Never thought of visiting Chile? Well, you might be soon. In our Breakout Role series, we take a look at places that have seen huge increases in tourism in the last few years, and try to figure out what’s causing all the hype.
Kristina Schreck first went to Chile in 1998, back when only around 1.75 million people per year were visiting the South American nation. After travelling through the entire country, gathering information for the Frommer’s Argentina and Chile guidebook, she was above all overwhelmed by the country’s natural beauty.
“When I finished, I just kept thinking to myself, ‘why hasn’t anyone heard of this place? This is the most beautiful country I’ve seen in my life,” Schreck, who now runs Azure PR, a company representing Upscape tours and other Chilean companies, says.
The same landscapes and sights that made such an impression on Schreck has been drawing people to Chile for years, however in far larger numbers since she first visited the country. In 2015, around 4.4 million people visited the Latin American country, which was almost three times more than the number of tourists the nation had twenty years earlier.
Photo: European Southern Observatory, CC-BY
Although Chile’s yearly visitors jumped by more than 20% between 2014 and 2015, this quick increase is somewhat of an exception to the norm. In general, the country’s growth has been a slow, gradual process. Schreck says there are misconceptions about safety, cleanliness and accessibility in Chile, all of which she says is much better than people think.
“People are surprised when they come to Chile and see that it’s such a modern country,” Schreck says. “A lot of foreign travelers are still under the mistaken notion that [Chile is a Third World Country].”
Both the government and the hospitality industry seem to be responding to the increase by adding their own measures as well, as Chile is one of only five Latin American nations with more than 1,000 hotel rooms currently under construction. Additionally, a favorable exchange rate and a summer of hosting the Copa America soccer cup in 2015 has also helped publicize the country to foreign travelers.
Photo: Magalie L’Abbe, CC-BY
At the local level, Chile is changing to fit its growing tourism, but not without holding onto its own identity in the process. Schreck says that at first, restaurants, hotels and other destinations struggled to provide foreign visitors with the speedy service they often demanded—it’s simply not a part of Chilean culture to require hospitality at a fast pace. Now, she says, its become more of a compromise, as both travelers and locals have adapted their expectations to meet somewhere in the middle.
“I think you still have to understand that you’re on Chilean time when you’re there,” Schreck says. “But it has been changing in a major way and that’s been a positive for Chilean tourism.”
Beth Delthony, who runs the English language guide website Santiago Tourist, says the availability of information for foreigners has also at times been slow to catch up, as non-Spanish language travel advice is often hard to find. Delthony’s site, which provides English-language information about the country’s capital, hopes to help address this problem.
“A lot of people want to travel there, but they really don’t know that much,” Delthony says.
Photo: alobos Life, CC-BY
When it comes to Chile’s sights, the country can be split into thirds, dividing each of the country’s largest attractions into its own region. In the north, the Atacama Desert draws stargazers and luxury tourists alike to take in the Tatooine-like sights of the world’s driest desert.
In the nation’s center, a budding wine and food culture bring visitors to valleys surrounding Santiago, as well as to the capital itself, which was previously seen as a midway point for travel to other locations but has recently begun to gain recognition as a tourist destination in its own right.
“That’s one of the biggest changes, just people kind of discovering that there are things to do in and around the capital besides just the airport,” Delthony says.
Finally, the glaciers, mountains and rugged landscapes of Patagonia bring tourists to the country’s southern point, as it is these dramatic landscapes that so many people, Schreck included, associate with Chile’s most awe-inspiring beauty.
“When you go over the border [from Argentina] and you come back into Chile, it’s just so much more beautiful,” she says. “The forests are more dense, the peaks are higher and we’ve got thousands of islands.”
Flight Rates: Current prices can be found between $901 and $1,097.
Travel Concerns: The U.S. State Department advises caution when using ATMs, metro stations and other forms of transportation in Santiago, as there have been incidents of hidden explosive devices.
Currency Exchange: 1 USD = 653 Chilean Pesos
More Info: Chile has its own travel website, which offers information ranging from transportation and safety advise to sightseeing recommendations and event calendars.
Top Photo: Carolina Del Canto, CC-BY
Dillon Thompson is a University of Georgia student and freelance writer with a love for travel and an addiction to coffee and hip-hop music.