Is it safe to drink the water in Santiago Chile?
Yes, but it’s gross.
It tastes like rotten swimming pool water.
Safe to drink
We’re based in Santiago, I’m pregnant and we have two preschool age children. We’ve been assured by fellow expats, local friends, our doctors and our relocation expert that the tap water here is safe to drink.
Having said this, water here has a much higher mineral content which can cause upset stomachs in some rare cases. This is especially true in the northern parts of the country. In accordance with government regulation, fluoride is added too.
The taste also varies from one part of Santiago to the other, with tap water in the suburban hills of Lo Barnechea tasting better than that of more central districts.
Getting used to it
We were advised to slowly acclimatize to the water, for example by using ice cubes made from tap water and brushing our teeth with it. Washing fruit and vegetables with the local tap water is another way, but remember than any produce bought from local markets or on the street should be disinfected first (most supermarkets sell specialist vegetable disinfectant, including brands such as Germalimp). Most people find it takes a few months to get used to the tap water here.
Even if, like us, you prefer to drink mineral water at home, it’s still a good idea to get used to the tap water so that when out and about and dining in restaurants you don’t suffer.
If you’re of a gentler disposition, or based in the north where the mineral content may be even higher, or in higher altitudes, then you can boil water for a few minutes to purify it. But, to be on the safe side, mineral water is best and far easier.
Not for babies
Equally, due to the high mineral content, you may prefer not to use the tap water for baby formula. It’s worth noting that boiling the water does not affect the fluoride content. Friends I know used bottled water marked as safe for infant use for the first few months, then switched to regular tap water.
So the water is mostly OK to drink, but as mentioned, it tastes gross. Here are some options:
Bottled mineral water
To save you lugging it home, mineral water can be ordered online through most supermarkets for delivery. (Although beware online grocery shopping is truly painful here in Chile). Recycling systems are not the best either, so if you’re environmental conscious and staying in Chile for while you may like to look into other options.
Bottled water dispensers
Otherwise it’s possible to buy or hire a mineral water dispenser and set up a regular order for mineral water delivery. Various companies such as Manantial (manantial.com) offer this service. If you’re planning to stay more than six months, it generally makes more sense to buy than rent the dispenser.
Water filter installation
Another option is to get water purification taps installed in your home. I’ve heard good things from friends, especially the Denda filter systems which are easy to install and uninstall as necessary. There’s a more portable product which costs around $80,000 and is especially simple to use (denda.cl).
Edit – as of 2019 we installed a very simple and good value tap filter from Brita. You can find these in Jumbo supermarkets. The filter costs around $40 USD and the replacement heads cost around $10 USD and need replacing every three months or so.
Water filter jugs
A cheaper method is to use water filter jugs, from brands including Brita, which are available to buy at most supermarkets here. This will not purify the water to the same extent, but it will improve the flavour dramatically. It’s also a good idea if you’re a regular tea drinker. Unfiltered water can leave a scummy residue in your tea and the limescale can ruin your kettle over time. (brita.com)
Simpler still, regular tap water can be flavoured by adding slices of fruit and herbs, for example green apple and strawberry, lemon and mint or other citrus fruit combinations. It doesn’t completely mask the bleachy taste, but it does help. Diluted cordial is not a thing here, the only option is very sweet nectars, juices or artificial powder sachets in regular and sugar free fruit flavours.
Visiting Chile with the family? Check out my favourite places to go with children in Santiago. Moving here? Check out these tips from a seasoned Expater. You can also download my directory of all my favourite places in Santiago here.