Chile is a long, narrow country that extends from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean on the southwest side of South America, from latitude 17° 30' S in the Altiplano to 56° 30' S at the far end of continental Chile and 90° S in its Antarctic territory. Chile has a unique geography: its territory includes Easter Island, in Polynesia, 3,700 km from the mainland, as well as territory in Antarctica (Chile Antártico, 1,250,000 km2). Continental and insular Chile, which includes the mainland and offshore islands and archipelagos, covers 756,096 km2. Chile's main territory is roughly twice the size of Germany and consists of a strip of land 4,200 km long and 90 to 440 km wide. In the far south, the land is transected by hundreds of islands and fiords. Santiago is the country's capital and largest city in terms of population and employment. Located on parallel 33° S, at roughly the same latitude as Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Santiago is the country's main political, economic, cultural and industrial center.
Given that Chile is located on the southwest coast of South America; you will likely fly to Santiago, the country's capital city and location of its main International airport. You can also get here by road from neighboring countries Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, or by sea, arriving at one of the country's seaports. Chile has seven international airports (located in Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, Easter Island, Santiago, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas). The largest is Santiago's airport, Aeropuerto Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez (SCL), which offers international connections to North and South America, Europe and Oceania.
According to the World Bank, Chile has a population of 16,970,265 distributed throughout a nation that celebrated 200 years of Independence in September 2010. The Chileans of the 21st century are the product of a blending of European heritage beginning with the Spanish conquistadors and the area's native peoples. About 93.4% of the population is mestizo, while 6.6% identify as members of the original peoples. Most of the blend is a result of the Spanish and European immigration that took place during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The Mapuche and Aymara peoples were the area's original inhabitants.
- Mainland Chile Summer Time (CLST) -3 Hours
- Mainland Chile Standard Time in effect during the winter months -4 Hours
- Easter Island Summer time -5 Hours
- Easter Island Standard Time -6 Hours
The official language of Chile is Spanish. However, there is an idiomatic tendency to "Chileanize" the language, creating new words and usages. Other languages spoken in Chile include Mapudungún (the language of the Mapuches), Aymara (in the northern Andean region of the country) and Rapa Nui (on the Polynesian locale of Easter Island).
Americans and Canadians must present a valid passport to visit Chile, which must be valid for the duration of the trip. Before you leave, ask your transportation company about its requirements related to passport validity, which may be more stringent than the country's entry rules. Tourist visa: Not required All travellers are given a Tourist Card (valid for a maximum period of 90 days) upon arrival. The tourist card must be presented prior to departure. Failure to produce this document may result in delays until a replacement card is obtained.
CURRENCY, COSTS AND TIPS
The currency is Chile is the peso, with coins of one, five, 10, 50, 100 and 500 pesos and bills of 1,000, 2,000, 50,000, 10,000 and 20,000 pesos. The exchange rate for the U.S. dollar is roughly 500 pesos, while that of the Euro is approximately 670 pesos.
- Food prices (Meal for one)
- Low budget: between three and five dollars
- Medium budget: between five and 20 dollars
- High budget: between 20 and 100 dollars
- Tipping is optional for all services, although a 10% gratuity is recommended.
ELECTRICITY AND COMMUNICATIONS
The electrical current in Chile is 220 Volts and 50 Hertz. Three-terminal electrical adapters are not common, but two-terminal converters can be found at stores that sell electrical equipment. Meanwhile, communications in Chile are ample and varied, including public telephones, mobile phones and satellite phone service. You can find broadband Internet almost anywhere in the country, and WiFi service is available in the main cities.
CHILE WEATHER AND GEOGRAPHY
Chile is sandwiched between two great forces of nature: the Pacific Ocean to the west and the high peaks of the Andes to the east. The country in located in the southeastern part of South America and borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast and Argentina to the east. Chile is the seventh largest South American country, with a surface area of 756,096 square kilometers.
Chile's mainland territory extends from 17º30' to 56º30', beginning at the altiplano and ending at the southernmost islands in the world at Tierra del Fuego.
