One of the greatest misconceptions about South America, and specifically the Southern Cone countries, is that it is remote, but this is relative. The distances to Buenos Aires and Santiago are great but, in more than one sense, they are much closer to North America in terms of time.
Most North Americans think little of hopping on a plane to London, which is five time zones east of New York and eight time zones from California, but this normally means jet lag that costs them at least a day on arrival in Europe. Crossing the Pacific to Asia involves even greater distances and, if you’re unable to sleep, the time change can be truly torturous.
The South American continent, by contrast, is only slightly east of North America, and for most of the year, the hour in Santiago exactly the same as New York City, while Buenos Aires is an hour ahead. Visitors to the Southern Cone, then, are likely to arrive far less jet-lagged than visitors to Europe or Asia.
The difference is even greater when you realize that most flights from North America to the Southern Cone capitals are night flights that arrive first thing in the morning. If you’re able to sleep aboard a plane - it helps, of course, to go by clase ejecutiva (business class) or primera clase (first class), you’re likely to arrive refreshed, without losing a day.
This changes slightly in the approaching Southern Hemisphere summer, however. On October 10, Chile advanced the clock for daylight savings, and it’s now an hour ahead of New York - exactly the same as the difference between Chicago and New York. LAN flight No. 533 from New York, for instance, presently leaves at 8 p.m. and arrives at 7:50 a.m. Chilean time, an elapsed time of 10 hours and 50 minutes.
Chile will observe daylight savings time until March 13. When daylight savings ends in the United States at the end of this month, however, the difference will be two hours, still a relatively minor difference if jet lag is an issue. However, for travelers from, say, Los Angeles, the difference is five hours.
Despite Chile’s latitudinal extent, from the subtropics along the Peruvian border to the sub-Antarctic in Tierra del Fuego, virtually the entire country comprises a single time zone. This causes some oddities - in the northernmost city of Arica, where daytime and nighttime are roughly equal throughout the year, it’s not fully light until after 8 a.m. In Punta Arenas, by contrast, midsummer daylight can start around 5 a.m. and last until 11 p.m. Easter Island, five hours west by jet, is two hours behind the mainland.
In Argentina, oddly, daylight savings has become a big political issue because many of the provinces, which depend on agriculture and tourism, resent being dictated to by Buenos Aires in the name of energy conservation; the western province of San Luis has resisted for years. The tourism industry likes an earlier sunset because it gets visitors to restaurants and bars earlier and, it seems, they’ve won this year’s argument.
For foreign visitors this southern summer, this conveniently means that Chile and Argentina will be on the same schedule - but the historic clock tower in the Chilean town of Pisagua (pictured above) is unlikely to help, as it hasn't functioned for decades. Still, in most Chilean cities, the fire station sounds a noontime klaxon to let the citizens know the day is advancing.