Chile Country Guide
Chile's economy is thriving; telecom, health care, tourism infrastructure are at their best, and venomous insects and poisonous plants are happily absent, making it the perfect destination in South America.
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Chile Country Guide
Useful information on this page includes:
Check out our Chile weather guide for information about the climate in Chile, details of the best time to visit Chile and for our six-day Chile weather forecast.
Chile's mobile network is excellent and you're unlikely to have any trouble with their largely GSM network which offers coverage in key cities as well as the South. For long term visitors it is worth exploring the prepaid cellular phone option - buy one and save money on overseas charges on your regular phone. You can pick up prepaid phone cards to use on the mobile phone or on a landline locally at the newspaper stands. For a SIM card (prepaid) from ENTEL expect to pay about 5000 pesos. This card can be bought even without an ID card. However, there is no credit on the card, so you will need to top it up with some money before you can use it to call. Unlike other South American countries like Argentina, the phones in Chile are intuitive and quite simple to use.
Cyber cafes dot the landscape of Chile in larger towns and cities as well as tourist hot spots. If you spot a library with a sign indicating that they are part of the Biblioredes programme, then you should have access to the internet for free as well as use of their computers. Avoid plugging in a camera though, but feel free to surf the net and check your email. Further afield, you may be able to access the internet at the public library in the town or village you are at. These internet terminals run on satellite links. Nowadays, Chile also offers Wi-Fi zones at public places like the airport, stations, metro terminals, malls and public halls. When the service comes with a label declaring it is ‘gratis', it means you get to log on to the net for free!
Chile has its own currency, the Chilean Peso, which is used across all towns and cities. Larger cities do have exchange bureaus where you can swap popular international currency like the Euro or US Dollar for pesos. As with other countries around the world, avoid exchanging your money at the airport or hotels since the rates here can be quite bad and you're sure to get better rates if you hold on until you find a money changer. What is a strict no-no is buying your pesos from a persistent pedlar on the street who may try and lure you with promises of the best rates. ATMs in Chile are easy to use and the country is well covered by an extensive network.
Follow the link to view the latest Chile exchange rate as listed on OANDA.com.
Chile runs off a 220V/ 50Hz system, and generally uses a Type-C (European 2-pin) round pin electrical attachment.
To view a list of Chile embassies around the world, as well as foreign embassies within Chile, check out EmbassyWorld.com.
Population: 16,454,143 (July 2008 est.)
Total Area: 756,950 sq km
Time Zone: UTC - 4 hours
Follow the link to view the current time in Santiago, Chile.
Spanish is the language spoken by its people who are of mixed descent. With a combination of local and European blood, Chile is a mestizo country. The country's literacy rate is among the best in Latin America. And while the majority (90%) of the population is Roman Catholic there is religious tolerance which allows other religions to exist and thrive as well.
Follow the link to view a list of public holidays in Chile.
Chile is primarily Catholic with as many as 70% of the populace belonging to the Catholic Church. The Evangelical and Protestant community make up another 15.1% while Jehovah's Witnesses are 1% of the nation and 0.9% belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Interestingly as much as 8.3% of Chile is agnostic or atheist. Minorities include the Jewish community (0.1%) and Muslim or Orthodox (0.1%). The last Census of 2002 gives details in religion wise break-up of actual numbers. Statistics from the LDS Church say that there are 543,628 followers from the country.
UK citizens do not need to pay any kind of entry fee to get into Chile. However, for four countries there is a one-time charge, good for multiple trips into the country so long as it is on the same passport. This is collected to counter the similar visa fee charged to Chileans travelling to these nations and so the amounts collected vary depending on where you're from. The fees are USD15 for Mexicans, USD56 for Australians, USD131 for US citizens and USD132 for Canadians.
While American citizens don't need a visa to enter Chile, they do require valid passports. Keep fresh, clean and crisp currency notes ready in denominations of 20, to pay the fee.
At the port of entry, whether you arrive by cruise ship, road or airplane, you will have to fill in a tourist card to give to customs, valid for stay in the country for a period not exceeding 90 days. Retain this carefully since it will offer you tax rebates. You will need to submit it to Customs upon departure from Chile. Hotels discount the 19% tax on room rental if this card is produced and rental is paid in USD, so be sure to show this when paying.
Airports charge an airport tax of $18 (or equivalent amount in Pesos) for all passengers flying out of Chile. Domestic flight prices already have this cost built in.
Tourism Information: http://www.visitchile.org/
Consulate information/Embassy site: www.echileuk.demon.co.uk/consulatevisas.htm
Chile Tourism office at the Embassy of Chile in Washington DC email@example.com
Chile is highly dependent on agriculture and the import of any perishable items is therefore considered illegal. These laws apply across the country since it operates under a unified judicial system.
