Land of poetsChile is a true Backpackers dream, easy to hitchhike, cheap street food, drinkable tap water and plenty of sights to explore. Poorly we just had a bit more than 5 weeks to discover this beautiful country, which sounds like a lot, but compared to its actual size it’s not that much. At first glance Chile seems to be pretty small. So narrow that one could think its only beach and mountains, but with 188km width on average and a total length of 4.275km it has a proud size of 756.102km2. It offers beautiful landscapes and natural parks in the south, the driest desert worldwide in the north and plenty hiking opportunities in the Andes as well as an extremely long coastline for beach vacations. Chiles Nickname „país de poetas“comes by the way, from its deep tradition of poetry. With Gabriela Mistral in 1945 and Pablo Neruda in 1971 Chilean Poets won the literature Nobel Prize twice. Poorly Chile lost a lot of its cultural roots and traditions from the conquests of the Spaniards and especially during the military regime of Pinochet when thousands of indigenous and oppositional people just got killed. Like Argentina and Uruguay it fits now more to the image of a western European society rather than to South America, which is not supposed to mean that a visit is not worth it. To proof that this article provides as usual the most important information about what to experience, comfort, safety, costs and why we love Chile.
1. What to experience in Chile:
As already mentioned Chile is the perfect place for hiking enthusiasts and beach lovers, since the coastline as well as the Andes Mountains are going through the whole country from Arica in the north to Punta Arenas in the south. The country offers several amazing sights from nature phenomenon’s to cosmopolitan cities or just beautiful beaches to relax. With the following list we present you some nice choices for your next Chile vacation.
- San Pedro de Atacama - also a quiet popular destination for locals. It is a very touristic desert town in the middle of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Also called the door to the desert, it is the gateway for different excursions through the Atacama Desert up to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. „The driest place in the world" is surrounded by beautiful sights like geysers, lagoons, snow-covered peaks and volcanos.
- Santiago de Chile - one of our favorite South American cities has a lot to offer. From great shopping possibilities, over a stunning nightlife to cultural sights and the awesome hill San Cristobal with a great panoramic view all over the city. During the winter the surroundings of Santiago are great for skiing and snowboarding.
- Valparaíso - located ca. 120km western from Santiago at the pacific coast. It is famous for its graffiti’s and street art in every corner. From 32 hills around the city you can enjoy great views over the center and coastline. From Valpo it is just a 20 minutes bus ride to nice beaches around Viña del Mar, where you can swim and relax in the summer.
- Further beach towns like La Serena, great for beach vacations and relaxation during summertime.
- The Easter Islands - quiet expensive to reach but definitely worth to visit. Beautiful landscapes and more that 887 of the famous Moai statues, built by Polynesian sailors.
- Pucón with its stunning volcano Villarrica and the beautiful surrounding forests.
- Volcano Ojos del Salado, the active volcano is the highest peak of Chile, located in the north east, close to the Argentinian border.
- Patagonia and the south - with nice cities like Chiloe, Punta Arenas (the most southern City of Chile) and breathtaking nature like the Torres del Paine national park, the colorful marble caves in Puerto Rio Tranquillo and the plenty channels and fjords, it is one of the most popular travel destination of whole South America. You can see there glaciers, geysers, volcanos, the sea, lagoons and mountains as well as interesting wildlife with llamas, penguins, whales and Condors. The best travel time is during the summer, since it gets really cold in the winter time and lots of national parks, supermarkets, restaurants and bus companies are just closed.
Beside all these sights, Chile also has quiet an interesting food culture to explore. In the bigger cities you will have a good choice from all types of international food like Italian, Asian and Arabic cuisine. However more interesting are the national typically dishes. During your stay in Chile you should definitely try the following things:
- Completo - a large hotdog with different toppings, most common is the Italiano with mayo, avocado and tomatoes (the colors of Italy). You can find them literately in every corner and especially the habit to put avocado on everything is a major thing in Chile. You will find it on burgers, salads, kebabs and if you ask at a takeaway for it they will serve you prepared avocado cream in a plastic bottle.
- Sopapillas - a deep fried flatbread made from butternut squash or pumpkin. A simple snack which you can buy on the streets for around 100 clp (0,10€), usually served with a spicy tomato-onion sauce.
- Pastel de Choklo - a pie made from corn filled with pino, a mix of minced meat or chicken, onion, garlic, eggs and sometimes olives, also used as typical filling for empanadas.
- Cazuela - a hearty soup with a corncob, butternut squash and potatoes. Cooked in different variations, for example with seafood or beef.
- Chorillana - a typical plate from Valparaíso, consisting of fried beef on french fries and scrambled eggs.
- The usual South American Classics like Empanadas (a baked dough with different fillings), Milanesa (a very thin Schnitzel) and several beef variations.
There is basically not much to try for vegetarians from the Chilean cuisine, but you will find enough vegetarian restaurants in all places for some alternatives.
Further things you should try:
- Mote con Huesillos - a sweet drink from boiled peach filled up with grain, works great as a quick snack in between.
