Disclaimer: This is an informal document that grew out of discussions
and emails with friends, but typos, omissions, and errors are all mine.
Therefore, this document represents my personal point
of view only, and it is probably biased.
Use it at your own risk.
Having said that, suggestions and comments are welcome!
(Last update: Sept. 2007.)
- About Peru and Chile (in general South-America) The usual
advice about big cities (Lima or Santiago):
don't show off your valuable stuff and always keep them at
hand and with an eye on it (cameras, wallets, bags). As in
any big city (think NY, LA, etc) pickpockets are unfortunately
common. Mugging is not really a concern, unless you walk alone
at night in some parts of the city (eg. downtown) or you let people
know you are carrying highly valuable stuff with you.
In general, people are very-very friendly in Chile (in Peru too,
but we Chileans are way more... well, I may be biased in here :-) ).
You guys always may want to remember to get advise from locals
(people from the hotel, airlines or pretty much anyone except cab
drivers :-) ) about safes places to go and which places rather avoid.
People will get out of their way to help you, that's common.
Pretty much the only problem tourists may have is that they are subject
to pickpockets (which is easy to prevent by not flashing your stuff
around) or, more typically, overcharged on pretty much everything they
buy. Yep, unfortunately, it happens that people that provide some kind
of service [taxi,bus] or sell some souvenirs may want to rip you off
(when you live there, you learn to identify the rip-offs and avoid
them). One way to prevent this is to ask the prices _before_ you get
the service (it helps to ask to someone you know about "typical prices"
first -- to get an idea). Interestingly, the prices there are so
low that even if you get ripped-off it'd be a good deal for American
standards :-) You get the picture.
Other than that (using common sense -- like no walking at night in
dark alleys) you'll be fine.
Places to visit
- Machu Picchu:
my guess is that you knew this place already :-)
I've been told from good sources that Cuzco is an
extremely beautiful city, very
interesting (and historic) but I haven't been there.
- Near Santiago:
Well, Santiago is the capital of Chile. It's where
everything is: the big shopping malls, the main government building
(the one bombed during the coup in 1973), the historic downtown, and
1-hour away ski resorts. It's not as nice as some other places I tell you
below (after all, it's a big city with all the usual problems of big
cities) but it's a place you may want to spend a day or two.
While you are there, go up the San Cristobal hill; the view of
the city is very nice (skip it if you don't get a day with low
smog). Near Santiago, in the coast, there are the cities of
Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. Both are really fine cities,
although Vaparaiso is more "interesting" (aka different than other
cities you've seen in the U.S. or Europe -- it has a nice "bohemian"
style). Valparaiso is the main sea port of Chile.
- South of Chile:
This is the best! Remember to visit cities like
Puerto Varas, Puerto Montt, Valdivia, Ancud (in Chiloe island)
and Punta Arenas (if you can flight there). One of the spots
you can't miss is the Torres del Paine (which is near Punta Arenas).
It's world-class hiking spot and a really neat place to see
nature. [Keep in mind that from March through September it may be
somewhat chilly over there, the worst is probably during Winter: from
May though August -- yes, we are in the southern hemisphere, so you
must reverse the seasons!
So, if you
decide to go, ask first about the weather and take the appropriate gear].
There are some extremely beautiful glaciers you can visit by
taking some cruises (Laguna San Rafael is gorgeous).
They depart from either Punta Arenas or Aysen but you
can get deals that take you there from Puerto Montt or even Santiago
(but there you must pay air transportation).
- North of Chile:
The weather in the northern part of Chile is similar to
Southern California's. There, the desert near San Pedro de
Atacama is a not-to-miss spot (it's considered the driest place on
earth and it's huge). Very nice cities are Arica, and La Serena.
If you like beach like locations, the area of Bahia Inglesa, near
the town Copiapo is the place to visit. Nice resorts). Another
spot is El Valle del Elqui (Elqui Valley) is well-known as a
"mystic" valley (astronomical/ufo stuff) where the best pisco from Chile
is made (pisco is a typical Chilean liquor, and you definitely must try
the sweet "pisco sour"; most tourists get drunk in Chile with it :-) ).
- Easter Island:
you probably heard of it. The island with the huge
stones, the Moai. Getting there is a little bit expensive (must fly,
swimming is not quite an option) but it's worthy. I do believe there is
no place like Rapa Nui in the world (or as the locals call it "Te Pito
o te Henua", "the belly-button of the world" :-) ). It's a very
common tourist destination.
More detailed info and pointers for Santiago
has written a nice collection of pointers for those
visiting Santiago for first time:
Check it out.
More Info, Pictures and Maps
I could go forever (and I'm surely missing a bunch of places and things
you may be interested in) but I better point you to some good places
to check for yourself:
That's it. Hope it helps!