Note: What is contained here is solely my opinions based on my experiences in three trips to Chile, reading, hearsay, guesses, etc. Hopefully it's pretty accurate - I'm not usually prone to wild stabs at the truth! These are all questions (sometimes taken out of context or paraphrased) that have been e-mailed to me. Sometimes I've recreated my answers, sometimes I actually saved them (get a life, you tell me, eh?).
I haven't had a lot of questions about the north (a wonderful area that I highly recommend visiting!) so there's nothing here, but if I get questions I'll add the responses to the FAQ.
This is NOT meant to take the place of a guidebook. I mean to add to this as I get questions. I hope some of this may be useful to you!
Feel free to give me a yell - Send me mail
|Any general advice for traveling in Chile?
Why yes, thanks for asking! Some ideas of travel "my way:"
|I am thinking of traveling by myself and wondered if it would be
I'd say relatively safe, but it's harder (anywhere). For example, you have no one to share the job of watching packs, etc. if you have just arrived and want to scout the town to find lodging. And be careful in remote unlit parts of towns at night, that kind of common sense that would prevail in any country. Maybe a bit less safe for women, though not being one I'm only guessing. And of course, traveling alone might be lonely (it doesn't bother me much).
But let's look on the other side of the coin - the benefits. It's nice to be able to selfishly do what you want, go where you want to go, eat what you want to eat and when you want to eat it, and all that sort of thing. I admit - I like traveling alone. I'm an out of shape mid-forties American and while exercising due caution have had no real problems traveling alone in Chile. My worst experience (getting my day-pack stolen) happened when I was in a group! And I blame it on my stupidity (just a temporary lapse of course).
|Do you use a guidebook when you travel there?
I use and (for the most part) recommend the Lonely Planet guide to Chile and Easter Island for all travel in Chile. It isn't perfect (I once reached a small town only to find that the recommended lodging had burned down), and there are inevitable inaccuracies, but I've been surprised at how much accurate information it does have in it. It is available at any good bookstore including Amazon.com (see link above). It's available in a variety of languages.
What about other books?
|What about maps? Are there good ones? Are any on the
I haven't been able to find a lot on the web. Here's a few potential sources:
The South American Explorer's Club - http://www.samexplo.org/ - they have some for sale online and might have leads for others if you contact them.
CONAF (Chile Forestry and National Parks) might have some maps but they don't do a good job of advertising them. You might want to try their offices at Bulnes 285, Oficina 501, in Santiago. If you have a day or two in Santiago ask around - a hiking store would be a good bet - and they could direct you to a good store or a government agency to buy maps.
International Travel Maps has a series of maps I've used in Mexico, Central America, and South America, quite detailed and useful but mostly not very large scale. The have little info on the web, it might be worth contacting them however. These maps are available at bookstores, etc.
While it lasts, there's a map of the Santiago region at Gosouthamerica.about.com
|Does Chile have a train system (i.e. to Tierra Del Fuego)?
They have trains but I've never heard a lot good about them, and they go no further south than Puerto Montt. There is supposed to be a very spectacular train from the Atacama desert to Bolivia, but it appears to be often out of service - was unable to get tickets when I was there possibly due to winter rains.
|What do you think about my idea: a trip to Chile on a bike,
carrying everything on it. Is it a "safe" trip or just a crazy idea?
I like it! It's not "safe" nor is it crazy. What is safe? It's a great idea if you are a regular bike tourist and have experience traveling that way elsewhere. The roads are not geared to it, narrow in rural areas, and there's a lot of traffic in some areas, and many roads aren't paved in the most out-of-the-way areas. But go for it! I've met several folks traveling long distances by bike, mostly Germans or other Europeans, and they seemed to be having a great time! I met a Swiss guy and a Netherlander riding down the Carretería Austral - rough even in a car. Check out Erhard Kraus's travelogue about bicycle travel (combined with buses, etc.) in Patagonia and the Lakes.
Maybe I meant motorcycles?
Then I'd just say "it sounds like fun and good luck!" BMW and some Japanese bikes are most common, and there are a lot of them, so parts should be available. Make sure it's pretty rugged if you want to get off the main roads! I met a Japanese couple on matching Kawasakis who rode from Alaska to the Lakes District and were on the way to Tierra del Fuego when I met them in Puerto Octay on Lago Llanquihue. And I met a Swiss man and his Colombian wife in Chiloé who were on the way to Tierra del Fuego as well, from Columbia, riding two to the bike! Here's a link to Doug Ruth's account of a ride from California to Tierra del Fuego and back. For a lot of info about using dual-sport bikes in out of the way areas, see Robert Runyard's pages.
|If you only had one week would you go to Puerto Montt area or
would you go to Punta Arenas and visit the National Park?
