Chile is one of the most slender and longest countries in the world — it’s just 150 miles across at its widest point! From the snow-capped volcanoes of Patagonia and blistering heights of the Andes to world-class wineries and Maoi sculptures of Easter Island, there are a lot of wonderful things to see in Chile.
Traveling to Chile was one of the best experiences I’ve had in South America. It just constantly blew me away. It’s one of the most developed South American countries (the capital, Santiago, is a tech hub for the region), the people were awesome, the food was incredible, and the scenery made me feel in awe of nature.
Not only is there lots to do but the country is budget-friendly, which really rounds it out as a must-see destination.
Use this travel guide to Chile to plan your visit, save money, and make the most out of your trip!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Chile
1. See Easter Island
Easter Island, located 3,540 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile, is the most isolated inhabited island on earth and home to the Rapa Nui Polynesian indigenous people that have lived there since 300 CE. Named after explorer Jacob Roggeveen’s ‘discovery’ of the island on Easter Sunday in 1722, this protected UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its Moai sculptures (the iconic big faces dotted all over the island). However, there is so much more to the island, including thousands of archaeological sites, volcanic craters and tunnels, pristine beaches, and excellent diving. To explore this magical place, hike around the dramatic cliffs and extinct volcanoes around the Moai archeological sites or around the spectacular Rano Kau crater and the Ana O Keke Cave. Or go sun yourself on Anakena’s beautiful white coral sand beach or Ovahe, a secluded pink sand beach hidden in a little cove with sparkling turquoise waters.
2. Discover Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine lies between the Andes and Patagonian steppe and is made up of snow-clad mountains, glacier lakes, and some of the best hiking in Chile. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful and desolate regions on the planet. There is no end to the scenic views here, including the three rugged, towering peaks of Central, Monzino, and Dagostini as well as the Southern Ice Fields. Be sure to wander around the enchanting Sarmiento Lake and see the Amarga Lagoon and the giant Salto Grande Waterfall. Admission is 29,250 CLP for up to three days for foreigners.
3. Explore Santiago
Chile’s capital is a thriving city and home to a third of the country’s entire population. Founded in 1541, this vibrant capital offers gorgeous panoramas, great restaurants, tasty locally-produced wine, and of course, Barrio Bellavista’s nightlife. There are quite a few must-see attractions in the city: Parque Metropolitano (a large urban park) as well as Cerro San Cristóbal, where you can hike around taking in beautiful views of the city, shouldn’t be missed. The Museum of Human Rights is also a must-visit site, as it chronicles the dark years of Pinochet when thousands of people ‘disappeared’ at the hands of his violent regime.
4. Marvel at San Pedro de Atacama
Located in Chile’s Norte Chico northern region, San Pedro de Atacama is one of Chile’s hottest tourist towns. Literally. Sitting at 2,400 meters (7,874 feet), the ancient town is in the driest desert in the world (it reportedly hasn’t seen rain since 1870). But the rock formations here are stunning, and it’s the perfect place to stargaze. This little town with adobe houses and dirt streets only has 5,000 inhabitants but plenty of tourists visit up to explore the stunning valley landscapes, the Atacama Salt Flats, and the Chaxa and Miniques Lagoons. Don’t miss the famous beautiful jagged geological formations of Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte valleys that can be reached by bicycle from town.
5. Visit colorful Valparaiso
Nicknamed the “Jewel of South America,” this colorful city near Santiago is a mesh of bohemian bars and Victorian architecture along a coastline of sheer cliffs. The laid-back atmosphere and beauty of the area have inspired generations of writers and poets, including poet Pablo Neruda. Be sure to bring your camera because the whole city is painted in vibrant Insta-worthy colors. Take the Ascensor Reina Victoria funicular up to the Concepcion neighborhood and have a cocktail on the hilltop overlooking the city as you try some of the delicious local seafood dishes. Also, be sure to check out two of Chile’s top beaches nearby, the upscale Viña del Mar and the super cool Reñaca.
Other Things to See and Do in Chile
1. See the San Marcos Cathedral
The same architect who was responsible for the Eiffel Tower, Alexandre Gustav Eiffel, designed San Marcos Cathedral. The cathedral is in Arica, Chile’s northernmost city, and was built to replace the original cathedral destroyed by an earthquake in 1868. The new cathedral was commissioned in 1876 and is a rare example of Gothic architecture in South America.
