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Is Chile Safe for Travel?

Is Chile Safe for Travel?

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It’s considered one of the safest countries in South America, but is Chile safe for travel? 

Most of the tourist destinations in Chile constitute some of the safest areas for travelers. Safety is a concern in heavy urban centers and a number of neighborhoods in Santiago and Valparaíso. Many people that have relocated to Chile from large cities in the United States and Europe comment on feeling safer overall in Chile. 

During these past 18 months of living in the beautiful Viña del Mar, I have generally felt as safe as I did when living in London and being a nomad around Asia

Although, I have listened to advice from other foreigners living here as well as my Chilean “extended family” and paid attention to crime trends reported in the news. In my experience, the average Chilean person is warm-hearted and will go out of their way to make a foreigner safe and welcome. 

Other aspects to consider include the risk of natural disasters and social unrest. This post dives into whether it is safe to travel to Chile and how to look after yourself while exploring this stunner of a country. 

Is Chile Safe to Travel to?

When I’m asked “is Chile safe” I would say yes. But, I’ll go on to say that it’s important to be mindful that certain crimes are on the rise and petty theft is common. The spike is linked to the high levels of inequality in Chile, an increase in organized crime, and the impact of the pandemic.

In reality, the crime situation in Chile is more something to think about if you’re planning on moving here. Exploring the touristic parts of Santiago and the country’s phenomenal beaches, mountains, and national parks comes with a low risk of crime with the intent to hurt. 

Pickpocketing, drink spiking, and burglary are the main crimes that tourists do need to be aware of. Violent muggings and carjackings are increasing and so it’s wise to stay educated and be aware of ways to reduce the risk. Avoiding neighborhoods known to be unsafe is always wise and bear in mind that these more dangerous crimes are less of an issue for travelers. 

There is quite a high police presence in urban areas; the Carabineros de Chile is a professional force and you can trust them if you do need assistance. 

Earthquakes, wildfires, political or social unrest, and local laws also come into play when thinking about is Chile safe to travel.

chilean flag on a flag pole.

Chile is experiencing a lot of governmental changes at the moment, which may affect your travels here.

Is Santiago, Chile, Safe?

Surrounded by the Andes mountain range and chock-full of museums, Santiago is the natural starting base for exploring Chile. Over 5.5 million of Chile’s 19.6 million permanent population live in the city. The city comprises 26 different comunas (districts) with Plaza de Armas at the core.

Seeing as all international tourists will arrive at the capital, it’s natural to wonder, is Santiago de Chile safe?

Parts of the city are safe, others not so much. During the day, you’ll likely spend your time exploring the city center, Barrio Italia, Lastarria, Bellavista, and Ñuñoa. These areas are safe during the day but petty theft is an issue.  

Pickpocketing is the main crime anywhere in Santiago. Thieves work on the subway and near tourist attractions. Carry your essentials in a small crossbody bag/money belt beneath your clothes and only use a daypack for non-valuables. Leave your passport in your hotel safe; carry a photocopy or photo on your phone. 

Lanza is the term used for the stealthiest pickpockets in Chile. They commit lanzasos that range from ultra-discreet (pocketing from a bag flung over a restaurant chair) to ultra-bold (snatching necklaces and making a run for it). I’ve seen the latter happen in broad daylight next to the beach on a Sunday.

Lanzasos targeting smartphones are standard so it’s best not to have your phone out when walking. Snatch-and-grabs from motorcycles are common in Santiago. Never leave your phone idling on the table at a restaurant. Kindly Chileans (of which 99% of the population is) tend to scold foreigners when they spot us waving our phones around. 

Political Demonstrations in Santiago 

Chile is undergoing a shift in its political landscape.

Headed up by Gabriel Boric, Convergencia Social (Social Convergence) replaced Sebastián Piñera’s Renovación Nacional (National Renewal) in March 2022. Plans to rewrite the Pinochet-era constitution are ongoing. Protests and civil unrest like what we saw in the 2019 Estallido Social aren’t common in Chile but they could happen at any given time.

If a demonstration is planned, it’s usually made public knowledge in the news. All tourists should steer clear of these manifestations.

According to Chilean law, holidaymakers and foreign nationals living in Chile are at risk of being deported for “any involvement or promotion of violent acts that could disturb local social order or the system of government”. 

smog over Santiago chile.

Smog over Santiago is not very safe to breathe.

Air Quality in Santiago 

Chile has insanely clean air – think salty ocean breezes, fresh mountain air, and star-studded night skies.

Santiago suffers from dense smog during the winter months (June-September). There is always an issue with respiratory diseases in Chile at this time of year, with children being most at risk.

It’s best to avoid prolonged periods of time in Santiago during winter – especially with children.

Is Santiago de Chile Safe at Night?

Crime is more likely to occur at night in Santiago and other cities. Always take extra precautions with your valuables (and yourself!) while out in Santiago in the dark. 

If you are out and about alone, it’s best to use Uber to get back to your accommodation or rental – that applies to men as well as women.

