sees high tourism numbers from January to March. Due to its proximity to Santiago, Viña del Mar and Valparaíso beach areas see plenty of sunshine and beach bums during the summer, often filling up with neighbouring Argentinians. As Chile is in the southern hemisphere, the ski season takes place between June and August.

    In terms of visiting Patagonia and south, the summer months from December to March are ideal as it is warmer for trekking and other outdoor activities. November and April are quieter times in terms of tourism but the weather is less dependable. It isn't advisable to visit the south from the end of autumn to the end of winter - May to September - as many trails close due to bad weather and strong winds and waterways ice over. However, places in the north, such as the Atacama, can be visited all year round.

    Required Clothing:

    If visiting the cities, bring lightweight, natural fabrics that can wick away sweat easily. During the wet season, you'll need to bring waterproofs – aim for breathable materials so you don't overheat. More substantial waterproofs and warm weather clothing are often needed in the south and at altitude.