In recent years Chile has become one of the main tourist destinations worldwide, to such an extent that the renowned Lonely Planet awarded this country first place in its Best in Travel 2018. However, to live a pleasurable and unforgettable experience, it’s always advisable to travel with some basic precautions, especially in large cities such as Santiago, Concepción, Valparaíso or Temuco, as well as in the most crowded tourist resorts during the summer season.
This article isn’t intended to discourage anyone, in fact we’d say that Chile is one of the safest countries in Latin America. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some potential setbacks that, if we’re smart, can be perfectly avoided. Continuing on, a few tips that every tourist will want to know before visiting this long and narrow strip of land.
Chile is a safe country but it is still important to take some precautions in big cities such as Santiago / Photo: Santiago Avilés
1. Beware of drinking alcohol on the public roads!
In most Latin American countries it’s prohibited to drink alcohol in public spaces, but usually the police turn a blind eye and aren’t very concerned about punishing offenders. This doesn’t apply to Chile, where this prohibition is actually very strict. There aren’t any bars on the beach, such as in Brazil. So if you don’t want to have a negative experience and be fined, we recommend that you limit yourself to drinking in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, in your hostel or hotel or at friend’s houses.
2. Buy and sell your currency only in exchange houses or banks
There are cities in Latin America where it is normal to exchange currency in public streets, such as in Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, in Chile we don’t recommend it. If you want to buy or sell dollars, euros or reals, you can do it in almost any bank or exchange house without any major inconveniences. In fact, you won’t even be asked to fill out a form if the amount is equal to or less than 1000 USD. Now, if you go to an exchange house instead of a bank, for safety purposes we recommend that you check each bill thoroughly that is given to you at the window, particularly to verify that they are not damaged (both your local currency and the Chilean peso).
Chile is a country known for for the kindness of its people, but also for being a very lengthy country with many differences depending on the region. If you’re one of those adventurous tourists who likes to hitchhike and doesn’t require all the travel amenities and luxuries, we can tell you that won’t be an issue, and that in general Chile is a country where you can travel like this without any major problems. But we don’t recommend that you do it in the far north, especially if you are planning to go to San Pedro de Atacama, since its a desert region, with less state institutions and a lot of border activity, so sometimes there’s more criminal activity that isn’t as common in the center or in the south.
4. Keep your belongings in sight
This applies not only to Santiago or Valparaíso, but to all the major cities in the world: you should always keep your things where you see them. Every time you use public transportation you should be extra careful and in order to avoid losing your cell phone, documents or cash, we recommend that you carry everything in your backpack, particularly in the inside pockets rather than the external and more exposed ones on the outside. It’s also preferable that you carry your backpack on your front and not on your back. Which are the places where you should be the most attentive? The same as in the rest of the world: bus terminals, large boulevards, parks, stadiums or event centers, nightclubs and basically anywhere with a lot of people.
Be sure to always keep your belongings in sight where there is a lot of people / Photo: Darío Espinoza
5. Protect yourself from the sun
In summer the sun is very strong in Chile, both because of the latitude and because of the proximity to the ozone layer. This is something you should especially take into consideration if you go to the south of Chile, where ultraviolet radiation can be very harmful. Get yourself a good sunscreen, some sunglasses and a hat.
6. Dress warmly and don’t catch a cold
The summers in Chile are hot and dry, which many are grateful for, especially those who suffer from respiratory diseases and avoid humid climates. However, the nights are almost always cool, and sometimes it gets very cold, especially on the coast that usually has a different climate. So don’t forget to bring a coat if you go out at night!
7. Be careful when withdrawing money
ATMs are available everywhere and work perfectly. There’s no risk of being assaulted when withdrawing cash or anything like that. However, we recommend that you select those that are along the side or inside the banks, since you can withdraw money more quietly and avoid silly mistakes that are sometimes made in crowded places like supermarkets or subway stations when you’re distracted. With regard to credit or debit card payments, never give your card to a waiter or vendor and let them leave with it to make the transaction. Always accompany them or ask them to bring the machine to your table. The card must be where you can see it.
8. However, choose to pay by card
Nowadays you can pay with a debit or credit card almost anywhere, even in local neighborhood stores. Because of this, it’s unnecessary to bring large sums of money with you, which is good because it’s also safer.
9. For the photographers
It’s a shame to have to say it, but it seems that some tourists don’t always realize something that should be obvious: If you’re walking down the street with a camera hanging around your neck in a Latin American country , and that camera is Nikon, Pentax or Canon and it also has a professional lens and lens plus a detachable flash, you’re essentially shouting “Hi, I’m not from here, I’m a tourist and I have money!”, and therefore, you’re making yourself a target. This doesn’t mean that they’re going to steal from you anywhere, in fact quite the opposite. There are many places in Chile where there is absolutely nothing to fear. But as we mentioned above, in any large urban center of the world you’ll find differences and some neighborhoods will be less safe than others.
This advice is especially important if you travel to Valparaíso, one of the most popular destinations in Chile. Why? Because a tourist can’t identify which street is safe and which is not at first glance. That’s why we recommend that you ask for advice in your hostel or hotel from those who live there and are are familiar with the area. They are your best guides. And if you’re in Chile with plans to create a project or to shoot a series of photographs about less well-known places, it may be better if you’re accompanied by one of these people. The important thing is that you don’t venture out alone with your camera hanging around your neck.
Stay alert in cities like Valparaíso, espacially if you are going out with your camera / Photo: Fernanda Roccio
10. If you have any problem, don’t hesitate to ask for help
Chile is a country of friendly and helpful people. If you have any kind of problem, don’t hesitate to ask for help from the local people in the area where you are staying. If you’ve already made friends, call them or write to them through social network. They will most certainly be happy to give you a hand. Now, if you happen to be in the street, go straight to the first policeman you see, because in Chile you can trust the police and they are there to help you. The number you to dial in any emergency is 133 from any cell phone or landline. But surely none of this will be necessary. We’re confident that you’ll have an amazing time.
Enjoy every second of your vacation and always travel safely. Book the best tours and activities in Chile online with Chile4utours and partake in the most authentic travel experiences in South America.
By: Brian Gray, Chilean anthropologist and muralist specializing in urban visual culture