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CHILE

You’re never far from the ocean in Chile, a sliver of land squeezed between the Andes and the Pacific. But this is not solely a beach destination—the country encompasses a bone-dry desert, sprawling glaciers, and snow-covered volcanoes that perpetually smolder. The variety of attractions here, from the city of Santiago to first-rate vineyards, sprawling ranches, mysterious geoglyphs, and glittery resorts by the sea, will satisfy any type of traveler.

EXPLORE CHILE

TRAVEL TIPS

AIR TRAVEL

Traveling between the Americas is usually less tiring than traveling to Europe or Asia because you cross fewer time zones. Miami (8½ hour flight), New York (11 hours), Dallas (9½ hours), and Atlanta (9½ hours) are the primary departure points for flights to Chile from the United States, though there are also frequent flights from Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, D.C., and other cities. Other international flights often connect through other major South American cities like Buenos Aires and Lima.

Arriving from abroad, Canadian travelers have to pay US$132 and Australian citizens US$117 on entry as a “reciprocity fee.” Credit cards and cash are accepted for payment. Since 2014, U.S. citizens are exempt from paying the fee of US$160.

Always confirm international flights at least 72 hours ahead of the scheduled departure time. This is particularly true for travel within South America, where flights tend to operate at full capacity and passengers often have a great deal of baggage to process.

LAN offers the LANPASS program, where customers can earn miles (actually, kilometers) by flying with LAN or other members of the One World Alliance (American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, and others) or through car rentals or hotel stays with affiliated companies.

Airports

Most international flights head to Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) about 30 minutes west of the city. Domestic flights leave from the same terminal.

Flights

The largest North American carrier is American Airlines, which has direct service from Dallas and Miami; Delta flies from Atlanta. LAN flies nonstop to Santiago from both Miami and New York and with a layover in Lima from Los Angeles. Air Canada flies nonstop from Toronto. Most of the major Central and South American airlines also fly to Santiago, including Aerolíneas Argentinas, Avianca (Taca), Copa, and Tam.

LAN and Sky have daily flights from Santiago to most cities throughout Chile.

BOAT TRAVEL

Boats and ferries are the best way to reach many places in Chile, such as Chiloé and the Southern Coast. They are also a great alternative to flying when your destination is a southern port like Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas. Navimag and Transmarchilay are the two main companies operating routes in the south. They both maintain excellent websites (Spanish-only in the case of Transmarchilay) with complete schedule and pricing information. You can buy tickets online, or book through a travel agent.

Cruises

Several international cruise lines, including Celebrity Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, and Silversea Cruises, call at ports in Chile or offer cruises that start in Chile. Itineraries typically start in Valparaíso, following the coastline to the southern archipelago and its fjords. Some companies, such as Holland America, have itineraries that include Antarctica. Victory Adventure Expeditions and Adventure Associates are tour companies that offer cruises to Antarctica.

You can spend a week aboard the luxury Skorpios, which leaves from Puerto Montt and sails through the archipelago to the San Rafael glacier. In Punta Arenas, you can board Cruceros Australis and motor through the straights and fjords to Ushuaia and Cape Horn.

CAR TRAVEL

Certain areas of Chile are most enjoyable when explored on your own in a car, such as the beaches of the Central Coast, the wineries of the Central Valley, the ski areas east of Santiago, and the Lake District in the south. Some regions, such as parts of the Atacama Desert, are impossible to explore without your own wheels.

Drivers in Chile are not particularly aggressive, but neither are they particularly polite. Some common-sense rules of the road: Before you set out, establish an itinerary. Be sure to plan your daily driving distance conservatively, as distances are always longer than they appear on maps. Pick up a CHILETUR guide to the part of Chile to which you are traveling (North, Center, or South) before departing. The guides have excellent maps indicating gas stations along the major highways, as well as recommendations for different routes and car trips for each region of Chile. You can buy CHILETUR guides (Spanish only) at gas stations affiliated with COPEC and at bookstores in Chile. More information about the CHILETUR guides, including prices and content, is available at www.chileturcopec.cl. Bring enough change to pay tolls on highways.

Obey posted speed limits and traffic regulations, and keep your lights on during the day as well as the night. And above all, if you get a traffic ticket, don’t argue—and plan to spend longer than you want settling it.

