Suggested length of stay
Chile boasts 4000km of breathtaking landscapes, each more impressive than the last and without travelling the length of the Andes, it is hard to know where to stop! However, for a snapshot of classic Chile visiting the Atacama Desert, Lake District and Patagonia, you will need a minimum of 12 days. 2-3 extra days will open up side-trips into the wine valleys or historic port of Valparaiso while with 4-5 days, you can discover the magnificent wilds of the “Carretera Austral” highway or the unique Moai heritage of Easter Island.
Santiago 2 nights, Atacama Desert 3-4 nights, The Lake District 2-3 nights, Patagonia & the south 4-5 nights
Modes of transport
Chile’s infrastructure is the envy of the Americas and roads, on the whole, are very good. Key arteries are paved while isolated highways are a mix of asphalt and well-maintained gravel tracks. There are excellent long distance buses though the sheer scale of Chile makes travelling entirely by road impractical for the majority of visitors. Patagonia and cross-border trips into Argentina still involve long journeys though these are more than compensated by the awe-inspiring scenery as you zigzag through forests, gorges and isolated mountain passes. Chile’s road network lends itself perfectly to fly-drive holidays, arguably the very best way to explore the spectacular scenery. The roads are wide and devoid of traffic, while international permits allow you to criss-cross the border into Argentina through spectacular Andean passes. Patagonia and the Lake District particularly stand out for self-drive and enable you to explore lesser visited attractions and avoid traditional coach parties.
Chile has a comprehensive network dominated by the Latin American giant Latam (result of the recent merger between Lan and Tam) which has regular flights to the key destinations. All itineraries will involve a number of flights routing through the main hub Santiago and these are best organised as part of an airpass. Please do contact Oasis Travel for more information.
Chile’s rail network once spanned almost the entire country running from Arica on the northern border with Peru down to Puerto Montt on the southern edge of the Lake District. However, lack of investment combined with frequent earthquakes and the rise of the long distance highways have reduced the service to patchy remnants which operate around Santiago, Valparaiso and sporadically as far south as Puerto Montt. Northern routes are currently used for freight, a result of the powerful mining industry, and there are plans afoot to revitalise certain sections throughout the country.
Chile offers excellent mountain biking especially around the Lake District in the south and the Atacama desert in the northwest. Various tours catering to both serious and non-serious riders can easily be arranged to get off the beaten track and explore lesser-visited trails, villages and national parks on both sides of the border.
Southern Chile is dominated by a myriad of picturesque fjords, islands and inlets and taking a boat into the breathtaking archipelago to admire distant glaciers shrouded in temperate rainforest will be a highlight of any trip. Sadly the Navimag ferry which navigates the southern fjords as far as Puerto Natales at the tip of Chile no long accepts tourists, however, there are still a good number of boat trips worth considering. From Puerto Montt, the state-of-the-art MV Atmosphere explores the glacier topped fjords and whale-rich waters of the Gulf of Corcovado while further south, cruises set off from Chacabuco to navigate up to the icy face of the vast Laguna San Rafael Glacier. At the tip of Chile, there are boat trips into the Straits of Magellan to take in huge penguin and sea-lion colonies while for a dedicated 3 or 4 night ocean cruise, look no further than Cruceros Australis. From Punta Arenas, Cruceros Australis operates 2 boats (the Stella and Via Australis) through the breathtaking glacial scenery of the Patagonian Fjords to reach Ushuaia just across the border in Argentina. Please do contact Oasis Travel for more details.
The snow-capped Andes are synonymous with world-class trekking and Chile offers some of the finest walking in all South America. Pucon, adventure capital of Chile’s northern Lake District, is ringed with picture-postcard national parks and visitors flock from far and wide to hike up the flanks of Volcano Villarica to catch sight of molten lava bubbling away in the dark depths. Further south, Puerto Varas offers a range of options from gentle walks through pretty forests amidst glacier-topped mountains to a challenging day hike up Volcano Osorno. However, the Torres del Paine National Park at the heart of Patagonia in the far south is the focal point for all serious walkers. A network of trails leads through lakes, towering granite peaks and huge icefields and is punctuated throughout with camp sites and even rustic mountain huts. A week long circumnavigation takes in the entire national park while the iconic “W” trek is a shorter 4-5 day snapshot which encompasses the iconic French Valley, Glacier Grey and “Torres” granite towers.
Chile’s weather matches the country’s extreme geography. The northern deserts record temperatures in their late 20’s during the summer (December to February) though drop dramatically at night, approaching freezing the closer you travel to the high Andes on the borders with Argentina and Bolivia. Santiago and central Chile enjoy a warm Mediterranean climate year round with annual highs of close to 30° while temperatures are cooler in the Lake District, 20° at the height of summer and wettest between April and August. In the far south, the climate is unpredictable at best, the adage warns of four seasons in one day! Winds howl across the Patagonian steppe cutting you to the bone as they whip off the great southern icefield. Temperatures can reach the late teens during the spring and summer months of November to March (best time to visit) though can drop to zero at night. Days, however, are long – 16 hours of light in December with beautiful autumnal colours in March.
