Chile travel tips

In the remote chance you are planning a trip to Chile, here are a few travel tips:

1. Do not visit Chile during February. This is far and away my most important suggestion. Most of the problems we ran into were directly or indirectly related to the decision to visit at a time when the tourist areas are very crowded. I’d suggest December or March.

2. Visiting Chile is much more difficult than visiting New Zealand, and requires more careful planning. Of Chile’s 4 most important scenic areas, we only saw one (Torres del Paine.) And that’s despite renting a car and driving more than 3500 kilometers. And in that one notable area we did visit, we never saw the most famous towers:

The other three are the Atacama Desert, Easter Island and the Carretera Austral highway. Chile is a very big country, and you can’t just rent a car and hit the highlights as easily as in New Zealand. If I were younger and more adventurous, the 1200km Carretera Austral highway would be my number one goal—it’s regarded as perhaps the most beautiful drive in the world. But I don’t like long gravel roads. If they paved it, Chile could turn itself into a must see tourist destination. As it is, New Zealand is the superior option, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

2. Anticipate problems. Previously, I mentioned the border closure with Argentina, but there were other problems as well. A national park might be closed on the day you arrive. Gas stations can be difficult to find (even with GPS.) Refill at half a tank. You might be bumped from a tour you already booked and paid for. GPS is useful, but less reliable than in America. Many of our problems were linked to the fact that we traveled in the peak tourist season. Crime is not a big problem in the south, but be careful in Valparaiso.

3. We spent 6 days in the central area (Valparaiso and Santiago), but in retrospect the time would have been better spent in the far north or Easter Island. (I actually might prefer Juan Fernandez Island, which is the one that Robinson Crusoe is based on.) If you insist on going to the wine country, pick Casablanca Valley, not the Maipo Valley. If you insist on the Maipo Valley, go to the Santa Rita Winery, which has a great museum (by the far the best I saw in all of Chile. Unlike with most European countries, in urban Chile you want to focus on the modern areas. (Las Condes in Santiago.) We had an excellent lunch at the Mandarin Oriental in Santiago. Oddly, food in Chilean hotels is often better than in ordinary restaurants. But again, I’d skip the cities entirely.

4. We spent most of our time in the Lake District, which is a good area for old people. The scenery is picturesque, not the sublime of the Torres del Paine (and Atacama?) Lake Llanquihue is huge, and the view of Osorno Volcano is impressive. There are German style towns along its shoreline. Here’s a view from our hotel room in Puerto Varas:

Further north, I enjoyed the Huilo Huilo resort, which should appeal to fans of Lord of the Rings.

5. My favorite part of Chiloe Island was visiting the smaller island called Quinchao. There’s a nice drive of about 20 miles along the spine of this island, and you can see the snow-capped Andes about 60 miles away across a large bay.

6. I’m not a foodie, but the seafood seemed fine and reasonably priced. If you want something specifically Chilean, try the fixed price menu at Peumayen Ancestral Food in Santiago. There is no western style fast food in the south. This struck me as really odd, given that the Chilean economy is very “globalized.”

If you want a North American analogy for our trip, consider Chile to be like the Pacific Coast from Cabo to Anchorage. Using that analogy, it’s as if we flew to Alaska and spent 6 days there. Then flew to Seattle and rented a car. We worked our way through Washington and Oregon (and failed to dip into Canada due to border issues.) We ended up visiting San Francisco (Valparaiso), Napa (Casablanca) and Sacramento (Santiago). A total of 26 days, which is a few too many given the relatively modest portion of Chile that we were able to see.

While there were some frustrations, it remains true that challenging travel is the most effective form of life extension. Four weeks of travel in Chile felt like 3 or 4 months of life in Orange County. Time passes far more slowly. By the end of the trip, it seemed like the first few days happened many months earlier. Sort of like when you were young, and summer vacation seemed to stretch on forever. And for sufferers of SAD, the bright summer sunshine feels very nice in the middle of February.

PS. Patagonia has inspired some outstanding literature. Earlier I mention Chatwin’s In Patagonia and Bridges’s Uttermost Part of the Earth. Add W.H. Hudson’s Idle Days in Patagonia. The Bridges book is the least distinguished from a literary perspective, but the best overall due to its amazing content.

PPS. The Santa Rita Winery had this map of Juan Fernandez Island in its museum:

It looked familiar, and when I got home I found that I own the same map:

I love the hand drawn (and colored) mountains in those old maps. On some of them, the island volcanos are issuing smoke.



