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Trekking in Chile - FAQ
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Frequently Asked Questions

about Trekking in Chile

What is the best time of year to do trekking in Chile?

What is the best region for trekking tours?

Is Chile dangerous?

What temperatures should I expect?

Can I get equipment on the spot?

Do I need a guide?

How much gear do I need to pack?

What should not be missing in my luggage?

What vaccination do I need?

Can I manage without Spanish?

Are there reliable trail maps?

How do I get to the starting point of the trek?

Is there a rescue system?

Can I drink the river water?

 

What is the best time to do trekking in Chile?

For the north of Chile, October/November and March/April/May are the ideal months. August and September are known to be very windy; between December and February the "Bolivian winter" can easily lead to snowfall and rain in the mountains, while in June and July it gets very cold at high altitude.

South of Copiapó, the summer months from December to February are of course the best time. Personally, we prefer spring and fall. In Central Chile, it is possible to do trekking from September until June.

What is the best region to do trekking tours?

The north of Chile with its open countryside, aridness, and immense altitudes does not necessarily constitute a trekking paradise, although it does offer a variety of choices. The arid north offers a wealth of easy volcano ascents far above the elevation of 5000 m (16,400 ft.).

Central Chile, from Santiago to Los Angeles, offers everything to the heart's delight in relatively compact areas. With the exception of a few well-known tours, this region offers solitary trails without any infrastructure whatsoever. Those who prefer high altitudes will find the best destinations around Santiago.

The Lake District awaits trekkers with its breathtaking volcano landscape. However, the weather in this region can easily thwart your plans. And some of the trails around Pucón get very many visitors.

Patagonia is the trekking Mecca per se. Unfortunately, trekking tourism focuses on the Torres del Paine National Park, neglecting the beautiful sceneries and great tours along the Carretera Austral.

Is Chile dangerous?

Chile is one of the safest destinations in America. However, we recommend caution in large cities, especially at bus terminals and in markets: do not let your bags out of your sight and close zippers or pockets well.

While trekking, it is very rare to meet anybody apart from the few mountain farmers and herders who welcome a chat and are particularly trustworthy because they live in the mountains all year round. Even female trekkers touring on their own should not have to worry about their safety. Hunters, especially those who prefer night outings for rabbits or hares, should be advised of your presence with a shout.

There are hardly any aggressive or even dangerous animals in Chile. In all these years and on a countless number of hikes we have never been lucky enough to see a puma even from afar, much less exposed to a dangerous encounter with the wildcat. There are no poisonous snakes, but there are a few small animals that are more likely to require some precautions. Two types of spiders can mean trouble and even real danger, but they tend to live in shelters (the fleshy brown “araña de rincon” that favors corners) or low, grassy fields (the red-and-black widow spider).

The Hanta virus, passed on by field mice found almost all over America, can be fatal if an infection is not diagnosed and treated in time. (Symptoms begin like a bad cold some days after exposure.) Hanging your food from trees can minimize exposure to the virus by safeguarding it from rodents.

What temperatures do I have to expect?

In the north of Chile, the winter temperatures can drop far below 0°C (32°F). In summer it can be very hot during the day, particularly on lower ground. The climate of Central Chile is mild and resembles that of California or the Mediterranean, but a jacket is usually needed for cool evenings, and it is also agreeably cool above 2000 m (6500 ft.). Further south, be prepared for chilling rains and cold wind. During spring and fall it is not rare to be caught in snow at higher altitudes. Layered clothing is best.

Can I get equipment on the spot?

Outside the capital Santiago it is hard to find good trekking and mountain equipment. With the exception of a few places such as Pucón or Puerto Natales, it is even more difficult to rent gear. It is best to bring everything you might need. Should you nevertheless need to buy or rent equipment, here are our recommendations.

Do I need a guide?

This, of course, depends a lot on your trekking experience. However, Chile is not North America or Europe. Apart from a few exceptions, the trails are not marked, there are no signs or information of any kind and no trailside shops for food supplies. However, much-used paths are easy to find, while trekking in true wilderness does require experience. If necessary, it might be recommendable to do a short preparatory tour with a guide. Local guides provide contact with local people. They charge about US$ 25 per day for group outings.

How much gear do I need to pack?
OR: How big a pack do I need?

The golden rule is to keep it light. On 3 to 4-day tours weight will not be much of a problem, but longer tours with a pack of 30 kg or more can be sheer agony. High-tech equipment makes life easier, but also more expensive.

Pack animals are a great alternative. They are not expensive (about US$ 20 per day), especially since one animal can carry up to 4 hikers’ gear. Remember to also consider the cost of the arriero's horse. Advantage: not only will you have contact with locals, but they will also make the trekking much easier, enabling you to enjoy nature. This alternative also allows you to easily transform your hiking tour into one on horseback.

What should not be missing in my luggage?

South of Los Angeles, be prepared for rain. We recommend taking a rain poncho in addition to Gore-Tex clothing. Personally, we almost always use hiking sticks. We also recommend carrying a water filter or germicidal tablets. For the rest, you will need the same gear as for any trekking tour between Nepal and New Zealand.

What vaccination do I need?

The vaccinations required for Chile are the same as in Europe or North America. In any case, it is important to renew vaccinations against tetanus, polio, typhus, jaundice (hepatitis A), if necessary.

Can I manage without Spanish?

Chileans are usually very friendly, especially towards foreigners. You can get along without Spanish, but no communication with locals could make you miss an important part of your journey. Chile offers cheap language courses at reasonable prices and good knowledge of Spanish will be one of the nicest and longest-lasting souvenirs to take back home.

Are there reliable trails maps?

The available trails maps are generally nothing to write home about. The Instituto Geográfico Militar, under the armed forces, is responsible for cartography. Unfortunately, some of the maps date from the 50s and even the more recent editions contain very few trails. Furthermore, with its price of about US$ 10, the maps on a scale of 1:50 000 are rather expensive.

Maps of much-visited areas are available from the publisher Matassi in specialized shops, bookstores and information bureaus. These maps offer a good overall view, but are strewn with mistakes and their quality does not compare to those published by hiking clubs back home.

For Central Chile, two first-quality maps have been published recently, containing the Condor Circuit and Valle del Melado. The map of the Condor Circuit (1:50.000) can be ordered here and the one of the Melado valley (1:100.000), containing hundreds of trekking miles, can be obtained free of charge from the public tourism board Sernatur.

How do I get to the starting point of the trek?

Public buses provide easy, inexpensive transportation around Chile. The frequency of buses is particularly high on the north-south-route Panamericana. On the other hand, connections on local roads leading up to the Andes are less frequent and usually operate at inconvenient hours. Hitchhiking on these routes can be recommended as an alternative, especially since Chileans like to give rides to tourists. Prices of hired cars have gone down a lot over the past years and cars can be rented for about US$ 20 per day, which makes it much easier to get to the starting point of the trails. Some accommodations have specialized services for trekkers and offer transfers at reasonable prices.

Is there a rescue system?

Several cities offer mountain rescue services. Otherwise the police (phone number: 133) are responsible for any rescue operations. Admittedly, the main problem lies in informing the rescue team, since cell phones rarely work in the mountains and most of the Andes areas are uninhabited. For your own safety, we recommend registering your name, route, and expected return date with the park rangers, police, or at the place you are staying before undertaking any tour into the wilderness.

Can I drink the river water?

On tours in the wilderness far from civilization it is safe to drink water from mountain brooks. However, grazing areas are often contaminated by cows. Green, slimy algae grow in oxygen-deficient and too-warm water, which should not be consumed.

For further questions, please visit our hiker's café.