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World Travel Watch

Tourists Mostly Unaffected by Political Climate in Diverse Chile

September 04, 1988|LARRY HABEGGER and JAMES O'REILLY | Habegger and O'Reilly are free-lance writers living in Northern California .

World Travel Watch is a monthly report designed to help readers make informed judgments about travel throughout the world. Because conditions can change overnight, always make your own inquiries before you leave home. In the United States, contact the nearest passport agency office; abroad, check in with the nearest American embassy .

Chile has been ruled by a repressive military dictatorship since 1973. The government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet has one of South America's worst human rights records, beginning in the aftermath of the 1973 coup when thousands of political opponents "disappeared."

A plebiscite to determine whether Pinochet should continue to rule as president for another eight-year term is scheduled for Oct. 5.

On Aug. 25, the government announced an end to all states of emergency for the first time in Pinochet's tenure. On one hand this may be a campaign ploy, but on the other it implies a new openness that may give the opposition room to press for real democratic reforms.

Travel throughout the country is essentially unaffected by security concerns. Chile has the strongest economy in South America, and a remarkable geographic diversity. It has five climatic zones ranging from the Atacama Desert in the north, one of the world's driest places, snowcapped volcanoes and alpine lakes in the central region, to the fiords and glaciers of Tierra del Fuego.

Bavarian Flavor

The Lake District in the Andes Mountains east of Valdivia has some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent and a distinctly Bavarian flavor because the region was heavily settled by German and Swiss immigrants in the 19th Century. Straddling the border with Argentina, this region with its pristine lakes and snowcapped volcanoes is a major holiday draw.

The summer offers a pleasant climate and excellent trout fishing, and the region's several famous mountain resorts offer great skiing during the Northern Hemisphere's summer.

Farther south, boats explore dramatic fiords and channels along the coast from Puerto Montt to Punto Arenas on the fabled Strait of Magellan.

No immunizations are required. Tap water is potable throughout the country. The capital city of Santiago, the fourth-largest city in South America, is a pleasant modern metropolis with many parks and plazas, but air pollution is high.

Several adventure travel companies operate tours to Chile. California-based Mountain Travel has the most extensive offerings. You can call them toll-free at (800) 227-2384.

For more information on travel to Chile in general, contact the Chilean National Tourist Board, 510 West 6th St., Suite 1210, Los Angeles 90014, (213) 627-4293.

Following are worldwide travel updates:

Asia

--China: A new national airline--Air China--replaces the CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China), the inefficient, monopolistic and roundly disliked former national carrier. The new line has autonomy in its business operations and is profit-oriented. Service is expected to improve, although even the newly appointed company president considers that it may take two years to achieve necessary reforms.

--India: The government plans to ban cigarette advertising after a recent report revealed that smoking kills 800,000 Indians annually.

An outbreak of cholera recently occurred in New Delhi, but the epidemic is restricted to slum areas.

--Pakistan: The death of President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq in a plane crash has thrown Pakistan into a state of limbo. The political future remains uncertain and its effect on travel is unclear. Exercise caution.

--South Korea: Hospitals should have adequate facilities to handle medical emergencies for visitors attending the Olympic Games Sept. 17 to Oct. 2, but will not accept credit cards or foreign medical insurance, and will expect payment in cash before discharge.

--Sri Lanka: More than a year after the signing of a peace accord that called for an India-brokered settlement of the ethnic civil war, the troubles continue with no end in sight. Indian troops remain and a political settlement seems distant. Travel to the north and east remains risky. Expect police roadblocks and searches. Travel with caution.

Africa

--Ethiopia: Ethiopian Airlines, which flies the only daily east-west route across Africa, has a reputation for high-quality on-time service and regularly turns a profit, both rarities among African national carriers.

--Sudan: The heaviest rains of the century have flooded the capital city of Khartoum, destroying thousands of homes and hampering relief efforts. An epidemic of waterborne diseases has broken out and as many as 2 million people remain homeless. Avoid travel there at this time.

--Tanzania: Street crime continues to be a problem in urban areas. Evidence of past or future travel to South Africa will cause problems when trying to enter Tanzania, and may result in being refused entry. Try not to plan visits to both countries on the same trip.

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