Chile is a long, narrow country along the southern half of the west coast of South America, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The bordering countries are Peru to the north, Bolivia to north east and Argentina to the east. Chile has over 5,000km (3,100 miles) of coast on the South Pacific Ocean.
Prior to arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, northern Chile was under Inca rule while the indigenous Mapuche inhabited central and southern Chile. Other indigenous tribes existed in the southern part(Tehuelche, Yagan, etc.,) but many of them died due to diseases and murder, or were mixed with the European immigrants.
Although Chile declared independence in 1810, decisive victory over the Spanish was not achieved until 1818, thanks to a joint attack with Rioplatense forces. After that, the Transandine Army headed to liberate Peru from Spanish forces, eliminating the Spanish influence from the region.
In the War of the Pacific (1879–83), Chile invaded parts of Peru and Bolivia and kept territory that subsequently became its present northern regions. Also, it was not until the 1880s that the Mapuche were completely subjugated, and it was during this period of time when the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego were annexed by the Chilean State, along with Rapa Nui, expanding its influence to the inner Pacific.
Although relatively free of the coups and unstable governments that characterise Latin America, Chile endured the 17-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990), supported by the United States, and that left between 3,000 and 5,000 people dead or disappeared, most of them being left wing thinkers, democrats, and people critical to the government. The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet was criticised worldwide for using brutal methods to control its population, including torture and forced disappearances, but left a relatively successful and stable economic model, which is credited with providing one of the highest standards of living in all of Latin America, but also with increasing corruption and the gap between the rich and the poor.
A Centre-Left Chilean administration came into power after the military government lost a national referendum in 1988. The new moderate government of Patricio Aylwin thought it sensible to maintain free market policies that present-day Chile still employs. Many debate whether the model should be modified to a more social-welfare system, or if it should be left like it currently is.
Chile is a member of both United Nations and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and is also a member of the OECD, the group of the most developed countries by current international standards, becoming the first country in South America to do so.
Argentina's and Chile's claims to Antarctica overlap and neither is based upon the discoveries of either nation. Chile also voices a claim to a 1.25 million square kilometre portion of Antarctica, but given the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, no country's territorial claims to Antarctica are ever recognised or permitted to be exercised at any time. However, Chile has an active presence in the Antarctic peninsula, and cooperates closely with other nations in activities in the Antarctica.
Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape — 4,300 kilometres long and on average 175 kilometres wide — has given it a varied climate, ranging from the world's driest desert—the Atacama—in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a rainy temperate climate in the south. The climate and other details of the far south, including the regions of Aysén and Magallanes, remain a mystery to people from central Chile. The northern desert contains great mineral wealth, including copper, gold, arsenic, and lithium reserves.
Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, has a tropical climate all year round.
In Chile there is no restriction on religion. Nearly 70 percent of the population which is above 14 years of age are identified as Roman Catholic, but most of them don't necessarily practice it, and nearly 15 percent is considered evangelical or protestants.
Spanish is the official language in the country and is spoken everywhere. Chileans use a distinct dialect called Castellano de Chile with a variety of differences in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and slang usage. Spanish-speaking foreigners won't have problems understanding it and will only think it sounds funny, but non-native speakers often struggle to understand it, even with years of practice. If you ask people to speak "neutral Spanish" they can do it for you; people only speak this dialect in informal situations and it doesn't translate to a formal difference in grammar (like with Argentine Spanish).
Here are two of the most common Chilean expressions:
English is widely understood in large cities, especially in Santiago, but also to a (very much) lesser extent in Valparaíso, Concepción or La Serena. Since English is now mandatory in schools, younger people are far more likely to speak English than older people, the latter (over 40 years old) being unlikely to speak any English, unless they are tourist industry workers or in the far south where the British heritage remains stronger. (Chile currently has the largest population of British descendants in Latin America - even larger than that in neighbouring Argentina. Over 700,000 Chileans may have English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh origins, amounting to more than 4% of Chile's population.)
Various indigenous languages are spoken in Chile like Mapudungun (in Araucanía and Bíobío regions), Quechua (in Atacama and Tarapacá regions) and Rapa Nui (in Easter Island), but only between indigenous people, which are less than 5% of the population. Even a lot of people identifying with one of these groups are not able to speak their native language and speak Spanish instead.
Some people understand some French (every high school student had 5 years of French in school until the Pinochet dictatorship eliminated this requirement), Italian and Portuguese (because of its resemblance with Spanish) and also there are some German speakers, especially in the south of the country, where a lot of German migrants arrived in the second half of the 19th century.