If you only have a week, the problem is that getting anywhere other than along the main Puerto Montt - Santiago corridor can take a long time, especially if you don't have your own vehicle (and rental cars are very expensive). I've heard that reserving a car from here at US rates can be much cheaper but never tried it. Anyhow, with only a week I'd have to say the Puerto Montt area - more specifically the Lakes District - as transport is better and faster. Nothing moves very fast in Patagonia! Another option is south onto the lovely Isla Grande de Chiloé.
|Are there many people walking the roads/hitchhiking? I don't know
that I'd resort to that, but I'm not adverse to some distance-hiking if it's a relatively
Walking isn't a solution to getting around long distance for most folks - the distances are just too great. Hitching is not extremely common but there are always hitchhikers here and there on the main highway (in 1999 it was usually middle-class dreadlocked youth from the cities) and even in the back woods. I only hitched a couple of times but found it relatively easy if there is any traffic.
Some folks walk the passes over to Argentina or back in the Lakes District. You can combine hiking on the dirt roads and ferry travel effectively in the area of Parque National Vicente Perez Rosales and the Argentinean Parque National Nahuel Huapi, I'm told.
|Do they have golf in Chile?
Oh, heck yes! I don't golf (I like to point out that golf spelled backwards is "flog") so can't tell you much but here's a link to the Chilean Golf Federation home page - most of their pages are bilingual. There are around 60 courses in the golf federation. The link from the page listed above to "Clubes" (clubs) lists all the clubs in the federation and provides info about them. I saw one with no grass in the north about 100 miles south of Iquique in the barren Atacama desert - not sure if it was under construction, abandoned, or supposed to be that way.
|You mentioned you were robbed? How? Is the situation there that
No, the situation there isn't bad. I was robbed because I was stupid - I left a day-pack sitting in a public place (second floor of the bus station in Puerto Montt) and someone grabbed it. This would be the same in Los Ángeles de California or even in Seattle, and the situation there isn't all that bad. There is supposed to be some pickpocket activity in Valparaíso and you should exercise caution with easily grabbed goods such as cameras everywhere, but most people will be honest and helpful. I left a camera on a park bench once (how could I have been that stupid twice?) and when I came back, a workman came down from his ladder nearby, ran up to me, and said he had it locked in his car.
Be careful in crowded markets, major tourist destinations, bus stations, and places like that. Use common sense! I use front pockets and Velcro or button closures if possible, in public markets or crowded places like that a money belt is uncomfortable but may be a good idea. I prefer the hang-around-the neck money belts to the around-the-waist ones because if you need to get at it in public it isn't quite so much like undressing. Never leave a small bag unattended in a public place - I learned that the hard way. But overall, safer and lower crime than most US cities, I'd exercise the same caution.
Remember if you hear about crime in Chile from other tourists, part of the reason is that tourists anywhere are a target - they are carrying valuables, don't know their way around, usually have cash, etc. - think about the stories from Miami.
All in all just be careful but don't obsess about security, it isn't Quito, Miami, or Bogotá or something, it's just like going to an American city, actually probably a lower-crime American city, I'd say.
|Do you see a lot of foreigners in Chile?
Although you see them fairly frequently, foreigners only are very common in a few major tourist destinations. It's not hard to find areas where you're the only gringo if you want, as I did much of the time in my 1999 trip. I never saw too many other Americans except when we were in major destinations like Puerto Natales and Torres Del Paine National Park or in the major spots of the Lakes District. Swiss and Germans are more common than Americans and you see people from many other countries as well.
|I'm not sure how 'safe' it is for a female traveling
alone? Is it easy to find fellow traveling companions en route? If so,
where and how?! Your diary seems to mention you just getting on a bus
somewhere - did you do this independently or with a tour? I just can't see
me knowing what to do! I don't want to go on an organized tour (cheaper
and more flexible on your own) however if I can help it.
I am not a woman, so can't be too specific, but off the to of my head, I'd would be super careful if I were a woman traveling alone anywhere, even relatively safe Chile. In Chile just be careful - advice to travelers anywhere in the world, even the US and the UK, right? Yes, it's usually not to hard to find travel companions, and although I like traveling mostly alone, I also like to meet travelers from around the world sometimes. In Chile, bus stations, hostels, hospedajes, etc. are good places to meet folks - ride a bus, share a meal, etc. to get a feel for them. Many are Germans and Swiss-Germans and usually speak quite good English.
I do just hop buses if I know where they are going, it helps keep you out of stations, the charge may be lower from the driver's assistant than from the station, you can grab a nice seat sometimes instead of taking the assigned one, etc. I almost never take tours, only small, inexpensive, owner operated ones.
|I've heard that the officials, upon arrival at Santiago,
won't let you enter the country unless you've an outward flight. Is that
true? Because I'm traveling overland through Peru to Ecuador then flying
on to Central America. Do you think that'll cause me any problems?
I've never been asked for a ticket out of Chile but I suppose it's possible, it might depend on what passport you have. Check out the consul or embassy before you leave on the trip if you can.
|I want to stay in very cheap hostels, is this possible?
Very possible - inexpensive lodging is easy to find in Chile. I don't much like hostels - I like to mix with the locals and hostels rarely have any to speak of. When I want to visit with large numbers of Americans, Germans, Australians, Swiss, etc. I'll go to those places! Here's some ideas of types of lodging in Chile:
|Do you have any idea of the temperature range during June-August?
