I recently took a trip down to Chile to chase their winter and snowboard the Andes. To say I was thrown into the fire is an understatement, so if you’re thinking about doing the same, here are some helpful tips in preparing.
It’s a long travel day, or two, to get there so make sure you pack things to make the journey more enjoyable. LAN airlines is the jam for getting there and we actually found that flying out of Vancouver, Canada was cheaper by almost $600/ticket. Shop around for airports that are within a day travel to save you some money. It’s a long flight so consider bringing your Grand Trunk Hooded Travel Pillow
to block out your neighbors reading light. To avoid a case of “butt-itis” I used the A-Pad Travel Cushion which provided some extra padding for my boney butt. It came in handy for our rental van as well.
Arriving And Navigating
We landed in Santiago and made our way to Wicked Campers
which is a cheap van rental company that outfits you with a camper van complete with sleeping quarters and a small kitchen. This gives you the freedom to spend more money on the cultural experiences as opposed to lodging. Also, you can't rely on your offline maps or your phone, I would recommend bringing a GPS for the car. Signage and wayfinding down there isn’t as reliable as it is up north.
When you park you will most likely see a man dressed in regular clothing or perhaps a construction vest who “watches” your vehicle and “helps you” back out into the street when you’re leaving. They expect to be paid a couple pesos so keep that in mind. I wasn’t aware of this part of their culture and the first guy who watched out vehicle got very pissed and spit on our windshield as we were leaving...yikes.
Places To Visit And Stay
If you can make the journey south of Santiago the scenery gets much better the further south you go it starts to resembles the coast and Cascades of Oregon. The local people also get friendlier but the language barrier gets larger. Learning some basic Spanish is highly encouraged before traveling to Chile. Google Translate can get you by in a pinch but be sure to download the language for offline. Chile Spanish is also very fast and they drop the “s” off most words. For example “gracias” is “gracia” down there.
If you find yourself travelling late at night on the Interstate and need to catch some zzzz’s look for a Copec gas station. They are patrolled by law enforcement, have free WiFi, showers, clean bathrooms and a food court and are open 24/7.
Once you get off the beaten path and further away from large cities you’ll find parking is pretty easy for car camping. If you do splurge on lodging there are hostels all over and even in the small towns. The smaller towns tend to have the best hotels
with owners who are proud of their little home to share.
If you care to, pack some trash bags. The whole beautiful countryside is littered with trash and picking up a bag full will gain some karma points. I asked a local college teacher we met about the trash in Chile and she explained that it’s an education separation from upper and lower class. The lower class folks don’t understand that throwing trash onto the street, beaches and in the woods is a bad thing. It’s a misunderstanding that the earth will somehow reclaim the trash…
Lastly, be sure to pick you up a bottle or two of Chilean wine. $4 USD will get you a top shelf bottle and you’ll find you can drink a whole bottle and only catch a little buzz. If you want to bring some back to the states you’re allowed to bring back up to 7 bottles without having to report them at customs. Anymore than 7 and you just have to pay a tax.
The Chilean Independence Day is September 18th, so be sure to keep them in mind this Sunday! They have given the world a beautiful place to visit, we owe them a big debt of gratitude.