Bordered by Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, Chile is sandwiched for most of its 4000 kilometre (2500 mile) length between the impressive ranges of the Andes to the east and the Pacific to the west. The country’s inhabitants are mainly Spanish speakers of European descent though Aymara Indians still farm the foothills of the Andes, and the Atacama region once the part of the Inca Empire, has many important archeological sites. Along with most of the rest of the continent, the area which now forms Chile was colonized by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and formed part of an empire which stretched from Florida to Patagonia. The country gained independence from Spain in the early 19th century and with the significant exception of the rule of General Pinochet from 1973 to 1989, has had a constitutional government for most of that time. Though rarely exceeding185 kilometres (115 miles) in width, Chile stretches from north of the Tropic of Capricorn almost to the Antarctic and presents a tremendous variety of climates and landscapes. At the northern tip is El Norte Grande (the Big North) and the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. Its harsh and beautiful landscape is characterized by salt lakes, lagoons, dunes, weird geological formations and volcanic peaks. Above the Laguna Verde just across the Bolivian border is Volcan Licancabur (5916m / 19400ft.) the summit of which is believed to be a sacred Inca burial ground.
The time in Chile is: October to March GMT -3 hours (Daylight saving time); March to October GMT -4 hours
The national language of Chile is Spanish. Few people speak English and it will pay dividends if you learn some phrases before you go. Spanish is an easy language to learn and its all part of the fun to try out your vocabulary during the trip. We recommend you take a pocket phrase book and learn some basics such as common greetings.
Northern Chile is one of the world's driest regions. Here, despite being almost rainless, the weather is often cloudy and cool. Annual average rainfall totals can be as low as 14 mm. Average daily maximum temperatures range from 17 °C (63 °F) in July to 28 °C (82 °F) in March. Central Chile has a Mediterranean climate with warm and virtually rainless summers, whilst the winters are mild and moderately wet. Frost and snow occasionally occur inland, but are rare on the coast. Southern Chile tends to be wet all year round, featuring frequent disturbed, changeable weather. Annual precipitation can be as high as 5000 mm (200") much of which falls as snow farther south and on the higher mountains. On the coast, winters are rarely very cold, but summers are cool and cloudy. At Santiago, daily average sunshine hours range from 3 in June and July to 11 in January and the daily average maximum temperatures range from 14 °C (58 °F) in June to 29 °C (85 °F) in January.
The unit of currency in Chile is the Peso. For up to date exchange rates visit: www.xe.com. We recommend that you carry your money in the form of US dollars currency. Travellers cheques can only be changed in Santiago. It is also possible to obtain cash using your credit/debit card at the cash machines and at many of the local banks in Santiago and at the airport. Visa credit cards are widely accepted in Chile.
A valid passport with at least 6 months of remaining validity is required for entry into Chile and for Bolivia. Visas are NOT currently required by UK citizens. The Chilean authorities do impose an arrival tax which varies according to nationality. Currently there is no charge for UK citizens, but other nationalities should check the cost of this arrival tax with the Chilean Embassy in their own country.
Citizens of the USA, Canada and Australia require to pay a reciprocity fee to enter Argentina, this must be done online prior to departure. Many of our holidays in Chile also enter into Argentina.
Please note that if you intend to travel to Chile via the USA you must have a machine readable passport. Even if you are merely in transit through a US airport you will not be allowed to travel if you do not have a machine readable passport. Also note that if you have any convictions (including driving convictions) you cannot enter or transit through the USA without a pre-arranged visa.
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. Your doctor will have access to the most up to date information on the required vaccinations for the country you are visiting. In general we recommend vaccinations against the following: Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis ‘A'. Malaria prophylaxis is not required. A very good online resource is the NHS travel website at www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
Additional Sources of Information
Trekking and Climbing in the Andes. (Globetrotter) Val Pitkethly and Kate Harper
The South American Handbook.
Chile. Lonely Planet
The Andes - A Trekking Guide. John and Cathy Biggar
Land & Wildlife of South America. Marston Bates
Travels in a Thin Country. Sarah Wheeler
Argentina 1:2,200,000 - ITMB
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. 1: 500,000
Lonely Planet - www.lonelyplanet.com
Rough Guides - www.roughguides.com