A typical winter in Santiago

Winter in Santiago can be summed up in one word, ColdGreySmog (Ok, maybe not one word – and I didn’t just make it up, honest!).

Before I went to Chile I was told that Santiago was next to some mountains that are over 5000m (13000+feet) high. Well, unfortunately, since I arrived in winter, I didn’t see any mountains for the first two weeks and I started to think that they had lied to me. And also, Santiago always seemed to be cloudy or slightly foggy, but with a weird greyish-browny colour that I hadn’t seen before in New Zealand. The truth was that I couldn’t see the Andes mountains because of the dense smog in the center of the city.

BUT, one morning after a night of rain, I walked to the main road downtown called Alameda and I was dazzled by the white sheen from the snow on HUGE IMPOSING mountains (you know, the ones called The Andes). That was until around midday where the smog started coming back and blurring that spectacular view again.

Santiago, Chile with blue sky and snow on the Andes mountains. View from Escuela Militar en Las Condes, Santiago - Woodward Culture

Santiago Smog

Yes, there is a serious smog problem in Santiago every winter. It can get so bad that on some days, kids aren’t allowed to do physical activity or sport at school due to air pollution. There are often public announcements on TV etc. too where people are “recommended” not to do outside physical activity (So please, no running away from the cops on those days, ok?). Sometimes you can feel the smog in your eyes as you walk down the street and when you go to wash your hair, notice how dark the water is as it goes down the drain. You will be surprised and disgusted the first few times. Then you just get used to it.

Smog in Santiago, Chile with view of Costanera Center - Woodward Culture

Look at that yucky brown smog! You can hardly see the mountains.

Car Restrictions in Santiago during winter

To “try” to combat the smog situation, there are always restrictions of car use in Santiago from Monday to Friday between 7.30am to 9pm. How do you know which cars are banned from the road on which days? It depends on the last digit of your license plate number. For example: Monday it might be the cars which have a license plate ending in 2 or 3, Tuesday it could be those ending in 4 or 5, etc. This changes from month to month and are published in newspapers, appears on TV and social media etc. and you can know in advance via the Chilean Ministry of Transport website (this leads you to the 2023 restrictions page, 2024 won’t be available for a couple more months).

Car restrictions calendar for Santiago, Chile in 2023 - Woodward Culture

On days where there is more serious air pollution/smog there may be days where instead of only two digits that day (like plates ending in 2 and 3) they may add 2 or 4 more digits … so today there is a restriction for all plates ending in 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Yes, that happens quite often. It is up to YOU to know whether your car is restricted or not. If there is an additional exception, it will be in the 9 o’clock news on TV the evening before.

Does it get cold in Santiago?

Well, it does get chilly in winter but nothing a coat won’t fix. In the morning before the sun comes up, it may float around 0ºC (32ºF) and when the temperature goes into the minuses, it usually gets mentioned in the newspapers and then you get all those morning shows out on the street saying “Ooohhh, it’s called this morning” but in Spanish of course. The afternoons generally hover over 10ºC (50ºF) unless there is a cold blast coming up from Antarctica.

Smog in Las Condes, Santiago Chile with view of Escuela Militar - Woodward Culture

Does it snow in Santiago?

I lived in the capital city for around 20 years and it only snowed two or three times, and by snow I mean a light dusting of white – not enough to break out the skis and thermal boots. Once was around 9pm on a very cold night (funnily we were just coming back from the airport having been in much warmer Antofagasta and wondered what that funny sticky rain stuff was on the windscreen) another time was for about a quarter of an hour one afternoon and then it once snowed at night. So, basically it doesn’t snow in Santiago in winter unless it’s a freak event and they will definitely be talking about it on TV for the rest of the day.

Bus and car covered in snow in Santiago, Chile - Woodward Culture

Santiago is a great place to be in winter if you like skiing. No, you won’t be able to do in the city, you know because of cars getting in the way and stuff … yeah also the lack of that white stuff called snow is also a factor …. BUT, Santiago is in close proximity to ski fields way up in the Andes mountains.

Winter outside of Santiago

In general it rains a lot in the South of Chile in winter. Further down south in Punta Arenas, not only will the constant wind bring a chill to your bones, but you won’t be able to see it due to only a few hours of daylight (what do you mean you can’t see wind? You must have missed that day at school when they were teaching it). Up in the north of Chile you can expect warmer climates without rain in winter (not counting the villagers way up in the mountains that still freeze their butts off like the rest of us). It may be nice during the day though expect it to be incredibly cold at night, especially at higher altitudes like San Pedro de Atacama.

Is there Central Heating?

I’ve heard of that… elsewhere, outside of Chile. The general rule of thumb is that houses are not insulated nor do have central heating in Chile. If you are an English teacher renting an apartment in Providencia or downtown (that’s all your teacher salary can usually afford) expect to feel the cold. Nice new houses should have central heating – in theory – as do new apartment buildings.
When I lived in a poorer part of Santiago, the smell of kerosene heaters hung in the air and I remember many a time having to go out and brave the cold to fill up a plastic container at a petrol station to get my one going. In case you don’t know, they smell terrible when you turn them off and you have to leave them outside.

Houses in Santiago are not allowed to light fires for heating due to the already difficult contamination / smog in winter. However, they are permitted, and quite common, in the South of Chile though in larger cities like Temuco there is now a smoky haze blanketing the city in the colder months (though I admit I love the smell of burning wood).

Many people have gas heaters (less smelly than kerosene ones) and regularly get 15kg cylinders of gas delivered to their house. You can sometimes hear the delivery truck going down the street because there is often a guy hitting the sides of the bottles with a steel rod or something.

How can I keep warm in Chile?

Try jumping up and down lots and lots! No, seriously try it! 😉

Winter in Santiago, Chile - How is winter in Santiago? Does it snow? Is there a lot of smog? Woodward Culture