Citizens of the following countries may be exempted from tourist and business visa requirements:
However, citizens of Australia and Mexico must pay a reciprocity fee on their first entry to Chile by air. The fee is USD 95 for Australian citizens (as of January 2014) and USD23 for Mexican citizens (as of September 2012) and is payable in US dollars or by credit card at counters prior to passing through immigration. This one-time charge was valid for the life of your passport, however Customs officials as of December 2013 were correcting themselves to only 90 days. Citizens of most other countries, such as the UK or the US, do not have to pay a fee.
Indian passport holders should apply for a tourist visa in advance at the nearest Chilean consulate and should present proof of solvency and hotel reservations.
For consulate information, please visit the website of the Chilean Embassy to the US or the website of the Chilean Embassy to the United Kingdom.
When entering Chile (by cruise, vehicle or plane), at customs, travellers will need to fill out a tourist card that allows them to stay for up to 90 days. Keep this card safe: travellers will have to present the tourist card to Customs officials when leaving the country, and you may not be allowed to leave without it. This card also exempts you from the 19% Room Tax at all hotels, making losing it quite costly.
On flights leaving Chile, there is an airport tax of USD30 or the equivalent in Chilean pesos for flights longer than 500km, but it's included in the ticket price. On domestic flights, airport tax depends on the distance with distances less than 270km costing CLP1,969 and longer distances costing CLP4,992 and will be included in the price of the ticket.
Chile is a geographically isolated country, separated from its neighbours by desert, mountains and ocean. This protects it from many pests and diseases that can hit agriculture, one of the biggest national economic sources. Due to this, importation of certain fresh, perishable or wooden goods (such as meat products, fruits & vegetables, honey, untreated wood, etc.) can be either restricted or even prohibited. At your arrival, you will need to fill a form declaring that you are not carrying any restricted product; if you are, declare and show it to SAG officials. If you don't declare them, beware of hefty fines by the SAG, the agricultural oversight body.
A word of warning for families moving to Chile. All documents other than your passports will be considered legally worthless in Chile, unless legalized by specifically a foreign Chilean consulate or embassy before coming to Chile. No certified or notarised document (i.e., birth certificates or school transfers) will be accepted in Chile, if not done so by a Chilean consulate or embassy. This will be especially important if you wish to submit documents for either a temporary residency or permanent residency. For reference see Legalizaciones in the Chilean consulate in San Francisco.
Remember that Chile is a centralized country, so the laws stay the same regardless of region.
All bags are screened by x-ray at airport customs for international arrivals.
The most common entry point for overseas visitors is the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (IATA: SCL), commonly referred to simply as Santiago Airport) in the commune of Pudahuel, 15km (9.3 miles) north-west of downtown Santiago. It is the largest aviation facility in Chile and the 6th busiest of South America by passenger traffic (over 11 million in 2010). It is a major connecting point for air traffic between Oceania and Latin America. The domestic and international are the same terminal, with the international on the left and domestic on the right.
Santiago International Airport is served by several non-stop international service, mainly from Europe, the Americas and Oceania. LAN Airlines is the largest national carrier and flights from the main cities in the Americas, Sydney, Auckland, Papeete, Frankfurt and Madrid. Other airlines serving SCL are Aeromexico, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, Avianca, BQB Líneas Aéreas, British Airways, Copa Airlines, Delta, Gol Airlines, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, PAL Airlines, Qantas, Sky Airlines, TAM Airlines, and United Airlines.
Other airports with international services are in Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, Concepción, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, all of them to neighbouring countries. The Mataveri International Airport in Easter Island receives only LAN Airlines flights from Santiago, Lima and Papeete.
If you are already in South America, a cheaper and reliable way is to go by bus to Chile. Buses from Argentina depart daily from Mendoza, Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes, and even from Buenos Aires weekly. From Peru, there are several buses from Arequipa; some taxis also cross the border between Tacna and Arica. There are also several buses from Bolivia to northern cities and Santiago. Also, there are Brazilian buses from São Paulo, on Mondays and Thursdays.
If you are crossing from Bolivia and Argentina through the Andes, be aware that it takes place at high altitude, up to 4000m (13,000 ft). Also, the roads from Peru and Bolivia are a bit poor in quality, so be patient. During the winter season, which begins in June and ends in August, it is not uncommon for the passage from Mendoza to close for days at a time.
Chile has a rather good airport infrastructure. The main hub for flights in Chile is the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL) in Santiago, from where several airlines serve even the remotest corners of the country. These airlines are the three chilean airlines: LAN Airlines, Sky Airline and Principal Airlines. Although LAN is by far the largest companies, Sky and PAL offer good services to the main cities.