Gasoline

Most service stations are operated by an attendant and accept credit cards. They are open 24 hours a day along the Pan-American Highway and in most major cities, but not in small towns and villages. Attendants will often ask you to glance at the zero reading on the gas pump to show that you are not being cheated. A small tip is expected if attendants clean your windows or check your oil level.

Parking

You can park on the street, in parking lots, or in parking garages in Santiago and large cities in Chile. Expect to pay anywhere from 500 to 3,000 pesos approximately, depending on the length of time. For street parking, a parking attendant (either official or unofficial) will be there to direct and charge you. You should tip the unofficial parking attendants, called cuidadores de autos; 1,000 pesos is a reasonable tip for two to three hours.

Road Conditions

Between May and September, roads and underpasses can flood when it rains. It can be dangerous, especially for drivers who don’t know their way around. Avoid driving if it has been raining for several hours.

The Pan-American Highway runs from Arica in the far north down to Puerto Montt and Chiloé, in the Lake District. Much of it is now two-lane and bypasses most large cities. The Carretera Austral, a mostly unpaved road that runs for 1,240 km (770 miles) as far as Villa O’Higgins in Patagonia, starts just south of Puerto Montt. A few stretches of the road are broken by water and are linked only by car ferries (check ferry schedules before departing, as schedules may change depending on the time of year). Some parts of the Carretera can be washed away in heavy rain; it is wise to consult local police for details.

Many cyclists ride without lights in rural areas, so be careful when driving at night, particularly on roads without street lighting. This also applies to horse- and bull-drawn carts.

Roadside Emergencies

El Automóvil Club de Chile offers low-cost road service and towing in and around the main cities to members of the Automobile Association of America (AAA). But if you don’t speak Spanish, you’re probably better off contacting your rental agency, or having your hotel concierge communicate with the automobile club or your rental agency.

Rules of the Road

Keep in mind that the speed limit is 60 kph (37 mph) in cities and 120 kph (75 mph) on highways unless otherwise posted. The police regularly enforce the speed limit, handing out partes (tickets) to speeders.

Right-hand turns are prohibited at red lights unless otherwise posted. Seat belts are mandatory in the front and back of the car, and police give on-the-spot fines for not wearing them. There is a zero tolerance alcohol policy for drivers in Chile. If the police find you with more than 0.3 milligrams of alcohol in your blood, you will be considered to be driving under the influence and arrested.

Plan to rent snow chains for driving on the road up to the ski resorts outside Santiago. Police will stop you and ask if you have them—if you don’t, you will be forced to turn back.

It is obligatory to keep your headlights lit during the day and night.

Car Rental

On average it costs 25,000 pesos (about US$50) a day to rent the cheapest type of car with unlimited mileage. Vehicles with automatic transmissions tend to be more luxurious and can cost twice as much as the basic rental with manual transmission. Many companies list higher rates (about 20%) for the high season (December–February). Hertz, Avis, and Budget have locations at Santiago’s airport and elsewhere around the country.

To access some of Chile’s more remote regions, it may be necessary to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle, which can cost 80,000 pesos (about US$165) a day. You can often get a discounted weekly rate. The rate you are quoted usually includes insurance, but make sure to find out exactly what the insurance covers and to ask whether there is a deductible you will have to pay in case of an accident. You can usually pay slightly more and have no deductible. An obligatory extra that all companies charge for rentals out of or returning to Santiago is TAG, an electronic toll-collection system used in that city. This charge is currently about 5,000 pesos (about US$10) per day. If you don’t want to drive yourself, consider hiring a car and driver through your hotel concierge, or make a deal with a taxi driver for some extended sightseeing at a longer-term rate.

Major international rental companies (Alamo, Avis, Budget, Hertz, National) operate in Chile, but local companies are sometimes a cheaper option. Rosselot, Bengolea, and Chilean are reputable local companies with offices in Santiago and other cities.

To drive legally in Chile you need an international driver’s license as well as your valid national license, although car rental companies and police do not often enforce this regulation. The minimum age for driving is 18, but to rent a car you have to be 22 (or 23 depending on the company).

