You’ve booked the adventure of a lifetime to two of the most spectacular destinations in South America: Chile and Argentina. Congratulations! You’re in for a fantastic vacation. Now, you’ve got to pack and prepare for your trip. But what should be on your Chile and Argentina packing list? And what do you need to know […]
You’ve booked the adventure of a lifetime to two of the most spectacular destinations in South America: Chile and Argentina. Congratulations! You’re in for a fantastic vacation. Now, you’ve got to pack and prepare for your trip. But what should be on your Chile and Argentina packing list? And what do you need to know in terms of travel logistics?
Not to worry, we’ve compiled a Chile and Argentina country guide, complete with what you should bring, what to expect in terms of weather, visas and immigration, safety, culture, and more. Read on to learn everything you need to know for a smooth Chile and Argentina vacation.
This guide will focus on some of Chile and Argentina’s top attractions. For Chile, that’s San Pedro de Atacama and Patagonia, including Torres del Paine National Park and Puerto Natales. On the other side of the border, we’ll focus on Argentina highlights such as El Calafate, Buenos Aires, and Mendoza.
The packing theme for your trip is layers. If you travel between late September and April – summertime in Chile and Argentina – most of the destinations will be warm during the day and cool at night. San Pedro and Patagonia in particular will swing dramatically in temperature, going from cold in the morning, to quite hot during the day, to cool in the evening, to cold at night.
Also note that there is a hole in the ozone over many parts of Chile, so the sun is more intense than normal. This will be particularly true in San Pedro, so be diligent about covering your skin and wearing sunscreen.
The chart below summarizes what to bring to Chile and Argentina:
Chile & Argentina Plugs
Make sure to pack a travel adapter so you can charge your electronic devices while abroad. A travel adapter allows you to use a socket with a different shape, but it does not change the voltage delivered to your device. You can buy an international travel adapter that will work with most plugs.
While the United States and Canada use 120V, Chile and Argentina use 220V. Most electronics – especially phones and laptops – are now dual voltage and automatically convert between voltages, but if you have any old electronics, you might want to check and make sure.
Hair dryers and straighteners are more likely to have problems with a different voltage. You can either leave them at home or use a voltage converter, a separate device than a travel adapter.
|Sockets in Chile (Type C and Type L)||Sockets in Argentina (Type C and Type I)|
The best time to visit Chile and Argentina is between late September and April. That’s when temperatures will be the warmest. December and January are especially good times to visit both northern and southern Chile. February is the peak travel season for Chileans and Argentinians on vacation, so if you’d like to avoid crowds, come visit during other months.
Although it’s possible to visit year-round, see the chart below for the best time to visit Chile and Argentina destinations based on weather, then scroll down for more weather details about each location.
San Pedro de Atacama
This is literally the driest desert in the world! The highest chance of rain is 5% in January.
Without clouds, San Pedro is extremely sunny and bright. Remember to bring your sunglasses. The dry air also makes it dusty. Average temperatures in December range from highs of 79°F (26°C) to lows of 46°F (8°C). More details for the full year here.
Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales
In general, the weather in southern Patagonia is extremely unpredictable. It is not unusual to experience four seasons in one day. Just be prepared for dramatic changes throughout the day. Be ready to add or subtract layers and have rain gear handy in your day packs.
Patagonia is also famous for intense winds, so be ready with wind-breaking clothes and light layers that can cover your skin when the wind picks up. We highly recommend wearing a neck gaiter. It will help block the sun on your neck, and if it gets windy or cold all of a sudden, you can pull it up over the lower half of your face.
Average temperatures for December range from highs of 59°F (15°C) to lows of 47°F (8°C). More details for the full year here.
While not as intense as the Torres del Paine area, this is still Patagonia, so be ready for wind and abrupt changes in temperature and weather. On any given day, the chance of rain is about 10-20%. Average temperatures for December range from highs of 62°F (17°C) to lows of 47°F (8°C). More details for the full year here.
It is generally humid in Buenos Aires. The chances of rain hover at an average of 30% from October to April and drop down to 20% from May to September. Average temperatures for December range from highs of 81°F (27°C) to lows of 68°F (20°C). More details for the full year here.
Mendoza has a Mediterranean climate; it’s dry, sunny, and rarely has dramatic changes in weather during the day. Average temperatures for December range from highs of 87°F (31°C) to lows of 66°F (19°C). More details for the full year here.
Your bag is packed and you’re prepared for whatever weather Mother Nature throws your way. But what about other travel logistics? We’ve got you covered with information about visas, money, safety, culture, and food.
Chile and Argentina Visa Requirements
Travelers from the United States do not need visas to enter Chile or Argentina and have no fees to enter either country. You do need one blank page available per country in your passport for the entry stamp. Before traveling, get the most updated entry information from the US State Department for Chile and Argentina.
Customs in Chile are extremely strict. If you bring any fruits or vegetables on the plane (as a snack for example) and don’t eat it on the way, be sure to throw it out before you pass through customs. Also, declare anything that you’re bringing in that’s mentioned on the immigration form. If you’re caught with any of the items and don’t declare them, you will be fined.
When you enter Chile, the immigration official will give you a small white slip of paper that says “PDI” at the top of it and looks like a receipt. Do not throw this away! Although they do not mention it when they give it to you, you will need it when you leave the country.
