From the Atacama Desert up north, the driest place on Earth, to the icy Chilean side of the Patagonia region down south, you could spend years in Chile discovering the great outdoors, street art, museums, and more. While the country is usually considered one of the safest countries in South America, it’s still best to be prepared before you go.
Travelers will be pleased to hear that Chile is overall a safe place to visit. It has a solid transportation system and tourist infrastructure and is a great destination for solo visitors, families, or couples. However, like most other places, crimes of convenience do still occur, and traveling there does come with some risk.
In this guide, we’ll cover the most common safety issues travelers face in Chile, so you can embark on your trip knowing what to expect.
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A Guide to Staying Safe in Chile
Is Chile Safe On Paper?
As of 2022, Chile has a Global Peace Index rating of 1.84, ranking 55th in the world. This positive rating is largely due to low levels of violent crime, militarization, and political instability. However, similar to many of its neighbors, Chile received less favorable ratings for the likelihood of violent demonstrations and perceptions of criminality in society. Rising issues with narcotrafficking also contribute to lower ratings.
In the past, Chile struggled with domestic terrorism, especially during the Pinochet regime and in the years afterwards. For some time, the risk of bombings in public places like transport stations was relatively high, and this risk is still reflected in the GPI ratings. However, these kinds of occurrences have decreased significantly in recent years, and shouldn’t be something you need to worry about.
Chile is often ranked as one of the safest countries in South America and often battles for the continent’s first place with Uruguay. While vigilance is never a bad idea, you can feel confident in your decision to travel to Chile.
Public Transport in Chile
Chile has a great public transport system. Buses depart to a variety of destinations around the clock, and traveling by bus is much more cost-effective than flying or driving. The length of Chile can make bus travel feel a bit neverending, but the wide variety of sleeper buses make it a bit less daunting. With rental car-jackings becoming more common in recent years, traveling by public transport may give you more peace of mind. Chile’s buses are usually very clean and spacious, and sometimes even double-decker!
The downside, of course, is that buses can be attractive venues for pickpockets, and luggage theft is also a risk. While you’ll receive a claim ticket for any luggage you put in the hold, this can be risky if the bus makes several stops. Unfortunately, the overhead racks are equally enticing to would-be pickpockets, as is underneath your seat.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to travel light and secure your necessary items somewhere on your person. A theftproof backpack with lockable zippers and a money belt may offer additional peace of mind.
Chile’s bigger cities, like Santiago and Valparaíso, also have metros, trams, and buses that are very inexpensive and connect you anywhere you’d like to go within the city. While the pickpocket risk also exists here, make sure you keep a firm hold on your belongings and you’ll be absolutely fine.
Lastly, if you choose to travel by taxi, make sure it’s a licensed one. There have been instances of robberies in unlicensed cabs, particularly at the airport. If you want to book an airport transfer by cab, reserve it in advance or ask someone at the information kiosk at arrivals to make a reservation for you.
Crime in Chile
As mentioned above, you’re likely to be at the highest risk of petty crime in Chile, such as pickpocketing or luggage theft, and even these are less common than in other South American countries. Staying aware of your surroundings, leaving valuables at home, and only keeping a minimal amount of cash on your person is usually enough to significantly lower the risk, but if you get approached by muggers, remember the best thing to do is to cooperate with them.
It’s also a good idea to be aware of other risk factors you may encounter, in particular, violent protests, and drug trafficking in certain neighborhoods. These are fairly easy to avoid, though, and we urge you to do so.
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Protests in Chile
Metropolitan areas have seen a big uptick in large protests and social unrest over the last few years. These often happen on Friday afternoons and evenings. In Santiago, the area around Palacio de La Moneda, where the Chilean presidency and cabinet are housed, is a common protest venue.