TRAIN TRAVEL

Good train service is a thing of the past in Chile, though there is still limited service from Santiago to cities south of the capital. TerraSur offers two daily departures between Santiago and Chillán (and points in between), with additional bus service to Concepción. Reservations can be made via the company’s website (English version available) or in person.

COMMUNICATIONS

Internet

Chileans are generally savvy about the Internet, and in most cities, you’ll find Wi-Fi spots and Internet cafés. Connection fees at cybercafés are about 1,000 to 2,000 pesos for an hour, and Wi-Fi is always free for paying customers. In Santiago, there are also many free Wi-Fi hubs, particularly in metro stations.

If you’re planning to bring a laptop or tablet into the country, check the manual first to see if it requires a converter. Newer laptops and tablets will require only an adapter plug. If you are planning on using your cell phone, check your service providers’ roaming charges before leaving. Buying local pay-as-you-go phone cards are available at phone shops and kiosks in most towns, although they are unlikely to offer Internet service unless you sign on for a long-term contract.

While most people in Chile walk around the streets with smartphones in hand, carrying anything valuable could make you a target for thieves. Act with caution by concealing your devices in a generic bag and keeping it close to you at all times, especially on public transportation.

Phones

The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on earth. The bad news? You can’t always do so cheaply. Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add surcharges to calls, particularly international ones. Chile has many call centers, and you can also purchase calling cards at street kiosks or phone shops. Mobile phones are usually cheaper than calling from your hotel.

The country code for Chile is 56. When dialing a Chilean number from abroad, drop the initial 0 from the local area code. The area code is 2 for Santiago, 58 for Arica, 55 for Antofogasta and San Pedro de Atacama, 42 for Chillán, 57 for Iquique, 51 for La Serena, 65 for Puerto Montt, 61 for Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, 45 for Temuco, 63 for Valdivia, and 32 for Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Mobile phone numbers are preceded by the number 9 (sometimes you’ll see it written as 09). Dial the “0” first if you’re calling from a landline within Chile; otherwise, drop it if you’re calling from abroad or from another cell phone in Chile.

Calling Within Chile

A 100-peso coin is required to make a local call in a public phone booth, or 200 pesos to dial a cell phone. It is increasingly difficult to find payphones in Chile since most people now use cell phones. Centros de llamadas (call centers), small phone shops with individual booths, are common and are priced fairly. Simply step into any available booth and dial the number. The charge will be displayed on a monitor near the phone.

You can reach directory assistance in Chile by calling 103. English-speaking operators are not available.

To call a landline from a cell phone, dial “0” and then the city code and number.

For national long-distance calls, you may need to dial a long-distance carrier code (try 123 or 133—two commonly used codes) then the area code and number.

Calling Outside Chile

The country code is 1 for the United States and Canada, 61 for Australia, 64 for New Zealand, and 44 for the United Kingdom. You must add a zero before these country codes when dialing from Chile, and may also be required to add an international service provider (or “carrier”) code before the 0 (try commonly used codes 123 or 133). Using a Telefónica/Movistar phone (the top service provider in Chile), dial 800/207–300 to reach MCI international operator assistance.

Calling Cards

If you plan to call abroad while in Chile, it’s in your best interest to buy a local phone card (sold in kiosks and call centers). EntelTicket phone cards, for example, are widely available in different denominations.

Mobile Phones

If you have a multiband phone (some countries use frequencies other than those used in the United States), and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however, and overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call.

If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You’ll then have a local number and can make and receive local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time. SIM cards and prepaid service plans can be purchased at offices of the major cell phone companies in Chile, like Entel and Movistar.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

You may bring into Chile up to 400 cigarettes, 500 grams of tobacco, 50 cigars, 2.5 liters of alcoholic beverages, and gifts to the value of US$300. Prohibited items include plants, fruits and vegetables, seeds, meat, and honey. Spot checks take place at airports and border crossings, and fines are common. It’s always better to declare all animal and vegetable products you are carrying, rather than risk being fined.

Visitors, although seldom questioned, are prohibited from leaving with handicrafts and souvenirs worth more than US$500. You are generally prohibited from taking antiques out of the country without special permission.

DINING

The restaurants that we list are the cream of the crop in each price category. It is customary to tip 10% in Chile; tipping above this amount is uncommon among locals. Credit cards are generally accepted in big cities (although the tip should preferably be left in cash), but when visiting smaller towns and rural areas, always bring enough cash.