Whew! Where? Quick guesses (I have never been there in Winter but I am a geographer, so can't resist the chance to surmise about this):
|How far is Patagonia & Torres Del Paine from Santiago?
A long ways! I think Punta Arenas and Santiago are about 1300 air miles (2000 km) apart. I wouldn't suggest walking it, and the roads aren't very good though you could ride a bike I suppose.
|Have you been to any good museums in Chile?
There are lots, and they are often a great place to visit. I've only been to a couple of the bigger ones. Here's some fairly large ones I remember right off the top of my head:
But the little museums in almost every small town are quite a bit of fun and worth visiting if you see them. They usually cost less than a dollar US to enter, and are quite worth it! Off the top of my head I can remember a few that I have visited:
|What sort of clothes do you carry for using when you aren't
|How do you handle having money available in Chile?
For money I find that the best thing is an ATM card - Chileans don't like traveler's checks and charge a hefty fee to change them. I just used my ATM card and it works almost everywhere, best exchange rate, no fee. Machines are called RedBanc (the ones that say Nat. Bank of Chile did NOT work for me), and are in (or outside) most banks as well as some stores and gas stations. That allows you to carry cash, which is best for small restaurants, cafes, small stores, taxis, buses, tips, etc. as well as for staying in hospedajes or small hotels. For bigger hotels or nice restaurants Visa card is best, again best exchange rate and no fee. Make sure you carry cash before going to small towns, as they don't have ATMs! Avoid any torn or dirty paper money (local or American) and don't carry any money other than Chilean or American, it'll be hard to use. A few Chileans are still suspicious of the new US $20 bills, but that should pass soon.
I'd take some emergency US cash - $200 maybe - and a few hundred - say, $400 - in traveler's checks but hope not to use them, just redeposit in your bank (or mine in you prefer) when you get back.
Here is a link to a useful currency page - convert to and from any currency in the world.
|What about food and drink?
Restaurant food is great if you look for "platos típicos" or, a favorite of mine, just get the daily special (called "menú del día" or sometimes oferta). The special is usually filling, good, and cheap. I've never been all that lucky with "American style" restaurants such as the "Dino's" chain. These types of places tend to be too salty, the food usually fried, and they lack variety.
The restaurants often had many types of standard sandwiches, including "lomitos," barros jarpas," and "barros lucas." A favorite is the "completo" - a hot dog with palta, onions, and tomatoes, topped with mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup (far better than it may sound). There are the ever-present "papas fritas" - French-fries - usually very good, made with lard and occasionally with a hot dog stuck in.
Good seafood is especially common in the south - from the lakes district through Aisén. Try curanto in Chiloé, and the salmon is great, cholgas (mussels), congrio (conger eel), etc. Now you got me hungry!
In every town bigger than a village I've found found at least one café with an espresso machine (café esprés), a lifesaver in a country of Nescafé. In Santiago there are fancy café esprés bars all over downtown, where the waitresses all dress in skimpy outfits - "we're not in Seattle any more, Dorothy."
Everywhere there is excellent juice, including my favorite, tuna (cactus fruit) - it's terrific.
Everywhere the produce was very good, even in the far south. Fruit of top quality was everywhere, big ripe paltas, large tomatoes, etc.
For hiking, it's interesting to note that a lot of things are packaged individually. You can get many things in small pasteurized pouches, including jam, tomato sauce, stuffed dried pastas, pickles, olives, sauerkraut, tasty powdered juice, etc. Boxes of super-pasteurized milk and juice (again, the juice was always excellent) are the rule.
Boxed wines ranged from poor to quite decent. A liter box of Concha y Toro Vino Tinto (red wine) that cost $1.75 there was as good as the same product at $5 for a 750 ML bottle here, or the equivalent bottle of California table wine. Seems to be no prejudice against boxed wine. I did get a bad one, I suspect it had been in the sun or something. Bottled wines can be very good, of course, some excellent.
Beer is pretty good in general, though the popular ones resemble American beer for the most part. Restaurants, taverns (schoperías) and bars always serve it draft (schop). Some of the regional brews, especially in Patagonia, are better. I like Escudo, Austral, and Imperial better than the ever-present Cristal. My favorite is a smaller company out of Valdivia called Kunstmann, with great beers resembling what we call "micros" here in the Pacific Northwest. Almost the only beer available in parts of Argentina (and available occasionally in Chile) is the wretched Quilmes (pronounced a bit like "kill-me" - that's a joke, son).
|Did you buy your ticket from Santiago to Punta Arenas once in
Chile? I know that the ticket is about $600 when bought in the US but I heard it is only
$300 in Chile.
I did prearrange it: I used the ChilePass, which at that time was $300 for up to four internal flights south of Santiago and has to be purchased outside the country. My group used only the one flight, as it turned out, so the airline made out like bandits with us! I think you could get a much cheaper flight than $600, try various airlines - if you don't get it from your home country try the offices in the national airport in Santiago. I don't think it really costs $600, maybe round trip it does.
|I was thinking of going to Chile and wondering what I need in
terms of Visa, Passport, injections etc.
No visa from many countries, but passport from most if not all. No injections required but my HMO recommended tetanus, hepatitis B, and a tuberculosis test before and after. They also gave me diarrhea pills (over the counter type) and a prescription antibiotic for intestinal bugs, which I never used. If you are going on to the Altiplano you might ask about pills to prevent altitude sickness. You can get any kind of over-the-counter drug there and often things that require a prescription in the US don't there.
|I have really been struggling with getting a car, and
read your excerpt about expense. I guess I am going to Chile "to let
someone else do the driving" but will cool areas be accessible with
such a short time to travel?
If you do decide to rent a car, I'd get south first by bus or plane, then rent. Try to arrange it from home to take advantage of lower prices and maybe specials. And get a 4 x 4 if you can!
I looked at prices from Budget (just because they were easy to do) in July 2001 (but looking at rentals in Jan. 2002), arranged from US but for a week rental in Puerto Montt. They ranged from $170 US a week for an economy car (read tiny) to $525 US a week for a four-door, 4WD Toyota pickup.
|I would actually like to work in South America, or even hopefully
in Chile. Would you know the employment regulations?
I've heard it's hard to get a work permit. I have no personal experience. I meet Americans and other foreigners there who are working (teaching English often, or guiding), so it's obviously possible but it may be "without benefit of formal permission."
My frequent correspondent Robert Runyard, who has great Chile Pages at this address, has added some valuable insight which I am reproducing here with his permission:
|It appears you're from Seattle, why did you have to get another
visa after yours was stolen? Why did you have a visa at all? I've read a visa is not
required for a US citizen.
You caught me - I was being lazy when I wrote that. There is some kind of permit to travel issued when you arrive and good for a lengthy period - that's what I was calling a visa, though technically it's not. However, it's not a good idea to try to leave without it, I'm told, so I went to some length to get a replacement.
|Do they speak standard Spanish in Chile?
Chileans speak Castellano (Spanish) with quite a few local features. They speak fast but most people will slow down if they realize you aren't a fluent speaker. A common feature of the local dialect is dropping syllables in common words - Usted becomes something like u'te', para becomes pa'a, etc. They often say "buen día" or just "día" for good morning, and almost always "chao" (ciao) for goodbye. Avocados are "palta" (the word is apparently used everywhere but Mexico, but it was new to me) and fresh corn (especially on the cob) is "choclo" which may be widespread in South America too. Draft beer is always "schop" or "shop" (pronounced approximately like the English word "shop") and taverns usually "shoperías." I'm guessing these words come from the German "schoppen," meaning half-pint. English isn't widely spoken - I've met only a few Chileans who were very fluent. However, if I'd been around more university students I'm sure they would be likely to speak more English.
|It appears that you guys knew some Spanish. Would it have been
very difficult for a solo traveler who speaks no Spanish?
Other world languages are not widely spoken due to the traditional isolation of the country, however, there are more and more of the educated people who speak English and some folks of German or Swiss heritage may speak some German. In any country you can be closer to the people if you can communicate, and if you plan to get anywhere off the beaten track you should try to pick up some Spanish before you go. At the very least, take an introductory class so you can pronounce the words. Also, carry a phrasebook and dictionary. You'll find Chileans are often accommodating and forgiving of linguistic lapses, and if they speak any English they will try to use it, but in Spanish they speak VERY fast and it's sometimes non-standard (different words, a pronounced accent).
|I would like to take Spanish language lessons in Chile. Can you
recommend perhaps the local university where I could obtain credit for courses taken? I
prefer taking lessons from the university, then it's officially certified. I would like to
reach a competency level ...
I don't know about Spanish classes, but I bet you could find them anywhere there is a university as well as anywhere there is a tourist scene, but being Chile (higher wages, etc.) they will be more expensive than in, say, Perú, or Guatemala. Although I never took classes there, I saw private language schools in Coyhaique, Pucón, Puerto Natales, and San Pedro de la Atacama.
There are universities in most cities. In Valdivia there's U. de Valdivia, in Santiago there are several universities, best known are U. de Chile, U. de Santiago, and U. Católica de Santiago. There are universities in many other cities including La Serena, Concepción, Temuco, etc.
In Pucón there is a school called "La Casita" that I've heard of but can't vouch for, the Escuela de idiomas Violeta Parra is in Santiago, and Linguatec has a school in Chile, too. This page has some more links. I've heard of one called Baquedano in Coyhaique, but have not found a page for it.
|I am going to be attending a language school and my main
concern is finding an inexpensive lodging arrangement. I will be in
Santiago for about 6 weeks. I read what you wrote about staying in a
hospedajes and that sounds like it would be ideal. Do you think a widow or
retired couple would take someone in for period of 5 or 6 weeks? Also, are
you permitted to use the kitchen, provided you buy your own food, and
laundry facilities? Staying in a residenciales would also be fine.
The language school is offering a dormitory type setting for $15 per night
and that is a little more than I want to go for.
I think Chile is a great place to visit (obviously) but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say for language school it's not in the running. Why?
When I wanted to do a couple weeks of brush up I chose Guatemala despite my love of Chile, and don't regret it.
In any case most schools can get you a room and board pretty cheap for a specific country, and I'm sure you can find a cheap place to live in Santiago, however, I don't know one as I usually stay there only a few days and use a hotel that's not overly expensive but more than you or I would want to spend for a longer spell (I pay about $25 US a night when it's one or two, but a bit lower for a week I think).
In Guatemala (Quetzaltenango) I paid $130 a week for 5-hrs a day 5 days a week 1-on-1 study including 7 days a week / 3-meals a day home stay, with some excursions and activities in the afternoons. This was February, 2000 prices but they are still advertising the same tuition - it's higher in the summer, about $150. Here's a link to Centro Maya de Idiomas, the school I used, one of many.
I looked into Chile and it was MUCH more. Plus when I'm there I want to get out and about, on the road.
In any case, I'd try the school if you have one picked out already, and if you are not sure of a school, I'd do Guatemala (or another place that has a specialty of language schools, like Nicaragua, Peru, or Ecuador) instead and save enough money for a great trip to Chile later!
The option also remains of language school in a smaller, less expensive town. Puerto Montt, Coyhaique, Puerto Natales, and I'm sure other towns have schools. Pucon has schools too, I know, though they may be very expensive also.
|Do you have general advice about hiking at Torres del Paine NP?
Why, yes, I do just happen to have some! Not all-inclusive, just some things that come to mind:
|I've heard this time of the year (southern hemisphere fall)
weather is unpredictable for the Paine Circuit, but FitzRoy is OK (i.e. weather is cool,
but no major snow falls yet). Is this true? I know you did your traveling in mid Feb, but
maybe in passing you talked to the locals or other travelers about weather in late March?
Given my itinerary, I can only move my hikes up by a week or two at best, I'm not sure
this will give me substantially better weather?
I'd say the earlier the better - you are probably right about FitzRoy being safer (it's further inland) but it's still Autumn in the extreme south. Be prepared for bad weather!
|I realize that most people travel in summer, but I would like to
travel in winter in Patagonia, using a rented car. I thought I might check with you who
have been there recently. Is it not advisable to travel to Patagonia in July?
I'll rely on guesses here: It would be a nasty time of year to be traveling in the closest inhabited area to the South Pole. I would read up in every possible source about the trip, and be very prepared even if you plan to have a vehicle. To be honest, I wouldn't do it!
Robert Runyard writes to tell me that he travels in Patagonia at all times of the year. Read his account of a winter trip to the Aisén region of Patagonia in a borrowed 2-wheel drive pickup.....
I also took the liberty of adding some of his useful details on a page at this link.
I still say, be very careful, plan well, remember there are wide areas between towns, and the weather can be extreme, especially in southern Patagonia.
|Are there campgrounds along the main road, or at all besides the
"euro-camping" in the park?
Yes, in most of the National Parks, as well as near towns. As for campsites, in the parks, if I go back I'll discretely look for spots upstream and hidden from the standard sites, illegal sites in other words. We (North Americans) are more used to camping alone and practice low-impact camping. If you do have to go to a crowded official campsite, look all around before you choose a campsite, often the farthest end isn't too bad. But DO filter water near them! And watch where you step.
|Will it be easy enough to meet people [to hike with] in Puerto
I think it won't be too hard to find hiking companions in Puerto Natales, it's a pretty small town and gringos (including Europeans) are easy to spot near the Plaza de Armas (town square) or at your lodging, and they all are heading to the park. I'd be careful to find folks you'll be comfortable with personally and who will have similar hiking speeds, etc. Maybe another good idea is to plan the association to be a bit loose (your own gear and food etc.) so if you aren't compatible you could split up.
|How long should I plan to spend trekking? Is 6 days enough or
should I stay for 8 or 10?
It's up to you but the famous Circúito takes a week at least, I'm told. There are shorter trips and if you aren't into major expeditions and long trips in potentially miserable conditions, you might want to consider one of them!
|Should I bring my tent? Mine needs to be staked and is a three
season tent. Is there a need for a free standing tent or a four-season tent? Can I rent
I believe you can rent a tent at one or two places in Puerto Natales, but I don't know details. A good freestanding tent would be best but not required, however, I think a tent of some sort is a necessity. It's bloody wet and windy!
|Regarding clothing, I know I need to bring stuff to keep me
warm...I don't have Gore-Tex pants- should I be worried? I have a fleece jacket, vest,
pants, socks- should I bring all of that?
Vest, maybe not. It'll probably be wet and windy, but not likely extremely cold in Summer (0 degrees C or a few degrees below, no colder?). I'd say fleece underwear top and bottom - nice to own here too - and a fleece jacket, nylon or other easy-to-dry pants and shirt, plenty of wool socks, and rain gear. If not Gore-Tex pants, at least waterproof ones, in the weather (wind and rain) I was in I wouldn't want to be without! You might be lucky, but don't count on it.
Note: See the update under the question about white gas below regarding buying equipment in Punta Arenas.
|Can I buy food in Puerto Natales?
