When you get to immigration upon arrival into the country, you will make a startling discovery, the Reciprocity Fee! Many governments charge a high fee for US and Canadian residents to enter their country, because we do the same thing to them. The fee is presently $100 for US citizens. Be prepared and have some cash available for everyone in your group.
If you are returning to Chile and paid it before, they often waive this fee. Always ask.
As in the case with many Latin American cities, the air pollution gets trapped against the mountains and has nowhere to go. It can become rather dense at times, so you need to consider then when exerting yourself outdoors. I hear that winter is typically the worst time of the year for it. It might help to get out of the city every once in a while.
My experience, if you have any love of breathing and aren't accustomed to smog, you will have a tough time in Santiago.
There is smog that you can see on your hands if you are out for most of the day.
On the other hand, if you want to get a feel of what Victorian England was like, go to Santiago!
Beautiful city otherwise & the people, food and culture is magnificent. I just couldn't breath and got terribly ill from the stuff.
My apologies to anyone who disagrees, just a warning.
The "business" of illegal international phone calls had flourished on the N side of Santiago's Cathedral (on the street of the same name, in front of Correo Central).
Overseas calls can be as cheap as US$ 1,5 for a 10-minute call to, say, Russia or Japan, which is a lure for travellers.
But the danger lies in the fact that the "operators" (mainly illegal Peruvian immigrants who mix with other, innocent, Peruvians who sit there waiting to be hired for a job-> the area is nicknamed Pequeña Lima, or Little Lima) use stolen cell phones illegally linked to third-party home phones which are charged with the actual cost of the calls.
Lately, the Government, the phone companies and the Municipality of Santiago have started to fight this criminal activity by using covert police agents to detain and prosecute both operators AND occasional users.
When detainees are Chilean nationals, they are sent to jail for 3 days, and then legally prosecuted and tried (5-year prison terms had been given to several individuals) while foreign people catched on this, receives the same treatment, under charges of illegal association for criminal acts, forgery and thievery (in Chile, those who buy stolen merchandise or -in this case- communications, are considered as actively involved in the crime)
As a courtesy, arrested tourists are usually left free after a week of detention and a US$ 1000 fine, and then deported (as happened last August to 4 travellers).
You better resort to cheap Internet...
Santiago is a big city, even the people is very friendly there is a lot of pickpockets especially in the downtown.
So take care about your personal stuff, maybe its a good idea to take a fotocopy of you passport and leave the original in the hotel.
Its long-time reputation of being a hangout for hurried lovers, hookers and gays is almost disappeared after the deployment of private guards who keep an eye on any conflictive situation (they will ask for your name, passport number and nationality when you enter the gardens, but no actual documents).
Anyway, exercise caution if crossing the gardens on its southern slope – the Alameda side- late at night on weekdays, as sometimes petty surprise theft happens there.
This is not a warning, nor about a danger, but it could be useful anyways:
The uniformed (militarized) Chilean police are the Carabineros (also informally called pacos), who are virtually anywhere in the country, from remote border posts to the big cities' centres.
They wear a green uniform and, whether on duty or not, they are always keen to help if needed, and are very professional and courteous.
Not many of them speak English, but ALL of them have a radio and a directions book and map to help you find a place or whatever you need.
Air rescue and MEDEVAC in the mountains and mainland is performed by them, as is search of lost or stranded people in remote wilderness areas as well.
If traffic-fined, NEVER try to bribe them (although in other South American countries this is a normal custom), as this is a very serious offence which takes the felon directly to jail.
The emergency phone number for Carabineros is 133, which can be dialed for free from any phone, either private, mobile or payphone in Chile.
While in the Cerro Santa Lucia area of Santiago Centro, we were approached by a young man representing himself to be a university student. He was collecting money for the university or something similar to that. He was personable and spoke English. He flashed some papers and showed us how much money others had given him.
Was he really a student doing something for his university or just someone running a good scam?
We met another foreign tourist who had been similarly approached in the downtown area.
International travel can throw a lot stuff in your face in a hurry. Some good. Some bad. The first thing my wife and I noticed as our taxi hurtled us down Av O'Higgins (later to be Av Providencia) towards our B & B, was the incredible mass of cars, buses, taxis, trucks and pedestrians. The traffic was manic and the scale monumental. Half a dozen lanes going each way were filled with vehicles jockeying for position. Our driver talked non-stop as he swerved and dodged from lane to lane. However, being a veteran of taxi rides in Panama City, I really wasn't overly distressed. Seeing a motorcyclist sprawled out in the middle of an intersection did, however, give me pause.
Warning #1. If you rent a car, try to avoid driving in downtown Santiago unless you have a death wish.
Warning #2 is for us pedestrians. Getting across all those lanes alive can seem daunting. Watch the locals and move when they do. Even Santiago drivers will stop for a group. Jaywalking against a red light is normal so don't jump into traffic just because you see someone else do it. Be careful. Watch the lights and stay with the herd. You will be fine.
Downtown Santiago is full of pickpockets, so be careful with your belongins. Try not to bring handbags and avoid backpacks on crowded places (sometimes they can open it up when you're using it, and you'll never notice anything!). Bring the necesary.
When you are in the centre of Santiago, you will be amazed at the variety of music in regular and mp3 format as well as latest movies available on VCD.
Be careful, majority of the puchases when you get home will turn out to be empty CDs. It has happened to me twice. They would give you their telephone number to convince you of the originality but if someone gives you their telephone number, be assured they are cheating you.
If you have to buy CDs, I recommend vendors along the streets away from the centre, like in Bellavista and other places
Valle Nevado is high. Some people suffer from altitude sickness. You may be affected without even knowing that's what's making you feel kind of blah. For example, I didn't realize at first that my nagging headaches were altitude-related.
If your altitude sickness is relatively mild, like mine was, you just need to take it easy at first, but don't try to sleep it off. It's better to stay at one altitude and engage in light activities while you acclimate. If you feel really sick, you will need to go down.
At Valpara?so and Vi?a del Mar there are "hordes" of photographers, that pursue the tourists... They make you feel like a celebrity! The best way to avoid them is let one of them take you a pic!
En Valpara?so y Vi?a del Mar hay "hordas" de fot?grafos que persiguen a los turistas... Te hacen sentir como una celebridad! La mejor forma de sacártelos de encima es permitirle a uno de ellos que te saque una foto...
Check on the front window of the taxis for the "Tarifa" they charge every 220m. The basic fee of $150 is the same everywhere. After that they charge either $70, $80, $120 or hefty $150 every 220m.
In some taxis you can bargain for longer distances (e.g. the taxis at Placa Italia).
Santiago is one of the most polluted cities in the world. It is situated in a valley and there is little natural ventilation. If you have asthma, be prepared to suffer a little. The smog is worse in winter, but not so bad in summer or september when the winds blow. If you need to buy ventelin, you will find it at any farmacy and you don't need a perscription.