Chileans like to eat three staple meals a day, if not more. You can expect a typically light breakfast to be served between 7 am and 10 am; lunch is usually eaten between 1 pm and 3 pm; and dinner won’t usually be served before 8 pm, often running till midnight. Reservations are advisable but generally not necessary unless you are visiting a popular restaurant or are taking a large group.

The dress code for lunch is fairly casual, but eating out in the evening is often a special occasion for locals. You should dress like you care. Chileans can be conservative with dress; if you bare too much flesh you might attract scornful looks or meandering gazes.

ELECTRICITY

Unlike the United States and Canada—which have a 110- to 120-volt standard—the current in Chile is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC). The wall sockets accept plugs with two round prongs.

Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and mobile phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts) and so require only a plug adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “for shavers only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.

EMERGENCIES

The numbers to call in case of emergency are the same all over Chile and work from both cell phones and landlines. Operators will generally not speak English, however; your embassy is your best bet for most emergencies.

HEALTH

From a health standpoint, Chile is one of the safer countries in which to travel. To be on the safe side, take the normal precautions you would traveling anywhere in South America.

In Santiago, there are several large private clínicas, and many doctors speak at least a bit of English. In most other large cities there are one or two private clinics where you can be seen quickly. Generally, hospitales (hospitals) or postas (centers for emergency first aid) are for those receiving free or heavily subsidized treatment, and they are often crowded with long lines of patients waiting to be seen.

Altitude sickness—which causes shortness of breath, nausea, and splitting headaches—may be a problem in some areas of the North or hiking in the Andes. The best way to prevent puna is to ascend slowly and acclimate, spending at least one night at a lower altitude if possible. If symptoms persist, return to lower elevations. Over-the-counter medications to help prevent altitude sickness are available. If you have high blood pressure and/or a history of heart trouble, you should check with your doctor before traveling to high altitudes.

When it comes to air quality, Santiago ranks as one of the most polluted cities in the world. The reason is that the city is surrounded by two mountain ranges that keep the pollutants from cars and other sources from dissipating. The pollution is worst in winter.

What to do? First, avoid strenuous outdoor exercise and the traffic-clogged streets when air-pollution levels are high. Santiago has a wonderful subway that will whisk you to almost anywhere you want to go. Spend your days in museums and other indoor attractions. And take advantage of the city’s many parks.

Visitors seldom encounter problems with drinking the water in Chile. Almost all drinking water receives proper treatment and is unlikely to produce health problems. But its high mineral content—it’s born in the Andes—can disagree with some people. In any case, a wide selection of still (sin gas) and sparkling (con gas) bottled waters is available.

Food preparation is strictly regulated by the government, so outbreaks of food-borne diseases are rare. But use common sense. Don’t risk restaurants where the hygiene is suspect or street vendors where the food is allowed to sit around at room temperature.

Shots and Medications

Although no vaccinations are required for entry into Chile, all travelers to Chile should get up-to-date tetanus, diphtheria, and measles boosters, and a hepatitis A inoculation is recommended. Children traveling to Chile should have current inoculations against mumps, rubella, and polio. Always check with your doctor before leaving.

If you have traveled to an area at risk for yellow fever transmission within five days before entering Chile, you may be asked to show proof that you have been vaccinated against the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s some risk of food-borne diseases such as hepatitis A and typhoid. There’s no risk of contracting malaria, but a very limited risk of dengue fever, another insect-borne disease, on Easter Island. The best way to avoid insect-borne diseases is to prevent insect bites by wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts and by using insect repellents with DEET. If you plan to visit remote regions or stay for more than six weeks, check with the CDC’s International Travelers Hot Line.

The Hantavirus, a serious respiratory disease, exists in Chile, particularly in rural areas where rats are found (long-tailed rats are the most common carriers). Pay particular attention to warnings in campgrounds, and make sure to keep camping areas as clean as possible.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Mild cases of diarrhea may respond to Imodium (known generically as loperamide). Pepto Bismol is not available in Chile (though Maalox is), so pack some chewable tablets. Drink plenty of purified water or tea—chamomile (manzanilla in Spanish) is a soothing option. You will need to visit a farmacia (pharmacy) to purchase medications such as aspirina (aspirin), which are readily available.

