We've been fortunate to witness more than a couple of Independence Day celebrations on this trip, in both Central and South America. The trend? Huge parades, the complete shut down of the country and a lot of flags. However, Chile goes a few steps further.
The three days that surround the 18th September are undoubtedly the biggest parties of the year, and if you happen to find yourself in the country during the celebrations it's impossible not to join in.
However, in order to enjoy the festivities to the max, there are a few things you simply have to know, try and embrace! We didn't know a lot of them up until a few days before the celebrations so we've put together this handy guide so that you can maximise the fun and minimise the confusion.
Don't forget your flag!
Looking up and down any residential street, you can be forgiven to for thinking that Chileans are the most patriotic nation on the planet - there are flags literally everywhere! However, what you might not realise is that citizens can actually be fined for NOT having one. Thankfully foreigners are exempt from this $300 USD penalty but so keen are the military police to enforce this law, they run an advertising campaign every year. Show patriotism or pay up!
first, find a fonda
You got to give it to the Chilean'; they're good at organised fun! Instead of lots of smaller festivities in homes, streets etc, in every city, town and village you will find a fonda - big parties with the sale of food and drinks and often activities and live music. Whilst some people still choose to celebrate Independence Day with their families, most opt instead to attend one of these.
As we were in the capital, we had loads of fondas to choose from, ranging in entry price from a couple of thousand pesos, to around $15,000 CP each (with some catered for families, some for the cool crowd and some for everyone). In the end, we decided to go with Parque O'Higgins, one of the biggest and most well-known in the city.
Sure, it's not terribly fancy but it's affordable, pretty darn traditional, they have more empanada stands than you can shake a stick at and their terremotos are incredibly strong!
feel the ground shake
When we first heard about terremotos, months before we even set foot in Chile, we were more than a little confused. How, we struggled to comprehend, could such a concoction become so bloody popular?
Bad white wine, fernet, grenadine and pineapple ice cream. Yeah, we didn't think we were going to like it.
However, you simply can't take part in the celebrations without at least a couple. Just make sure you don't go much further than those two - even hardcore terremoto fans wouldn't recommend drinking more than three unless you want to forget mot of the night and end up in bed for a week! These may be sickly sweet but they are very very strong.
get your cueca on
Officially established as Chile's national dance in 1979, Cueca has been brought back from the dead in recent years - and no more so than during the fiesta.
What was once the purvey of the older generation has now become cool again with many young people keen to learn and strut their stuff in public and old hands ready to show them how it's done. Handkerchiefs at the ready!
let's go fly a kite
Th 18th September heralds the early arrival of spring, the time of year when the wind picks up - perfect kite flying weather! During the independence celebrations you will see hundred being sold and flown overhead.
Fancy giving it a go? The basic paper construction is cheap to buy and can be bought from many vendors throughout the city on the day.
get ready to eat
Any day of the week, on every street corner you will find an empanada lady or store. These savoury pastries are so popular in fact, it is of little surprise that they can be found EVERYWHERE during the festivities. The most popular is the piño (beef, onions, olive and occasionally egg) but the plain cheese option is also pretty easy to find.
Of course, you could skip the empanadas entirely and go straight for the meatier option. The smell of cooked meat pervades the air throughout the fondas everyone pretty much eats their own body weight in steak or chicken during the celebrations; if a Chilean has a terremoto in one hand, he's very likely they'll have a kebab in the other!
Word of note: whilst research has told us that vegetarian options can be found in certain fondas, in Parque O'Higgins, meat-free food was severely lacking.
it's more than just a day off
We've learnt through experience, time and time again that trying to travel, or achieve pretty much anything during Independence Day celebrations in Latin America is damn near impossible. Entire cities appear to shut down on the actual day, whilst the the week surrounding it can prove much more difficult for travellers on a tight budget or those with a fly-by-the-seat-of-you-pants mentality.
A few things to bear in mind are that accommodation and buses book up sometimes weeks in advance, and can increase in price by as much as 50%. So, don't get caught out if you're heading to a big city like Valparaiso or Santiago - book something before you arrive!
the party goes on!
Not keen for a single day celebration, the following day (19th September) is Armed Forces Day, with a large parade held annually in Parque O'Higgins.
If you've been to any other independence day celebrations in Latin America, this may well look familiar but the pomp and circumstance is impressive nonetheless.
Just make sure you get there with plenty of time to spare. Large crowds clamber at the fences so you'll need to get there early for a good view.