Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt is a medium sized town of approximately 175,000 people, located on the coast of southern Chile. It can be reached by bus from any major northern cities, and is also on the end of the line from the train route. As the name implies, it is a port town, and large ships can be seen entering and leaving the bay.

Puerto Montt was founded in 1853 during the wave of German immigration. There is an excellent market along the coastline that sells arts and crafts, cheese, and has many seafood restaurants with freshly caught fish at prices ranging from reasonable to very expensive. It pays to shop around. Most tourists frequent these restaurants.

Puerto Montt is the end of the line for traveling by road or rail in Chile. In order to proceed to the untouched natural areas of Patagonia, one must take a ferry to the island of Chiloe from Puerto Montt, or fly. In that manner, the town is a connection point to the beautiful southern areas of Chile. In terms of tourist attractions, besides the ocean and coastal market, Puerto Montt is an average town without anything too spectacular.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Frutillar is a small town located in the Lake's Region, in the Province of Llanquihue, and is located on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, the largest lake in Chile. The town consists of an upper and lower portion, the lower being largely populated by German settlers who came in the 1850's, and also is the location of all the tourist attractions in the town.

A distinct theme of music is clearly present in lower Frutillar, and is culminated each year by an annual music festival “Semanas Musicales”, held in the newly constructred theatre, which is one of the best theatres of Chile.

If spending the night in Frutillar cabins are by far the best option. During the summer months a full cabin on the beach should cost around $60 to $80 a night, and $40 a night during the rest of the year. Daytime attractions include the beach, water sports, the German Colonial Museum, and German restaurants. No trip to Frutillar is complete without eating Kuchen, a typical German desert.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Extending Your 90-Day Tourist Visa

If you decide to stay in Chile for more than 90 days as a tourist, you have three options: obtain a visa, buy a 90 day extension for $100, or leave Chile and come back. For many people the latter is the best choice, as the narrow shape of Chile makes it a short trip to leave the country.

Unless you are in the northern tip of Chile, Argentina is the best option. Technically, it is possible to enter Argentina, and return to Chile in the same day, but only if you have a car. The easiest option is to go in bus, and return the next day or later. Hotel accommodations in Argentina should only cost about $12.

For those living in Temuco, the shortest route is Zapala. It is about a 4 hour trip, or 6 hours if you decide to continue to the larger city of Neuguén. You must stay at least one night, as there are no buses that return the same day. You will pass through breathtaking scenery through the Andes Mountains. In the winter the trip may take longer, as snowy roads can cause delays. You will first pass through the Chile border, followed by several miles of “no man’s land”, and finally the Argentina border. There is no cost to enter Argentina. When returning, you will be passed a new tourist card. If you lose this card while in Chile, you must go to the Departamento de Investigación in the police station to receive a new one.

If staying for longer periods of time, you will probably grow weary of taking this trip, and wish to obtain a visa. You may receive a one year tourist visa with the proper paperwork. It is not difficult to receive, but you must prove that you will not be a financial burden to the country. Copies of bank records showing sufficient funds are helpful, but they may ask you what activities you are doing in Chile. It may be necessary to provide a certificate proving you are doing beneficial work in Chile, even if it is volunteer work. This is not set in stone, and different people have had different results. If you are doing nothing in Chile that is deemed beneficial, and are asked for a certificate, you can volunteer to teach English in any school, even if it is only for a few weeks.

Cell Phones in Chile

If you are living in Chile for an extended period of time, you will probably want to get a cell phone. Fortunately, getting a cell phone and number in Chile is very simple, and requires no contract. It is based on the European system, which means incoming calls are free. You can buy prepaid calling cards ranging from a few dollars on up.

The cheapest cell phone is approximately $35 - $40, so it is a relatively low cost investment. You can receive calls from friends and family abroad for free, even if you never buy a card. There are three principal cell phone companies: Movistar, Entel, and Smartcom. All three are relatively similar in price and quality.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Trees of Chile

Chile has many trees unique to the southern hemisphere or South America, as well as trees commonly found in most countries. This post will be continuously updated, so check back often.

Roble Beech
(Latin: Nothofagus obliqua, Spanish: Roble)

The Roble Beech is a tall, fast growing, decidious tree native to Chile and Argentina.

Blue Gum Eucalyptus
(Latin: Eucalyptus globulus, Spanish: Eucalipto Azul)

The Blue Gum Eucalyptus, although not native, is now widespread in Chile. Its native country is Australia, but is used extensively in plantations in Chile for timber and paper products, with the unfortunate effect of displacing native trees.

Monterey Pine (Latin: Pinus radiata, Spanish: Pino de Monterey)

Like the Blue Gum Eucalyptus, the Montery Pine is a very common, non-native tree in Chile, which also displaces native trees in plantations. The Montery Pine is only native to California, but is the most commonly planted pine in the world.

Monkey Puzzle or Pehuén (Latin: Araucaria araucana, Spanish: Araucaria)

The Monkey Puzzle is native to Chile and Argentina, and is considered sacred by the Mapuche Indians. It is a coniferous evergreen, and is an example of a living fossil.

Chilean Fire Bush (Latin: Embothrium coccineum, Spanish: Notro)

The Chilean Fire Bush is a beautiful ornimental plant native to Chile, Argentina, and southern Peru. It is an evergreen, and flowers bright red, as seen in the picture. It is very common in Chile.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


If you decide to rent a house or apartment in southern Chile in the winter there is a good chance you will have to buy firewood. It is by far the most common method of heating, as well as the most economical, given the high prices of gas in Chile.

If you have never burned firewood for heat before, it may take some getting used to, but it is not without its charm. On a cold winter day, a wood fire will be very cozy, and many find the quality of heat to be superior to gas.

