Tour Companies Are Unregulated
An October, 2012 article by Karen Schwartz of the Associated Press entitled, "Pick Your Tour Operator With Care or Suffer," reminded me of an unpleasant experience in Santiago, several years ago. For the most part our Chilean tours in and around Valpariso and the wine country were great.
However something happened when we got to Santiago. The itinerary was to have included a tour of the Palacio de la Moneda, and the Iglesia de San Francisco but it never happened. Instead, the tour operator dropped us downtown to look at the plaza and then up to Cerro San Cristobal to get views of the city. The tour guide was hard to see and once the bus stopped the tour guide in Santiago could not be found.
In dealing with tours in Chile, the Associated Press article and my own personal experience would offer you the following advice;
- Check out as much as possible about the specific tour company in advance. Do they have recommendations from reliable sources? How long have they been in business?
- How long has the tour guide been taking people to the destinations you will see on your tour? What are his or her qualifications?
- What languages will be spoken by the tour guide? Will several other languages be spoken at the same time, making it difficult to understand what you are seeing in your language?
- Will the tour guide and the driver be the same person? If so this means the driver will have to navigate both responsibilities, usually at your expense.
- Be careful at recommendations for bookings at your hotel. Check them out just like you would any other agency at home?
- Are there any hidden costs? Is there a meal included?
These are just a few questions that hopefully might make the experience of taking a tour in Chile a better one.
Why the reciprocity fee.....
To be fair about the reciprocity fee paid by U.S., Canadian and some other nationalities; It's not a fee for the privilege of entering the country. It is always equal to the same fee charged by the respected country for their VISA application. It costs $131.00 USD for a Chilean national to apply for a VISA to visit the U.S. (whether they are approved or not.) If the U.S., Canada and some other countries would drop or lower their VISA fee, then the Chilean reciprocity fee would immediately be adjusted. Though it's a nice source of income for the Chilean government, it's origin is one based on a form of protest toward the fees imposed by the other countries. "If you're going to charge us, we're going to charge you."
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Food poisoning from a nice Santiago restaurant!
Be careful of supposedly 'cooked' fish salad when it comes raw in the middle! Or, for that matter raw fish, I suppose? I recall an Indonesian I met at EZE upon arrival in S America 2 weeks earlier warning me about the raw fish they like to eat there, which gives him stomach upset, he reckons coz he's not used to the local bugs!
I had the worst food poisoning from a 'cooked' fish salad which came raw in the middle bits (served in a nice Italian restaurant behind the PanAmericano Hotel, the night before - I didn't note the restaurant's name) and had to suffer the worst purging all the 6hr 20 min I was on transit at EZE from SCL the next day, with not a charcoal tablet to find at EZE transit area, to absorb all that toxin circulating in my guts! :(
Thank God MH (Malaysian Hospitality) crew for my onward flight was kind enough to let me have the whole middle row 57 to sleep on and tea with honey from Business Class, to calm down my stomach!
- Food and Dining
Chilean Visa Reciprocity Fee
Currently US Passport holders have to pay $131 USD to enter Chile, in cash. Good news, they give you a receipt and you don't have to pay again as long as you have your current passport and the receipt. So it's like a multiple entry visa. So don't lose that receipt if you plan to make more than one trip to Chile. Also Canadian Passport holders have to pay $132 USD for same.
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Beware at night....chain ripped off neck
Hello, we just got off a Celebrity cruise at Valparaiso, Chile and took the shuttle to our hotel. We decided to stay a few days to get to know Santiago. On our last night there my husband and I were taking a stroll down one of the streets (near the square by the church) that were for pedstrians only, We sat down on a bench just to people watch. There was lots of people around. My hair was up in a poney tail. I had a thin gold chain on. As we were sitting there I felt a tickle on the back of my neck and when I turned to look the kid had pulled and broke my chain from my neck, and started running. My husband and another man (security) gave chase but no luck.
We were warned of the dangers there. DO NOT WEAR ANY JEWELERY OR HANGING EARINGS...DO NOT CARRY A PURSE......BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR CAMERAS..... We noticed things happening at night more so than day. During the day there were more business people walking around,,,but by night....NOT SO SURE.
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ask for a room facing the park !
In many ways I had a perfect room in my hotel but unfortunately the only window that I had was the one on my main photograph and it was facing a hall, where some type of a "wintergarden" made sure that the restaurant below did get some extra sunlight. The sun was burning down there all day long and even at night it still was too hot to sleep without a noisy aircondition, and twice every night I had to empty the water of that small machine. Hotel Majestic has several such rooms, so if you book there, just make sure not to get one of them !
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We were flying back to London using Iberian Air. Our seat selection meant that we could use an airport lounge. We eventually found this Business Class lounge down some stairs. A good experience.
Except...well... the woman on the desk said that she would call us for our 1.00pm flight.
