Top Tips To Survive and Thrive Backpacking In Chile

Written By Hugh and Aoife from www.TwoHungryBackpackers.com

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South America is a colourful continent home to unique cultures, indigenous peoples, traditional countries, modern cities and full on flavours. Nowhere embodies this more so than Chile. It is truly an incredible country, with beautiful mountains and coastlines, populated by a warm and welcoming people. Here we've compiled some tips and pointers for facing and embracing some of the unique challenges you may come across while visiting Chile: 


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1. Language
Okay we hope you will be aware of the obvious bit here, they speak Spanish. However what you may not be fully prepared for is that Chileans are very proud of that fact that they hold their own personal version of the language. They speak ridiculously fast and their everyday conversation is laden with colourful colloquialisms that you won't find elsewhere in Latin America. If you are feeling ready to test your Spanish language skills, there are a few Chilean specific language books available to help get you started. We particularly enjoyed 'How to survive in the Chilean Jungle'.

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2. Border crossing
Upon entering Chile border officials will give you an Entry/Exit visa in the form of a flimsy piece of paper - DO NOT LOSE IT! On our travels we have met several people who were charged a significant amount when they weren't able to produce document on exiting the country. In spite of said warnings, one of us lost our said piece of paper, but luckily as we had both entered Chile at the same time, and had bus ticket stubs to prove it, we were let away with it. I imagine our friendly official was at the end of his shift and didn't want to deal with any additional paperwork. 

Also worth noting is that Chile is a lot stricter than other South American countries with regards bringing fruit and vegetables across their borders. Do not take their threats of on the spot fines lightly. When we crossed into Osorno in southern Chile we had a couple of bananas with us as bus snack food. Luckily, I had declared them on our entry form, so when the sniffer dog pounced on my bag the bananas were confiscated, but no fine was issued. 

As a last note on borders be aware that strikes can occur at any moment which will halt border crossings. Also watch weather reports, particularly in the winter as some passes may close due to heavy snowfall. i.e. Don't leave it to the last minute to get somewhere, even at the best of times there can be several hour delays at checkpoints.

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3. Buses
Generally the best company to go with is Turbus but Pullman are also a good option. From our experience all buses had toilets, meals weren't provided, but snacks were. If travelling the length of Argentina and Chile and criss-crossing the border as many people tend to do, try and spend your longer journeys in Chile rather than Argentina. It tends to be about a third of the price to travel by bus in Chile.

4. Travelling from Bolivia
Sorry folks things are about to get a lot pricier.

5. Travelling from Argentina
It ain't a whole lot cheaper (aside from the buses).

6. Food
Chilean food is super tasty but don't expect to fit into your bikini after enjoying a few weeks of overindulging. Specialities include: Chorrillana, a greasy pile of wonderful fries, eggs, meat, cheese and onion (ingredients can vary depending on the chef); empanadas, (read our blog here on how to make your own) and completos - hot-dogs piled high with mayo, cheese and guacamole.

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7. Booze
Being a wine producing country it is definitely the best option. Red wines such as Chilean Merlots are great quality and super cheap. They also do a mean Pisco Sour (don't tell the Peruvians- there's a bit of a dispute over who actually invented it!)

8. Water
Normally it is safe to drink from the tap but be sure to ask! Some areas will have water with a very heavy mineral content that your stomach may not be accustomed to. Best bet is to ask the staff wherever you are staying, or if in doubt stick to cheap bottled water.

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9. Weather
Chile is the longest country in the world, as such its climates and temperatures are wildly different depending on where you are located. If traveling the length and breadth best packing for EVERY season.

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10. Politics
Our advice is just avoid, avoid, avoid - Chileans are very opinionated about their very recent political history. It's quite a divisive issue that can stir up some intense feelings. Best sticking to softer topics like food and football (but only if you support Chile). 

11. Siestas and Sundays
As with most of South America business owners will take a long break in the afternoon, the times will vary but 2pm to 5pm is a general rule of thumb. Equally, Sundays can present a challenge when shopping, unless you are in a major city or very popular tourist spot (still no guarantee though).

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12. Natural Disasters
Chile encounters pretty much every natural disaster known to man, from floods to volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes. Not that we are saying you will be lucky to get out alive, but always good to check the news of what's happening where in case you need to change your route or destination.

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Have we missed out on anything? If so, let us know in the comments section below.


Contributed by TwoHungryBackpackers.com, a travel blog created by Hugh and Aoife who are currently backpacking through South America in search of food and adventures on a budget. You can follow their blog for tips, stories and recipes at www.TwoHungryBackpackers.com or on Twitter @followourblog