How to Stay Healthy While Traveling in Chile

Can you drink tap water in Chile? Find out how to stay fit and healthy while traveling around Chile.

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Three people hiking on a glacier in Chilean Patagonia Photo © iStock/jacynthroode

Chile is truly one of the most beautiful and exciting places on earth to visit. With natural wonders and endless breathtaking landscapes, as well as rich culture and welcoming locals, there is something for everyone in this South American jewel. While most visits to Chile are safe and healthy, there are certain things that travelers should be aware of in order to avoid possible illness.

Volcanic Eruption Health Risks

One of the most dangerous things a traveler can encounter in Chile is the hazardous ash, dust, and fumes that are emitted from the various active volcanoes located throughout the country. During and following a volcanic eruption, these toxic materials can be distributed over a much more widespread area than many people realize.

Exposure can cause a variety of health conditions, particularly those involving the respiratory system and can severely affect your breathing. It is especially dangerous to anyone who already suffers from a respiratory condition.

If you happen to be visiting during a time when ash and other volcanic elements are falling, take appropriate precautions to avoid exposure. Remain indoors whenever possible, with doors and windows shut.

Place damp towels at door thresholds and any place where contaminated air may get in.

If you must venture outside, it's advisable to use a face mask for protection. Clothing that covers exposed skin and goggles to protect the eyes is also recommended.

Altitude Sickness Risk in Chile

Chile is home to several areas that reach high altitudes. While these are popular places for adventure travelers to explore, it's important to remember that rapid ascent into higher altitudes can cause a number of health concerns.

Traveling to areas greater than 2,500m can cause what's known as altitude sickness, a dangerous condition that can affect anyone, regardless of fitness level, and can be fatal.

Anyone who has suffered about with the condition in the past should be aware that they are at an increased risk of contracting it again, as are people who have existing breathing conditions.

The consumption of alcohol prior to acclimatizing to the change in altitude can also be a contributing factor and should be avoided.

Smog is an issue, particularly in downtown Santiago, and can cause a variety of breathing issues. It's particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and those who suffer from existing respiratory problems.

The government issues regular alerts, declaring either a pre-emergency or emergency state so be sure to keep up with local news reports while you are there. The months of December through March see a significant increase in air contamination, so plan your trip accordingly.

Aside from altitude sickness, those planning to hike or do outdoor activities in winter while in Chile, frostbite, and hypothermia are also health risks to consider.

Avoiding Diseases in Chile

Communicative diseases like cholera are reported throughout Chile, and Hepatitis B and typhoid are not uncommon, especially during the warmer months. Appropriate vaccination and immunizations should be administered prior to travel to lessen the chances of catching a dangerous illness.

Dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases are also present, with occasional outbreaks reported on Easter Island. If you're planning a visit there, be sure to take appropriate precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitos.

Can I Drink Tap Water in Chile?

Less dangerous, but just as unpleasant, traveler's diarrhea can occur from the consumption of unfiltered water. The water found in the cities is typically clean and safe to drink, but should be avoided in rural outlying areas. As a rule of thumb, it's always a good idea to stick to boiled or treated water during your trip through South America, but some say it is safe to drink tap water in Chile's major cities – just be aware there is a high level of minerals in the tap water, which can cause stomach pains or make you feel sick. 

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