Can get things there, but be creative! Pasta sauce in tubes, dried ravioli, dried fruit, etc. are good bets. Crackers, cheese, dried soups are available. Pancitas (little rolls) are useful and tasty when fresh. You might want to bring some Mountain House or similar hiking dinners from home.
A) Should I bring a small stove?
B) I've heard getting white gas is not a problem. What about propane tanks for stoves (a propane tank for a blow torch would also do)?
C) I was planning a camping trip to Paine, but I can't sure what kind of gas cartridges is available in Puerto Natales.
A stove would be a great idea, you'll want one. I'd suggest a white gas (bencina blanca) stove as it is available in many places (try pharmacies if nowhere else seems to have it).
I bet you can get propane tanks but can't back up my claim, I never looked for them! The camping gas (like Bluet or Gaz) containers I have heard are nearly impossible to get. Note that international law forbids taking them in your airline baggage.
Update: I just heard from Jim Curl about buying gas cartridges and other equipment in Punta Arenas: "One thing I didn't learn in advance of my trip was whether or not propane/butane stove canisters would be available. I went prepared with an MSR as well as a screw on Gaz type stove. While I was unable to find these types of Gaz canisters, I did find the screw on propane/butane canisters that fit other types of stoves such as Primus, MSR, GigaPower, etc. In addition, they had a few different models of inexpensive stoves for sale. We purchased a stove for about $20 and the 8oz canisters where about $3 each. We found them in the Balfer store in the Zona Franca shopping area of Punta Arenas. We also noticed that the Balfer in Puerto Natales stocked the canisters. Balfer is the only store we actually looked into closely. It has some camping equipment, but it is fairly minimal."
|What about water? Do I need a water filter? Are purification
I'd use a filter if you can get one, tablets may be OK but make sure they are good ones. I hate to admit it but we drank most of the water in Torres de Paine without treatment. Upstream from the main camps please! They are sickening. A small filter is OK for towns too. Though I trusted the city water in Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, I didn't in some of the small towns further north, or even Santiago.
|One question for you - did you wish you had spent more time at
Torres Del Paine?
Yes and no! I wished I could spend more time there but I would have had to cut some other part of that trip short. Maybe another trip is the answer! I was eager to see settled areas of Chile, too, so didn't want to spend too much of my trip in remote, mountainous areas not unlike many places I can get to here in the summer.
|Do you know what made you sick while camping in FitzRoy? How did
you know what antibiotics to take for it?
After talking with my doctor at home, I suspect it was a common winter bug I'd picked up in the north before leaving and that hit me there due to incubation time and exacerbated by the extreme conditions of hiking in bad weather in Patagonia. It was likely a virus but the extreme conditions and the virus infection made me susceptible to a bacterial infection and I got bronchitis. The doctor surmised this because I improved so quickly when I took the antibiotic. I chose the particular antibiotic because Jennifer, who was in the group I was in, said her ex-husband was often sick with bronchitis and it was what he took. While this wasn't all that smart, it worked, and in fact when the bug came back just as I was getting home (I should have taken the antibiotic longer) my doctor at home gave me the same antibiotic but for a longer period.
|We are thinking about going to the penguin reserve but have heard
it is a long walk in. My parents are going with us and they are in their 80's. Would they
be able to do the walk and is it worth doing? Are there cabs or must you take the tour
The one I went to - the well-known one north of Punta Arenas - is quite a ways out. I wouldn't walk! You can take a cab or better, hire a driver with a van and some experience guiding folks out there. Ours was a retired man, quite knowledgeable and pleasant, a photographer.
|How do you arrange for the boat from Natales to Puerto Montt?
Do you know which day it departs from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales?
How about other ferries in Patagonia or the area of Chiloé?
There are offices of NaviMag (the company that runs the boat) in Puerto Montt and in Puerto Natales, as well in a few other places, including Santiago. Check the latest contact information in a guidebook such as Lonely Planet. The Puerto Montt office phone is (65) 28700 and fax is (65) 258540.
|A) Is this boat trip worthwhile?
B) Do you really recommend the boat trip?
Maybe - if you don't mind the cost (a big expense compared to most other travel expenses in Chile). You may not see a real view the whole trip, get seasick, and feel it's a wasted trip. I enjoyed my trip, I know that, even though the weather was not all that great...
|Do I have to reserve the tickets in advance?
I believe that's best though we just stuck our heads into the office (in Puerto Natales) and got tickets for less than a week ahead.
|Are there many opportunities to take nice photos from the ship?
If the weather cooperates, definitely! Waterfalls, glaciers, forested coasts, whales, dolphins, and further north, the quaint farmland and villages of the Chiloé Archipelago and high snowy volcanoes are all possible. Clouds, fog, and rain are also possible!
|If my wife and I take a car with us, does it cost much more than
only the passengers?
I didn't check but I bet it is quite expensive! It's really a freighter, not a ferry, even though it runs on a set route, and you would be shipping your car, not a drive-on drive-off like a ferry.
|I am planning a trip myself and was wondering ... if the
b-category will be OK for the trip.
