Before wine became an export commodity for the luxury set, humble casks had their place on every Chilean table and grandparents tended backyard orchards. Now Chile has become a worldwide producer catering to ever more sophisticated palates. Rich reds, crisp whites and floral rosés – there is a varietal that speaks to every mood and occasion. But at home, it’s different. Chileans embrace the concept of la buena mesa. This is not about fancy. Beyond a good meal, it’s great company, the leisure of overlapping conversations with uncorkings, and the gaze that’s met at the clink of two glasses. ¡Salud!
The currency in Chile is the Chilean Peso. ATMs are widely available, except along the Carretera Austral. Credit cards are accepted at higher-end hotels, some restaurants and shops. Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted. The maximum withdrawal allowed is CL$200,000, although some ATMs in the Redf network allow you to withdraw up to CL$800,000 thanks to a biometric security system that identifies your digital fingerprint.
If you need to exchange money, Santiago is probably the best place for it. Exchange shops are everywhere and sometimes one next to each other, giving an extremely small margin between the buy / sell rate, but often with bigger commissions than banks. It’s possible to pay in US dollars in some places, especially for large amounts in tourist areas, such as paying a hotel bill or for a tour.
When exchanging money or cheques, AFEX is a good option. They exchange from and to any currency, although a registration is required the first time for exchanging cheques and cash amounts higher than US$3,000. For smaller amounts, an ID card or passport will be required.
Eating and drinking
Chile has dining options for all budgets, from food stalls to five-star restaurants. An agricultural country with a Mediterranean climate in some areas, Chile offers a wide range of produce and fruit as well as local meat and extensive seafood options. Self-caterers can shop at markets or large supermarkets. Alternative eating options (vegan, gluten-free) are growing, but currently available in few places. Isolated parts of the country, like the Carretera Austral, have few eating options since food arrives via overland transport.
In general, Chilean food is hearty and traditional. Soups, meat and potatoes, and wonderful casseroles, such as pastel de choclo (maize casserole) and chupe de jaiva (crab casserole), are staples. Most coastal towns have a mercado de mariscos (seafood market) where you can buy fresh fish or eat at small kitchens. If you like spice, seek out the Mapuche merkén (spice-smoked chili powder) or ají Chileno, an OK and moderately hot sauce sometimes found in restaurants.
Breakfast usually consists of white rolls with butter and jam, tea and instant coffee. Whole-bean coffee is referred to as café en grano, available at some cafes and lodgings. At home, people often eat light meals in the evening, with a teatime of bread, tea, cheese and ham. Known as onces (elevenses), afternoon tea is popular in the south, where German influence adds küchen (sweet, German-style cakes). Wine may have center stage, but there is plenty more to try. Pisco, a grape brandy, is Chile’s national alcohol, grown in the dry soil of the north. Pisco sours are a popular start to cocktail hours, and consist of pisco, sugar and fresh limon de pica. Students prefer piscolas, mixing the alcohol with Coke or other soft drinks.
Draft beer is known as schop. Microbrews and regional artisan brewing have become popular, particularly in the south where German influence remains. Try brews made by Szot, Kross and Spoh.
Restaurants: It’s customary to tip 10% of the bill in restaurants (the bill may include it under ‘servicio‘).
Taxis Drivers: do not require tips, although you may round off the fare.
Australian Government Travel Advice
The Australian Government provides up to date information on the safety of travelling to various countries, and all travellers should take note of this advice. Liberty Tours recommends that all travellers take out appropriate Travel Insurance to cover the entire duration of their absence from home.
Follow this link for current official assessment:
Advice on health risks and vaccination recommendations can also be found using the same link.
High Season (Nov–Feb)
- Patagonia is best (and most expensive) December to February.
- Beaches throng with crowds from late December through January.
Shoulder (Sep–Nov & Mar–May)
- Temperature-wise, these are the best times to visit Santiago.
- Lakes District is pleasant September to November; April brings fall foliage in the south.
- Wine country has grape harvests and wine festivals in March.
Low Season (Jun–Aug)
- Best time for ski resorts is June to August.
- A good time to visit the north.
- Few services on the Carretera Austral; mountain passes can be blocked by snow.
- Transportation and accommodations are busy in July.
What to pack
The packing theme for your trip is layers. If you travel between late September and April – summertime in Chile – most of the destinations will be warm during the day and cool at night. San Pedro and Patagonia, in particular, will swing dramatically in temperature, going from cold in the morning, to quite hot during the day, to cool in the evening, to cold at night.
Also note that there is a hole in the ozone over many parts of Chile, so the sun is more intense than normal. This will be particularly true in San Pedro, so be diligent about covering your skin and wearing sunscreen.