On the map, Chile looks like a long, narrow strip of land, with a length of over 4,000 kilometers and an average width of 177 kilometers. In the country's northern region, the altiplano and deserts predominate, including the Atacama Desert, the most arid on the planet. In the central region, the country's two dominant mountain ranges – the Cordillera de la Costa (Coastal Mountain Range) and the Andes – create a series of valleys lined with fast-flowing rivers and an abundance of farm land. The country's southern region runs from latitude 38º south to 41º and is known for its large lakes, evergreen forests and snow-capped volcanoes. The region is also home to important inter-oceanic passages like the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Canal and the Drake Passage.
Due to the shape of its territory, Chile possesses 4,000 kilometers of coastline, laden with extensive beaches and towering cliffs hanging over the sea. To the east, and parallel to the Pacific, you'll find the Andes, which feature some of the highest peaks of the entire mountain mass, including Ojos del Salado Volcano (6,893 meters), the Llulaillaco Volcano (6,739 meters), Tres Cruces (6,749 meters) and Cerro Tupungato (6,635 meters).
Due to its extensive length, Chile features a variety of climates. This is explained by Chile's geographic position with respect to high-pressure zones, the presence of the polar front and the influence of the sea. In other words, Chile's climate is shaped by factors of latitude, altitude and relief.
In the country's central region, the peaks of the Cordillera de la Costa impede the flow of the marine climate, and the wall formed by the Andes seals off continental influences. The presence of the sea gives the country a predominantly
Mediterranean-style climate, with moderate temperatures and a wide range between the highs of the day and the lows of the night, creating fog and cool winds, the latter even more a product of the cool Humboldt Current.
The southern region has more humidity and precipitation and lower temperatures than the central region, while northern Chile features a dry desert climate, hot during the day and very cold at night.
The climatic diversity can be observed through the frequency of rainfall, which becomes considerably more pronounced as you head south. The rainy season also varies by region. On the altiplano, it comes during summer and from the central region to the Patagonia, in the winter.
The situation is the same when it comes to the highs and lows in temperature. It is warmer in the north and central regions, and gets colder as you head south. Chile has four well-defined seasons. All of Chile's cities experience their warmest weather between October and April and the coldest from May to September.
CLIMATE BY REGION
Norte Grande (the "Big North," which is located between the northern border and the latitude 30º south, from the city of Arica to Vallenar): This area is characterized by its desert climate, which finds its greatest expression in the extreme aridity of the Atacama Desert. The climate varies depending on the geographic location: coastal, normal (or inland) and high desert. Generally speaking, the region offers little in the way of precipitation, with the exception of summertime in the altiplano, due to the "altiplano winter" effect, and on rare occasions in the coastal cities. On the coast, the temperatures vary between 15ºC and 25ºC. In the desert, the conditions are extreme. During the day, the temperatures range from 30ºC to 50ºC, and at night the temperature can drop to between 0º and -15ºC.
Norte Chico ("Little North," from the latitudes 26º to 33º south, approximately from the city of Vallenar to Illpel): With a warm steppe or semi-arid climate, a transition from the desert climate of the northern region to the colder climates of the south, Norte Chico features irregular rains that mainly come during the winter. On the coast of the Coquimbo area, you'll find a coastal steppe climate, with more precipitation than Norte Grande. This is due to the significant environmental humidity that manifests itself in the form of thin fog and light rain. In La Serena, the average annual temperature is 14.7ºC. In the valleys, the climate features less environmental humidity and higher temperatures (between 19ºC and 20ºC).
Central Region (from 33º to 37º south, approximately from the city of Illapel to Los Angeles): Chile's Central region has a Mediterranean climate. In this part of the country, the climatic conditions are more moderate, combining a considerable amount of precipitation with a greater range of distribution of the rain. The rains tend to fall during winter and the climate is dry and temperate in summer. The seasons are well-differentiated in this part of the country, with the cold season running from May to September and the hot season lasting from October to April. On the coast, the variations are softer, while inland cities like Santiago features more extreme swings, most notoriously in winter (an average of 8ºC). The average temperature in summertime is 20ºC, with highs above 32ºC.
