5 Essential Tips for Adventuring in Chile
Ever since I met my good friend Carolina in 2013, visiting Chile had been very high on the bucket list. Everything she told me about it made me more and more desperate to go, and so when I found out that I could add extra holiday weeks onto the end of my trip with Latin Link, I knew I had to seize the opportunity.
Chile surprised me in quite a few ways. Culturally, it is a melting pot of Spanish/Latino, indigenous Mapuche, and large diasporas from places such as France, Italy, and Germany, and I also wasn't expecting it to feel quite as similar to the UK as it did, although this did come after 4 months of dust, hand-washing clothes, and unsafe tap water in Peru and Bolivia! As a whole, it is significantly more developed than its northern neighbours due to a highly industrial economy and so for me, it was a great as a more gradual transition before going home, but I digress. Here are a few tips for your own adventures in Chile:
1. Try as much Chilean food as possible
Chilean food is SO good. It's fresh, comforting, and often inspired by a mix of both indigenous and European influences. Featuring heavily are empanadas (often empanadas de pino - filled with beef mince, boiled egg, olives, and a delightful mix of herbs), grilled meats such as anticuchos (marinated meat skewers), completos (hot dogs with tomato and avocado), sopaipillas (pumpkin-based fried bread treats), a wide range of seafood, avocados, and you can't leave the country without having some sort of dessert made with manjar (dulce de leche). We also got to visit a cheesery during a day trip around the lake region which was good fun, plus if you need a cheeky alcoholic accompaniment then you could try a Pisco Sour, or Chilean red wines which are among some of the best in the world.
2. Prepare yourself for the dialect
The Chilean dialect is, for the most part, very different to the majority of the Spanish-speaking world. Having just spent 4 months as the team translator in Peru and Bolivia where my Spanish abilities became near fluent, I only understood about 70% of the Spanish in Chile. I was of course very thankful to be travelling with Carolina who actually teaches English and so could translate (and her parents were very patient with me), but it's important to acknowledge that even for the most prolific Spanish speaker, communication can be tricky if the other person doesn't speak English. However, don't let it put you off! As is the case in most countries in any part of the world, locals will always appreciate you having a go, and if you already speak Spanish, then my advice would be to do your research first as to some of the specific aspects of the Chilean dialect, and don't be embarrassed to ask people to speak more slowly!
3. Don't just stick to one place
Chile spans 2,653 miles from north to south, meaning that it's incredibly geographically diverse. In the north, you have the vast expanses of the Atacama Desert (very accessible from Bolivia's Uyuni Salt Flats), in the south you have the phenomenal landscapes of Patagonia, and in between you have everything from dramatic coastlines to volcanoes to the gorgeous lake and river regions. If you can, I wholeheartedly recommend exploring more than one area of this beautiful country - no two parts are the same and you'll get such a broader experience. If you're after a comfortable and affordable method of transport, then going via coach is a great way forward - for long distances, you can get either full or half-bed seats, both of which can be very comfortable!
The range of landscapes and ecosystems means that the weather varies a lot from place to place, so come prepared for both rain and shine if you're travelling around. It's also worth being aware that Chile is prone to earthquakes, so it's definitely a good idea to read up about what to do if you find yourself experiencing more than a small tremor.
4. Include Chilean cultural experiences in your itinerary
Chile's culture is as rich and diverse as its geography and personally, I find it so interesting. One of the biggest blessings from my own trip was coming across a group in traditional costumes and dancing Cueca (Chile's national dance) in the streets of Santiago. You could also explore the lives of world-famous Chilean literary figures such as poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, author Isabel Allende, or the flourishing contemporary art scene which has been heavily influenced by artists like the surrealist Roberto Matta and sculptor Rebeca Matte.
5. Explore the great Chilean outdoors
If you enjoy the great outdoors, then Chile is the place for you. There is so much to explore in Chile - mountains, hiking trails, national parks - and we were fortunate enough to go on a day tour of the lake region which was absolutely stunning. The main part of the day was spent in Huilo-Huilo National Park, and even in winter it was gorgeous - I can't recommend it enough! If you prefer to stay a little warmer, however, then there are also plenty of thermal springs (termas) where you can go for a swim, or centres such as Termas de Cauquenes near Rancagua where you can have a private 20-minute bath in the mineral-rich water, which I can confirm is super refreshing.
If I were to go back I would...
Explore Valparaíso: 'The Jewel of the Pacific'. Valparaíso is a city famous for its vibrant street art, maritime history, and excellent gastronomy and has been at the top of my Chilean wish list for quite a while!
Hike in Patagonia. The phenomenal landscapes of Chile and Argentina's shared region of Patagonia are world-famous for being some of the most beautiful on earth and I would love nothing more than to be able to get my hiking boots on and explore it to the max. Patagonia is also home to some stunning marble caves that you can visit via boat and they honestly look incredible!
Visit Easter Island. If you weren't already aware, Easter Island, a.k.a. Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua is a Chilean territory - I've wanted to visit and see the moai for myself since I was a little girl and it honestly just looks like the stuff of dreams.
Learn more about the indigenous Mapuche. There are plenty of Mapuche-led experiences for those who are interested in the culture, such as cooking and craft demonstrations, and in some places, you can even stay overnight in a traditional ruca.
Stay for Fiestas Patrias: the Chilean Independence celebrations (18th-19th September). People dress in traditional clothing, there are military parades, cueca dances, rodeos, Chilean food, and flags everywhere - it just sounds like the best party ever!
Wander around Temuco's famous market (Mercado Municipal de Temuco). Before a tragic fire in 2016, this was a prime spot to purchase Mapuche artisanal crafts and tasty local street food, and when I went to Temuco in July 2016 I was so disappointed that it wasn't possible to visit. However, reconstruction has apparently begun and it is expected to open again in 2024 or 2025.
Go stargazing in the Atacama Desert.
I'm so grateful to have been able to visit Chile - although its neighbours to the north and east tend to feature more heavily on the tourist itinerary, it really is a jewel within Latin America and not one to be missed. I hope this has inspired you to go and that you love it as much as I did - happy travelling, amigos!
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or if you'd like to guest-write for The Classicist with an Atlas then I'd love to hear from you - you can get in touch via the form on the Contact page or on Instagram @theclassicistwithanatlas.
I cannot thank Carolina and her gorgeous family enough for their generous hospitality during my time in Chile. I was looked after so well and I am so grateful to have been welcomed into their homes as part of the family even though I was a total stranger to everyone except Caro and Pauly. Muchísimas gracias a todos - lo aprecio tanto.
Photo of the desert (Bolivia-Chile border) under tip 3: Abi Mayhew. Image of Roberto Matta painting found here.
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