2. Get tipsy on a wine tour
Chile’s vineyards have been producing world-class wine for over 400 years. There are plenty of tours available around the country as vineyards stretch the entire length of Chile. I think the best wineries are located near Santiago. Expect to pay around 15,000-20,000 CLP for a basic tour, though fancier tours at more prestigious vineyards can easily be over 55,000-100,000 CLP per person. Most tours last 4-8 hours.
3. Hike a volcano
Chile is home to the world’s tallest active volcano, Ojos del Salado, which lies in the Andes near the Argentine border. Villarica and Osorno are also popular volcanoes (and both lie close to lakes). Most volcanoes in the country have thermal spas at their base too. Experienced hikers can do the trip on their own, though there are plenty of guided tours available for travelers looking for a group tour. Most multi-day tours span 10-14 days and cost millions of pesos. For day trips like the Cajon de Maipo, Osorno Volcano, Termas Colina, and Petrohue Falls, expect to pay 32,000-56,000 CLP per person.
4. Valle de la Muerte
Also known as “Death Valley,” this is an astounding place to hike, go horseback riding, or even go sandboarding. Located in the northeast of the country near San Pedro de Atacama, there are also guided moonlight walks that take you out over the rocky martian landscape. You can rent a sandboard for around 8,300 CLP or go on a sandboard tour for 23,000 CLP per person which includes transportation. There are even tours that sandboard at midnight, using spotlights to light the way (they have a DJ too!). If you’re looking to hike, check out the Corniza Trail. It’s a 7-hour loop that’s relatively easy (many families do it).
5. Santuario de la Naturaleza Valle de la Luna
Also located near San Pedro de Atacama, the “Valley of the Moon” is an otherworldly landscape that is home to stones and sand formations that have developed an extraordinary texture due to thousands of years of winds and flooding. The rock formations look like the surface of the moon, hence the park’s name. It’s a great place to go hiking — just don’t forget to bring water as it can get quite warm. Tours are available for around 26,000 CLP per person.
6. See the El Tatio geysers
A popular tourist attraction, these geysers are incredibly beautiful and well worth a visit as they make up the largest geyser field in the Southern Hemisphere (and they are the third largest in the world). You have to get up around 4am as all the tour companies aim to get you there by sunrise and it’s a 90-minute drive from San Pedro de Atacama. But it’s worth the effort! Bring a swimsuit as there are thermal pools nearby. Tours cost around 33,000-38,000 CLP. You can visit without a tour (admission is 15,000 CLP) but you’ll need to rent your own vehicle to get there.
7. Museo de Bellas Artes
This museum is one of the best in the country. Located in Santiago, it’s home to a wide display of fine art, sculptures, photography, paintings, and digital media. Built in 1910, the building is somewhat small but the architecture is equally as impressive as the collection within (it was built in the Beaux-arts style and has a very Parisian feel to it). Admission is free.
8. Mingle among the wealthy in Viña del Mar
Considered a Chilean Miami, this city next to Valparaiso serves as a hotspot for casinos, upscale cafes, and seaside restaurants. Even if you don’t have money to burn, it’s an interesting place to spend an afternoon people-watching as you wander the beach promenade. You’ll find lots of world-class restaurants here. If you’ve got some money to burn, stay a night!
9. Tour Pablo Neruda’s homes
One of the world’s most famous poets used to call Chile home. With homes in Valparaiso, Santiago, and Isla Negra, this Chilean icon stuffed a lifetime of knick-knacks, literature, and interesting maritime architectural pieces into his three abodes. All of them are open to the public. Even if you’re not a huge fan of his work, his homes alone are an interesting glimpse into Chilean culture as Neruda is a cultural icon and one of the most famous poets of the 20th century. Admission to each home costs around 7,000 CLP and includes an audio-guide system in multiple languages.
10. Get off the beaten path
Some lesser-known treasures worth visiting in Chile are Frutillar (a beautiful lakeside community in southern Chile’s Los Lagos Region), Lonquimay (another gorgeous lakeside town in the Malleco Province of southern Chile’s Araucanía Region), Caleta Tortel (a rugged seaside town with wooden walkways instead of streets in the heart of Patagonia) and Coyhaique (a less pricey Northern Patagonia city that’s a hub for great nature adventures). If you’re looking to beat the crowds, be sure to visit some of these lesser-known destinations.
11. Swim in the world’s largest pool
If you’re looking for some luxury, head to the Crystal Lagoon, home to the world’s largest swimming pool. It’s located at the San Alfonso del Mar resort in Algarrobo, just west of Santiago. The pool is the size of twenty Olympic swimming pools and is the biggest recreational swimming pool in the world, requiring 66 million gallons of water just to fill it! A 1-2 bedroom apartment rental here costs 70,000-120,000 CLP per night.
Chile Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostel dorms start around 9,800 CLP per night and private rooms come in at around 22,000-30,000 CLP. Free breakfast and free Wi-Fi are common, and many hostels have self-catering facilities if you want to cook your own food.
Budget hotels are inexpensive in Chile with prices starting at 25,000-35,000 CLP per night for a basic double or twin bed (though expect to pay closer to 55,000 CLP for a nicer budget hotel). Many budget hotels include free breakfast and free Wi-Fi (though not all, so be sure to double-check).
Airbnb is available in the larger cities, with prices as low as 16,000 CLP per night for shared accommodation. If you want a private home or apartment, expect to pay at least 45- 60,000 CLP.
For those traveling with a tent, camping is possible. There are a handful of campgrounds scattered around the country where you can pitch a tent for as little as 5,300-6,000 CLP per night but some with lots of amenities and proximity to the beach are as much as 35,000 CLP.
Food – With an extensive coastline, Chilean cuisine relies heavily on seafood. Cod, salmon, shrimp, lobster, prawn — there are tons of options available. BBQ meat (including alpaca) is particularly popular in the north. Other popular Chilean dishes include churrasco (steak sandwich), machas a la parmesana (clams baked with white wine, parmesan cheese, and butter), and chupe (a hearty seafood stew), and empanadas.
Overall, food in the country isn’t too expensive, though prices get a lot higher the further south you go due to higher transportation costs. Most places in the country offer a set menu for lunch with a starter, main, and drink for about 7,000 CLP. A steak dinner with wine and an appetizer costs around 35,000 CLP while a fast food combo meal (think McDonald’s) costs around 6,000 CLP.
A latte or cappuccino costs 2,300 CLP while a domestic beer can be as cheap as 3,000 CLP. Bottled water is 850 CLP.
Grocery shopping can save you a lot of money if you have access to a kitchen. Expect a week’s worth of groceries to cost around 25,000 CLP depending on your diet. This gets you basic staples like pasta, rice, quinoa, vegetables, and some meat.
As everything must be shipped south, food prices in Patagonia are about 30% higher than elsewhere in the country.
Backpacking Chile Suggested Budgets
How much does it cost to visit Chile? That depends on a few different factors, specifically, what you plan on doing while you’re here as well as your travel style.
On a backpacking budget of 36,000 CLP per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook your own meals, use public transportation to get around, and visit a few museums. If you plan on drinking, you’ll need to add 5,000-8,000 CLP per day.
On a mid-range budget of 105,000 CLP per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, take buses between destinations, eat out at street stalls and cheap restaurants serving local cuisine, take the occasional taxi, drink at the bar, and do some paid excursions like guided hikes and wine tours.
On a “luxury” budget of 205,000 CLP per day, you can stay in a hotel, hire a rental car to get around, do some guided tours, drink as much as you want, and eat out at nice restaurants for every meal. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
Chile Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Chile can be an expensive place to visit, especially if you’re doing a lot of tours and activities. The size of the country also means you can end up spending a lot on transportation. Here are some tips to help you save during your visit:
- Buy wine at the supermarkets – Surprisingly, buying wine from vineyards can be more expensive than in the supermarkets. Buy from the supermarkets if you’re on a tight budget.
- Take the bus – Bus service is inexpensive and efficient here. Night buses are comfortable and a good way to save on a night’s accommodation (they often have lie flat beds).
- Buy food from La Vega Market – La Vega Market in Santiago sells everything you could possibly need and all sorts of local ingredients from Chile and Peru. Shop here for your veggies, fruits, and to get an authentic experience.
- Eat at the local fish markets – In the coastal cities, the local fish markets are usually the best place for a seafood meal. Though the restaurants look cheap and thrown together, they’re delicious!
- Shop around – Haggling is not common and vendors stick to their guns even when called out for price discrimination. So, if you’re quoted an inflated price for being a tourist it’s best to just move around and find alternatives where the prices are already set and visible. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting your time and energy.
- Ride in a micro or colectivo – Regular buses are for intercity transportation. “Micros” are intracity, and “colectivos” are taxis that drive a specific route once they get four people in the car, and charge a very low rate. If you want to go somewhere, chances are there’s a micro or colectivo that can get you close — just ask a local and they’ll know where to point you.
- Stay with a local – Chile doesn’t have a huge Couchsurfing community, but you can still give it a shot and try to find a host (and get a local friend and a free place to stay). Just be sure to send your requests early!
