"Expeditions to the South of the South"


About Chile

Geography & Climate.

Chile's 800,000 sq kms contains stony Andean peaks, snowcapped volcanoes, broad river valleys and deep canyons, sterile deserts, icy fjords, deep blue glaciers, turquoise lakes, sandy beaches and rocky headlands. It extends over 4200 kms from tropical Arica to sub-antartic Punta Arenas, on average less than 200 kms wide.
The Andes run the length of the country. In the far north volcanoes reach above 6000 meters, as does the imposing wall of sedimentary and volcanic peaks east of Santiago. South of the Río Bio-Bío, the Andes are a less formidable barrier.
The regions of Tarapacá and Antofagasta comprise the Norte Grande ( Great North ), dominated the barren Atacama Desert. The regions of Atacama and Coquimbo form the mineral-rich Norte Chico ( Little North ), an area of scrub and occasional forest. Beyond the Río Aconcagua begins the fertile heartland of Middle Chile, where the Valle Central contains the capital, Santiago, the port of Valparaíso, and most of the country's industry and employment. South of Concepción, the Río Bio-Bío marks Chile's 19th-century frontier and the Mapuche Indian homeland. South of Temuco, the scenic Lake District has snowcapped volcanoes, many still active, framing its numerous foothill lakes. South of Puerto Montt, Chiloé is the largest island wholly within Chile, with a lengthy coastline, dense forest and many small farms.
Chilean Patagonia, comprising the region of Aisén and Magallanes, experiences cool summers but relatively mild winters, as does the island of Tierra del Fuego, divided between Chile and Argentina.

General climate ( for the central coast )

The rainy season goes from June to August. The rest of the year is dry, but nights are always fresh. February is often foggy in the morning. Maximum temperature average / rainy days :
Jan 26/0 ; Feb 26/0 ; Mar 24/1 ; Apr 22/1 ; May 19/5 ; Jun 17/6 ; Jul 15/6 ; Aug 17/5 ; Sep 20/3 ; Oct 22/2 ; Nov 23/1 ; Dec 25/0 .
Source : Servicio Nacional de Turismo - Chile.

Flora & fauna

Chile's various distinctive environments all support different flora and fauna , which are protected by an extensive system of national parks. The northern highlands support large populations of the endangered vicuña and huge nesting colonies of flamingos. The coastal areas of the desert and central regions offer pelicans, penguins, otters and sea lions. The Andean portion of La Araucanía houses large forests of monkey-puzzle tree, cypress and southern beech. In the extreme south, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with a wealth of wildlife, including the Patagonian guanaco.

Personal security

Chile is one of the safest country in Latin America. Crimes and robberies are rare, but still visitors should be careful with valuables.

Population & Conduct

Over a third of Chile's 14 million people reside in Gran Santiago. About 75 % live in Middle Chile, only 20 % of the country's total area. More than 80 % in the cities, but south of the Bio-Bío, the peasant population is still dense.

Religion

About 90 % of Chileans are Roman Catholic. Evangelical Protestantism is growing.

Languages

Spanish is the official language, but a handful of Indian languages are still spoken. French and English are the most taught foreign languages.

Food & drinks

The cool waters of the Humboldt Current provide superb fish and shellfish, while the fields, orchards and pastures of Middle Chile fill the table with excellent produce and meat. Visitors will appreciate the various Chilean specialities such as "cazuela" ( a broth with potato or maize and beef or chicken ), "pastel de choclo" (a maize casserole filled with vegetables, chicken and beef), "paila marina" ( fish chowder ), "chupe de locos" ( abalone stew ), "cazuela de mariscos" (seafood stew ) and many others like typical cheap fast food. Barbecues are very common.
The great variety of Chilean wines should satisfy most alcoholic thirsts, but foreigners should not miss the "Pisco", a powerful grape brandy. There is a few good bottled beers like the "Escudo".
Chileans guzzle all the usual soft drinks and some local varieties. They usually drink tap water in most areas without problems, but bottled mineral water is a good alternative.
Visitors should try the typical "mote con huesillo", a peach nectar with barley kernels.

Tipping

In restaurants, it is customary to leave a 10 % tip ( "propina" ).

Credit cards

Automatic teller machines ( called Redbanc ) exist in most cities, but some only take Visa, the most widely accepted card.

Post & communication

Postal services are sometimes slow, but telephone services have improved greatly over the past decade. There are many phone & fax offices, as well as public phones.

Clothing

Visitors should be prepared to undergo big differences of weather according to the latitude and the altitude.

Laundry

In recent years, self-service laundrettes have become common in the cities. Elsewhere visitors can have their clothes washed by local womens .

Electricity

The electricity supply is 220V. Sockets take two round prongs, and adapters are readily available.

Money

The unit of currency is the "peso". US dollars are the preferred currency for visitors. Approximate rate at September 2001 was US$ 1 = Ch$ 700 . Cash earns a better rate than travellers' cheques and avoid commissions.

Time

For most of the year Chile is four hours behind GMT/UTC, but from mid-December to mid-March ( summer ), the country observes daylight-saving time.

Motorists need an International Driving Permit as well as a state or national license. However the European Community's driving license is usually accepted by authorities.

Passports & tourist cards

Most nationalities only need a passport ( New Zealanders need a visa ). Arriving visitors receive a 90-day tourist card which is taken very seriously by Chileans authorities.

Customs & departure tax

There are no currency restrictions. Duty-free allowances include 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 500 grams of tobacco, 2.5 litres of alcoholic beverages, and perfume for personal use.
The Servicio Agrícola-Ganadero ( SAG ) inspects luggage for fresh produce at international borders and domestic checkpoints.
There is an international departure tax of US$ 18, payable in US dollars or pesos.

Health regulations

No vaccinations are required or needed to enter Chile.


Sources : Guide " Lonely Planet " and " Servicio Nacional de Turismo - Chile ".

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