Travel advice & practical information for travelogue:
'Bicycle vacation Chile'
Consulate General of Chile
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 601 (1st Avenue and 48th Street)
New York, NY 10017
Tel : 212-980-3366
Fax : 212-888-5288
Web: Consulate General of Chile
Embassy of Chile
12 Devonshire Street
London, W1G 7DS
Web: Embassy of Chile
We tried different kinds of accomodation: hotels, hostals. B and B's and caba˜s. They all have TV and most of them have hot water and rickety windows and doors. They are rarely really clean and usually delapidated. But the friendly attitude of the staff or host compensate for much.
Every hotel, private room or B and B has wifi. But the signal is not always strong enough. Prices for rooms vary from 15,000 pesos to 50,000 pesos per night for two. Sometimes it's more expensive, like in the case of the Baobap Hotel, but that was also a major attraction.
The Lonely Planet was often very useful in finding accomodation and so was our iPad. In every city we looked up the city plan, where a blinking dot would show us where we were. Also useful because these maps also have bus terminals. Saved us a lot of wandering.
Bicycling is of course the best way to explore a country. Most drivers are careful with bikes. We never felt unsafe but in cities it's not always pleasant, because of the hundreds of fast-going taxis and the terrible air quality. You are allowed to bicycle on shoulders and footpaths. There are many unpaved roads and sometimes they are difficult because of grit and rocks.
We rented bikes from Bicicleta Verde in Santiago de Chile.
It isn't easy to find good maps. We bought 1:40,000 maps at the Institute of Cartography in Santiago. We used the Google maps on our iPad a lot and they were useful. The map of Chile in my Garmin route planner could have been better. Once it sent us to a river without a bridge...
Because Chile is over 4,275 kilometers long, we were happy with the excellent public transportation system, which also transports bicycles. Not every one of the thousands of buses has room for bikes, though. Find out which ones do. There are hardly any train connections unfortunately.
Food and drinks
Judging from the body size of a large part of the population there is no lack of food. But it's not always easy, even or especially in large cities, to find a restaurant. They are not always in the center of the city. Unless you want fast food, which can be found everywhere. The portions are supersized, but it's normal to ask them to pack up what you can't eat.
Outdoor cafés, bars and good coffee are hard to find. The quality of meat, fish and vegetables is usually good. Tapwater is often suitable for drinking. We weren't able to discern a specific Chilean cuisine. It's mostly potatoes, vegetables, meat or fish; and bread with every meal. And you will find empanadas everywhere.
Climate and best time to travel
Because of the enormous size of the country, it has many different climate zones and weather. Even within short distances the differences can be huge, because from the ocean to Argentina it's only 250 kilometers. The border with Argentina is in the Andes Mountains (6.000 meters).
In the north lies the driest desert in the world and in Patagonia there is more rain and wind than you like. On our trip, between October 20 and November 20, in the area between Santiago and Valdivia, we had exactly one day of rain and all the other days had perfect biking weather. Of course that is no guarantee for the future.
The Chileans are extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Most people speak only Spanish, which is hard to understand because of the pronunciation (which is different from Spanish in Spain). Most people seem more interested in the beauty of their gardens than in the quality of construction of their homes.
Judging from the great numbers of young people and the love-making that goes on in parks, the population of Chile will probably rise fast. But it'll never be overpopulated, because Chile is over 4,200 kilometers long with Eastern Island 3,000 kilometers to the west. If you include Antarctica, there is enough licht, air and water to go around.
There is garbage everywhere, despite Herculean attempts to do something about it. Partly this is because of hungry stray dogs, who will drag garbage all over the place.
Sights and attractions
An important reason to visit Chile are its incredibly beautiful and varied landscapes, at least if you travel long distances. In three weeks we have traveled about a 1,000 kilometers by bike and public transportation south of Santiago. As long as you don't get over 200 kilometers from the Pacific, that's a mediterranean landscape.
As you get farhter south, it gets rougher, wetter and stormier. To the east are the Andes Mountains (up to 6,000 meters) with their own climate. To the north lies the driest desert on earth, only dozens of kilometers from the largest ocean on the planet.
The landscapes, and especially the snowy Andes peaks which you almost always can see on the horizon, make this country worth visiting. The national parks are worth visiting as well and the lake district is fabulous, like the best of Switzerland.
We didn't visit the desert or Patagonia. We heard that region is also impressive. The cities are less attractive, especially when you are biking. We visited some museums and churches. Near Valdivia it's nice to ride your bike along the ocean, which is also the case in Buchupureo near Chillán.
Sitting on a bench by the Rio Calle Calle in Valdivia, everyhting seems fine and it is. With a population of only 17 million on over 600,000 square kilometers there is enough room for garbage and exhaust without suffering the consequences. Attempts at cleaning up are impressive and the enormous number of taxis and buses help to keep private use of cars within limits.
It's a pity though that there are apparently no standards for exhaust from taxis and buses. In a country where many things are strictly regulated, from life jackets on ferries to receipts even for using the restrooms, it should be possible to change to electric public transportation.
Recycling and solar panels we see every now and then, low-energy light bulbs everywhere. With so much sun, wind geothermics and water it seems logical to utilize those. Thanks to the copper export it's not so much a matter of money, but of cultural change.
Safety and security
Traveling in some countries or regions can be dangerous. That isn't always a reason not to go there, but part of preparing well for a trip includes finding out about possible risks.
The CIA World Factbook: Chile is a good place to look. Of course you always should consult your own country's Foreign Department web site.
Find current information on the web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Chile. Always consult your family doctor and your country's Health Department web site.
Plan your trip to Chile online
Through online reservation systems like À la Carte Vacations you can book airline tickets, hotels, rental cars and holiday houses. You can build a fly-drive itinerary with maximum flexibility, book a flight plus a hotel hotel for a night or weekend. Without the limitations of package deals from travel organisations and most times for a much better price.