When travelling within Chile, please consider reserving your tickets before entering the country: flight coupons are recommended and can be bought at LAN when you also purchase your flight to Chile with them. LAN offers a good online reservation service but in the others is not that good yet and mainly in Spanish, although it is possible to use them to compare fares. The reason the website is in Spanish lies in the fact fares are aimed at Chilean people or long-term residents.
Because of the shape of the country, many routes are subject to several time-consuming layovers. You might take this into account as you can have up to 4 stops en route to your destination! (e.g. for a flight from Punta Arenas to Arica you may have stops at Puerto Montt, Santiago, Antofagasta and Iquique). Domestic routes are served by Airbus 318, Airbus 319 and Airbus 320 when flying with LAN, and Boeing 737-200s when flying Sky Airline. Nevertheless, most flights are marketed with a stopover in Santiago.
The only airline flying to Easter Island is LAN Airlines from Santiago. Other remote locations are served by regional airlines. In the Extreme South, Aerovías DAP offer daily routes from Punta Arenas to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego and Puerto Williams. Between November and March, DAP offers very limited and expensive flights to Villa Las Estrellas in Antarctica. To Robinson Crusoe Island, there are weekly flights from Santiago and Valparaíso.
The bus system is pretty sophisticated and provides a cheap and comfortable way to get from town to town. Keep in mind that local companies will usually stop at many stations along the way, however, you can always ask if there's a non-stop or directo service. Companies that cover almost the entire country include Turbus  and Pullman  (websites in Spanish only). In Santiago, you can find both terminals and more companies on Universidad de Santiago subway station. Always be on time as they are very punctual.
Keep in mind that prices vary on a daily basis, so are usually more expensive on weekends and holidays tickets than on weekdays. Don't be shy to ask for a discount if you are in a group.
The quality of service varies quite a lot. Check if the bus is "cama" (bed), "semi-cama" (heavily inclining seats) or ejecutivo (executive - slightly inclining seat). Toilets are not always available - especially if you are getting on a bus at a later stage of a long journey (i.e. Arica - Santiago).
Although Chile's passenger rail network is only a shadow of what it once was, passenger trains still operate between Santiago and Chillán and Talca and Constitución. All passenger rail service is operated by Trenes Metropolitanos. Trains depart from Santiago from Estación Central (address: Ave Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 3170). Tickets can be booked at the station or on the rail company's website (tmsa.cl), which also displays route maps and timetables.
Micro = transit/local buses. The word is the contraction of microbus. Larger cities have cross-town bus routes at very affordable prices. Only Santiago's system, called "Transantiago", has maps (Map as of July 2014) with all the routes, so a little bit of Spanish and the audacity to ask around can get you places effectively in other major cities. To travel by "micro" in Santiago you will need to buy before a smart contactless travel-card called "BIP" and charge it with money. You can do so in any subway station, in most supermarkets and in some smaller stores. This card also allows you to travel by subway in Santiago. Be careful! You won't be able to travel by bus without money in your BIP card. The card costs about USD2.50, and a ticket costs a little over USD1.00, which allows you to make up to two transfers between metro and buses within a 2-hour time period. You only need to scan the card at the beginning of your journey and at every transfer. You should hop off the "micro" through the back doors.
A mix between a micro and a taxi. These small cars have routes and get around quicker and more comfortably. Fares are similar to those on the Micro, and depend on the hour.
A metropolitan railway system operating in Santiago and Valparaíso. A reliable way to move around in the city. You must pay the fee only once (when you enter the system) and you can ride as much as you want. There are now more stations in Santiago because of the recent construction of two new lines. Visit the website  for more information.
Hitchhiking in Chile is not difficult, given enough time and patience. It is seen as a common form of travel for tourists or young, adventurous Chileans. On large highways such as the Panamerican Highway, hitching is really great and easy because there are many trucks going between big cities. Smaller, more scenic roads such as the Carretera Austral in the south, can leave you waiting for half a dozen hours in the more remote sections but the rides will generally get you a long way and are worth waiting for. If you are a tourist be sure to show it with your backpack.
There are also carpooling platforms available in Chile like Rides that allow people to hitchike in an anticipated and safer way.
Chile's currency is the Chilean peso often symbolised locally as "$". To avoid ambiguity we use the international symbolisation of CLP placed before the mount with no intervening space. Other currencies are not widely accepted, but most cities have exchange bureaux with reasonable rates on euros and US dollars. The rates should be published on widely visible boards.
Never exchange money on the streets, especially if a "helper" indicates you to follow them.
