Pre-Trip Planning

About Chile

Located in southwestern South America, Chile stretches 2,689 miles (4,329 km) between the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.  Chile is as long as the United States is wide (approximately) and it only reaches 265 miles (430 km) at its widest point.  The country totals 292,260 square miles (756,950 sq km).  Chile is a geographically diverse country – with the world’s driest desert in the north, a fertile Mediterranean climate in the center, and the Southern Ice Field in the south.  The population of Chile is estimated to be 17,574,003 (2017 census).  Chile’s capital, Santiago, is its most densely populated city housing 6,026,797 people – about a third of the country’s population.

USEFUL FACTS

Large cities: Santiago, Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, Talcahuano, Temuco, and Concepción

Monetary unit: Chilean Peso (CLP)         Electricity: 220 Volts   Language: Spanish

IMPORTANT VISA INFORMATION

Most people flying into Chile enter through the airport in Santiago.  Upon arrival citizens of Mexico and Australia are charged a reciprocity fee – payable in US dollars or by credit card. Australians pay $117 USD and Mexicans pay $23 USD. All other countries are exempt from this fee.

TIPS FOR TRAVEL THROUGH SANTIAGO AIRPORT (SCL)

After paying the reciprocity fee you will proceed to get your passport stamped. The border control worker will ask you for the form you filled out while on the plane. They will stamp this form, along with your passport, and return a duplicate of the form to you – save this duplicate! This sheet of paper is important!  When you leave the country they will ask you for it. If you do not have the sheet of paper it will be a hassle and you will have to pay a fine.

After getting your passport stamped and obtaining the ever so important sheet of paper you will pass through customs. Here you should be careful – Chilean customs are very strict. Most of Chile has remained untouched by many of the diseases that the rest of South America has suffered from. Chile is very particular about what foods, plants, and fruits you are bring into the country. Be sure to declare anything that you are in doubt about. They won’t do anything if you declare the products you are unsure about, but if they find something you didn’t declare and it is not permitted to cross the border they can fine you.

After getting your luggage you will need to arrange a taxi or a transfer.  Be sure to make arrangements before leaving the baggage claim area. A certified taxi is blue and a trip from the airport to downtown Santiago should cost no more than 20,000 CLP.  For shared transfers we recommend TransVIP (www.transvip.cl), which is located both inside and outside of the baggage claim area.

Uber is now a popular method of travel in Argentina.  You can use the app on your phone just like you would at home.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is the capital of the Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope) province in Region 12 of Magellan and Chilean Antarctica. With an intricate geography it is the point of entry to visit the famous Torres del Paine National Park, a province with a lot of natural beauty and diversity.

Ultima Esperanza was established in 1557 when the Spanish Captain Juan Ladrilleros discovered an intricate waterway leading to what is now known as Puerto Natales. Exactly three-hundred and thirty years later Captain Eberhard from the German Navy colonized and explored Ultima Esperanza. Eberhard started a small town in 1892 that today is called Puerto Natales.

The city was founded in 1911 and today numbers 21,477 inhabitants. It was mostly colonized by Chileans originating from an island called Chiloe; they worked mostly on cattle ranches and exported the livestock to German and British colonies. These ranchers with their perseverance made Patagonia one of the principal producers and exporters of cattle in the world until the 1970s. Today, the principal economic activities are tourism, cattle and sheep ranching, and fishing.

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas is the capital of the Magellan region and of Chilean Antarctica. Punta Arenas was originally called Punta Arenosa, which translates directly to Sandy Point. The name was given to this small town by a couple that founded it during a British expedition led by John Bryon during the 17th century. It is and always has been the principal commercial center for services, communications, and culture in the southern part of the South American continent.

