CHILE (República de Chile)
Like some of it's Northern neighbours, Chile is very much a country of two halves, the high peaks of the Andes that line the border with Argentina, and the lowlands that lay between the mountains and the sea. My main interest in the country lay in it's desert, I love desert landscapes, the colours, formations, geological history and dry heat. Of all the planets deserts, the Atacama is the driest. Some parts have never had recorded rain. Unfortunately my time was limited here, otherwise I'd have gone down to the lake district and Punta Arenas. Chile's other main tourist draw. Less popular for visitors, but for the more intrepid, passing over the Andes into Mendoza involves passing Mt. Aconcagua. Although in Argentina, it's still an amazing site, standing at 40m short of 7000m high, the highest point in the whole of the Americas.
My start in Chile was San Pedro de Atacama, as for many independent travellers coming from the Volcano park in Bolivia. Entering the country this way sees you descend a straight 15 mile long road that descends nearly 2000m. One minute your wrapped up in layers and having your face battered with a freezing wind, the next it's in the 20s celcius and your stripping those layers off in the warm sunshine. San Pedro de Atacama is a great little oasis town, set up for the traveller with loads of places to stay, bars etc. I hired a mountain bike, and road off into the desert. I hopped on a bus to nearby Calama and flew down to Santiago. I was lucky enough to fly down at sunset, and saw the desert at it's finest including the huge open-cast mining pits (seen in Pic below). I found Santiago pleasant, with some nice Art Deco features here and there. I opted to avoid the popular trip to Valparaiso due to hearing numerous stories about mugging. In a country that has such amazing scenery, I didn't want to hang around too long in a city, so headed off to Argentina via the very high Andes, hoping one day to return to see the south.
Currency: Chilean Peso
Visa: No Visa is required for most Western countries up to 90 days.
Plug: European two round pronged, as well as Italian 3 round prongs in a line. It's possible to use the European in Italian sockets without a convertor. 220v
GMT: GMT -4 (-3 summer)
GDP Ranking (IMF): #52 £10.850 (similar to Russia and Croatia)
Communications: Country code is +56
Health: No vaccinations or preventative measures are needed for Chile. Dengue Fever has seen a number of cases recorded on Easter Island, but none so far on the mainland. Malaria is not a risk. Hospital conditions are good in Chile.
When to Visit: Chile covers around 2000miles North to South, and as such the weather and seasons vary. Most of the south of the country is inaccessible from June to August, and nothing is guaranteed during the best months to visit the south, October to March.
Personal Safety: Petty theft is a problem particularly in tourist areas and transport hubs. Valparaiso is a popular tourist town, and a number of visitors have suffered theft and robbery, so be particularly careful. Santiago can be just as crime ridden, so be equally careful there, day or night. Chile lies on the Ring of Fire, and as such be aware of what to do if an Earthquake strikes, or a Volcano erupts. If in the desert areas, take the normal precautions including suntan lotion and huge amounts of water. F&CO advice is here.
Getting Around: Due to the long long distances, internal flights are a good idea to get between regions, although flights are rarely direct, and stop with layovers at airports in between. There are many bus options between towns and cities, including direct and multiple stop journeys. Car hire may be another options to explore a region. There are no rail routes in Chile.
What to see/do: Deserts to Icebergs, wine valleys to the highest peak in the Americas, Chile is all about it's amazing landscapes. San Pedro de Atacama is something of a hub for Desert experiences. The geysers of Tatio, Valle de La Luna (usually visited at sunset) and Dinosaur Valley are the main highlights of the area, but there are many others including sandboarding. The Rapel Valley and Santa Cruz are some of the areas south of Santiago that feature the mighy grape and the beverages it produces. Heading further south from the Wine Region, brings the visitor to the Lake District, where numerous Nature Reserves and National Parks help keep the area looking magnificent. Puerto Varas and nearby Vicente Perez Rosales National Park mark the start of the attractions in the south. The Aisen region picks up the nature loving trail further south, before hitting the most popular area, Torres del Paine, with staggering peaks and calm lakes. Hiking, canoeing and mountain biking are some of the opportunities to engage with the scenery. Parque Metropolitano in Santiago provides great views over the city, and the downtown Centro district is full of historical buildings. The main road to Mendosa, Argentina starts in Santiago, and passes Mt. Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas. Valparaiso is UNESCO listed, and nearby Vino del Mar is an up an coming coastal city. For the very intrepid explorers with an interest in Daniel Defoe books, The Juan Fernández islands are where Robinson Crusoe was based. There is now a town on the main island of the three. A slightly more famous and popular island, is Easter Island, home to the famous statues.
Food & Drink: With a 2000mile coastline and numerous lakes, unsurprisingly Fish is very popular. From Empanadas filled with fried seafood or mixed seafood, to the more traditional fish on a plate. Salmon is big in Chile, but for something different try Congrio (Conger Eel) which is very popular, Machas a la Parmesana (clams broiled with parmesan cheese) is a good for shellfish fans. Other fish eaten include corvina (sea bass), lenguado (flounder), albacora (swordfish), and yellow fin tuna. Cazuela with short ribs is an example of Chile Creole food, along with caldillo de congrio (fish chowder). Porotos granados is a stew made with made with fresh beans, squash, corn, onion and basil, and a few variations exist. Chilean Pisco is a Brandy made from Muscat grapes, it comes in a few varieties and mixes, such as Piscola, unsurprisingly with coke. Szot Pilsner and Del Puerto Amber Ale are good beers, and Chile produces some good Stout as well. Try Szot Negra Stout and Kross Stout for starters, both good brews.
Other notes: Chile has lots to offer, trying to do it in a fortnight will never be enough. Aim to do North or South over 2 weeks.