It's not advisable to exchange currency in the hotel or the airport as the rates are awful. Just be patient. Banco Santander has a monopoly on the ATMs of the airport and will add a surcharge of CLP3,000 for retrieving cash - at moderate and larger amounts this results in far better exchange rates than exchangers. ATMs in Chile retain INSIDE the card during the operation and you run the risk of taking the money and forgetting the card.
The automatic teller machine (ATM) network in Chile is respectable in coverage--they're all connected to the same service, accept international cards, and have the option of switching the machine to English - look for the "foreign" button on the bottom left or right. Be aware that different banks will charge you different amounts of money for extracting cash - you will be advised on the screen of the surcharge. The normal fee is CLP3000. Banco Estado does not add a surcharge for MasterCard, but will for Visa.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in most of the independent commerce of major cities and in all chain stores, no matter where they are. The PIN security system has been introduced for credit cards, so you will mostly only need your personal four digit PIN as it exists in other parts of the world. For some cards you will not be asked for your PIN and they will use the four last numbers of the credit card entered manually and you will have to show a valid ID. Swipe cards still work routinely.
Be aware that Chile is still significantly a cash culture, and it is routine for residents to carry around larger volumes of cash than some other nations are used to.
When checking into major hotels, your passport and visa will be photocopied. There is a 19% tax on hotel bills which is waived with your proof of being a foreigner, however you must also pay in US dollars to ensure the exemption. If you prefer to pay in CLP cash, the 19% VAT will be added no matter what identification you have given. Credit cards will be billed in USD. Always ask a hotel's policy before finalizing your stay to make sure you fully understand all the payment implications.
As of 21 August 2014: €1 ≡ CLP773 and USD 1 ≡ CLP581. Throughout Chile, however, it is generally assumed USD1 = CLP500 for all conversions.
Besides typical foods, you should expect food normally found in any Western country. The normal diet includes rice, potatoes, meat and bread. Vegetables are abundant in central Chile. If you are concerned about the portions, consider that the size of the dish increases the farther south you travel.
With such an enormous coastline, you can expect fish and seafood almost everywhere. Locals used to eat bundles of raw shellfish, but visitors should be cautious of raw shellfish because of frequent outbreaks of red tides. Chile is the world's second largest producer of salmon, as well as a number of other farmed sea products, which include oysters, scallops, mussels, trout and turbot. Local fish include corvina (sea bass), congrio (conger eel), lenguado (flounder), albacora (swordfish), and yellow fin tuna.
If you add sauce américaine, it's known as dinámico.
A common combination is meat with avocado and/or mayonnaise, e.g. Ave palta mayo (chicken with avocado and mayonnaise) or Churrasco palta (thinly-sliced beefsteak with avocado). The strong presence for avocado is a Chilean standard for sandwiches that influences the fast food franchises to include it in their menus.
Central Chile is a major tempered fruit producer, you can easily get fruit for dessert, including apples, oranges, peaches, grapes, watermelons, strawberries, raspberries, chirimoyas, and several other varieties.
Temperate fruit is of very high quality and prices are usually much lower than in most of North America and Western Europe, while tropical fruit is rather rare and expensive, except for bananas and sometimes mangoes.
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18, and is strictly enforced.
Unlike other Latin American countries, in Chile it's illegal to drink in unlicensed, public areas (streets, parks, etc.) The laws also restrict vendor hours depending on the weekday (in no case after 03:00 or before 09:00).
Still, Chileans drink a lot of alcohol so don't be surprised to see one a litre bottle of liquor per person.
Chile has many types of hotels in the cities: some of the most prevalent chains are Sheraton, Kempinsky, Ritz, Marriott, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn. Several hostels and little hotels of varying quality wait to be discovered. On the backpacker trail, a local hostel version can be found in every small city residencial. There is also a variety of accommodations in the mountain ski centers,such as the world-class resort Portillo, 80km (49 mi) north of Santiago; "Valle Nevado" in the mountains approximately 35km (22 mi) away from Santiago, and the "Termas de Chillan" ski resort and hot springs, which lies about 450km (280 mi) south of Santiago.
In the Central Valley (Cachapoal and Colchagua wine valleys), you have some historic sites such as Hacienda Los Lingues in the Colchagua wine valley. It dates back to 1575 (and some constructions around are from 1650, 1670, 1760), it's decorated with period antiques and is a architectural and historic patrimony of CHILE. It can be located 75 miles south of Santiago.