It was established on December 18th, 1848 when the governor of the Magellan territory, Coronal Jose de los Santos Mardones, founded the city. It was originally located 60 km north of Fort Bulnes, which was the first Chilean settlement in Patagonia

About Argentina

Argentina is 1,056,636 square miles (2,736,690 sq. km) and it is the second largest country in South America (in both size and population). Northern Argentina is swampy and wooded. The center of Argentina is covered in fertile pampas and areas rich in agriculture and livestock. Southern Argentina is cool with arid steppes. In 2016 the population was estimated to be 43,847,430 with a population density of 14.4 people per square kilometer. The most densely populated city is the capital, Buenos Aires.

USEFUL FACTS

Large cities: Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Rosario, Mendoza, and Mar del Plata.
Monetary unit: Argentine Peso (ARS)
Electricity: 220 Volts            Language: Spanish

IMPORTANT VISA INFORMATION

As of March, 2016, the reciprocity fee once required for U.S., Canadian and Australian citizens has been lifted.

TIPS FOR TRAVEL THROUGH THE BUENOS AIRES AIRPORT (EZE)

Upon arrival you will have to pass through Immigrations – this might take awhile depending on when your flight arrives. You will have to give them the declaration that you filled out on the plane. They will give you a copy of the declaration – keep this! You will need it when you are departing and if you lose it, they may give you a hard time. One of the biggest problems about arriving in Buenos Aires is the shortage of luggage carts. They are free, but not easy to find. If you have too much luggage to carry yourself, don’t worry a cart will become available soon, but if you are in a hurry you should just try to handle your things alone. Customs is easy to clear through and you should have no problems. If you decide to take a taxi downtown be extremely cautious. You should look for a yellow, official cab. You will see them when you leave the airport. However, the best idea is to pre-book a “remise” that will pick you up and charge a pre-agreed upon amount. It should cost around 180 ARS.  There are free transfers provided by Aerolineas Argentinas to connect you between the international and national airports (EZE & AEP).

Uber is now a popular method of travel in Argentina.  You can use the app on your phone just like you would at home.

When leaving Argentina via Air, we recommend arriving two to three hours early to the airport as there are long lines and various procedures to complete before boarding your flight. Airline staff will always will check your hand luggage again and your passport before boarding your plane.

El Calafate

El Calafate is located 315 km from Rio Gallegos, the capital of the province of Santa Cruz. This city has almost 17,000 inhabitants and maintains some colorful characteristics in its architecture and personality. The name El Calafate came from the Calafate Berry bushes that grow in a densely wooded area nearby. 

El Chalten

El Chalten is a town that was created in 1987 as a response to the border disputes with Chile. The disputes were so important that Argentina decided to have a presence on this border. There were pioneers that arrived in the zone much earlier. Andreas Madsen and other families lived as cattle ranchers in the area. Historically it was the place where the colonists that arrived from Europe to Punta Arenas started looking for opportunities in cattle ranching. In the native Tehuelche language, El Chalten means “mountain that smokes,” referring to what we now call Mount Fitz Roy. Nestled in the middle of Glacier National Park, El Chalten is surround by stunning and stark landscapes, a magical mix of glaciers, ice fields, lakes and granite protrusions. It is a famous destination for climbers and tourists that seek out adventure in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

History of Patagonia

The word Patagonia is derived from “Patagon”. This word came from the book The Primaleon of Greece, written around 1512. Patagon was a giant savage creature that the characters of the book found along their travels.

When Ferdinand Magellan left to travel around the world he took with him a chronicler named Antonio Pigaffeta (one of the few survivors from the trip). As Antonio Pigaffeta explored southern South America he referred to an indigenous group, the Tehuelches, as Patagon. The Tehuelches were exceptionally large in comparison with the other native people that Pigaffeta had seen through his extensive travels. Today, the region where Pigaffeta found the “Patagon” is now called Patagonia.

There were more than just the Tehuelches in the southernmost part of South America, despite the harsh climate and difficult life. The Tehuelches (a.k.a. Anonikenk) were nomadic, collecting fresh fruits and hunting guanacos. Another two groups that lived in the area were the Yamans (a.k.a. Yaganes) and Onas (a.k.a. Selknam). These two groups spent most of their time in the fjords traveling in canoes catching fish and sea lions, which was their main food source. These three groups made up the ethnic diversity that historically populated Patagonia.

