Chile is one of the most popular destinations (and one of my favorites) in South America. I was blown away by the beauty of the country, the delicious and inexpensive, the plethora of different eco-systems, and how hospitable the locals were. (And, as someone who works online, how much they are investing in tech!)
Owing to its diverse geography, the country offers a lot to visitors. From exploring the wilderness of Patagonia to tasting wine at boutique local vineyards, visiting the bucket-list favorite Easter Island, exploring the Atacama Desert, hanging out in the vibrant capital of Santiago — there are endless reasons to visit Chile.
But, with recent protests, concern over safety has become a topic of concern among travelers.
While Chile is not a dangerous country and the news media overblows everything, there are some things you do need to be careful about when you visit Chile. The tips below will not only help you learn more about how to deal with the risks there but they’ll make sure your experience is as enjoyable as possible.
8 Safety Tips for Chile
Like anywhere else, you need to be vigilant and take a few precautions. Here are my top eight safety tips for Chile:
1. Be aware of your belongings.
Petty theft is going to be your biggest concern in Chile, especially in the larger cities. Since these types of crime are usually situational and occur on a whim, don’t make yourself a target: keep an eye on your belongings, and avoid carrying or wearing expensive accessories as well.
Be aware that there might be teams of thieves working together: one will try to distract you while another steals something, so be careful if a stranger tries to get you into the conversation in a busy place. This is most common on the bus.
There are other popular scams, all designed to distract you, such as the “bird poo” scam, where someone squirts a gooey liquid on you and then they or an accomplice rob you while you’re trying to clean it up or figure out what’s going on.
2. Don’t pet stray dogs.
I know: dogs are super cute. But the number of stray dogs in Chile has been increasing, and quite a lot of them have scabies, which is a highly contagious disease. If you come across dogs who look like they have skin problems, make sure not to touch them.
3. Watch out for riptides and currents when you swim.
Chile has lots of beautiful beaches, but unfortunately, many of them have dangerous offshore rips. It’s easy to get swept up in these and not be able to swim back to shore. Watch for signs on beaches that say “no apto para bañar” or “peligroso,” meaning it’s too dangerous for swimming.
4. Double-check your taxi driver.
There have been some incidents of people being robbed by unlicensed taxi drivers, including in what look like airport taxis. Don’t hesitate to use pre-booked taxis or to check that the taxis you use are officially licensed ones. When going out, ask your hostel or hotel to book your taxi for you as well.
5. Be prepared for an earthquake or volcanic eruption.
Chile is located in a highly active seismic zone, and earthquakes are relatively common. Make sure you familiarize yourself with any safety or evacuation procedures at your accommodation. If you’re hiking, be aware that earthquakes can trigger landslides.
6. Watch out for drink-spiking.
There’s been an increase in reports of people having their drinks spiked in recent years. Victims become unconscious and may have their belongings stolen or worse, be assaulted or raped. Be especially carefully in the Suecia and Bellavista nightclub areas of Santiago, but it’s good practice, in general, to avoid accepting drinks from people you don’t know and to keep your drinks in sight at all times.
7. Look out for the car tire scam.
In the larger cities, there have been incidents wherein tourists driving rental cars to have a sudden puncture because thieves have surreptitiously slashed a tire, and then their belongings are stolen while they are distracted by the puncture. Keep a good eye on your stuff if you should mysteriously get a flat tire!
8. Buy travel insurance!
Whenever you travel, you should always have an appropriate level of travel insurance, because you never know what might go wrong. While you hope that nothing will happen, you’ll be grateful you have travel insurance if you are the victim of theft, get sick or injured, or find yourself in an emergency situation.
Trust me, I’ve been there (on more than one occasion!) — having insurance makes a difference. Always buy travel insurance before you go!
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FAQs on Staying Safe in Chile
Now that you know how to stay safe in Chile, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions I get about safety there:
Should I be worried about the current protests in Chile?
Starting in the fall of 2019, anti-government protests erupted in the capital in response to policies that increased subway fares and then became general protests about the increased cost of living, privatization, and inequality. Parts of the capital, Santiago, erupted in flames and the protests got violent.
However, while the scars of those incidents are visible everywhere and there are frequent protests, they are no longer violent and are shrinking in size as the government gives in to certain demands. Moreover, these protests are confined entirely to the capital so once you leave Santiago, you won’t notice anything going on. If you’re going hiking in Patagonia or out to the desert or even to the nearby town of Valparaiso, you won’t notice anything.
If you’re concerned about the protests, skip the capital. But know the country is still safe to visit!
Are there places to avoid in Chile?
Not really. You’ll want to be more vigilant in the busier areas of cities like Santiago and Valparaiso, where petty theft and tourist scams are more likely to occur. There is no reason to avoid these places — just keep your guard up and your possessions secure.
There are also some areas of Chile where you can come across unexploded landmines but that’s only near the illegal border crossings into Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, so you should make sure you only use the official border crossings and avoid straying into the nearby countryside at these crossings. If you see a landmine warning sign, don’t ignore it!
Is Chile safe to travel alone?
Solo travel is as safe in Chile as any other kind of travel, and you should just take the usual extra precautions when traveling alone anywhere. The biggest problem will be making sure you keep an eye on your luggage and valuables at all times, especially on public transport. But it’s still quite safe for solo travelers!
Is it safe to drive in Chile?
Chileans tend to drive quite aggressively, so this might put you off from renting a car in Chile. It’s also tough work driving in Santiago because the traffic is always really busy and pedestrians will run across roads without checking.
The highways are well maintained with tolls. Once you’re off the main roads, however, the secondary roads are often not well maintained and are poorly lit, so you will need to be more careful. If you’re driving in the mountains, you’ll soon see that the hillside roads don’t have the guardrails you often see in other countries.
So, as long as you have experience and are comfortable in a more hectic environment, then go for it! If you’re not used to driving in countries with more lax rules of the road, I’d advise against renting a car.
Is it safe to walk around Santiago?
Chile’s capital Santiago is a large city with well over five million inhabitants, and so, like many big cities, there are parts that are perfectly safe and there are parts that might be a little dangerous. The Las Condes, Vitacura, and Providencia areas of Santiago are known to have higher rates of petty theft than other parts of the city, so be extra cautious when in those areas.
Is the water safe to drink?
The tap water here is generally considered safe, but it never hurts to boil your water to be sure. Boiling for 1-3 minutes (depending on the altitude) will ensure your water is safe to drink. You can also use a Lifestraw or SteriPen to purify your water as well. You’ll definitely need a water purifier for when you hike in the mountains down south, where it is not safe to drink the tap water or from a stream. (I used a Lifestraw when I went.)
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Is Chile safe for solo female travelers?
There is no special risk for female travelers in Chile, although, like in many parts of the world, you should probably avoid being alone in empty or dark places at night. Women are also most likely to be victims of drink-spiking, especially if you’re on your own at a bar or club. However, many women go backpacking alone in Chile, and for the majority of them, the trip is uneventful. While you might be traveling solo, you will also most likely end up making some like-minded friends.
So, is Chile safe? Yes! And you must visit! It is an amazing country, whether you’re interested in the natural wilderness, want to head out to Easter Island, or are keen to experience the culture and vibe of Santiago.
Just be aware of scams meant to distract you and use some common sense.