Weather in Chile
Stretching roughly 4300km in length, Chile's weather varies widely depending on where you're heading. Located in the Southern Hemisphere, Chile's seasons line up with Australia's – warmer between October and April and cooler in May to September. The hottest parts of the country are to the north, while it gets chillier the further south you go.
Chile's Great North (Norte Grande) is warm and dry year-round. The Atacama Desert, the driest in the world, is very hot during the day and cold at night, with temperatures sometimes dropping to zero degrees.
The Atacama and Elqui region - the so-called Little North - and the Central Valley are warm and mild.
Santiago is hot during the summer, with daytime temperatures reaching the 30s, while in winter, temperatures drop to the single-digits.
Patagonia is very cold, particularly in winter, although the famed Torres del Paine National Park can be as warm as the mid-20s in summer.
Easter Island has a sub-tropical climate, with hot, humid and wet summers. Winters can be cooler, so bring a jumper and pants.
Peak and off-peak seasons
Low season in Chile is in winter, between June and August. It's a good time to head to the north of the country or hit the Andean ski slopes.
Shoulder season stretches from September to November and March to May. Santiago is pleasant in both shoulder periods. Autumn foliage is at its best in the south of the country in April, while wine festivals tend to take place in March.
High season hits during the summer months, between November and February. Beaches are crowded in late summer, and Patagonia is at its peak December to February.
How to get to Chile
By air: Qantas and LATAM Airlines fly directly from Melbourne and Sydney to Santiago, arriving at the Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL). There are six other international airports in the country, located in Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, Easter Island, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas.
By land: You can travel to Chile from Peru to Arica; from Bolivia to Arica, Iquique and Antofagasta, and from Argentina at dozens of border crossings, with the busiest ones being La Serena, Santiago and Osorno.
How to get around Chile
If you'd like to drive in Chile, you'll need to get an International Driving Permit from your state's motoring association before you leave. In NSW and the ACT that's NRMA Motoring and Services, in Queensland the RACQ, in Victoria the RACV, in South Australia the RAA, in Western Australia the RAC, in Tasmania the RACT and in the Northern Territory the AANT.
Driving in Chile can be dangerous as others on the road can be aggressive and roads poorly maintained and lit. If you do decide to drive, don't drink any alcohol before getting behind the wheel – the legal blood alcohol limit in Chile is zero.
As with other South American countries, Chile's long-distance buses are a great way to get around – as long as you're not time-poor – with different classes catering to various budgets. A pullman or clasico bus is the budget option, with semi-reclining seats and less leg room. Executivo and semi-cama buses have fewer seats, more legroom and recline further. A salon cama is akin to business-class air travel, with wide seats, lots of legroom and seats that recline almost flat. Premium buses, reminiscent of first-class air travel, carry the fewest passengers and have seats that transform into lie-flat beds. Depending on the company and the length of the trip, you'll likely get a meal or a snack and access to some entertainment.
Given Chile's extreme length, flying is the way to go if you're short on time, although domestic flights do tend to be quite pricey compared to buses. LATAM Airlines is the national carrier. Sky Airline also flies internationally and domestically.
If time isn't your main concern, ferries are a popular (but slow) form of transport in Chile's far south, particularly from Puerto Montt to Chacabuco and the San Raphael glacier, and from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales.
Top activities in Chile
Chile has something for everyone, from wineries to historical sites and stunning national parks as well as being an adventure sports havens. If sports are your thing, you'll be able to go skiing, surfing, scuba diving, kayaking, kitesurfing, paragliding, hiking, fly fishing and horseriding. Here are some of the top activities and where to do them.
Easter Island, called Rapa Nui in the native language and located in the Pacific Ocean in Chilean Polynesia, is about as remote as it gets. You'll likely know it from its famous moai statues, but it's also home to pink-sand beaches, temples and volcanic cones. In February, the local people celebrate the Tapati traditional festival, with teams competing in challenges.
