THE ULTIMATE BACKPACKING GUIDE TO CHILE
Chile has nearly 4,000 miles of coastline stretching from the deserts of the north to the Patagonia region in the south. Long and thin, Chile is easy to travel and much like neighbouring Argentina, Chile is rich in scenic beauty, culture and friendly people. You certainly won’t be short of entertainment here. Hit the beaches on the coast’s surf towns, feel the European vibes in Santiago and explore the maze-like cerros of Valparaiso. Our Chile backpacking guide will help you to have the trip of a lifetime.
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SANTIAGO – Chile’s capital is full of energy and a great place to visit museums, check out local markets, eat and enjoy the thriving night life.
VALPARAISO – Only a short drive from Santiago, this colourful seaside city is somewhat of a paradise. A chilled out, bohemian vibe and stunning street art are just the tip of the iceberg.
SUN, SEA AND SURF – Vina del Mar, Arica and Pichilemu are awesome beach towns along the coast with the latter two offering up great waves for surfers.
PUCON – This adventure tourism hot-spot in Chile’s beautiful Lake District is popular for hiking, water sports and climbing the Villarrica volcano.
HUMBERSTONE & SANTA LAURA – Once thriving in the nitrate trade, these towns have been abandoned since the early 1960’s. Remnants of their heydays are still evident for those who dare to explore these ghost towns.
TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK – Mountains, wildlife and glaciers. Everything which encompasses Chile’s Patagonia region.
EASTER ISLAND – Legend and myth surrounds the world famous Moai statues on the island. A must on any Chile itinerary.
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA – A town set in Chile’s northern Andes mountains. The dramatic landscapes include desert, volcanoes and salt flats.
VALLE DE LUNA – The moon valley is found in the Los Flamencos National Reserve and features beautiful rock formation and some of the most uninhibited views of the stars possible on earth.
EL TATIO – A series of natural geysers in the north.
LINGUIMAY & FRUTILLAR – Gorgeous lakeside towns off the beaten path. Located in the picturesque south.
There are an abundance of hostels, posadas and hosterias to choose from and there are good deals out there if you shop around. It’s quite possible that you will be basing yourself in one place for an extended period of time. Use this to your advantage and negotiate a better rate.
⇓Here is where we stayed and recommend⇓
⇒ Other hostels recommended to us by travellers we met along the way
Valparaiso – La nona B&B, Planeta lindo, Casa volante hostal
Santiago – Che legarto, Ventana sur hostal
Frutillar – Hosteria trayen, Hostel tante imelda
San Pedro de Atacama – AJI verde hostel, Hostal talar
⇒ Posadas and B&Bs offer competitive rates but there is little in the way of atmosphere, social activities and a lot of the time there is no kitchen.
⇒ Airbnb is popular in Chile and has something for all budgets. It can very valuable especially if travelling as a group and almost always you will have a kitchen to cook your own food.
⇒ Accommodation costs can amount to a considerable portion of your budget whilst travelling but there are ways to reduce these costs –
- Take the night bus – If your next destination is going to take you 8 or more hours on the bus, then you may want to consider the night bus. You’ll save on a nights accommodation and most buses are pretty comfortable. Just be aware that the air-con will be on the whole time so dress warm and bring a blanket.
- Airbnb – Whilst hostels are fun, sometimes you just need a little peace and quiet. You’ll be surprised at the price of some Airbnb listings, sometimes half the price of a hostel.
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is awesome! It’s free but, more importantly, you get to meet like-minded people who know the local area inside out. Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to save money and enrich your travelling experience.
Chile has a well developed and reliable bus system. Buses are modern, comfortable and plentiful and most commonly used by backpackers. While a little more expensive compared to Peru and Bolivia, they are more affordable in comparison to Argentina. The table below shows the journeys we did and the companies we used.
⇒ Top Tips – Chile is a very long country and bus travel can be time consuming. When planning your trip, look for domestic flights which can be quiet cheap and its worth weighing up the advantages you might gain from paying a little extra for quick painless flight especially if travelling to the north where you will have to pass through vast amounts of desert.
⇒ Local buses and taxis – Local buses are very cheap and easy to navigate. Taxis are pretty safe and most run on meters. If they don’t, make sure you agree a price upfront.
⇒ Hitchhiking – Chile is a very hitchhiker friendly country but, even still, you should always be careful and exercise common sense when attempting to hitch a ride. It is the cheapest way of getting around and you will sure have some amazing experiences. Bare in mind there is a lot of areas where there is huge distances covered by desert between towns. If you are thinking of hitchhiking yourself we recommend reading this first – http://hitchwiki.org/en/Chile
⇒ Car hire – Chile’s roads are very driver friendly and car rental is an amazing way to discover a country like Chile with vast amounts of natural beauty. A lot of amazing places are missed during bus travel due to lack of stops. This depends on your budget, as it is more expensive to hire cars in comparison to bus travel especially if you plan to pick up and drop off the car in different destinations. Take a look at our Patagonia Road Trip article where we hired a car to get a taste of the adventures to be had!.