Chile Currency and Argentina Currency
The currency in Chile is the Chilean Peso. There are $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, and $20,000 peso notes. It helps to think of the following rough conversions:
There are two ATMs in San Pedro that almost always have super long lines, so plan on arriving in Chile with some Chilean Pesos. There are also ATMs in Puerto Natales. It is generally easy to use credit cards in Chile, even in small stores.
The currency in Argentina is the Argentine Peso. There are $100, $50, $20, $10, $5 and $2 notes. There are many ATM machines in Buenos Aires, and using your ATM card will generally give you the best exchange rate. Check here to find up-to-date exchange rates. It is mostly easy to use a credit card, although it’s best to always have cash on hand.
Chile and Argentina Safety
All of the destinations mentioned in the weather section above are quite safe, except for Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires, be alert any time you are outside of your hotel or not on a guided tour.
Do not take out your phone and stare at it for an extended period while on the street. We recommend that you do not wear any expensive jewelry in public. Never leave your bag anywhere unattended (for example to go to the bathroom while in a cafe).
While eating in restaurants, keep your backpack/purse on your lap – do not hang it off the back of your chair or put in on the ground beside or behind you. Try to avoid walking around at night, particularly alone. Do not engage anyone who approaches you on the street, just firmly shake your head and do not respond.
You will most likely not have any issues, especially if you stay in safe neighborhoods such as Palermo and Recoleta and take guided tours.
If you need travel insurance, we highly recommend World Nomads.
Tipping in Argentina and Chile
In Chile and Argentina, you only need to tip at restaurants. When you pay the bill at a restaurant, the waiter will ask you if you would like to include the tip or propina. If you say yes, they will add 10% to the bill. This is standard. It is not normal to tip cab drivers or anyone who handles your luggage at the airport or in hotels.
It’s not expected, but it’s nice to tip guides and drivers who run private tours, assuming they do a good job. Around $20 USD per person for a full day tour is fine.
Customer service (e.g. in restaurants) in Chile is generally quite bad compared to American standards. In Argentina, customer service is better than in Chile, but still not up to American standards. For example, instead of “How may I help you?” you may be greeted by the Spanish word “Dime” (pronounced dee-may) which means “Tell me.”
A lot of travelers get very flustered by this and spend a lot of energy getting upset at bad service. It’s best to enter your trip expecting to consistently have bad service. Be prepared to be patient and roll with it.
Chile and Argentina Culture and Customs
Chile and Argentina don’t have any customs or cultural phenomena that will be particularly shocking to Americans, especially if you have traveled internationally before. Chileans are generally reserved and speak Spanish in a way that is very difficult to understand due to its fast pace and heavy use of slang. It is sometimes called the Scottish of Spanish. Argentinians are more boisterous – very similar culturally to Italians. There is nothing that is “normal” in the US that will be considered rude in either country.
Chile and Argentina Food
The food in Chile, to be frank, can be bland. A typical lunch or dinner consists of a large plate of meat and rice or potatoes, with almost no seasoning or sauces. Nothing is difficult to eat and food is generally safe, but just be prepared for at least a few dull meals. If you are a spicy food fanatic, you may want to bring a small bottle of hot sauce – food is almost never spicy in Chile or Argentina.
That being said, it’s definitely worth trying some of Chile’s specialties such as empanadas, chorrillana, and pastel de choclo. Empanadas are meat-stuffed or cheese-stuffed pastries. Chorrillana is a mountain of french fries topped with onions, sausage, beef, eggs, and tomatoes. Pastel de choclo is a type of corn casserole. Learn more about these dishes as well as where to find them in our Santiago City Guide.
Argentina is famous for its beef. They typically cook it with no marinade and just a little salt. For steak lovers, it’s great to be in Argentina. There is also good Italian food most places in Argentina, as a huge percentage of the population has Italian heritage.
We also recommend trying milanesa, locro, and alfajores in Argentina. Milanesa is a deep-fried thinly sliced piece of beef, chicken, or fish. Locro is a hearty stew with pumpkin, beans, corn, and meat. Alfajores are delicious desserts made by sandwiching dulce de leche between two cookies. Find out more about where to enjoy these dishes in our Buenos Aires City Guide.
Do not drink the tap water in San Pedro – it won’t kill you, but it is apparently slightly tainted by the area’s mining. You can get jugs of tap water from small stores in San Pedro and your hotel will likely have bottled water for sale.
Outside of San Pedro, the other Chilean destinations mentioned above will have safe tap water (i.e. in the airports and in Puerto Natales).
We do not recommend drinking the tap water in Argentina. It is unlikely that it will make you sick immediately, but it is not considered clean enough to drink in large quantities. You can brush your teeth with it. Many hotels and homes have separate taps with filters – these are safe to drink from.
If you would like to order tap water in restaurants, say “agua de la llave” (pronounced agua de la yah-vay). For mineral water, ask for “agua mineral con/sin gas.” “Con gas” is carbonated and “sin gas” is non-carbonated water. Restaurants charge for mineral water.
You’ve made your Chile and Argentina packing list, prepared for the weather, and learned all about travel logistics. Now, get ready to enjoy the incredible landscapes and unique culture of these two countries!
Still have questions about what to do or where to visit on your vacation? Check out our other blog posts: