Editor’s Note: Winter in Chile is a divine escape from North American summer. But there are a few things the guide books may or may not tell you. Here are a few tips from one of our trusted South American regulars (who flies under the alias Miguel Andrés). ¡Buen Viaje!
1. Yes, you're an American, but so is everyone else on this continent. When asked where you're from, the appropriate answer is “los Estados Unidos," not "America." Since the Spanish version of your nationality is a bit tiresome to pronounce (estadounidense), you should happily embrace the other titles that will be bestowed upon you, including Gringo, Yankee, and Imperialista de Mierda.
2. Currency, cash, and cambio. While the U.S. dollar is a globally significant currency, it is not appropriate to arrive at a far-flung ski resort in the Andes with just a pocket full of greenbacks. It’s unlikely anyone will take it, and you might not find an ATM within 100 miles. Change money and/or make withdrawals in a city, and then hit the road with Chilean Pesos. Also, paying with large notes in a small town market is like buying a candy bar with a hundred dollar bill. Keep smaller denominations handy.
3. El Viento. Wind in the Chilean Andes is like waves in the ocean. Omnipresent. Occasionally destructive. This towering mountain range rears 20,000-plus feet into the atmosphere a mere 90 miles from the southern Pacific Ocean, which contains some of the meanest seas on the planet. Expect it to snow three feet but then blow so hard from the west that you can't find a trace of snow. Expect the winds to switch to the east (also known as puelche) and rip the snow off the other half of the mountains. Expect it to snow without wind occasionally, delivering colder and drier powder than the Wasatch.
4. La Dictadura. Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane, specifically through the collective national consciousness of the country you're now visiting for your ski vacation. In 1970, Salvador Allende, a socialist, became President of Chile despite well-documented CIA efforts to prevent his election. In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led a military takeover of the government, bombing the presidential palace, at which time President Allende committed suicide. The United States actively supported the brutal military dictatorship that followed until 1988 when Pinochet was defeated in the country's first elections in 15 years. Yes, today Chile and the United States are great political allies, but don't forget this piece of startlingly recent history.
5. ¡Dieciocho! Do you like spring skiing? Do you like to party? Then schedule your trip to Chile for mid-September. Chilean Independence Day is on the 18th, and the preceding week sees a massive buildup to this celebration, with the entire country taking work off for several days of debauchery. Be warned--busses, highways, and flights countrywide are jammed throughout this period, but with the hangover from those 10 terremotos (white wine, pineapple ice cream, and rum) you drank, you aren't going anywhere.
6. ¿Cachai o no cachai, weon? Get it, bro? Chilean Spanish (castellano) is notoriously difficult to understand, owing to the prevalence of slang, the affinity for dropping consonants and the seemingly random use of the vosotros tense. Brushing up on your basic Spanish is a great idea, but make sure you focus on the Chilenismos that make up most casual conversations.
7. Bring coffee. Unless you really like Nescafé, a supply of your favorite roast and a French press are great travel companions. Not to say coffee culture in Chile doesn't exist--people drink tea and coffee all day everyday, and the coffee shop/strip bars, the cafés con piernas, in the city are worth a visit. But if you like a good strong brew, that can be hard to come by.
8. Be a carnivore. It’s not that there aren't vegetarians in Chile, it’s just that they don't live very long. (Kidding). But it can be very difficult to maintain a vegetarian diet in this country where asados (barbecues) are a part of the national identity. If meat really isn't your thing, Chile has incredible produce (avocados, or palta, are a substantial staple), and Chilean seafood is world-renowned.