Chile's thin, long ribbon shape runs parallel to the west coastline of South America. With the Andes to the east, the unusually shaped country runs a whopping 4630km or 2880 miles from north to south and a mere 430km or 265 miles from east to west at its broadest section! This remarkable shape means that Chile is home to a mind boggling variety of climatic zones and landscapes.
Chile ranks 38th in the world in size, which makes it similar to Zambia in land area and about double that of Japan.
With 756,950 km² or 292,260 sq mil of land area, Chile has a wealth of mineral and natural treasures. The desert region of Atacama to the north is laden with nitrates, copper and other minerals while the tiny area called the Central Valley is the primary source of agricultural produce, making it a highly populated belt that includes Santiago. Much of Chile grew and evolved from the area near the Central Valley (when the north and south merged with the centre to form a unified nation) which is today seen as a key historical centre dating back to the 19th century. To the south is the forest belt, flush with fields for grazing, volcanic areas, lakes and other scenic spots. The coastline is a breathtaking maze of soaring fjords, scenic islands, winding canals, peninsulas and inlets.
The legendary Andes are to the east bordering Argentina. Chile is the world's longest country and lays claim (thought this is on hold under the Antarctic Treaty) to as much as 1,250,000 km² or 482, 628 sq mil of the continent of Antarctica. The territories of Chile also extend to the Sala y Gómez Island and Easter Island in Polynesia (since 1888) and the isolated Robinson Crusoe Island in the Juan Fernández archipelago which is about 600 km from shore. Easter Island functions as an active province of the country while the smaller islands like San Ambrosio, San Felix and Sala y Gómez have a few fishermen living here and are more of strategic importance (allowing Chile to lay claim to the waters between the coast on the mainland and the Pacific waters further out near these islands) than anything else.
Follow the link to view a map of Chile on WorldAtlas.com.
In its early days, Chile was part of the kingdom of the Incas in the north and the lands of the Araucanos nomads of the south. The Spaniards set foot in Chilean territory in 1541 when Pedro de Valdivia created the city of Santiago. By 1818 the country had declared its independence from Spain under the leadership of Bernardo O'Higgins and José de San Martin of Argentina. The former ruled as dictator till 1823 when the new 2 party state with a political system and central government was created.
In 1830, Diego Portales - another dictator - held the reigns of Chile and stayed in power till 1837. Between 1836 and 1839 the country engaged in a war of expansion and its boundaries extended beyond the old Chile into Peru.
The War of the Pacific between Chile, Bolivia and Peru lasted from 1879 until 1883 and Chile emerged victorious yet again, now gaining control of the crucial sea link of Bolivia-Antofagasta and further territories in Peru.
José Balmaceda was ousted from power in the 1891 revolt led by Pedro Montt who went on to set up a parliamentary dictatorship. This form of governance endured until 1925 when the constitution was adopted. Groups with Marxist leanings began to gain ground during the period of industrialization before WW I. When WW II broke out, Chile under the leadership of President Juan Antonio Ríos initially supported the Nazis but later switched sides to support the Allies in 1944.
Salvador Allende became President in 1970 and was the first leader of a non communist nation who was elected by the people on a Marxist programme. He strengthened ties with Cuba and China and brought about broad based Marxist reform in the economy and society in general. Companies hitherto under private control now came under national control. A military coup believed to have been funded and aided by the CIA in Sep 1973 brought an abrupt end to Salvador Allende and his dictates and the 46 year supremacy of constitutional governance came to an end.
The military coup of 1973 of the army of 4 saw Augusto Pinochet, the then Chief of Staff of the Army, take the helm as President. Parliament was shut down and an agenda to end Marxism became the goal of the coup. Civil liberty and politics were the first casualties of the coup. The era of dictatorial rule under Pinochet is still remembered for the hordes who fell victim to his regime of execution, torture, arrests, expulsion and unaccounted disappearances. A report submitted by the government in 2004 claims that as many as 28,000 Chileans had been subjected to harsh torture during Pinochet's rule while a further 3200 had either been murdered or went missing during the period.
Despite his harsh methods, Pinochet did manage to revive the economy which had been heading for disaster after the Socialist revolution. Privatization injected fresh life into Chile's flagging economy and things began to look up. However, in 1989 Pinochet failed to win a crucial vote in a referendum to stay in power and he had to step down in Jan 1990 to make way for Patricio Aylwin. By Dec 1993, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of a past president and nominee of the coalition of the centre and left came to power.
Pinochet meanwhile was still commander in chief of the armed forces and served until March 1998 when he retired. By October of the same year he had been arrested in England on charges of abduction of Spanish nationals who went missing during his time in office. Britain, however, did not agree to extradite him to Spain to stand trial and he instead returned to Chile by 2000. Pinochet died at the ripe age of 91 in Dec 2006 and never stood trial for the atrocities committed during the 17 years of his horrific rule of Chile.