At the beginning of the 19th century the colonial people in Patagonia had declared independence. By the end of the same century, the government of Chile and Argentina decided to draw their boarders into Patagonia. Explorers traveled to Patagonia in order to study the topography and draw official maps. During this same time, immigrants from Europe settled towns in remote places in search of wealthy futures.  They began ranches on the ample land in Patagonia, an activity that is still maintained as one of the most important industries in the region.

In the middle of 20th century different types of explorers arrived in search of adventures in the extreme south. The impressive granite formations that emerged out of the mountains drew climbers and adventurers to Patagonia. These granite formations were products of an intrusion of granite between sedimentary rocks 12 million years ago. Later the granite chilled and was covered with ice, which in its recession was molded into singular and erratic formations. Today we call the formations that the explorers found “Torres del Paine” and “Los Glaciares” National Parks.

Useful Knowledge on Money & Tipping

Prices in Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, and Santiago are in Chilean pesos (CLP).  Many local agencies have their prices available in USD and accept USD.

USD is also accepted in most areas of tourism in Argentina – with the current economic situation in Argentina it is best to bring in and pay with USD.  The local exchange rate is often much higher than the official rate.

Arriving to South America with some USD is appropriate, however there are ATMs in Santiago, Buenos Aires, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and El Calafate. They are all easily accessible and are generally maintained. The only difficulty you may have is that on weekends in El Calafate they do not refill the ATMs and sometimes they run out of money.  If you are there during a weekday you will have no problem, but if you plan to be in El Calafate over the weekend you may want to have some cash on hand to exchange.

Before visiting El Chalten and Torres del Paine you should withdraw money elsewhere, as there are no ATMs in these two places and few stores accept credit cards.

Also as a note, dollars should be CRISP and NEW. They should not have writing or appear to be very worn. It is impossible to exchange older bills for ARS or CLP. Also, traveler’s checks can only be cashed by the original owner. It is difficult for local people to exchange them, so please only give cash tips.

Tipping in Chile and Argentina is common. At a restaurant 10% is generally expected. Guides and porters both expect a tip. Dittmar Adventures recommends that each person on the tour leaves 5 to 10 USD per day per staff member (porter or guide) as a tip. However, this can vary depending on the number of days you spend with the person and how you feel about their job. A tip is a great way to show your appreciation and feelings about the work and efforts of our staff.

Visitor Visa

All visitors traveling to Chile and Argentina are required to have a valid passport. Both Chile and Argentina require visitors to obtain a Visitor Visa, however, it is very easy to get one. This visa will allow you to enter the country for 90 days at a time and the duration validity depends on your nationality.

Both visas can be obtained upon arrival at the airport or via land border crossing.

Meals

In cities you may dine in restaurants and have the pleasure of experiencing a variety of local cuisine. We prepare meals for clients while on the trail, which feature an abundance of fresh and delicious food. All water in Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares National Parks is safe for consumption without filtering or boiling. Of course, we can accommodate special dietary requests (vegetarian, food allergies, etc.) as well. For a list of which meals are included on your trip, please refer to your trip itinerary.

Accommodations

While in cities you will stay in Hotels or Hostels / B&Bs.  The Hotels we use are normally 4-star, very comfortable, have a high quality of customer service, and with beautiful views and great locations! The Hostels / B&Bs that we use are 2-star or 3-star hotels. They are very comfortable with private rooms and bathrooms. These accommodations are also located centrally and quiet. The Hostels / B&Bs offer more basic services versus the Hotels. Refugios in Torres del Paine are shared accommodations with shared bathrooms. Most rooms have 3 to 4 bunk beds, which allows up to 8 people per room. They are heated and provide hikers with the opportunity to shower and wash up. All refugios offer camping nearby in which you still have access to showers and washing facilities. However, camping allows you to have a bit more privacy.

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