Best of Chile

4 July 2011
12:07 PM

So you know how some musicians won’t have any new good songs in awhile and then they’ll release a greatest hits album just to cash in? Anyway, no reason.

Last week yet another friend told me he’s traveling to Chile, news that makes me simultaneously jealous but excited that he’ll get to experience one of my favorite places. Whenever I hear about someone visiting Chile I want to dispense all of the peculiar observations and advice—much of which is probably now outdated—that I accumulated in the years that I was there. I’ve written a bunch of one-off emails with shameless linking to my blog, so I thought I might as well collect those links here.


Owing to the country’s slim figure, traveling in Chile is mostly movement along a single axis: north or south. Busses run up and down the country in three classes, normal, semi-cama, and cama, with increasing prices and degrees of seat recline-ability. I wasn’t living in Chile to travel, but I was fortunate to end up seeing many destinations anyway. Here are a few I wrote about:

  • Chilo√©. A magical island at the end of the Pan American highway, well known for its seafood.
  • Elqui Valley. A agricultural valley that is the source of most of Chile’s pisco and the resting place of Chile’s first Nobel Laureate, Gabriela Mistral.
  • La Serena. A charming city in the Norte Chico with more than two dozen churches and a moai from Easter Island.
  • Torres del Paine. A national park deep in Patagonia, at the far southern tip of the country.
  • Valparaiso. The San Francisco of Chile.

Many people also rave about San Pedro de Atacama, a small town by the Valle de la Luna in the Norte Grande.


  • The Dieciocho. Chile’s national holiday is September 18, just as the cold winter is departing. See also a description from 2006.
  • Music. A collection of songs from Chile’s folklore tradition including groups like Inti-Illimani, Los Jaivas, and Illapu. My favorite is Lejos Del Amor.
  • Pisco sours. Pisco is the national liquor, pisco sours are the national cocktail. Also common is a piscola: pisco + Coca-cola.
  • English in Chile. The proliferation of English in Chile manifests itself in funny ways.
  • Currency. $100 for an ice cream cone, $200 for the city bus, $1,500 for lunch, and $20,000 for a pair of pants?
  • September 11. Many years before September 11 became the day of the 9-11 attacks in the U.S., it marked the military coup in Chile that lead to Pinochet’s dictatorship.
  • Pinochet’s death. Chile’s former military dictator died while I was living there.

Observations and Oddities

  • Waiting in line. Not all countries treat lines with the respect they deserve.
  • The triple caja. The Chilean system for making purchases in three easy steps. It’s in use at the Casa Royale.
  • Ice cream. The Chilean summer practically force you to subsist on ice cream.
  • Shopping on busses. No need to go shopping in Chile—just get on a bus.
  • Chile is for lovers. The bar for acceptable public display of affection is rather lofty.
  • Calef√≥ns. Instant water heaters are more common in Chile than the U.S.
  • Street graffiti. Where else can you see stenciled art featuring Mr. Spock, Twiggy, and Waldo?

Spanish Lessons

If you are planning on visiting Chile for more than a few weeks and you speak Spanish, you absolutely must get a copy of How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle. It’s the definitive guide to the cornucopia of Chilean slang and expressions.

These aren’t real language lessons. They’re just my screw-ups. Maybe they’ll make you feel better about your own. Whatever you do, no matter how old you are, remember that you only have one ano.

If you’re going to Chile, I hope you find something interesting here to get your excited for your trip.