12.15 came so I thought that I'd check...she would call us! 12.30....SHE WOULD CALL US! 12.40...well, the airline always phones the lounges.... but if I was still concerned...why don'y you go upstairs and check the information screens. I did!
12.45 and I ran downstairs, called my wife, ran up the stairs, trotted with many bags along the terminal and saw an anxious looking Iberian employee obviously searching for passengers. Us! We made the flight with 2 minutes to spare. Thanks Iberian Air business lounge!
I suggest that you pester them for firm updates.
Beware - muggers
As I got on the bus to go on my City tour of Santiago, our lovely guide admired my emerald jewelry and then advised me to remove it if I intended getting off the bus at any of the stops. She advised that, in particular, the City Square is very dangerous for muggings.
To be honest, having experienced similar warnings in other parts of South America, I wouldn't be inclined to bring any good jewelry with me in future.
- Road Trip
We were warned quite a bit by the staff at the 2 hotels we stayed at (located in different parts of town) about safety. We were advised not to go out at night! There seemed to be warning about stick-ups at stores and muggings.
We didn't let this hamper our visit but we were extra careful and cautious when going out in the evening. I guess it is prudent not to carry much money on you just in case. Don't let the threat of crime ruin your fun - we had no problems and loved the city.
Santiago Airport Transport
Once through the fomalities of Entry Tax of US $100 for US citizens and $56.00 for Australian Citizens payble with credit card or cash to the friendly ladies at the visa booth, through immigation and then towards customs inspection where the chaos level increases ,its out to the real world chaos where you will most likely be pounced on by various types offering downtown transport. Laminated badges are flashed, offers to carry yours bags to waiting vehicles, all the while you are trying to find an ATM to get money, it can be overwhelming. First stop should be the ATM which I located to the right of the arrival exit. Then it should be to the Transport Desks that are right in front of the arrival exit but buried by the crowd offerring taxis and vans. Watch out for the guys with the TAXI cards. They offer expensive service, may double charge, have an accident, get lost on the main road, all before you get to your hotel in Santiago. Which is what happened to us. So try to get a hotel pickup or go to the transport desk without getting way laid by the scammers
- Business Travel
WATCH OUT IN SANTIAGO, CHILE!
Santiago is a beautiful city and well worth seeing. At the airport, we negotiated with a local cab company. We were quite impressed with the city. Driver finally took us to a restaurant in the Central Market (a huge rip-off).
Two of our friends want across the street to a park and were immediately assulted. A man ripped a necklace from the neck of the woman while another thief attempted to grab her husband's camera. When they asked for someone to call the police, the locals laughed and said "No police".
We got back into the cab and the driver made a right turn. He stopped, pretending to let another car move from the curb. My wife was sitting in the front passenger seat when a man reached into the car, grabbed her arm and tried to rip bracelets from her wrist and grab her purse.
The driver went half a block, pulled over to the curb. He left the cab with the keys in the ignition, doors unlocked, windows open and walked to a police car. I got in the front and tried to close the windows and lock the doors. The driver saw what we were doing and suddenly reappeared. He drove away making a series of right turns until we were in the exact place were the most recent attack had taken place.
At the airport, every policer officer claimed to be unable to speak or understand english. I went to an Information booth explained the situation and asked for the telephone number of the American Counsular office. The man at the booth made a call and, suddendly, two police officers who previously claimed no knowledge of english, appeared and took our statement in english.
Santiago is a beautiful city and well worth a tour. However
1.Use a reputable tour company.
2. DO NOT wear any jewelery including watches, rings, etc.
3. DO NOT go to the park across the street from the market.
4. If you have any trouble, do not expect assistance from the locals or the police - you're on your own.
5. Stay in a group.
6. Keep car windows closed and doors locked.
Drinking in Santiago
As you may notice, ¨santiaguinos ¨ are drinking experts, we are used to drink strong cocktails from highschooll, very strong Piscolas ( pisco our national grape alcohol with coke ) normally about 3/4 of alcohol, then foreigners not use to that amount of alcohol get dizzy very fast...and the day after a hudge Hang over. if you can try to drink with a very little amount of pisco or switch to a softer drink.
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be carefull , in Santiago buses is really common pickpoket, try to seat your self on the second row if you can , if not try to not have visible valuable goods. and always money hidden if you can not in your wallet.
Be carefull in crowded places like restaurants, bars, coffees ..also in downtown Santiago. Pickpocket is almost a sport here in Chile ( I’m not prowd as a Chilian ) don’t give the opportunity to the thief to rob you ( in chile we say that opportunity makes the thief .)
Just a warning to expect drivers here who swap lanes without indicating, drive across several lanes, drive very fast, use their horns a lot, have no consideration for other drivers.... it seems the objective is to drive like a lunatic and get where you need to go as fast as possible while breaking as many rules as possible!!
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