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Yes, Chile is safe. Backpackers, expats, and tourists alike travel through the skinny country each year for the extreme differences in nature, the growing cities, and the unique culture of the Southern Cone. Visitors to Chile rarely face major issues or safety concerns, and the country is considered one of the safest countries in all of Latin America.
While generally very safe, Chile is not immune to crimes. The biggest risk to foreigners in Chile is petty crime, such as pickpocketing. Be careful and be aware of your personal belongings at all times, but especially while in crowded areas and on public transportation. Other hotspots for pickpocketing include Las Condes, Providencia, and Vitacura areas of Santiago, as well as Cerro San Cristobal, Cerro Santa Lucia, and Cerro Manquehue in Santiago and the Lake District in the south. Pickpockets are likely to target lost tourists, or tourists flashing around expensive items, so keep all your fun gadgets and expensive jewelry stored away.
Muggings, while less common than pickpocketing, have also been reported, particularly around Cerro San Cristóbal, Cerro Santa Lucia, and Cerro Manquehue in Santiago, as well as in bus stations and around popular attractions in the city. Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. If you see something suspicious, report it. If you’re stopped, don’t resist. Muggings can become violent if you try to resist or fight back.
If you’re traveling with luggage, particularly in San Pedro in the north and Pucon and Villarica in the Lake District, watch out for luggage theft. Be sure not to leave your bags unattended while on public transportation or in airports or bus stations and do not store your luggage in overhead bins while on buses or trains.
Protests and demonstrations may occur, especially in major cities. Often led by student activists or by indigenous rights activists, most protests that happen in Chile happen peacefully, however, clashes may break out between groups and the government, as most of these demonstrations are political in nature. These clashes can quickly turn violent and you are advised to avoid any protests or demonstrations happening near you. If you happen upon one, you are advised to leave the area.
On northernmost borders with Bolivia and Peru, as well as on the southern border with Argentina, reminders of Chile’s dictatorship in the 20th-century litter the ground. In the 1980s, Augusto Pinochet had landmines planted at the Chilean borders with Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina as protection against what the dictator felt was a coming land invasion. Instead, the landmines, many of which are still buried, have mainly harmed or killed livestock, or those crossing the borders on foot. There have been several cases of people attempting to cross the border on foot and accidentally stepping on a landmine, resulting in major injury or death. While most areas with landmines are marked, some signs may be old and difficult to read. If you plan to drive around the borders, stick to well-marked streets.
Chile, while generally liberal and open, is also, like much of Latin America, machista, particularly the further outside the major cities you go. Be aware of your surroundings, take cabs at night, and be careful in bars, as drink spiking has been known to occur. You are also likely to hear more catcalling on the streets than what you may be used to at home, but other than that, Chile is considered very safe for solo female travelers.
LGBT travelers should experience minimal problems in the cities. In fact, Chile was listed as one of the top LGBT-friendly countries in Latin America. That said, however, many Chileans are conservative and their attitudes may be very opposed to homosexuality. LGBT couples may want to use discretion during their travels to know when it may be okay and when it may not be okay to be very open. In 2015, the country legalized same-sex civil unions, but as of the start of 2018, has not yet legalized same-sex marriage, despite President Michelle Bachelet pushing a measure to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide in August 2017.
Earthquakes frequently hit Chile and often come with little to no warning beforehand. Many buildings are ill-equipped to support the earthquakes. While there is little you can do in terms of preparation, it’s important to be aware that this may happen.
Another thing to watch out for is the active volcanoes. All through the country from north to south, you’ll find over 100 active volcanoes. The last reported volcanic eruption occurred in 2015 and created so much volcanic ash that those nearby had to be evacuated. If you’re traveling close to any of the active volcanoes, tune in to a weather service or park service to keep up to date with volcanic happenings.
Visiting a beach in Chile? Be sure to read the signs carefully to know whether or not it is safe to swim. If there are no signs, ask a local. Some of Chile’s beaches can be rough and have offshore rip currents. Always be aware of the beach and whether or not it’s safe from rip tides and rip currents before jumping in for a swim.
Watch out for the high levels of smog in Chile. Chile is one of the most air-polluted countries in the world and on more than one occasion, Santiago has declared a state of emergency due to the high levels, the most recent time being in June 2015. The industrial growth in the country of the last half-century, combined with the location of the city of Santiago has led to a major pollution problem in the city. Smog can make it difficult to breathe, especially for elderly travelers, children, and those with respiratory problems. Check out what the cities look like before booking your trip and plan accordingly.