When it comes to buying firewood, there are several options, and not all are equal in value and quality. Firewood is only economical if it is bought in bulk, by the cubic meter. A cubic meter of firewood should cost anywhere from 12,000 to 18,000 pesos ($24 - $36). It will be delivered directly to your house. When buying firewood there are two things to watch out for – dishonest vendors and wet wood. Almost all vendors will try giving you less than a cubic meter, as most people don’t have an exact concept of a cubic meter. To avoid this, have a tape measure and calculator ready. After the vendors stack the wood, measure all three dimensions of the stack, and multiply. An example of a common stacking arrangement is 1.5 meters tall, .3 meters deep, and 2 meters wide. Calculating 1.5 X .3 X 2 gives .9 cubic meters, which is less than you paid for. If this happens, insist on another row, or whatever quantity is necessary to give you 1 cubic meter. You must also watch out for wet wood, as it will give you less heat as well as more air pollution. It is difficult to find properly dry wood, especially towards the end of winter. If you are staying in Chile for a larger time frame, buy the wood in the summer and let it dry outside under a plastic tarp. Properly dried firewood, when burned correctly, should burn cleanly with nearly invisible smoke.

If all this sounds like too much hassle, find an apartment with a gas furnace, and expect to pay much more in heating bills.


Villarrica is a small, somewhat rural community on the shores of Lake Villarrica, a large lake in the Lakes District. It is on the opposite side of the lake as Pucón, a heavy traffic tourist area. Although much smaller than Pucón, it still has much to offer, especially for those desiring a more relaxed and quiet city than Pucón.

On the lake is a beach, along with various boat rental shops. The lake is popular for swimming, canoeing, and motor sports. Villarrica is especially popular with backpackers, as it offers a variety of low priced hostels similar to those commonly found in Europe.

Monday, October 16, 2006

September 18 - Independence Day

Although Chile officially gained independence from Spain in April of 1818, the process of gaining independence was started on September 18, 1810, and this day is traditionally celebrated in Chile as Independence Day. The celebration, however, is not confined to the 18th, but to several days before and after.

Typical celebration consists of an asado (barbeque), eating empanadas, dancing cueca, the traditional dance, and drinking wine or chicha. For an authentic celebration, most towns have dances at ramadas, which are open-air thatched roof buildings made of branches, based on traditional Chilean shelters.

Like the 4th of July in the United States, most towns celebrate September 18 with a parade. If you can’t see through the crowds, climbing a tree is a great option to view the parade, as well as avoid the undesirable threat of pocket-pickers, which love crowded gatherings.

Chileans are very patriotic, and the spirit of Independence Day is seen all of September. Traditional Chilean music can be heard in stores, and the national colors are displayed. On the 18th nearly everybody displays a flag, which is in fact required by law (although not enforced).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Temuco - Cerro Ñielol

Cerro Ñielol

If you are looking for an escape from the busy streets of Temuco, but don’t have the time to leave the city, Cerro Ñielol is the answer. In terms of natural areas, it is the highlight of Temuco. Cerro translates to hill in English, and it is the highest point in Temuco. It includes 90 hectares (222 acres) of forest, including native Southern Beech trees and bamboo patches. There is an extensive network of paths, including an observatory tower providing a full
arial view of Temuco.

For birdwatchers, there are several observatories to view native birds, such as the Chilean Pigeon, Slender-Billed Parakeet (winter only), Austral Pygmy-Owl, and Black-Throated Huet Huet, among others.

Near the top of the hill there is a well situated restaurant and bar. Because of its secluded location it is usually empty, with the exception of events or festivals. It is always fun to have a beer after hiking up the hill.

Cerro Ñielol is by far the highlight of Temuco. No trip to Temuco is complete without visiting it, and if hiking isn’t an option, there is a main road open to cars and taxis. Entrance is a mere $1.50, so there is no excuse for not visiting.


Mehuin, Chile

Mehuin is a coastal town in southern Chile, approximately 2 hours from Temuco. It is a small fishing community of approximately 1700 people. The beaches are picturesque, and aren't as full of tourists as larger coastal towns. Freshly caught seafood can be bought at the local market for unbelievably low prices. If you plan to stay in Mehuin for a few days, many of the local houses rent out rooms, or tents can be set up near the beach.

Beautiful Coastline of Mehuin
Seafood Market in Mehuin

In 1960 Mehuin was destroyed by the tsunami that resulted from the 1960 earthquake. It has since been rebuilt, but is now much smaller. Mehuin now faces an equally grave threat - a proposal to build an industrial waste pipeline from a factory of the Chilean industrial giant, the Chilean Pulp Company (Celco). For the last ten years the community has been battling the corporation, which received the approval of the government under Ricardo Lagos. The proposed pipeline would pump waste chemicals at a rate of 900 liters per second directly into the bay, effectively shutting down the fishing industry in Mehuin, and destroying the livelihoods of 400 families.

The members of the fishing community have succesfully blocked previous testing from being accomplished in the bay, but it is inevitable that they will eventually lose the fight. See the following blog for a video of the local fisherment sucessfully shutting down testing by the armed Celco ship.


Lake Pellaifa, in Coñaripe

Lake Pellaifa
Lake Pellaifa is a very secluded and relatively unkown lake in the 9th region of Chile. It is located near the town of Coñaripe, 90 miles south of Temuco, and 40 miles south of Villarica. Because it is still relatively off the tourist path, it offers more space and less tourists than other lakes in the region.

The lake was created by the earthquake of 1960. Previously it was a small village, whose remains are still under the water, along with the sunken forest seen above. Only two families remained after the quake, and now own all of the land. The earthquake was the largest recorded quake of this century, with a magnitude of 9.5.

The lake boasts crystal clear water and is surrounded by breathtaking mountains. It is open for swimming, canoeing, and camping.