LAN, Sky Airline
- JAC, Tur bus, Pullman, Chalten Travel, Pachamama Bay
⇒ Days in country – 16
⇒ Total spend – 772,610 CLP £870
⇒ Average daily spend– 48,290 CLP £54.40
⇒ Average Accommodation per night – 15,780 CLP £17.80
**The numbers above are our spend in Chile for two people!**
Chile is our fourth country in Latin America and, so far, has offered up the most choice of food. There are street food vendors in abundance serving up a wide variety of deliciousness and there are tons of supermarkets and local markets stocking all the produce you’re used to back home and some local specialities too. This be somewhat controversial but, in my opinion, Argentina may be the home of the empanada but, Chile is the king.
⇒ BREAKFAST – Much like neighbouring Argentina, breakfast in Chile is pretty simple. Fresh bread with jams and manjar (Chile’s dulce de leche) being the most common option available in hostels. Most cafes have a little more variety for breakfast including combinations of egg, cheese and avocado. Be sure to try the Chilean cottage cheese.
⇒ LUNCH – You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to lunch. There are a lot of stews in Chilean cuisine containing potatoes, rice, corn, vegetables and meats. Lunch time is probably the most popular time of day for street food. Try a completo (hotdog topped with guacamole, mayo and salsa), Anticucho (grilled meat on a stick) or, of course, some of the dozens of varieties of empanada. Vegetarians and vegans are surprisingly well catered for.
⇒ DINNER – With so much coastline it comes as no surprise that Chile has some truly wonderful seafood. Ceviche is a cheap option made up of fish cooked in lemon juice served with onions and corn cernels. Machas (razor clams) and picoroco (white crab meat) are popular choices. Sea food isn’t for everyone and you’ll find plenty of European influenced restaurants, especially in the big cities where you can have pretty much anything that takes your fancy.
⇒ DRINKS – Mote con Huesillos is the national drink and is made up of stewed corn and wheat topped with peach syrup and half a peach. It’s not for everyone but definitely worth trying. Beer and wine is cheap and plentiful, there are dozens of local and national brands for you to get stuck into. Chile and its northern neighbour, Peru, can’t agree on who makes the best Pisco (a brandy made from wine) so you’ll have to try both and decide for yourself. If you’re feeling adventurous you could try a terremoto (Spanish for earthquake). This “cocktail” is served in a pint glass and made up with a big scoop of pineapple ice cream topped with cucumber wine, fernet-branc and mint licqueur. Earthquake by name, earthquake by nature.
Chile is one of the safest countries for backpackers but, ofcourse, always keep your withs about you especially in the captial. Here are some general tips that will help you along you the way. Local people are very welcoming and always willing to help if you need any assistance.
⇒ LEARN SOME SPANISH – Whilst we encountered more people who speak some English in Chile compared to other South American countries, Chileans have one of the most difficult to understand Spanish accents so some basic understanding of Spanish may help you.
⇒ COOK FOR YOURSELF – A lot of hostels will have kitchens available to use, we try to book these ones over accommodation without kitchens. It will help you stay healthy on the road and the money you save can get you a few extra beers in the evening.
⇒ HIT THE MARKETS – Chile is a developed country and supermarkets are easy to find however it can be quiet expensive. Most towns will have markets where you can find veggies and fruit for pennies! There will be also be a lot of street vendors selling their produce at bargain prices.
⇒ WATER – Tap water is safe to drink in most places in Chile. We sure spend a lot of money on water while travelling so it’s nice to fill our water bottles from the tap! This is also reduces the amount of plastic waste which is a big issue in these backpacker destinations.
⇒ PLAN AHEAD – If you know you’re going to be out and about all day prepare a lunch and take a few snacks. Simple cheese and tomato sandwiches and packs of peanuts and fruit are a good way to watch your expenses and maintain a fairly healthy diet.
⇒ SAFETY – As always, wherever you are, keep a close eye on your belongings and be weary of any over-friendly individuals offering unsolicited assistance. Keep your wits about you at all times as pickpocketing and scams towards tourists can occur especially in big cities. If you ever feel unsafe make your way to a crowded area or into a shop/restaurant as quick as you can. If in immediate danger, make as much noise and draw as much attention as you can. We have never had a bad experience here but you always need to be aware. Good practice for any country you’re in is to have the phone numbers for the emergency services, tourist police and your nation’s embassy stored in your phone.
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