13 Responses to “Chile travel tips”

  1. Gravatar of Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller
    13. March 2023 at 08:39

    We generally made sure that we were visiting other places in February, and were not in Chile. I am reminded both in your blog and in my brother’s trip (he is still there) that February is hectic.

    In Casablanca we liked to go to CASA BOTHA, but I see that it closed around the time we left Chile.

  2. Gravatar of LC LC
    13. March 2023 at 15:35

    Thank you for the tips. I was considering taking a cruise to see parts of Chile. Based on your tips, it may not be a good idea. We also don’t like long drives. How’s public transport such as trains?

  3. Gravatar of Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller
    13. March 2023 at 17:31

    The public transport depends on how comfortable you are with questionable buses. They are cheap, very available and relatively frequent.

  4. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    13. March 2023 at 22:46

    This is once again an example of hubris exceeding grasp.

    1. You only wrote this article because you wanted to share your adventure, the photos, and feel important because you spent a few days in Chile. Most people have visited Chile. It’s not a big accomplishment. I spent four months there.

    2. Smart travelers don’t take advice from those who go there for a few days. Why would you even think anyone would want your advice? This is called excessive hubris. It’s arrogance beyond belief.

    You don’t know anything. To know, you have to live there. You know so little that you thought Lula Da Silva, in Brazil, was a saint when he’s a member of sao paulo forum, a former killer, and a bonafide gangster.

    If people want advice, they will hire a local. Not a 70 year old tourist.

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. March 2023 at 09:20

    Sara, I’ve generally found that when people assume that everyone else is motivated by ego, envy or greed, it says more about the speaker than the people they are talking about.

    We don’t have access to other minds—only our own.

  6. Gravatar of David R Henderson David R Henderson
    14. March 2023 at 14:04

    Geez, Sara. Get a grip. You’re always free to ignore. No need to be so nasty.

    I found this tourist guide incredibly useful. Scott always notices things on trips that I miss. Whether or not this is Scott’s intent, he managed to put Chile lower on my bucket list.

  7. Gravatar of Henri Hein Henri Hein
    15. March 2023 at 10:21

    The most interesting travelogues are for places you are about to visit. The second most interesting travelogues are for places you *have* visited. I have also been to Chile, and I still enjoy Scott’s observations.

  8. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    16. March 2023 at 01:07

    Get out of my country.
    Go visit wineries in California.
    Leave my people alone.
    They don’t want warmonger bolton lovers in their town.
    I’m still waiting for you to put on the kevlar helmet and join your anti russian crusade. Remember you said “we aren’t doing enough”

    Well, what are you doing? Visiting wineries while you take taxpayer money to fund your one world NATO campaign?


  9. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    16. March 2023 at 18:51

    Great write-up!

    About the life extension: I wonder if that’s something specific to travel, or whether any change to a preferably challenging routine for a while would do that?

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. March 2023 at 12:08

    Matthias, Perhaps any change, but travel is unusually invigorating.

  11. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    17. March 2023 at 13:44

    I’ve been meaning to pass along the following:

    A friend sent me this link on Monday, saying:

    “[This] is the place to go for Polish films that have been restored. They all seem to have English subtitles (which must be turned on each time) and they are free to stream (in some cases registration is required, but that too is free). Some titles will be expiring soon….”

    Today I got a glowing review of this Has (guy who did The Saragossa Manuscript) film:

  12. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    18. March 2023 at 10:24

    While I’m tossing out wacky recommendations….

    Instead of calling Scott Sumner a “gangster” and stuff like that, the clown people should be pointing out that Sumner would have rather had Russell Westbrook on the Bucks than Middleton. That’s true Communism!


    “KD and Kyrie inexplicably shoving Allen out the door (in the first Harden trade) and keeping DeAndre Jordan is my favorite “Here’s why players shouldn’t be GMs” example of the past 10 years, narrowly edging out LeBron’s Westbrook trade, Harden’s Westbrook trade, Kawhi bullying the Clippers to trade SGA and 100 picks for Paul George, and Harden taking a discount so Philly could sign Montrezl Harrell and P.J. Tucker’s father.”

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    18. March 2023 at 19:18

    anon/portly, Thanks for the film tips.

    I like Jrue Holiday a lot, but 23 seems high given his age. He has Middleton at 61, and Middleton is more than a year younger.

    Do you find it odd that the Sixers are so low in the betting market? I know they’ve flamed out in the past, but based on their current play they shouldn’t be so far below the Bucks and Celtics. (Maxey is the one I worry about the most.)

    I feel like the East will win the NBA title this year. Is that your view?

    I must have been on medication when I made that statement about Middleton and Westbrook.

    But how many MVPs does Middleton have? 🙂

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