In terms of where to stay, choose a hotel close to Los Leones, Pedro de Valdivia, or Manuel Montt as this is the safest part of the city. There are lots of hotels, restaurants, and good transport connections. 

road with street art along it.

Santiago, Chile.

Financial Safety in Chile

Debit and credit cards are the main means of payment throughout Chile. Even vendors at farmer’s markets and street salespeople carry little portable machines. However, card-cloning does happen and so you’ll want to be careful when tapping in your PIN number.

Cash is generally accepted in most places if you feel more comfortable but avoid letting people around you see how much you’re carrying. A decoy wallet isn’t a bad idea while traveling in Santiago, Valparaíso, Arica, and the Tarapacá region. 

I’ve had a great experience using my Wise debit card in Chile although my foreign credit cards are sometimes rejected.

Alcohol and Drugs in Chile

Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in all public places in Chile. That includes beaches, parks, plazas, promenades, and public transport. With the exception of small-scale music gigs in pubs or bars, alcohol is not sold at theatrical events or concerts. 

As the consumption of recreational drugs is illegal and can lead to prison sentences, stay clear. 

When drinking, be mindful of elevation changes throughout the country. Also, Chilean measures are generous when drinking pisco, spirits, and cocktails.

santiago chile skyline with mountains in the distance.

Is Santiago, Chile safe?

Taxis and Public Transport in Chile

Uber works in most parts of Chile although Cabify and Didi are more widespread. The only snag is that it’s nigh impossible to register an account with the latter two without a RUT/RUN. 

Licensed taxis are safe but it will be tricky to communicate if you don’t speak Spanish. 

There is a scam with fake taxis where the driver takes the passenger to an ATM to get cash and then robs them. This has been reported as happening with unlicensed taxis from Santiago Airport. Book a transfer in advance or arrange a taxi at the kiosk in the arrivals terminal. 

I did have an issue when returning to Santiago Airport from a solo trip to Argentina with a man who was insistent that I go in his taxi. I’m not sure if he was pulling a scam but his pushy behavior stood out as unusual based on my experiences in Chile and I wasn’t comfortable at all. 

Long-distance buses in Chile are great: seats are comfy, they’re clean, have bathrooms, and are affordable. Local buses and subways are fine during the day but always switch to Uber at night.

Road Safety in Chile

Carjacking is a scarier issue, but important to be aware of if you’re renting a car. While driving in Santiago or other cities, lock your doors and close your windows. There has been an increase in the “good Samaritan” scam where criminals target a car and say something is wrong. An accomplice will then sweep any valuables or take off with the vehicle while the driver gets out to check.

There’s also the portonazo technique where skilled thieves steal a vehicle while the driver is opening the gates to their house or parking garage. This is more of a concern for residents and expats.

On the plus side, exploring rural Chile by car is an amazing experience. The highways are in excellent condition and traffic is minimal beyond Santiago.

Consider where a 4X4 wheel drive might be required. Always keep an eye on your fuel tank and check your oil/tires before setting out on an adventure as they’re are some stretches where petrol stations are few and far between. Never leave valuables in a car and there’s always a risk of theft.

mountains in the background with a city in the foreground and a bit of low cloud.

Is Chile safe?

Is Chile Safe for Solo Female Travelers?

As a foreign woman living in Viña del Mar, I have felt safe here these past 18 months. To be transparent, I haven’t traveled solo much in Chile; this is one of the few countries where I’ve traveled more as a couple. Any long-distance travel has been with my Chilean boyfriend. 

However, based on my experiences and meeting other travelers/expats, I would say that Chile is safe for solo female travelers. Of course, all the classic advice that’s drilled into us applies in Chile. 

As the cost of living in Chile (and travel) is high, I do not recommend Chile to solo female travelers on a budget. Accommodation, food, and tours are pricey and it’s always better to pay more for a hotel in a “safe” location. If you’re planning on eating alone in the evening, keep an eye on your drink. The usual risks apply and drink-spiking is a worry. Make sure your phone is charged and take an Uber back to your digs. 

My advice to a woman wondering if Chile is safe for solo female travelers is:

  • Take extreme care in Santiago and Valparaíso.
  • Budget for high accommodation costs.
  • Only use Uber at night (and when you need a taxi during the day).
  • Pre-book an airport transfer, especially if you’re arriving late at night.
  • Having some Spanish will make a huge difference.
  • Connect with Trenza Chile. Founded by two US expat women, they host bilingual female-only workshops and mixers in Santiago.

In terms of what to wear, Chile is quite conservative. It’s fine to wear shorts or summer dresses in summer, especially in beach areas. I avoid carrying a bag where possible and prefer to keep my cash and phone in my pockets. Obviously, finding women’s clothing with decent pockets is a whole other story…

Food and Drink in Chile

Is it safe to travel to Chile and gorge on all that delicious Chilean food? Absolutely. Always say yes to fish in Chile but maybe take a raincheck if a roving vendor offers you a tub of tepid ceviche on the beach.