These definitely have the potential to turn violent, especially if the police get involved – there are frequent reports of tear gas and water cannon use. Even if you sympathize with the cause, it’s generally a bad idea to get involved in any way, even tacitly participating, cheering, or filming. As a visitor, you can actually get deported if you are thought to have promoted any “violent acts that could disturb local social order or the system of government” – a risk not worth taking!
Note that especially during larger protests, it’s totally possible to get swept up into the crowd by accident as people walk by. Don’t panic! Just exit to a side street as soon as you can, and travel to your destination another way.
Drink and Drugs in Chile
Unfortunately, Chile’s proximity to large cocaine producers Peru and Bolivia means that it sees its fair share of narcotrafficking. This has been increasing since the 1980s, first due to Chile’s rugged geographic terrain (ideal for drug smuggling) and later as a response to widespread poverty and the War on Drugs. Today, drug-related violence is definitely on the rise, especially in poorer areas of cities, like the south of Santiago. It’s recommended to exercise a lot of caution here and even avoid these areas altogether.
Relatedly, while Chile has theoretically decriminalized personal and medicinal consumption of drugs, this is a very tricky subject. If you are caught with even a small quantity of a drug like marijuana or cocaine, you could be accused of ‘micro-trafficking’.
Chilean law has not determined what quantities count as micro-trafficking, so whether a person is considered a consumer (legal) or a trafficker (illegal) comes down to the individual judge assigned to the case. The penalties can be very harsh – up to 15 years in prison – especially when taking into account that cannabis is considered a hard drug in Chile, which mandates the maximum penalty. Public consumption of drugs is also automatically illegal, while private consumption is a gray area.
There have been some instances of drink-spiking at bars in bigger cities and in particular, in the Suecia and Bellavista areas of Santiago. It’s definitely a good idea to follow the usual practices of never leaving a drink unattended, even for a second, and watching your consumption if you’re alone or with people you don’t know well.
Due to its geographic location, Chile is at risk for quite a few natural disasters, the most common being earthquakes, wildfires, and volcanic eruptions. Note that it’s illegal to light an open fire in Chile’s national parks due to wildfire risk, and this is very strongly enforced by park rangers and police.
It’s always a good idea to immediately familiarize yourself with disaster protocols, emergency exits, and evacuation plans as you check into your lodgings or embark on hikes or day trips. As earthquakes are a fairly common occurrence in Chile, buildings must meet seismic requirements and have strong evacuation plans in place. If disaster strikes, always listen to local authorities about what to do next. You can also consult the Chilean government’s website.
While it may not seem as scary as an earthquake, Chile shares another common risk factor with its Andean neighbors: high altitude. It’s crucial to take altitude seriously if you’re visiting somewhere like the Atacama Desert, which soars to an altitude of over 2,500 meters (8,000 feet.)
Even if you’re not undertaking big hiking trips, the altitude can still affect you. Be sure to take it easy your first few days, drinking lots of water, eating carbs, and not doing anything too strenuous. Your body will thank you! Altitude sickness is a real risk and can lead to nausea, a racing heart, and in the worst-case scenario, an embolism.
Is Chile Safe for Women?
There is nothing about Chile in particular that makes it unsafe for female travelers. Indeed, its lively backpacking scene makes it a common choice for women and solo travelers alike. Following basic safety precautions and your gut feeling is a good rule of thumb to follow, especially at night or in situations that could get risky (bars, nightclubs, etc.) Cat-calling can happen, and it’s definitely best to ignore it and keep walking.
Is Chile Safe for Solo Travelers?
As mentioned above, Chile’s wide variety of natural and cosmopolitan offerings makes it an enticing spot for backpackers, and the sheer number of them can contribute to a ‘safety in numbers’ vibe at hostels and popular spots. Again, just like the above, awareness of your surroundings and following your instincts will go a long way to keep you safe, but there is nothing inherent to Chile that makes it an unsafe choice for solo travelers.
Is Chile Safe for LGBT+ Travelers?
Discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people has been illegal in Chile since 2012, with sexual orientation and gender identity being considered protected categories under the law. The law also required the government to enact anti-discrimination policies and openly allowed LGBTQIA+ individuals to serve in Chile’s armed forces. Sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy are covered within the country’s healthcare, and same-sex partners are allowed to enter into civil unions and own property together.
However, this is not to say discrimination does not exist in practice, even if it is illegal on paper. While not nearly as hostile as in other parts of Latin America, strong remnants of machismo culture may lead to less-than-friendly conditions for openly gay travelers. Many Chileans still opt to keep their sexuality private, and PDA was uncommon until recent years. However, the country is changing rapidly in terms of public opinion.
There is a thriving gay scene in Santiago, with many bars, clubs, and accommodation options in the Bellavista and Parque Forestal neighborhoods specifically, and in 2016, the government created an LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Tourism (CCLGBT) to better welcome LGBTQIA+ travelers coming to Chile.
Chile Safety Tips
- Follow basic personal safety protocols. Don’t wander around alone at night. Wear a money belt or a crossbody bag that lays flush against your body at all times, don’t wear anything flashy, and don’t leave luggage or belongings unattended, even for a second.
- Many pickpockets loiter around hotels, especially upscale ones. Exercise caution when leaving your accommodation and avoid being distracted, looking at your phone, etc.
- Avoid protests or social movements, as they can turn violent quickly. Even if a cause is meaningful to you personally, you’re strongly dissuaded from getting involved.
- Avoid the southern part of Santiago, as it has become a hub for drug trafficking and violence between rival gangs in the last few years. It’s also recommended to stay in the tourist areas of Valparaíso and only ride the funicular in busy areas to avoid pickpockets.
- Exercise caution in the Araucanía Region, specifically Biobío, Arauco, and Cautín provinces, as there is ongoing social unrest there and a state of emergency has been declared.
- The Copahue volcano on the border between Chile and Argentina erupts periodically, leading to evacuations. If you’re in this area, keep an eye on the government’s emergency guidance.
Chile Safety FAQs
- Is Santiago safe?
Santiago is generally safe, yes, but it is definitely a large, cosmopolitan, urban area that you should explore with caution. Avoid being flashy, carrying valuables with you, and try to blend in with others.
- Is Valparaíso safe?
Valparaíso is also a great place to visit if you exercise a bit of caution. It’s best to remain in tourist areas and take precautions when using funiculars. The more secluded ones are a popular pickpocket hotspot.
- Is Chile a safe place to live?
Chile is very popular with expats due to its established and stable government, high-quality medical care, and relatively low cost of living.
Read more: Amazing Places to Live in South America.
- What are some of the safest cities in Chile?
Some of the safest cities in Chile include Viña del Mar, Pucon, Frutillar, and Puerto Varas.
- Is the water in Chile safe to drink?
The tap water across Chile is clean and safe to drink. Consider grabbing a refillable travel water bottle to limit your plastic footprint.
- Do you need any vaccinations to visit Chile?
Aside from ensuring you’re up-to-date on routine vaccinations (MMR, Tdap, hepatitis, etc.) you shouldn’t need any others to visit Chile. If you are traveling long-term or at risk, a rabies vaccine may be recommended, so it’s good to check with your doctor if you’re concerned about this. Read more about vaccines in South America here.
Chile has an almost overwhelming amount of things to do and see, from hiking the Moon Valley to surfing in Pichilemu and admiring street art in Valparaíso. Often considered one of the safest countries in South America, Chile is definitely a destination to add to your bucket list.
Overall, if you follow your instincts around personal safety and stay aware of your surroundings, you should find that Chile is a safe place to visit. As with other places, avoid side streets at night, don’t get involved in protests, and familiarize yourself with protocols around natural disasters. Following basic safety rules will give you peace of mind and allow you to enjoy your trip all the more.
We’d love to hear which of Chile’s many amazing destinations calls to you most in the comments!