From the Atacama Desert in the north to the vast icefields and Patagonian fjords in the south, Chile is a country of ever changing landscapes. 4000km long from its dusty northern border with Peru right down along the spine of the Andes to Cape Horn at the tip of the continent, Chile’s impressive length is matched by its equally unimpressive girth. Bound by towering mountains to the east and a booming Pacific coastline to the west, Chile is hemmed into a coastal strip 175 km wide on average, only 64 km wide at its most narrow point. To the north, arid red-rock deserts rise up to meet high Andean border crossings with Argentina and Chile while travelling south, featureless landscapes are replaced with fertile green fields and lush volcanoes shrouded in temperate rainforest. From Puerto Montt, the land splinters into an archipelago of picturesque fjords and islands which makes up the remaining tip of the continent. Finally, in the far south, the coastline collides with the desolate Patagonian plateau where majestic granite peaks rise up from the rolling grass steppe against the dramatic backdrop of age-old icefields.
According to the adage, “no one dies of starvation in Chile" and looking at the country’s geography, it is easy to understand why! Chile is blessed with 4000 km of coastline and some of the finest seafood and shellfish in the world. Traditional dishes include Centolla (king crab), Paila Marina (seafood broth), corvina (sea bass) and congrio (toothfish not conger eel as it is so often mistranslated). Salmon and trout are also firm favourites, both mainly farmed (the salmon industry is the second largest in Chile) while on the islands of Chiloé, the traditional Curanto pit bake is popular though does take some getting used to. However, despite the abundance of world class seafood, Chileans are avid carnivores fervent admirers of traditional “asado” barbeques and “pichanga” grills washed down with full bodied Carmeniere wine, grown in the footballs of the Andes south of Santiago. To the north, Chilean cuisine takes on a more Andean feel with both llama and alpaca on the menu accompanied by highland stapes such as quinoa, choclo and maize. Other traditional dishes include “pastel de choclo” and “cazuela” traditional stews, and “empanada” pasties, delicious throughout the country!
Water is treated but to be on the safe side, it is not advisable to drink tap water in Chile. Bottled water is very cheap and widely available in all areas of the country.
Australian citizens are currently required to pay a reciprocity visa of US95 on arrival in Chile. Oasis accepts no responsibility regarding the issue of visas.
The local currency is the Chilean “Peso” though US dollars are often accepted in the capital’s hotels, tourist shops and restaurants. ATM’s are common throughout and credit cards are also widely accepted though often discounts will be offered for payments made in cash. However, once you leave the main hubs and head into the local villages and markets, it is important to have small denominations of local currency. Traveller’s Cheques are still accepted though commissions vary between one agency to another and are often more of a burden.
Tipping is common throughout Chile and as a guideline, you should allow US10 for a half day guided tour (US20 for the full day) while for the driver US5 (US8 full day). Of course, only pay for good service. For general transfers, there is no need to tip unless of course they have gone out of their way to help you (ie stopped at a local pharmacy en route).
Inoculations & health precautions
Please consult with your doctor at least 6 week before travel to Chile. There are no mandatory inoculations required (no malaria nor yellow fever) though we recommend that you be up-to-date with standard vaccinations.
The standard of medical facilities and care in Chile is among the best in Latin America. There are foreign private medical clinics and hospitals throughout the country with facilities and services comparable to Australian standards. Medical care at most public hospitals is also good though medical evacuation to a major centre may be required for minor operations. Most hotels work with a private doctor who will visit you at your room, however, both doctors and hospitals will expect cash payment prior to providing medical services, including for emergency care.
It is vital to have good medical insurance before you travel.
Australian Embassy contact in Chile
Isidora Goyenechea 3621, 13th Floor
Telephone +56 2 2550 3500
Facsimile +56 2 2550 3560
Chile electrical current is 220 volts at 50 cycles though some bathrooms work off 110V. Plugs are 2 round-prong style sometimes earthed with a third central prong. Some isolated estancias or Atacama lodges run off generators and it is recommended you bring along a small torch.
Qantas offers a direct service from Sydney to Santiago three times a week while Latam (Lan) offers daily flights to Chile which touch down in Auckland en route. There are other routes available via the US or even via Dubai though only one-world partners Qantas and Lan will entitle you to discounted fares for the Lan dominated internal flights within South America.
Non-stop flight time Sydney – Santiago approximately 14 hours
Time difference GMT - 4 hours (Easter Island - 6 hours)
Tip - Keep some local currency on departure for airport tax