Cruising Chile Correctly: A Guidebook to Chile

by Katie Sanderson

Travelling abroad to another country can be a real adventure. But it can also be an experience with culture shock! In many cases it is both, which is why going to a country prepared can really make a difference in your experience. Upon realizing this, you head to your nearest library to get a guidebook! For those interested in Chile,  once you arrive in-country, you’ll quickly see that guidebook was missing some key facts about living in a foreign country. Hopefully this less-than-traditional guide will fill in the gaps to ensure your visit is a success!

La Moneda Palace
La Moneda Palace. Photo by Tony Kulesa

First off, to have a great time in another country it’s essential to have an open mind.

A foreign country will have different customs and probably even a different language. We tend to think of Spanish as one language, when in fact it has many unique dialects and slang in different countries. Even if you know Spanish, you will be in for a surprise when you hear Chileans speak. Be prepared to be completely clueless the first week while you try to decipher a string of words that are missing syllables and contain Chilean slang. Some key Chilean slang is:

Bacán: Cool! (this slang even has a hand gesture!)

Cachai: Get it? Do you understand?

Choro: Neat!

Huevόn: Dude (said to a friend) or fool (said to someone you don’t like)

Paco: Policeman (but don’t say that to his or her face!)

Taco: Traffic (there is a lot of it in Santiago!)

Another important aspect of adjusting to the culture is wearing the right clothing.

Now, you may be thinking “of course I would wear clothing!” but are you sure your selected clothing is fashionable where you’re visiting? For example, during the winter months in Chile it is common to see ladies wearing skinny jeans and boots. Almost so common that if you came without these items you would feel obligated to go to Costanera Center, the largest mall in South America which has five stories of stores, to buy some. Not only will you look fashionable, but you also look less like a tourist.

For living in such a large city, the citizens of Santiago, the capital of Chile, are very nice and friendly. Even if you don’t know Spanish well, Chileans like seeing the effort you put forth towards learning their language. Many guidebooks warn you against interacting with locals due to the dangers of being pickpocketed or taken advantage of. While you should always be alert of those around you, don’t let these warnings stereotype the whole culture for you. Many Chileans are helpful and want you to have a good visit in their country!

Easter Island

Many major cities have public transportation in the form of a subway and bus system.

Santiago is no exception; however their public transportation is unique. The metro stations all feature artwork and some stations even have murals which show Chilean history. The metro is clean and efficient, making it an ideal method of transportation. Fares are a reasonable price, especially considering the fact you are only charged one fare price if you need to use two buses and the metro lines to get to your destination. Transantiago, the metro and bus company in Santiago, even has a feature on their website that lets you put in your initial and final destination to help you find the best combination of public transport! Beware of rush hour though-Santiago is known for having traffic (or taco as you now know!) that lasts for hours in the metro, buses, and if you’re driving!

The national bus system is as efficient as Transantiago is.

The buses are clean and affordable and can take you to many cities in Chile. Whether you want to spend a weekend in the Elqui Valley looking at the stars or going to Pablo Neruda’s house in Isla Negra for a day visit, buses are frequent enough to get you where you want to go in a timely manner. Bus rides to further places such as Iquique (a coastal north city) even have seats that are ideal for sleeping!

You can’t really consider yourself fully immersed within the Chilean culture until you love salt.

Every house in Chile seems to have salt, bread, lemons, and tomatoes. By the end of your extended stay in Chile, you will probably be putting copious amounts of salt on your tomatoes, trying hard to stay within your daily limit of sodium. If you get a completo, which is a hot dog topped with tomato, avocado, and mayonnaise, it is probably also topped with salt. Some Chileans even go a bit crazy with their salt and put it on pasta, although you will have to be the judge of that for yourself. Other Chilean foods worth trying include empanadas, bread, and sopapillas. Although you may be opposed to the idea of flavoring all your food, make sure you try their salty concoctions at least once.

Santiago, Chile

Santiago is full of exciting things; sadly the smog is not one of them.

Santiago is a bustling city surrounded by mountains, which prevent the pollution caused by cars and buildings from sweeping away in the wind. Be wary of this before you leave and make sure you pack some medicine. On the bright side, you won’t be needing medicine for accidentally drinking tap water. The tap water in most major cities in Chile is safe to drink!

When going abroad there are many things to consider. Apart from reading the latest guidebook, hopefully this guide has given you more insight to have a successful trip in Chile. It is a country for everyone from the vast Atacama Desert to the glaciers of Patagonia with many memories to be made and many sights to see!