Chile's seasons are the reverse of the northern hemisphere, so go in the northern hemisphere winter for Chile's summer. However, be warned that mid-December to the end of February is also Chile's peak holiday season, so prices increase and accommodation gets booked up in advance.
The Atacama Desert is hot all year round, though the northern altiplano tends to see afternoon rain in the summer months.
Santiago and the Central Valley have an almost European climate, with warm, dry summers (November-April) and cool, wet winters (May-August). Go in spring (September-November) for the most verdant landscapes, or during the grape harvest (late February into April). Visit from June to August for skiing.
The Lake District is best from December to mid-March, when the sun is more likely to shine (although rain is still common) and temperatures are higher. Go in November/early December or March to avoid the main holiday crowds and the horseflies. Out of season many facilities are closed, although winter sports are increasingly featuring in the area.
The island of Chiloé has its own climate (rain for much of the year!). If you can, visit in February/March, when many towns and villages celebrate their annual fiestas and visitors can enjoy traditional foods like curanto, plus various sporting events and dancing.
Patagonia is best from December to March. The area south of Puerto Montt, including the Torres del Paine, has extreme winters, so avoid June-August. Spring is spectacular, as the mountains re-emerge from the winter freeze and the hillsides are ablaze with wildflowers.
HOLIDAYS / FESTIVALS
January 1 New Year’s Day. New Year's Eve is much 'bigger' than Christmas. Santiago and Valparaíso have impressive firework displays
March/April Semana Santa (Holy Week; the week before Easter, so exact dates vary)
May 1 Labour Day
May 21 Glorias Navales (or Navy Day), commemorating the Battle of Iquique
May 30 Corpus Christie
June 29 St Peter and St Paul’s day
August 15 Assumption
1st Monday in September Day of National Unity
September 18 National Independence Day - a very important holiday (everything closes!)
September 19 Armed Forces Day
October 12 Columbus Day
November 1 All Saints’ Day
December 8 Immaculate Conception
December 25 Christmas Day. The (rather muted) celebrations take place on the night of the 24th
Each village and town also has its yearly 'founder's day'. Celebrations usually include huge barbecues and dancing.
NB, please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning.
From the UK: try British Airways or go via a European city (see below), or via Buenos Aires in Argentina or São Paulo in Brazil.
Within Europe: carriers include LATAM, Iberia, Air France, Lufthansa and KLM.
From the USA: American Airlines and LATAM.
BY CAR: See our car rental recommendations. If driving off the main highways, a 4x4 is recommended.
INTERNAL FLIGHTS: try LATAM and Sky Airline.
BY BUS: Long-distance buses are frequent, punctual, comfortable and cheap.
BY BOAT: The fragmented nature of southern Chile's Patagonia region makes going by ferry/air essential in many parts. There are 3 main routes:
Puerto Montt-Puerto Natales-Puerto Montt
If you plan to go to Torres del Paine in the far south, take the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, or catch a bus/plane down and then take the ferry back. It takes 3 nights/4 days. Buses operate from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park.
Puerto Montt-Chaitén-Quellón-Chaitén-Puerto Montt
Navimag sails from Chaitén in northern Patagonia to Quellón on the island of Chiloé (summer only; a sailing time of 5 hours), and from Chaitén to Puerto Montt and vice versa once a week. Naviera Austral also operates a passenger ferry from Puerto Montt to Chaitén (via Ayacara).
Puerto Montt-Puerto Chacabuco-Laguna San Rafael-Puerto Montt
Ideal for those wishing to see the beautiful glacier at Laguna San Rafael, Navimag's round trip takes 5 days/4 nights. Skorpios operates more deluxe 6-night round trips to the Laguna from Puerto Montt, and 4-night trips from Puerto Chacabuco.
BY TAXI: Taxis operate in all major towns and cities.
British and US citizens don't require a visa to enter Chile, only a passport valid for at least 6 months and (in theory, although rarely requested) an onward ticket.
Upon arrival you'll be issued with a tourist card, which must be retained throughout your stay, and an entry stamp, valid for 90 days (and renewable at certain outlets, or by a quick trip across the Argentine border). For certain nationalities an entry fee applies; consult your Chilean embassy or consulate for details.
Citizens of New Zealand, Guyana, Kuwait and some communist, former communist and African countries do need a visa, and are likely to be turned away at the border without one. It's worth checking with the Chilean consul in your country before departing.
Dollars are without a doubt the preferred option throughout the country. If changing cash in Chile, try to do it in Santiago, where the exchange rate is more favourable than in rural areas, commissions are lower (if at all), and European currencies more likely to be accepted.
Note that VAT (currently 19%) isn't applied to hotel bills paid by tourists using dollars or credit card; it's only payable by local residents paying in pesos. Where not packaged together with the accommodation, VAT may also be payable on excursions, car hire and meal costs.
TIPPING / CUSTOMS
Approximately 10% in restaurants is the norm. Tipping in taxis isn't usual, but always welcome.