Things Tourists Should Never Do in Chile, Ever

Lucy Pierce

Some tips from the locals so that you avoid putting your foot in it on your forthcoming trip to this fabulous country. If you play your cards right, the locals will treat you respectfully and truly welcome you. Bear in mind these tidbits of advice and all should run smoothly. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Expect everyone to speak English

Even if you don’t have a knack for languages, showing that you’re making an effort goes a very long way. It’s not hard to learn a few of the bare basics, such as; gracias (thank you) (pronounced ‘graci-ah’ in Chile), permiso (excuse me) and por favor (please).

Say Pisco is made in Peru

The age-old debate really can get the blood boiling of some of the more patriotic Chileans. Pisco is a delicious, sweet grape brandy, made in Valle del Elqui, which is near La Serena. It is most commonly known for the delectable Pisco Sour cocktail, or Piscola.

Grouse about their efficiency, or lack thereof

Mañana, mañana! (Tomorrow, tomorrow!) is a very common response when you want to get something done. There is no way around it, so just sit tight and be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was Chile.

Call strangers a wéon

This is one of the most commonly used words in the Chilean language, but if used wrong, can cause great offence. If you use it among friends it can be a term of endearment or banter, if used with strangers it will be taken as an insult.

Smoke or make fires in the national parks

The Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in Latin America and the Chileans want to keep it that way. In the past, fires have spread rapidly from campfires, which are not permitted in the park, due to strong winds and combustible vegetation. The park has been badly scarred twice, once in 2005 and again in 2011.

Wave your selfie stick around obnoxiously

If you absolutely have to use your selfie stick, please try and use it responsibly. No one wants to be hit in the face by you flailing it around, trying to get every angle of your face. Respect the locals and people around you.

Compare it to home

If you are feeling out of your comfort zone, embrace it! Chile is fabulous in its own unique way. In fact, once you leave you’ll probably be craving its quirky idiosyncrasies and jaw droppingly beautiful landscapes and views.

Try and get the metro at rush hour

We have warned you, crammed sardines in a tin is what happens between 5pm and 7pm, so you might have to wait for one with enough space. At this time of day there is no “after you”; there is pushing, shoving and the aggressive shouting of ‘permiso’ when someone needs to get off, shoving past the many commuters.

Forget to tip

For those who work in restaurants, the wage is very low, so it is common to be asked if a 10 percent propina (tip) can be added. It is considered an insult if you refuse, even if you don’t feel the service has been up to standards. In addition, when you visit the supermarkets, students will help you pack your bags, hoping for some change, CL$100-300 (less than 50¢) should be sufficient.

Be insensitive about the country’s past

Many Chileans are still sensitive about their political history under the Pinochet regime. The older generations may have had family that disappeared and were never to be found again, so one must tread around the subject carefully when discussing these matters.

Pass the salt to a Chilean

A superstition that has been passed down through the ages, it is not advisable to pass someone the salt hand to hand because it is thought you will then fall out with that person. Instead, place it on the table near them.


Try to drive around Santiago

This really is a minefield, unless you are an expert at driving around cities where anything goes, where rules fly out the window, drink driving isn’t uncommon, and the final nail in the coffin is that the insurance is mind boggling.

Assume that cars will stop at a pedestrian crossing

Never assume! Always check both sides of the street first before embarking across the crossing. And even when you have, you should be ready to jump out of the way if a driver is speeding along with no intention of slowing down.

Expect things to be on time

Unless you have a business meeting with an international company, the chances are extremely high that everything will be at least 10 minutes late, maybe more, so take a seat and relax. If you are attending a dinner party, don’t arrive on time as it can be considered rude.

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