HOURS OF OPERATION

Most retail businesses are open weekdays 10–7 and Saturday until 2; most are closed Sunday. Some businesses and shops in regional cities and towns close for lunch between 1 and 3 or 4, though this is becoming less common. Supermarkets often stay open until 10 or 11 pm, as do large malls.

Most banks are open weekdays 9–2. Casas de cambio are open weekdays 9–7 and weekends 9–3 for currency exchange.

Gas stations in major cities and along the Pan-American Highway tend to stay open 24 hours. Others follow regular business hours.

Most tourist attractions are open during normal business hours during the week and for at least the morning on Saturday and Sunday. Most museums are closed Monday.

Holidays

New Year’s Day (January 1), Good Friday (April), Labor Day (May 1), Day of Naval Glories, or the Battle of Iquique (May 21), Corpus Christi (June), Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (June), Feast of the Vírgen de Carmen (July 16), Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 15), Independence Day (September 18), Army Day (September 19), Discovery of the Americas or Columbus Day (October 12), Day of the Evangelic and Protestant Churches (October 31), All Saints Day (November 1), Immaculate Conception (December 8), and Christmas (December 25).

Many shops and services are open on most of these days, but transportation is always heavily booked up on and around the holidays. The two most important dates in the Chilean calendar are September 18 and New Year’s Day. On these days shops close and public transportation is reduced to the bare minimum or is nonexistent. Trying to book a ticket around these dates will be difficult unless you do it well in advance.

MONEY

Unlike in some other South American countries, U.S. dollars are rarely accepted in Chile. (The exception is larger hotels, where prices are often quoted only in dollars.) Credit cards and traveler’s checks are accepted in most resorts and in many shops and restaurants in major cities, though you should always carry some local currency for minor expenses like taxis and tipping. Once you stray from the beaten path, you can often pay only with pesos.

Typically you will pay 1,000 pesos for a cup of coffee, 1,500 pesos for a glass of beer in a bar, 1,500 pesos for a ham sandwich, and 1,000 pesos for an average museum admission.

Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.

Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you’re planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don’t wait until the last minute.

ATMs and Banks

Automatic teller machines, or cajeros automáticos, dispense only Chilean pesos. They are ubiquitous but, although most have instructions in English, not all are linked to the Plus and Cirrus systems. Look at the stickers on the machine to find the one you need. Most ATMs in Chile have a special screen—accessed after entering your PIN—for foreign-account withdrawals. In this case, you need to select the “extranjeros/foreign clients” option from the menu. ATMs offer excellent exchange rates because they are based on wholesale rates offered only by major banks.

Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you’ll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.

PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in Chile. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.

Banco de Chile is probably the largest national bank; its website www.bancochile.cl lists branches and ATMs by location if you click on the “surcursales” (locations) link, then the “cajeros automáticos” link. Banco Santander (www.santander.cl) is another fairly common option.

Credit Cards

It’s a good idea to inform your credit card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you there.

If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won’t be any surprises when you get the bill.

Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don’t always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn’t an option.

Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants, and shops in most cities and tourist destinations. Fewer establishments accept credit cards in rural areas. You may get a slightly better deal if you pay with cash (ask about discounts), and some businesses charge an extra fee for paying with a non-Chilean credit card.

Chile has implemented a security system for credit-card transactions called PinPass, which requires you to enter a previously established PIN in a hand-held machine. As a foreigner, you should explain that you haven’t activated your PinPass, and the merchants should be able to process the transaction with your signature.

Credit card receipts in Chile have a line for signatures as well as for national ID numbers, or RUTs. You may be asked to put your passport number on this second line; otherwise, you can leave it blank.

Currency and Exchange

The peso is the unit of currency in Chile. Note that Chilean currency may be written as $1,000 or CLP$1,000. Chilean bills are issued in 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 pesos, and coins come in units of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 pesos. Note that getting change for larger bills, especially from small shopkeepers and taxi drivers, can be difficult. Make sure to get smaller bills when you exchange currency. Always check exchange rates in newspapers or online for the most current information.

