I plunked down in the lovely country of Chile about five days ago. It’s my first visit here—and, oddly, I did zero research on the country before I arrived. No insight. No preconceived notions. So far it’s been a delightfully interesting mix of helpful locals, language barriers and picture-postcard vistas. Here’s my 411 on the five things I’ve gleaned thus far …
5) It’s one big ass country. Chile has volcanoes, deserts, mountains and nearly 6,500km of coastline. Don’t like the landscape or the climate? Drive four or five hours and you’re in a completely different geographical area. Want to see a fjord and a forest? Or go from the world’s driest desert to a sub-tropical island? Chile is the country for you. (And, yes, they’re prone to earthquakes and the occasional tsunami warning.)
4) Plan on speaking Spanish. If you think most Chileans speak (even the tiniest bit of broken) English — think again. Since I got here, everything has been lost in translation. Since my Spanish is horrific, I’ve muddled through with a lot of gesturing and smiling. I’m practically a mime. Suffice to say, it’s a tried-and-true Spanish-speaking country—despite being incredibly touristy. (My litmus test? I’ve had about a dozen Uber drivers, and they knew not one word of English. Zilch. Er, nada.)
3) Sleep in. I’m currently writing this blog from a quaint mountain resort village. I got up around 8:30 a.m. to stumble in town for a coffee and some grub. Turns out, the town doesn’t even think about stirring until nearly 11am. Was I expecting Starbucks? No, I would have been happy with any blackened caffeinated beverage and stale scone, but nothing was open. On the flipside, most places serve food up to midnight if you want late-night Latin-American fare.
2) It’s easy to stay connected. Since I feel naked and afraid without internet access, I’m happy to say Chile has tons of wireless hotspots. My phone has never lost service once, and that includes when I was on the tippy-top of a volcano earlier today. Maybe I’ll have sticker shock when I get home and get my data bill, but for now, I can post pics and text my friends with ease. (And to think I was planning on being off the grid for a few days.)
1) Everything is reasonable—until it’s not. By and large, Chile is a country you can visit on a fairly sparse budget. Dining out, inexpensive. Groceries, inexpensive. Ubers, ridiculously inexpensive. Lodging, well, that’s another story. Of course, I picked New Year’s Eve weekend to visit and the prices of hotels and Airbnbs were astronomical. Apparently, Chile is known for their New Year’s festivities, including one of the top five firework displays in the world near Via del Mar. Things that would have been good to know ahead of time, I guess. So I wiped out a majority of my budget on shelter, but it was still worth it. All the places I stayed were posh, modern and mercifully had comfy beds and speedy WiFi. The bathrooms are still teeny, mind you … even smaller than (gasp!) Europe. (And don’t worry, the water is generally safe in case you were wondering.)
I’ve got a couple more days here to see the sights and eat my weight in under-stuffed empanadas, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. (Hint – stay away from any donut, croissant or bakery by-product. While they look amazing, they all taste like cardboard.)
I’m also going to say hola to every person who looks my way. I’m probably the whitest white boy they’ve seen in a while. Lastly, I leave you with this — I packed for every climate known to man, and I’m glad I did. I’ve experienced all four seasons—in four days.
And I’ll let you know if I spy a Starbucks outside of Santiago. (Note to Starbucks—you’d make a KILLING here.)