Tap water is safe to drink in most parts of Chile. However, a lot of Chileans and foreigners dislike the taste due to the mineral content. I’m accustomed to it but I find keeping a jug of tap water in the fridge or squirting in some fresh lemon juice.

Don’t drink the water in the Atacama region or wherever else it’s indicated as not being potable. 

view of Santiago chile from above.

Santiago, Chile.

Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Other Natural Disasters in Chile

Chile is located on an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Ocean known as the “Ring of Fire.” As the Nazca plate collides with the South American plate just off the Chilean coast, earthquakes are common in Chile. 

Hitting 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale, Chile’s 1960 earthquake in Valdivia ranks as the strongest quake ever measured. The 2010 earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) off Central Chile was recorded at 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale. Generally, temblors (small earthquakes) outnumber terremoto-level earthquakes.  

While you can expect to feel a couple of tremors (or spot news anchors riding them out live on air), earthquakes in Chile are rarely anything to worry about. Building codes are in place to ensure that structures can withstand stronger earthquakes.

There are a number of active volcanoes in Chile although these don’t seem to cause too much trouble. Volcán Villarrica (or, Rucapillán) is one of the liveliest to keep an eye on.

Occurring during summer, wildfires are a larger concern in Chile. These prove disastrous for local communities and fauna. Due to the long-term drought in Chile, wildfires have been especially worse over the past years. Over 400 active fires ravaged the South in February 2023 while 135 houses were lost (330 damaged) in the December 2022 fires in Viña del Mar

It’s really important to respect fire bans and take care not to accidentally drop any litter while hiking. This could lead to a fire in parched wilderness areas. When the wildfires are out of control, regional and local travel is often restricted. 

Exploring Rural Chile Safely 

Chile’s geographic diversity is hard to top. The skinny country is bordered by the world’s driest desert to the north, the impenetrable Andes to the east, glaciers and fjords to the south, and the inappropriately named Pacific Ocean to the west.

Many of Chile’s stunning landscapes are extremely remote and it’s important to heed specific travel advice when visiting remote destinations such as the Atacama Desert and the parks of Chilean Patagonia. 

Despite that gorgeous coastline, swimming in the Chilean Pacific is banned at many beaches. The Humboldt Current makes the conditions unsafe and unpredictable. Pay attention to swim-ban signs and red flags and respect the advice of lifeguards. 

being out in the atacama desert in chile.

Atacama Desert, Chile.

Dangerous Spiders in Chile

On the whole, there’s not a lot of danger in the Chilean wilderness. If you’re lucky, you might spot a puma in the south – but they’ll keep a wary distance. 

There are however two venomous spiders to keep an eye out for. The recluse spider (araña de rincón) lives in around 50% of Chilean houses and its bite can be fatal if you don’t get straight to the hospital. They only bite when they’ve not eaten in a long time or when provoked. Rarer in Chile, the black widow is the other dangerous spider. 

Arachnids shouldn’t really be an issue if you’re staying in tourist accommodation. On the other hand, if you’re moving to Chile it’s good to keep an eye on dark corners in your wardrobe where they tend to dwell.

Although scarier looking, the chicken rose tarantula (araña pollito) isn’t dangerous. Residing in forests, gardens, and deserts, you’re most likely to spot these nocturnal spiders at night and hanging out in campsites.

Chilean Stray Dogs

Homeless dogs are a standard sight in Chile. Generally docile, street dogs are taken care of by their local community – you’ll spot bowls of biscuits and water near makeshift kennels.

A testament to the loveliness of Chileans, they’re often seen sporting coats during the cold winters. Personally, I find the presence of street dogs quite nice as they make me feel safer when walking around at night.

Never approach a stray. While unlikely, there is a chance of them snapping but this is more likely in remote places where they aren’t being looked after. If you are bitten, go to a hospital as there is a (very) low chance of rabies.

Is Chile Safe to Travel to Without Speaking Spanish?

Knowing basic Spanish comes in useful while traveling in Chile as English isn’t widely spoken. Although, the Spanish spoken in Chile differs from Castilian Spanish or even the Spanish spoken in other Central and South American countries.

Chileans speak at the speed of light and use lots of slang, which makes it sound like a completely different language. A lot of people who come to Chile with proficiency in Spanish joke that they have to relearn the language. 

Fortunately, Chileans are extremely patient and encouraging with foreigners who attempt to speak Spanish and will try their best to slow the pace. 

Is Chile Safe to Travel?

So, is it safe to travel to Chile? Overall, yes. I would say that there are important safety concerns to be aware of and extra vigilance is needed in regard to pickpocketing, petty crime, and safety at night.

But on the whole, it’s a big yes to visiting Chile. Buy travel insurance and keep an eye on the English-language news website Chile Today.

Travel.State.Gov and the FCO regularly update their Chile travel safety advice for foreign travelers. At the time of writing, the Araucanía region of Central Chile is not recommended for travel.