The Limari Valley in Chile's north is known for its whites, including chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, along with its cabernet and pisco, a grape spirit. The Casablanca Valley in Chile's centre is home to chardonnay and sauvignon blanc growers. The Leyda and San Antonio valleys, also near Santiago, are all about cool-climate pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. In the south, there's the Itata Valley, home to boutique producers of varietals including the pipeño. If reds are more to your taste, consider the Cachapoal Valley in Chile's centre, home to carménère or the Elqui Valley in the north, where you'll find bold syrahs and carménère, pisco distilleries and sauvignon blancs. There's also the Colchagua Valley in the centre, which produces cabernet sauvignon, carménère and syrah, and the Maipo Valley, near Santiago, home to some of the best cabernet sauvignons.
Grape harvest festivals take place throughout Chile between March and April. The largest of these is in the Curico Valley in March.
The great outdoors
Chile is home to dozens of national parks, reserves, sanctuaries and monuments. Some parks are free, while at others you'll need to pay a fee at the rangers' hut to enter. If you're planning on visiting several parks, consider an annual pass, which can be procured at offices of the forestry department CONAF (although Easter Island and Torres del Paine National Park aren't included).
National parks and reserves are good locations for hiking, with half- or all-day trails most common. Chile's south is home to the most suitable terrain and conducive hiking weather – the Torres del Paine is a popular destination, but it can get crowded in the peak travel months of January and February.
Chile's volcanoes are a trekker's and climber's paradise. Volcán Parinacota (6330m), Volcán Llullaillaco (6739m) and Volcán Ojos del Salado (6950m) in the far north are some popular choices with experienced climbers. In the central Andes Volcán Marmolejo (6100m) and Volcán Tupungato (6750m) can be climbed. In the south you'll find Volcán Villarrica (2840m) and Volcán Osorno (2652m). Before you set out, you'll need permission from the Dirección de Fronteras y Límites (DIFROL). You can get that by contacting the nearest Chilean embassy before you leave or by writing, faxing or emailing DIFROL. There's more information at difrol.cl, escalando.cl and trekkingchile.com.
Skiiers, snowboarders and other fans of winter sports will be in heaven in the Andes. You can hit the slopes in El Colorado, La Parva, Valle Nevado and Portillo, which are within close vicinity to Santiago. Further afield and to the south is the Termas de Chillán.
Paragliders flock to the city of Iquique between the Atacama Desert and the Pacific Ocean.
Kayakers will find plenty of fauna and stunning landscapes around Patagonia. Thrill-seeking kayakers and rafters will find single or multi-day trips around the Bio -Bio and Futaleufú rivers. Scuba diving is popular in the Humboldt Penguins National Reserve, Chañaral de Aceituno, Punta de Choros, and off the islands in the centre of Chile. The top breaks for surfing are around Pichilemu, while Iquique and Arica are warmer and also popular.
If horseriding is your thing, you can take in Chile's natural wonders on multi-day camping trips guided by the cattle-herding arrieros in the Andes around the Central Valley. If you'd rather a faster pace, Patagonia is a good option.
Fly fishing is popular in the Lake District and the Aisén, with the season generally running from November to May.
Your perfect itinerary will depend on what you'd like to see and do, and how much time you have in Chile. To see the country top to bottom, allow three weeks or more.
Mainland highlights: Visit the geysers and salt flats of the Atacama desert, followed by the Elqui Valley, then the big smoke of Santiago. Jump south to see the coloured houses of Valparaiso and the wineries of San Fernando and Santa Cruz. Finally, spend some time getting to know the Torres del Paine National Park.
Island highlights: If you have the time and the budget, head to the famed Easter Island (Rapa Nui), where you can check out the incredible moai at Ahu Tongariki and Rano Raraku. If you're a fan of the Daniel Defoe classic, jump across to the Isla Robinson Crusoe (although be warned, it sustained significant damage in the 2010 tsunami). And check out the fjords and islets of the Patagonian islands by kayak or boat.