Southern Region (from 37º to 41º south, approximately from the city of Los Ángeles to the archipelago of Chiloé): Southern Chile features a temperate rainy climate on the coast and inland areas, with frequent precipitation and temperate-to-cool temperatures. It's a transitional climate between the Central Region and the Patagonia. Cities like Concepción and Valdivia receive an average of 2,600 mm of rain a year. The cold increases as you travel south, as does the humidity, due to the proximity of the Pacific Ocean (maritime climate). In Concepción, the average summer temperature is 17ºC with little rain (which becomes more frequent between May and August). Temuco, Valdivia and Osorno are rainy cities, with an even more pronounced Mediterranean climate. Chiloé is home to areas that receive more than 4,000 mm of precipitation a year. The mountain region features very low temperatures and receives abundant snowfall in the winter.
Patagonia Norte ("Northern Patagonia", from 41º to 46º 30'', starting from the city of Puerto Montt, including all of northern Patagonia, until the town of Cochrane, approximately): Due to its extensive size, this area presents significant climatic variations influenced mainly by the relief, the sea and the winds. Near the Carretera Austral and the region of Aysén, there is a low-temperature maritime climate, with abundant precipitation, strong winds and humidity. The characteristics of relief create a difference in climate in the eastern sector of the Patagonian Andes, where the climate is tundra, less rainy and colder (with an average temperature of 7ºC in its northern sector and a cold steppe climate towards the east, featuring less precipitation, strong winds and snow in winter).
Patagonia Sur ("Southern Patagonia", from 46º 15'' to 56º 30'' south, from Cochrane to Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego, approximately): In the southernmost sector of the continent, near Punta Arenas, a cold steppe climate predominates in the central continental area. The average annual precipitation is 425 mm, which falls as rain mainly in spring and summer and as snow in winter. The wind is constant here, becoming more intense during spring and summer, when it reaches an average speed of 30 to 40 kilometers an hour, with maximum speeds of 100 kilometers an hour. The winds let up almost entirely during the winter. The average winter temperature is 2ºC, and the average summer temperature is 10.6ºC.
Alcohol is widely available at bars and hotels and can also be bought from supermarkets. Chile is known for its production of Pisco and variety of Wines.
The tap water in Chile's cities is generally good but has a high mineral content that can cause stomach upsets; bottled water is a good idea for delicate stomachs and in rural areas.
The majority of Chileans identify as Catholic. However other religions are also present including Protestant, Evangelical, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Jewish, among other religions.
THE CHILEAN PEOPLE
Concentrated in the country's central regions – which are home to the cities of Santiago, Concepción, Temuco and Valparaiso/Viña del Mar–, the inhabitants of Chile work mainly in the production of raw materials in areas such as mining, agriculture and fishing. Another important economic factor is tourism, which has shown a sustained growth since democracy was restored. Chile has a per capita GDP of US$14,992.
Chile has a democratic government, with elections held every four years to select the President (the principal figure of the Executive Branch), senators and representatives, and members of Congress and the Legislative Branch. In 1989, the democratic process was restored after 17 years of military rule, marking a return to a national tradition.
Chileans have an average of 10 years of education, and the country's illiteracy rate is one of the lowest on the continent (3.9%). In fact, Chile boasts two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. In terms of health, life expectancy is 79 years, with low infant mortality (7.9%) and malnutrition rates.
That's what the numbers have to say. But the Chilean identity is something to be discovered and experienced by visitors. You will no doubt observe distinct differences between the hurried residents of the big cities and the inhabitants of the valleys, coasts and mountains, where the pace of life is calmer and time seems to pass more slowly. Generally speaking, the people of Chile are friendly, open to foreign visitors (despite the fact that only 8% of them speak English with relative fluency), and have a strong sense of identity linked to rural Chile. The iconic figure is the "huaso," which refers to a country dweller known for his friendliness and wit.
Chileans speak Spanish rapidly, often dropping the last letters of words including the plural-denoting "s." The vernacular includes a series of slang terms and invented words that is always evolving and reveals a healthy dose of humor and mischief. Visitors may feel a bit lost at first, but the locals are more than happy to explain the nuances of the Chilean idioms.