We would have ridden in Class B, except it was full, but I did think it looked uncomfortable and damp, hot, no real privacy, and I heard the food was much worse!
|I am going to try and do some fly fishing in the south and want
to visit Chiloé, Osorno and was thinking maybe of Coyhaique. Any concerns about traveling
alone in that part of the world?
No, this is very easy country to travel in and there is convenient bus service almost everywhere. And I have it on good authority the fishing is great in that area! I believe that it is better around Coyhaique than further north. It's a long trip by bus and boat to Coyhaique - consider flying from Puerto Montt.
|I am very interested in learning more about Pumalín. What can
I was only at Pumalín for a day and only saw one corner of the park, but from what I've read, seen, and guessed from maps, it is quite incredible.
I believe it is possible to get to Pumalín by staying on the mainland in summer, by going south from Puerto Montt by bus or car and ferry. But the trip is difficult and slow, I've heard, and the buses may not go all the way. Much easier (and quite a nice trip too) is to go from Puerto Montt by bus and ferry to the southern end of the Isla de Chiloé and take a ferry from Quellón to Chaitén on the mainland (Chiloé Continental). In the little town of Chaitén you can arrange transport north to Pumalín. The only village in Pumalín, Caleta Gonzalo, is about 35 miles or so from Chaitén. The best bet is to find Nick in Chaitén, he's an American from Vermont (Nicolas LaPenna) who can arrange anything, and may drive you up himself. He did an all-day tour with me and a dozen Chileans in an old Ford van to the southern corner of the park to see waterfalls, a grove of giant alerces, lakes, and beaches and charged only $5000CH (about $10.00 US). The main part of the park has a big volcano, glaciers, rivers, more giant alerce trees, etc. At Caleta Gonzalo, north of Chaitén, Douglas Tompkins (the rich American who bankrolled the preserve) runs a restaurant with meals reputedly very good and cheap, as well as inexpensive lodgings and a fancy campground, partly as a goodwill gesture to Chileans in the area I think. The ferry north from there, summer only, runs I think only one round trip a day, so folks are stuck there often.
If you travel there, you might want to be careful or non-committal talking about Pumalín or Douglas Tompkins in other parts of the country as it is very controversial, and even people with interest in the environment (true of many Chileans) may not like the idea of a rich American coming and buying a lot of land, even to preserve.
|Is there a guidebook devoted specifically to Parque Pumalín?
Does the park have a North American office or info center? I've seen some indication that
the Park Foundation has an office in San Francisco, but can't get an address or phone
No guidebook exists, that I've seen. The foundation (I can't recall its name) that started the park is in San Francisco but I believe they are now separated.
|Do you know anything about travel to Pumalín in April
and with a short time to visit?
Pumalín is incredible but it's really out of the way so you'll extend some time in getting there, and it's all pretty remote so you'll have to backpack, camp, etc. And at that latitude, that's awful late - I'd say be prepared for awful weather, In fact it was very wet and chilly when I was there in mid-summer (Feb.). If you go, first thing in Chaitén talk to "el americano," Nick LaPenna (check the bus station, and ask - if he's not at the station, he'll be somewhere near). He can get you up to Pumalín, find places for you to stay, knows the scoop on everything around there, and will give you a fair price on it all.
the boats to and from Chiloé to the mainland?
Here's some data - may be out of date when you get this:
|NAVIMAG: Office Pto. Montt.
Phone: (65) 28700 Fax: (65) 258540
Quellon - Pto.Chacabuco: Saturdays 20hrs.
Cars 4mts or less -$32,627 pesos
Passengers - $13,200 pesos
|Pto. Montt - Pto. Chacabuco:
Thursday 24hrs Sunday-13hrs
|Pto. Montt - Chaiten :
Thursday- 20hrs. Friday- 22hrs
Cars -4mts $38,000pesos
|TRANSMARCHILAY Office Pto. Montt.
Phone: (65) 270416 - Fax.(65) 270415
|Pto. Montt - Chaiten :
Monday- 13hrs. Thursday 21hrs
Cars -4mts $40,000pesos
|I thought we would go from Puerto Montt to Puerto Varas and the
river, falls, Lago Todos Santos, etc. Can you get cabs to do that or vans?
I'm sure you can get cabs to take you (cabs will take you anywhere!) but the buses in that part of the country are very nice too, and there are charter buses for trips to places like Lago Todos Santos if you want to ride in style.
|What do you know of the fishing around Puerto Montt? I'm
interested in trying some rivers for fly-fishing.
Supposed to be pretty good, but gets better further south around Chaitén and on down to Coyhaique.
|My girlfriend and I are heading down for 9 days in late
April and have no plans. I think it makes the most sense to head
south to the lake district. Do you think it's too late in the season? We
like non-touristy areas but enjoy outdoor sports. Any great
suggestion? Should we head directly towards Puerto Montt and work our way
Lakes district is I think the most concentrated area, when your total trip is pretty short. As for the time of year, I don't know if you know the western US, but the Chilean climates can be closely compared to the same latitudes in California and the pacific northwest by adding 6 months - so late April, like late October. And the lakes is like northern CA and southern OR. So I'd say do it but be prepared for rain and don't be surprised if you don't see the volcanoes. Puerto Montt and further south is pushing it!