In 2000, Ricardo Lagos assumed power as the first socialist leader of Chile since Allende. 2001 saw a downturn in the economy and growth rate dropped to just 3% as a fallout of tension in nearby Argentina and with copper prices dipping globally. By 2003 tales of insider trading and corruption began to go around, forcing Lagos to bring reforms that would increase accountability and transparency. Chile adopted a new law in 2004 that allowed divorces for the first time in the country's history.
Another socialist leader Michelle Bachelet had meanwhile begun to gather strength and ousted Lagos in a victory that saw her getting 53% of the country's vote in 2006. The family history of this paediatrician turned politician was closely entwined with Chile's own history. Her father had died as a result of Pinochet's dictatorial rule and she herself had been imprisoned, tortured and exiled under the regime. Michelle Bachelet assumed her new role in March of 2006 and was the first woman head of state of the country. Bachelet decided to attempt to balance her socialist agenda with economy friendly policies already in place. This good intent did not, however, help her avoid the uprising in May of the same year when 700,000 students went on strike asking for reform in the education system. By June, the government gave in and agreed to make changes to fix the glitches in the system.
Bachelet made several changes in the composition of the cabinet in January of 2008, but none are expected to have any significant impact on policy as a whole. She added six new ministers, appointing Edmundo Perez Yoma (Christian Democrat) as interior minister - one of the most coveted and powerful posts in the cabinet. Ministers handling the portfolios of mining, planning, agriculture, public works and economy were all asked to step down to make way for a new team.
Chile enjoys a strong medical system with clean, well managed facilities in most places around the country, so the traveller needn't have any major concerns on this front. Contrary to one's expectations, privately run facilities tend to be less well equipped. Also for emergencies do remember that while there is an emergency number 131, the operator may not always speak much English. Vaccinations prior to entering Chile are not essential.
Avoid drinking water from the tap - stick to bottled water to avoid exposing yourself to germs and illness.
Once a very conservative country, Chile is now far more liberal than it ever was in the past. The law and order system works well and the police though not well paid are extremely committed to their work and famous for their honesty. In case of any problems during your stay, be sure to report the matter to the police. Also remember, bribery is a punishable offence and they could have you behind bars if you're caught.
Do note that not all Chileans hold negative opinions of Pinochet. There are several who still support him, so if you can avoid it - don't bring up the issue.
Politics itself is in fact quite a sensitive topic in Chile, so be prepared for things to get heated if you start discussing things remotely related. People will jump to conclusions about your political leanings based on your discussions and will end up labelling you fascist or communist depending on what you say.
The people of Chile are essentially friendly and helpful, so with a dash of common sense your trip can be event free. Almost everyone speaks English, so don't try and use it as a ‘secret' language to talk with fellow travellers - more often than not, even the Chilean lower classes around you will understand every word. Bring your best behaviour with you on holiday - the locals appreciate politeness and detest arrogance. Also, don't try and pass yourself off as a local even if you feel you can speak Spanish as well as the locals - they will know you are an outsider. Be prepared to be labelled a gringo like all foreigners are - that is par for the course!
During the later Inca period and in earlier medieval times the North of the country became a rich cultural centre. The south and centre meanwhile, were key to the Mapuche. Spain had a deep influence on Chilean life and heritage all through the Republican era. The French, English and German too began to influence Chile in the 19th century and traces of all these European cultures endure to this day. Germans brought with them their cuisine and uniquely Bavarian architecture that can be seen in Puerto Montt and Valdivia in the south.
The lively Cueca is Chile's national dance while the tonada is the typical song of the people. A tradition brought to Chile by the colonial rulers of Spain, it is dominated by melody. Local Chilean musical tradition was revived in the 1960's thanks to the Parra family who made Nueva Canción Chilena popular. The ‘new song' became linked to activists and people looking for reforms in the political system. Folklore Researcher and singer Margot Loyola too helped build the popularity of the new song.
Citizens of the country fondly call Chile a country of poets (país de poetas) and rightly so too. Chile brought home its first Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945 when Gabriela Mistral's work was noticed globally. Even more popular however, was 1971 winner Pablo Neruda whose vast collection on politics, nature and romance is famous worldwide. Tourists can visit his distinctive homes in Santiago, Valparaíso and Isla Negra.
The food of Chile is reflective of the geographical and climatic variation of the country. Cuisine here makes use of plenty of beef, seafood, vegetables and fruits. Popular ingredients like lamb, fish, shellfish, chicken, beef, pork, potato and white wine go into the famous curanto - a delicious local stew. Other typically Chilean foods are the stuffed empanadas, the thick and hearty soup called cazuela and the corn based humitas.