Common to Santiago and other mid- to large-size cities are casas de cambio, or money-changing stores. Naturally, those at the airport will charge premium rates for convenience’s sake. It may be more economical to change a small amount for your transfer to the city, where options are wider and rates more reasonable. Note that exchange houses will not accept damaged dollar notes.

The U.S. State Department warns travelers that Chilean banks, casas de cambio, and businesses may refuse US$100 bills due to past problems with counterfeiting. Chilean banks and police officers have been trained by the U.S. Secret Service to identify counterfeit bills, but some places still won’t accept them. If you plan to exchange U.S. currency, bring bills smaller than US$50.

PACKING

You’ll need to pack for all seasons when visiting Chile, no matter what time of year you’re traveling. Outside the cities, especially in the Lake District and Southern Chile, long-sleeve shirts, long pants, socks, sneakers, a hat, a light waterproof jacket, a bathing suit, and insect repellent are all essential. Light colors are best since mosquitoes avoid them. If you’re visiting Patagonia or the Andes, bring a jacket and sweater or a fleece pullover. A high-factor sunscreen is essential at all times, especially in the far south where the ozone layer is much depleted.

Other useful items include a screw-top water bottle that you can fill with purified water, a money pouch, a travel flashlight and extra batteries, a medical kit, binoculars, and a pocket calculator to help with currency conversions. A sarong or light cotton blanket can have many uses: beach towel, picnic blanket, and cushion for hard seats, among other things. You can never have too many large resealable plastic bags, which are ideal for storing film, protecting things from rain and damp, and quarantining stinky socks.

Since it’s sometimes hard to get a bottle of shampoo through customs these days, an easy workaround (and load-lightener) is to buy a handful of shampoo packets (about the size of a ketchup packet) in any Chilean drug store or street market. Of course, many better hotels will already provide shampoo and soap. Though Chile’s bathrooms are generally well stocked with toilet paper, it’s still not a bad idea to have a small packet of tissues in your pocket.

PASSPORTS AND VISAS

While traveling in Chile you might want to carry a copy of your passport and leave the original in your hotel safe. If you plan on paying by credit card you will often be asked to show identification (the copy of your passport or a driver’s license, for example). Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom need only a passport to enter Chile for up to three months. Keep hold of the customs slip you receive on arrival; you’ll need to hand it over when you leave.

SAFETY

The vast majority of visitors to Chile never experience a problem with crime. Violent crime is a rarity; far more common is pickpocketing or thefts from purses, backpacks, or rental cars. Be on your guard in crowded places, especially markets and festivals. It’s best to avoid wearing flashy jewelry and handling money in public. Always remain alert for pickpockets, and take particular caution when walking alone at night, especially in the larger cities.

Volcano climbing is a popular pastime in Chile, with Volcán Villarrica, near Pucón, and Volcán Osorno the most popular. But some of these mountains are also among South America’s most active volcanoes. CONAF, the agency in charge of national parks, cuts off access to any volcano at the slightest hint of abnormal activity. Check with CONAF before heading out on any hike in this region.

Many women travel alone or in groups in Chile with no problems. Chilean men are less aggressive in their machismo than men in other South American countries (they will seldom, for example, approach a woman they don’t know), but it’s still an aspect of the culture (they will make comments when a woman walks by). Single women should take caution when walking alone at night, especially in larger cities.

In the event of an earthquake in Chile, exercise common sense (don’t take elevators and move away from heavy objects that may fall, for example) and follow instructions if you are in a public place (metro, museum, etc.). If you are in a coastal location, listen for tsunami sirens, or simply follow the tsunami evacuation route (indicated by signs in the streets) or head to high ground.

TAXES

A 19% value-added tax (called IVA in Chile) is added to the cost of most goods and services in Chile; often you won’t notice because it’s included in the price. When it’s not, the seller gives you the price plus IVA. At many hotels you may receive an exemption from the IVA if you pay in American dollars or with a credit card in U.S. dollars.

TIPPING

In restaurants and for tour guides, a 10% tip is usual, unless service has been deficient. Taxi drivers don’t expect to be tipped. Visitors need to be wary of parking attendants. During the day, they should only charge what’s on their portable meters when you collect the car but, at night, they will ask for money—usually 1,000 pesos—in advance. This is a racket but, for your car’s safety, it’s better to comply.

TRIP INSURANCE

Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.

Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.