You are right in surmising that it's harder to get to the best outdoor sports (hiking, etc.) without a car but not impossible. A few ways - rent a car for one day, ask around about hiring a local person to drive you up, or take the back roads buses (they go lots of places, ask). Finally, some of the formal tours for a day can be reasonable, like the hot springs I went to from Pucon (avoid Pucon if you really want to avoid tourist traps!). Local buses go from Puerto Varas into the heart of the mountains at Lago Todos Santos, and trails lead right from the end of the road. Also you can hire people with small boats to take you to remote spots and pick you up later. Weather there will be iffy that late however!
Anywhere you go in the south should be relatively tourist free that late - even tourist towns like Pucon. The Chileans and Argentineans are long gone home to work and school, and the northern hemisphere people home or to more tropical locations.
|Can you recommend a hotel in Santiago, also what was the cost?
There's lots of good lodging at a variety of prices. I like the odd but comfortable hotel I've used three times now, it's called "Hotel Los Arcos" and is located at 2173 Agustinas. A taxi from airport should be about $8 US and since taxis can get a kickback of your hotel bill, negotiate the price. It's an old (and old-style) building. The lobby is updated but the rooms are not. It's more expensive than I like to spend when I'm in other parts of the country but not bad for the capital. Prices in Feb. 2001 were about $23 US for single, $32 US for a double, with private bath (basic bath but 24-hour hot water!). What I like best is the courtyard with trees, birds, plantings, tables, and food / drink service if you want (though they never complained when I bought beer, wine, or food at the little store next door to consume out there). Also, the old rooms have wooden shutters inside instead of curtains, which is neat and makes it really dark in the morning if you want to sleep late. It's a 15 minute walk to downtown (Agustinas all the way), and there's a really nice little park (Plaza Brazil) a block away down the side street. Three are a couple of Intrenet cafés on the park. The neighborhood has a lot of restaurants with a variety of styles (including Chinese) and the hotel staff are friendly though distant. There's fancier places and there's cheaper places but I like Los Arcos for balance. Tends to have a lot of Germans and Brazilians but rarely Americans or other English speakers (nor do the staff speak English). There was a whole crew of well-dressed guys from Cameroon once when I was there, but I didn't figure out what they were in town for (nor did the staff know, though they were curious too).
|Are the road conditions good enough in Santiago so that one could
go roller-blading if they wanted to?
Good question! Although I'm not a roller-blade person, I'd say yes, no problem - but there is a lot of traffic so be careful. Some of the park areas such as along the river might be best. Good luck!
|Any suggestions on good souvenirs from Santiago?
Hmm - there are some native crafts as well as crafts from Easter Islanders, Peruvians, and Bolivians available in markets near downtown - look for the crowded, knocked-together little ones or the big market near the river. All in all, however, it's not really a city I'd say has a lot of souvenirs to offer! Use your imagination.
|I have a chance to take a professional job in Santiago. Would you
recommend it? I cannot speak Spanish. Is it beautiful? How is the smog? Is it cheap to
live there? Is it fun?
I can't say about the job, but I think it might be a fun city to live in. It's a big city and so not cheap, but I'd say much cheaper than a European, Japanese or even American city. It's not beautiful like a Paris, Rio, San Francisco but it has its charms. The smog is getting better but still bad, at least they are trying to control it. Fun - there's skiing and then ocean nearby (an hour or so either direction), wineries, discos, museums, lots of great sidewalk cafés, etc. I'd suggest taking a crash Spanish course, such as a two-week intensive course in Guatemala or Peru (see above under Language), you'll need it in Santiago if you are there very long. When the smog is light, the view of the Andes is stunning - 20,000 foot peaks are less than 40 miles away.
|Where else should I go it I have a few days free from Santiago?
The main tourist areas are quite a ways from Santiago. Valparaíso and Viña del Mar (sister cities) are only an hour or so away and worth a visit. I found Viña wasn't my kind of place and very expensive. It's like Palm Beach FL or the south of France. But funky old Valparaíso is fun and not expensive to visit. Santiago itself has many attractions (climb both the hills - Cerro San Cristóbal by cable car and Cerro Santa Lucía on foot) and make sure you see Pablo Neruda's home in Bellavista (there's another, better known one in a small town north of Viña del Mar as well as a third in the small town of Isla Negra south of Valparaíso- all three are museums). The pedestrian malls of downtown Santiago never get old to me.
Also I think you can get day-trip buses to the ski areas outside of town, even in the summer - that's a way to get into the mountains.
Gosouthamerica.about.com recently added this page on weekend excursions from Santiago - seems useful to me, though it ignores the obvious trips to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Hopefully this page will remain online!
|We have an opportunity with "Cascada Expediciones" to raft on the Maipo river in the surrounding mountains
of Santiago. Sort of nice because they will arrange pickup from the
airport and drops us back in Santiago in the evening.
Cascada has a good reputation and that far north it should be nice still in the mountains, and I find it hard to get short trips in those mountains (I never have been much around Santiago, just in the city.