Tips for Travelling in Chile

Altitude sickness is common at these high mountains
Santiago de Chile
Santiago Chile
The smog of Santiago with the mountains in the background!
One of many toll booths around Chile
Regional Chile
The town of Los Andes Chile
A rural area of Chile where the culture is more apparent
Pay for someone to put the chains on your rental car
Chile South America
Rent a mobile phone at the airport
Some of the road hazards at the Chile ski resorts!
The Andes Mountains
A very basic Chile ski shop

Tips for Travelling in Chile

Wagner Custome Skis
Here are a few travel trips for your ski Chile vacation that includes advice on altitude sickness, drinking water and money. Also check out the Chile language and customs page.
HEALTH
There are no vaccines that are compulsory for Chile such as yellow fever injections, but several may be recommended by your physician such as Hep A and typhoid fever. 
Altitude Sickness – Acute Mountain SicknessAltitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness or soroche ) is probably the biggest health concern for those on a ski Chile holiday, particularly for those who reside at sea level. The ski resorts near Santiago such as Valle Nevado have accommodations at about 10,000 feet (3,048 metres) elevation, and the ski resorts have lift access up to 12,329 feet (3,758 metres). Symptoms may become evident about 6 hours after ascent and may include headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and insomnia. Exertion (ie skiing or boarding) aggravates the symptoms, and in more severe forms symptoms may include a wet cough (from pulmonary oedema), unsteady gait (like drunken walking), in-coordination, vomiting, and loss of consciousness (from cerebral oedema ie brain swelling). So altitude sickness is not something that should be taken lightly. 

Prevention is the best cure. Take it easy for the first couple of days, increase fluids but not of the alcoholic variety, and avoid sleeping tablets (which is unfortunate if you’ve got insomnia). Acetazolamide aka Diamox is a prescription medicine that can be taken a day or two prior to ascent to speed up the acclimatisation process. Apparently Viagra is also effective in preventing Acute Mountain Sickness, so long as you can cope with the “side-effects” of the little blue pill! The indigenous locals chew on coca leaves to minimise altitude sickness. This raises great debates about whether the cocaine in the chewed leaves is absorbed or not, so coco also has potentially interesting side-effects! 

Treatment for mild altitude sickness includes rest and fluids, with symptoms likely to resolve within one to two days. Descent is a very effective treatment, and for moderate or severe illness, medical treatment should be sought. 

High altitude also increases the predisposition to sun burn as well as snow blindness (sunburnt eyes), and the risk increases substantially due to the reflection of the sun off the snow. You may need to wear really high SPF sunscreen, polarised sunglasses and a cap (when you don’t have your helmet on!). Or at Portillo you can join the North American crew that lie by the pool and use the UV as an opportunity to work on the tan!! 

Nose bleeds are another potential problem related to the altitude. The use of a vaporizer may assist, and these are available at some of the top hotels. 
Drinking WaterThe tap water is high in mineral content at most of the Chile ski resorts and may mess with fragile stomachs. And even though some reputable sources say it’s otherwise OK to drink the water in Chile, do not believe them (I know from personal experience)! There is a moderate risk of water-borne illnesses such as the protozoa giardia, and getting giardia could completely ruin your ski Chile vacation. 
BANKING AND MONEY The unit of currency in Chile is the peso. The symbol used locally for it is $ whilst the international currency code is CLP. There are banks notes of $1000, $2000, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, and coins of $1, $5, $10, $50, $100 and $500. Ten thousand pesos may be written as $Ch10000 or just as $10,000, and often they put a full-stop (period) instead of a comma to denotes thousands e.g. $10.000 is 10000 pesos not 10. For an up to date currency conversion rate click here

Some tourist purchases such as accommodation and tours are quoted in US dollars, but these are items that you pay for by credit card (generally). Cash US dollars will generally not be accepted, the exceptions being in upmarket ski resort hotels where staff will readily accept tips in US dollars. Tipping is not expected in Chile, the exception being Portillo where there is a strong North American influence.

A value added tax (VAT) of a whopping 19 percent is applied to most purchases. Any prices quoted generally include the tax (except accommodation and tours). Accommodation paid for in US dollars will avoid the VAT as will any other purchases charged to the hotel room such as food, drink, ski lessons, ski hire or items purchased at a hotel shop.

Most established businesses will accept credit cards such as Amex, Visa and Mastercard, but be aware that many businesses will apply a 6% surcharge. You’ll have no problems finding ATMs to get plenty of pesos (Portillo being the exception).

Most ATMs (aka Redbanc) will use the Cirrus or Plus system to accept international debit cards, and most have instructions in English as well as Spanish.

OTHER CHILE TRAVEL TIPS

Mobile Phones It is possible to buy a SIM card for your phone, rent or borrow a SIM card and/or hire a phone at the Santiago international airport on the 3rd floor. They only charge you for calls made (not for any received) with call costs being very reasonable ($400/min for local and national calls). See the Entel website for more information. 

Electricity and Electrical Plugs

Chile uses 220 volts so travellers with 100 volt devices will need a voltage convertor. The electrical plug configuration is that of two round pins, akin to that of European plugs.

Time Zone

The Chile mainland time zone is UTC minus 4 hours (Universal Time Coordinate aka Greenwich Mean Time). During the ski season, Chile has the same time as US Eastern DST.

Gear to Take in a Chile Ski Vacation

See our ski vacation packing checklist for a general idea of items that you may need to pack. It’s generally not that cold at the ski resorts in middle Chile so you probably won’t need too many thermals or a face mask. Pack plenty of sunscreen and your cossie/togs/swimsuit (whatever you want to call it!), and you may even want to pack a t-shirt and shorts. At Portillo in particular, it can get pretty warm!

If you’re staying at an upmarket hotel, check the dress code for the dining room. Casual clothes are not likely to be acceptable, and dress requirements may include a shirt with a collar.

And don’t forgot to organise ski travel insurance before you go.