- Mate, in the southern regions - a bitter infusion from the mate leaves, actually more common in Uruguay and Argentina.
- Pisco - a brandy distilled from grapes. Most typically as Pisco Sour with lemon and sugar but also as long drink with cola, then called Piscola.
- Terremoto - the earthquake, a cocktail from young vine and pineapple ice cream.
- Chilean Vine, famous all over the world. You can find plenty of Bodegas all over the country, with free or paid walking tours to learn more about the vine production. The best vine so the chileans, comes from the region around Santiago.
Together with Uruguay and Argentina Chile is the most developed and rich country of South America and with wealth comes comfort. Chile has a very good infrastructure to almost all its cities and villages as well as good expanded and illuminated streets. The mayor cities are compared to others in South America quiet clean and safe, with a sufficient amount of trashcans. Usually you have the opportunity to grab a snack or a can of beer 24/7. The same applies for the accommodation, most of the hostels are spacious and clean with a friendly staff, equipped with heaters, lockers, endless hot showers and all other things backpackers are seeking for. Almost forgot about my favorite: drinkable tap water in almost the whole country. The transportation system is just amazing, since the train network is not really developed, the better is the bus connection. Buses are spacious, modern and maintained, usually equipped with toilets, TVs and sometimes even WIFI and sockets, providing food and drinks on long distances. I actually can't remember a place on our journey where we didn't had an internet connection, it basically works everywhere, at least on an average speed. Also networks like Couchsurfing and Workaway are well known and working without any problems. The biggest disadvantage of Chile is its language, even for Spanish native speakers it can be sometimes hard to understand it. Their Castellano is very fast, almost without gaps, a whole sentence could sound like an endless word with plenty of slang words. Sometimes we had the feeling that some people prefer to switch to English or just pretend to not understand you after they recognized that your Spanish is not perfect. Nevertheless the most Chileans are very friendly and always helpful.
Chile is at least according to statistics the safest country in South America and after Canada it even leads the chart for whole America. There is still a huge difference to places like Canada, Australia or Western Europe for instance, but in general it felt really safe. Like everywhere in the world there are more and less dangerous places. In Valparaíso for example we were living in quiet a bad neighborhood but as long as you watch out and take care of simple safety rules there can´t go much wrong. Leave your credit card, jewelry and your camera at home if you go out at night, take only as much cash as you need and nothing much can go wrong, nobody is going to kill you. Same applies for Santiago and other bigger cities, during the day in the center nobody is going to rob you but at night a bit outside of the touristic areas you need to watch out. Besides the quiet low crime rate there are also different factors which makes you feel safer. The traffic for example, for the first time in South America it really felt like the drivers are caring about other road users. They use lights, drive carefully and even use their seat belts, while you can get some weird looks in Argentina if you fasten yours while hitchhiking. Not to mention the more northern countries, where people are speeding with vehicles, which are about to break every second.
Anyways there was one thing which limited our feeling of peace. In Chile are plenty of different demonstrations, mainly students who are fighting for better conditions and fair prices at universities or schools. The demonstrations on their own are normally peaceful but the riot police of the carabineros (chiles police forces) is quiet relaxed with dropping a load of tear gas in the masses. We witnessed this quiet a few times and this stuff is really aggressive, so if you see a group of demonstrating people better turn around and take a different route.
Chile is quiet an expensive country, especially compared with its direct neighbors in the north. The prices are more or less on an equivalent level with Argentina and Uruguay except of transportation which is way lower. Also alcohol and especially beer are very cheap compared to its neighbors. One thing which was really weird for us was the difference between street food and cooking with groceries from the supermarket. With 10€ for example in Santiago you can easily have a dinner for two, with drinks and a dessert if you stick to street food, while you could barely do the shopping for a nice dinner at home in a supermarket. If you buy your food on the local market and adjust your diet to the local agriculture you can keep it of course a little lower. The worst is actually the taxation on cigarettes, if you're a smoker you should really consider to import your cigarettes for your trip to Chile. A good thing is that cultural events or institutions are either free or very cheap, which gives a lot of things to explore without spending too much money. Actually Chile is a great place for shopping cheap clothes. I’m not only talking about faked clothes, also the prices for brands and especially functional and outdoor clothing are very good. To get your own idea we provided the following list with some examples:
- A hostel room - between 8.000clp and 12.000clp (11€ - 15€)
- 2 hours bus ride - from 4000clp (5€)
- A huge Hotdog (Italiano) from a street vender - 1.000clp (1,40€)
- A pack of cigarettes 6.000clp (8€) - on the blackmarket 1.000clp (1,40€)
- A bottle of Pisco - 3.000clp (4€)
- A liter of beer in a bar between 1.600 and 3.000clp (2€ - 4€)
- A week worth of shopping with snacks and drinks - 60.000clp (80€)
Four some more visual impressions of this stunning country, check our image galleries of: Santiago, Valparaiso and San Pedro de Atacama.
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