Is Chile on your bucket list? World TravelingMom Sarah Ricks has Chile travel advice to help you plan your trip. And skip her mistakes. She explored Chile’s capital city, wine region, lake district, and mountain ranges in Patagonia. Now she’s returned with Chile travel tips. From what to see and do, to what not to do, here are her Chile travel tips.
11 Essential Chile Travel Tips
1. Visit the mountains of Patagonia
2. Consider a tour company
3. See wildlife in Patagonia
4. Try delicious food
5. Visit wine country
6. Pack for all 4 seasons
7. Don’t take taxis in Santiago
8. Expect pay toilets
9. Santiago is lively, fun city worth visiting
10. Currency tips
11. Expect dogs
My husband and I just returned from a bucket list adventure to Chile. While Chile’s natural beauty knocked us out, we were surprised by the delicious food, wine, and variety in Chile. From what to see and do, to what not to do, here are my 11 essential Chile travel tips.
1. Chile travel advice: Visit the Breathtaking mountains of Patagonia
We traveled to Chile mostly to explore the mountains and glaciers of Patagonia, the southern part of Chile. Patagonia is among the world’s most beautiful places. While photos don’t do it justice, I am glad I brought my iPhone to take pictures. It fit easily into my pocket on hikes.
2. Chile travel tips: Consider a tour company
Chile is a narrow strip of land stretching half the length of South America. Since my husband and I wanted to visit both mountains in Chilean Patagonia and Chile’s wine region, we knew we would need to fly within Chile. While my husband and I usually travel independently, the logistics of visiting lots of parts in Chile were challenging. Instead, we signed up for a tour.
And I’m so glad we booked our tour with Classic Journeys. We met our group of 11 in Santiago, Chile. After exploring Santiago and visiting a vineyard, we flew with the group to the Lakes region of northern Patagonia, Puerta Varas.
Then, we flew farther south in Patagonia and used Puerta Natales as our base. Each day in the Patagonia regions, our guide took us hiking through gorgeous mountains, glacial lakes, and rivers. We took a boat to see penguins teaching their babies to swim.
In Patagonia, our Classic Journeys guide arranged for us to visit a Chilean cattle ranch, horseback ride with cowboys (gauchos), and watch sheep shearing. Later, we took a ferry to see a glacier up close. At every point, the Classic Journeys guide handled the daunting logistics of hotels, meals, transportation – and guiding us on hikes.
3. Chile travel tips: See Wildlife in Patagonia
On our daily hikes in Patagonia, which has a harsh climate, I was surprised to see animals in the wild. As we hiked by, we saw ostrich-like birds (rheas), herds of camel-faced deer (guanaco), and huge condors flying overhead. One guanaco chased another so closely in front of us that we could see its eyes! I was thrilled.
4. Chile travel advice: Try Delicious Food
Chile is a huge producer of beef, lamb, and fish. Despite the country’s name, Chile’s food isn’t spicy. And it’s delicious! Even though Chile is big red meat country, expect delicious seafood. With miles of coastline, glacial rivers, and lakes, Chile has great fresh fish and seafood. In fact, I enjoyed the fish so much that I ate salmon ceviche, King Crab, smoked salmon, or sea bass every day during our 12-day visit.
5. Chile travel tips: Visit wine country
Chile produces wonderful wine. My husband and I enjoyed visiting a beautiful vineyard just outside Santiago. The tour company, Classic Journeys, arranged an outrageously decadent 4-course meal, with wine pairings, at the Santa Rita vineyard. Then, we took a guided tour of the vineyard and learned about the wine process. Finally, we enjoyed a wine tasting. Boy, did we sleep well that night.
6. Chile travel advice: Pack for all 4 seasons
Since my husband and I visited different parts of the country, we needed to pack for very different weather. During January in Santiago, it was 80 degrees and sunny – summer weather. But during January in Patagonia, which is closer to the Antarctic, we expected 50’s, wind, and some rain. (For tips on Antarctica, here and here.)
In fact, some January days in Patagonia, we experienced 4 seasons in a single day. A cold windy morning in Patagonia turned into warm afternoon. And as we hiked and warmed up more, off came the gloves, winter hat, and down coat. Packing is a challenge. Before you go, check out my packing list for Patagonia, Chile.
7. Chile travel tips: Don’t take taxis in Santiago
Unless you pay in advance, skip the taxis in Santiago. For example, to get from the airport in Santiago to our hotel, we paid inside the airport, before we got into a taxi. That was fine. But it was a different story in Santiago. We hailed a taxi on the street in a touristed area. And a dishonest taxi driver used a rigged meter to overcharge us by at least $60.
Traveling Mom Tip: next time we visit Santiago, we will take the subway. Santiago is justifiably proud of its new subway. It’s clean, inexpensive, and decorated with beautiful murals.
8. Chile travel tips: Pay toilets
Most restaurants in Chile did not require us to pay for toilets. But outside of restaurants, we expected to pay a small fee. So we made sure to have change. And even when we paid for a bathroom, there might not be toilet paper or soap. We learned the hard way to fill our pockets with toilet paper from the hotel to make sure we weren’t caught short. And next time we will bring hand sanitizer.
9. Chile travel advice: Santiago is lively, fun city worth visiting.
Before we visited Chile’s huge capital city, Santiago, we’d heard it was ugly and not worth much time. But my husband and I enjoyed walking Santiago’s lively streets, people-watching in Santiago’s main square, Plaza del Armas, visiting the Catedral Metropolitana, and walking up the garden pathways of Santa Lucia hill, to see the city view from the top.
The travel company that planned our Chile vacation, Classic Journeys, arranged an excellent walking tour of Santiago. It included architecture, churches, history about Chile’s hundreds of years as a Spanish colony, and its recent past under the brutal Pinochet military dictatorship (1973-1990).
On our own in Santiago, my husband and I visited the excellent Museum of Memory and Human Rights. While text is mostly in Spanish, the museum also uses art and artifacts to tell the tragic history of Chile under the Pinochet regime. I was very moved by videos of people telling their own stories. And those had English subtitles.
10. Chile travel tips: Currency tips
Chile uses the peso. We brought some pesos from the U.S. and, inside Chile, relied on ATM machines to withdraw pesos. But we also brought U.S. dollars with us. Because some Chileans preferred tips in U.S. dollars.
11. Chile travel advice: Expect Dogs
Chile loves their dogs! We saw lots of dogs on leashes. But also, many friendly dogs live on the street. They are like community pets. People feed and care for the friendly dogs who live on the street, in both Santiago and the countryside.