Celebrations: Chile is known for its celebrations, which primarily consist of religious festivities and the anniversaries of cities and towns (mainly held during the summer). There's a wide variety to be found throughout the country, though many include rodeos, where a pair of "huasos" on horseback chase and rope a young bull. Special days include September 18th and 19th, national holidays commemorating the First Assembly of Government in 1810, the genesis of national independence, and the Glorias del Ejército ("Military Glories"). These dates are marked by a series of popular celebrations in parks or places with traditional fare and dances.
Colorful religious festivities with Aymara, Incan and Catholic roots abound in the country's northern regions, the most famous of which is the Fiesta de la Tirana. There are also celebrations to be found in Chiloé (the "tiraduras de casas" which involve physically transporting homes from one site to another), small fishing coves (the celebration of San Pedro), cities like Valdivia (Valdivian Week) and Valparaiso (a celebration featuring fireworks displays and illuminated ships on December 31), rural parts of central Chile (the celebration of the threshing season), and the country's wine-producing valleys (wine harvest celebrations).
Food: Chileans typically eat simple breakfasts, larger lunches and an "once" (tea service) that is served between 5:00 and 6:00 pm and often takes the place of dinner. Bread is a fundamental part of the Chilean diet. The most popular varieties are hallullas, dobladitas and marraquetas (also referred to as "French bread").
The most famous local dishes include cazuela (a hearty soup made with beef or chicken, which includes squash, a potato, an ear of corn, green beans and rice), porotos con riendas (beans with noodles), humitas (mashed, steamed corn seasoned with onion and wrapped in the corn stalk), pastel del choclo (similar but baked in clay dishes, a traditional artisanal product of Chile's central and southern regions), pino empanadas (savory pies filled with meat, onion, egg, raisins and olives) and seafood empanadas. There are also a large number of dishes featuring fresh fish and seafood such as the Chiloé curanto. This unique dish is made with beef, pork, chicken and seafood which are arranged in layers and cooked over hot rocks in a hole in the ground covered with the leaves of a local plant called nalca, which trap the steam.
The most popular ingredients in everyday Chilean cuisine are meat, seafood, rice, potatoes, squash, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and greens like lettuce, cilantro and parsley. The most popular seasonings in Chilean homes include ají (chili pepper), ají color (similar to paprika), garlic and cumin. Recent years have seen the popularization of merkén, a traditional Mapuche seasoning made from an ají known as "cacho de cabra" which is sun-dried, smoked and ground, and rounded out with cilantro seeds. It's become a popular export product.
Typical beverages include wine, pisco (a grape distillate), and chicha (an artisanal fermentation made with apples or grapes). Favorite desserts include mote con huesillo (cooked wheat served with dried peaches in syrup). Sandwiches are a Chilean specialty, with an enormous variety of options, such as the chacarero (beef with tomato, green beans and optional aji), the German colonist-derived lomito (cooked pork with mayonnaise, avocado, tomato and sauerkraut), and traditional favorites like the Barros Jarpa (grilled ham and cheese) and Barros Luco (steak and melted cheese), which take their names from early 20th century political figures. Completos are a popular Chilean version of North American hot dogs, featuring mayonnaise, chopped tomato, avocado and sauerkraut.
Offices are open from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Banks are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Exchange houses are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Stores (both big and small) are open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (with no interruption in service). Most businesses are closed on holidays.
HOLIDAYS IN CHILE
- New Year’s – January 1
- Good Friday and Holy Saturday (variable dates: April 22 – 23, 2011; April 6 – 7, 2012)
- Easter Sunday (variable dates: April 24, 2011; April 8, 2012)
- Labor Day – May 1
- Glorias Navales (“Naval Glories”) – May 21
- San Pedro and San Pablo – June 29
- Virgin of Carmen Day – July 16
- Asunción de la Virgen (“Assumption of the Virgin”) – August 15
- Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day) – September 18
- Glorias del Ejército (“Army Glories”) – September 19
- Día de la Raza (Columbus Day) – October 12
- National Day of Evangelical and Protestant Churches – October 31
- All Saints’ Day – November 1
- Immaculate Conception – December 8
- Christmas – December 25 Some of these holidays extend to the Monday of the same week.
Information courtesy of the Chilean Ministry of Tourism.
For more information: www.chile.travel/en/