Along with Mexico and Argentina, Chile continues to grow as a preferred destination for studies abroad. It is not uncommon to find groups of European or North American students taking interdisciplinary studies in Spanish language or Latin American culture and history in one of its many reputed universities:
Foreigners need to apply for a work visa before arriving (it can be done after, but it is a lot harder to get one). Temporary permits are issued to spouses and people with a contract. Under-the-table jobs are normally not well paid, lack the mandatory health insurance and retirement plans, and are a reason to get deported.
Another way to work in Chile is to Volunteer for the English Opens Doors Program. It is sponsored by the United Nations Development Program and the Chilean Ministry of Education and places volunteers in schools throughout Chile to be English teaching assistants. The program provides volunteers a home-stay with a Chilean family, meals, a participation bonus of CLP60,000 for each month of completed service, health insurance, TEFL training, and access to an online Spanish course. There is no fee for participation.
Pickpocketing and muggings are quite frequent in major cities such as Santiago or Valparaiso, albeit the rate is lower than most large South American cities. Still, caution is recommended. It's advisable not to travel in the downtown area wearing expensive-looking jewelry or watches, even during the day. Stay alert and be especially careful in all crowded areas in Santiago. It is recommended to wear your backpack at the front of your body in crowded areas. If you have a laptop it can be relaxing being outside in a café doing some work but thieves may see you. For your own safety, go to a internet café if you need to be connected and leave your laptop at home. It will save you from losing it and it can save you from a violent attack from thieves. However, it is much safer to be inside the Metro stations, where you even can use free Wi-Fi hot spots in Universidad de Chile (L1), Baquedano (L1-L5 junction) and Tobalaba (L1-L4 junction) stations.
For tourists or other "beginners" lacking experience in over-the-counter transactions with hard Chilean currency, you can reduce the chance of your wallet getting stolen by following some advice:
Chilean Carabineros (National Police) are very trustworthy - call 133 from any phone if you need emergency assistance. Some municipalities (such as Santiago or Las Condes) have private guards; however, they usually don't speak English. Do not try to bribe a carabinero, since it will get you into serious trouble! Unlike other South American police corps, Chilean Carabineros are very proud and honest, and bribery would be a serious offense against their creed.
Regarding driving conditions: Chilean drivers tend to be not as erratic and volatile as those in neighbouring countries.
Avoid taking photographs of navy ships and buildings or other military buildings, ask first. If caught they have the right to arrest you and expect to get all your photos examined and erased; however, inprisonment is rare as officials understand you might not have noticed the warning because you don't know Spanish.
In case you insist on taking the pictures expect some questions about why you photographed. Chile lives in peace with its neighbours Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, but the country is always preparing for an attack, which some Chileans think might happen since it's a small and narrow country compared to its bigger neighbour Argentina, for example.
Some cities like Talcahuano and Punta Arenas are naval cities, so be extra careful when taking photographs. Some marines may speak little English, so point at the object you want to take a photo and say "si?" ("yes?"). If they reply with a "no", then it's better to just leave.
Since May 2011 there have been ongoing protests by Chilean students who demand better and free education. If you happen to be a foreign student, most universities will allow the protesters to enter classes when there is a protest and occupation is taking place. The chances that something will happen on campus is low. But it's a different story if the protest takes places in the streets. Most of them have ended with violence from protesters and police. So even if you may sympathize with the students, avoid demonstrations arranged by students or professors.
Emergency Numbers: 131 Ambulance 132 Firefighters 133 Carabineros(Police)
Chile has excellent health standards in medicine throughout the country, it is not difficult to stay healthy. However, one will usually find more refined resources at a private medical facility.
Emergency attention is available to everyone, regardless of their legal status or nationality. However, ambulatory procedures require either a legal residence permit or having an international health insurance. If you need medical attention it is advisable you got to a private hospital because command in any foreign language is not common in public health centers.
In case of emergency , call 131, but don't expect an operator fluent in English.
Rabies as well as most major diseases have been eradicated from Chile.
Tap water is safe to drink.
There are cybercafes in every major and midsize city and at all tourist destinations. Some libraries are in a program called Biblioredes, with free computers and Internet (they may be very sensitive if you plug in your camera or something like that). In some remote locations, public libraries have internet satellite connections. Also notice if there's a Wi-Fi hotspot around. They're usually in metro stations, airports, malls, cafes, public buildings and several public spaces. (Check for the ones that say "gratis"--for free.)
If you have a smartphone (unlocked if you bring it from home) it can be quite affordable to buy a local SIM card and use the internet from the cellular network (pretty good quality 3G most of the time). Virgin Mobile Chile might have the cheapest packages. You can always use your phone to make a Wi-Fi hotspot and share the connection to your computer (watch carefully how much you use if you don't want to bust your budget!).