Chile (officially, Republic of Chile)  narrowly stretches along the southern half of the west coast of South America, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The bordering countries are Peru in the north and Argentina and Bolivia to the east. Chile has over 5,000 km (3,100 mi) 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 Araucanians inhabited central and southern Chile. Although Chile declared independence in 1810, decisive victory over the Spanish was not achieved until 1818. In the War of the Pacific (1879–83), Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia and won its present northern regions. It was not until the 1880s that the Araucanians were completely subjugated. Although relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that blighted South America, Chile endured the 17-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990) that left around 3,000 people, mostly leftists and socialist sympathizers, dead or disappeared.
Pinochet was widely reviled worldwide for his methods and legacy, however, a Center-Left Chilean administration came into power after he stepped down when he lost a national referendum. The new government of Patricio Aylwin thought it sensible to maintain free market policies that present-day Chile still harbors. Despite enjoying a comparatively higher GDP and more robust economy compared to most other countries of Latin America, Chile currently has one of the most uneven distributions of wealth in the world, ahead only of Brazil in the Latin American region and even lagging behind most developing sub-Saharan African nations. Chile's top 10 richest percentile possesses almost 42 percent of the country's total wealth. In relation to income distribution, some 6.2% of the country populates the upper economic income bracket, 19% the middle bracket, 24% the lower middle, 38% the lower bracket, and 13% the extreme poor.
Chile is a founding member of both United Nations and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and is also now in the OECD, the group of the "most developed" countries by current international standards, becoming the first country in South America with that honor.
Argentina's and Chile's claims to Antarctica overlap. Chile also voices a claim to a 1.25 million square kliometre portion of Antarctica, but given the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, no country's territorial claims to Antartica are ever recognised or permitted to be exercised at any time.
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 northern desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper.
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 and nearly 15 percent as evangelical.
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. On the other hand, Standard Spanish is the official language (as in all Spanish-speaking countries) and while not the first language of choice, people would generally be fairly fluent.
Here are two of the most common Chilean expressions:
English is widely understood in large cities, especially in Santiago, but also to a (quite 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 (40+) being unlikely to speak any English, unless they are tourist industry workers.
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, 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 XIX Century.
Citizens of the following countries may be exempted from tourist visa requirements:
Citizens of other nationalities, including several African and Asian nationalities, will not be able to enter Chile, without applying for a special visa from a Chile consulate before entry.
Citizens of four countries must pay a "reciprocity fee" of varying amounts. The fee is USD 132 for Canadian citizens, USD 140 for American citizens, USD 61 for Australian citizens and USD 15 for Mexican citizens. This fee is equivalent to the amount that country requires for entry visas from Chilean citizens. The fee is only for tourists entering by plane, and the one-time charge is good for the life of your passport. US citizens should have cash or a credit card to pay the $140 fee. Citizens of other countries, such as the UK, do not have to pay a fee.
When entering Chile (by cruise, vehicle or plane), at customs, travelers will need to fill out a tourist card that allows them to stay for up to 90 days. Travelers will have to present the tourist card to Customs officials when leaving the country. Be aware that hotels waive Chile's 19% room tax when the guest shows this card and pays with U.S. dollars.
On flights leaving Chile, there is an airport tax of USD 18 or the equivalent in Chilean pesos. On domestic flights, airport tax is included in the price of the ticket.
Chile is a geographically isolated country, bared 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 worthlessin 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.
The most common entry point for overseas visitors is the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) in the commune of Pudahuel, 15 km (9.3 miles) north-west of downtown Santiago. It is the largest aviation facility in Chile and one 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.
Santiago International Airport is served by serveral 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 Aerolíneas Argentinas, Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, Avianca, Copa, Delta, Iberia, Pluna and TACA.
Other airports with international services are in Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, Concepción, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, all of them to neighboring 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 4000 m (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.
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.
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.
Keep in mind that prices vary on a daily basis, so are usually more expensive on weekends and holidays tickets than on weekdays. Ticket prices are also almost always negotiable - don't be shy to ask for a discount, especially if you are in a group. Always ask around in different booths and make sure the vendors see you are shopping around.
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 and if available not always working - especially if you are getting on a bus at a later stage of a long journey (i.e. Arica - Santiago).
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", have maps (Map as of October 2010) 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 US$2.50, and a ticket costs almost US$1.00, which allows you to make up to four 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, Valparaíso and Concepcion. 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, flags attached to your backpack, etc. The locals love chatting with foreign travelers.
Chile's currency is the Chilean peso (CLP). Other currencies are not widely accepted, but most cities have exchange bureaux with resonable rates on euros and US dollars. The rates should be published on widely visible boards.
Never exchange money on the streets, specially 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 2500 CLP for retrieving cash - it's still better than the exchange bureaus.
The automatic teller machine (ATM) network in Chile is respectable in coverage--they're all connected to the same service and enable standard transactions. 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 2500 CLP. Banco Estado does not add a surcharge (verified for MasterCard, not verified for VISA - please check and edit).
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 pinpass security system has been introduced for credit cards, so you will mostly only need your personal pinpass four digit code 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.
In late April 2011 €1 ≡ CLP 680, £1UK ≡ CLP 765, and $US 1 ≡ CLP 460.
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.
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 the U.S. and Western Europe, while tropical fruit is rather rare and expensive, except for bananas.
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 3 AM or before 9 AM).
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, 80 km (49 mi) north of Santiago; "Valle Nevado" in the mountains approximately 35 km (22 mi) away from Santiago, and the "Termas de Chillan" ski resort and hot springs, which lies about 450 km (280 mi) 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 latinamerican 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.
As most big cities within South America, Santiago suffers from a high rate of pickpocketing and muggings. 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 best, 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 rescue 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) and Baquedano (L1-L5 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 neighboring countries.
Since Chile is almost racially homogeneous, Chileans get curious and may stare at foreigners. If you are black or Asian, be prepared. There have been reports of racist attacks, but they are infrequent, and the police (carabineros) have become better at handling such situations. If you are from the Middle East, it will be easier to blend in and you will not get the same level of attention.
Leave your mobile phone at home and buy a cheap one from the local store. If getting robbed, you don't have to be worried losing a expensive cell-phone, all your contacts, important numbers and messages etc. Buy a cell-phone so you can contact police or medics in any case for or just calling a friend. Wallets, cameras and cell-phone regardless price and quality are lucrative amongst petty-thieves for own use or sale in the black market.
Avoid taking photographs of navy ships and buildings or other military buildings, ask first. If being caught they have the right to arrest you and expect to get all your photos examined and erased, also 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 and be extra careful when taking photographs. Some marines may speak little English but if not, point at the object you want to take a photo and say "si?". If they reply with a "no" then it's better to just leave.
Having relatively good 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. In case of emergency , call 131, but don't expect an operator fluent in English. No vaccinations are necessary.
Tap water is safe to drink. Just know that water is produced from the mountains, so it might be harder for foreigners. In that case, it is advisable to buy bottled water.
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.)