- Take a free walking tour – There are some great options available when it comes to free walking tours in Santiago, such as Tours 4 Tips or Free Tour Santiago. If you want to explore the city while learning about its history, architecture, and people then be sure to take a free tour. Just remember to tip at the end!
- Stay at a Hola Hostel – Hola Hostels is a network of hostels predominantly in South and Central America. They offer 10% off to their members, as well as other local discounts for food and activities. Joining is free, and their hostels are also committed to environmentally sustainable practices.
- Travel in the shoulder season – Prices in the country are cheaper outside of the high season (which is November-March). This includes admission to parks like Torres del Paine, which charge double during the busy summer months. Beat the crowds and save some money by skipping the high season.
- Bring a water bottle – LifeStraw is a reusable water bottle with a built-in filter that you can use instead of buying single-use plastic bottles. It removes bacteria, parasites, micro plastics, and other contaminants so it’s perfect for cities as well as if you’re out hiking in nature.
Where to Stay in Chile
Hostels can be found in all the major destinations across Chile. Here are my recommended places to stay if you’re on a budget:
How to Get Around Chile
Public transportation – Public transportation, especially in Santiago, is reliable and affordable. In Santiago, you need to purchase a refillable bus pass (BIP Card) for your journeys as individual tickets are no longer available. The card costs around 1,550 CLP with the average ride costing around 700 CLP (prices vary depending on the time of day). BIP cards need a minimum initial credit of 1,000 CLP. You have to pay for your card and top-ups in cash; non-Chilean credit cards are not accepted.
Bus – For intercity travel, buses are the cheapest way to get around — and they are nice too! Reclining seats are common and many even recline almost all the way down. Additionally, some night buses even have a curtain between the seats so you can have a little privacy from your neighbor. The best companies to use are Turbus and Pullman.
Expect to pay at least 38,000 CLP per person from Santiago to Antofagasta. From Santiago to Valparaiso, bus tickets cost around 6,000–10,000 CLP each way. For something like the cross-country journey from Santiago to Punta Arenas, expect to pay at least 60,000 CLP for the 40-hour bus ride (this is an incredibly long distance so you have to change at Osorno or choose flying).
Train – Traveling by train in Chile is virtually non-existent. Much of the tracks have been left to decay beyond repair outside the central region of the country. Trains link Santiago with Curico, Talca, Linares, and Chillan with air-conditioned cars but that’s the extent of Chile’s train infrastructure. You can visit trencentral.cl for the available routes and prices.
Flying – Flying around the country is surprisingly affordable. Expect to pay around 28,000-35,000 CLP for the two-hour flight from Santiago to Antofagasta. Prices are similar for trips from Santiago to:
- La Serena (one hour)
- Calama (two hours)
- Arica (two hours forty-five minutes)
- Concepcion (one hour)
- Puerto Montt (one hour forty minutes)
For a flight between Santiago and Puerto Natales, expect to pay around 40,000-55,000 CLP. Round-trip flights from Santiago to the remote Easter Island cost around 240,000-300,000 CLP.
Car rental – Driving in Chile is much easier (and safer) than driving in other South American countries. Many of the highways are well-maintained thanks to their liberal use of toll roads. While driving in Santiago can be a little chaotic, once you get out of the city things generally become much easier. Expect to pay around 178,000 CLP for a one-week rental. Drivers need to be at least 21 years old.
For the best car rental prices, use Discover Cars.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Chile is generally quite safe for foreigners. Avoid hitchhiking on rural roads, where there is much less traffic. If you do plan on hitchhiking regularly, bring a tent with you in case you don’t find a ride. It’s relatively easy to wild camp in Chile, and often you can ask at gas stations or police stations to pitch behind their building. Check Hitchwiki for more information.
When to Go to Chile
Since Chile is in the southern hemisphere, the summer months are December, January, and February. With landscapes ranging from desert to tundra, the weather and temperatures can vary tremendously here. Expect daily highs around 28-30°C (82-86°F) in Santiago, while the highs in Torres del Paine are closer to 13°C (55°F).
Winter is not a particularly great time to visit as the temperatures can drop below freezing, with snowfall common in certain regions. Daily lows reach -15 °C (5 F), making it rather unpleasant to be out and about during the day. Unsurprisingly, you can see why most travelers visit during the summer.
Fortunately, the shoulder season is also a fantastic time to visit Chile as you’ll be able to beat the crowds and save yourself some money. It’s an especially good time to visit if you plan on visiting Torres del Paine as there will be fewer hikers here and the park admission will be much cheaper. November and March are usually included in the high season, so aim for late October or early April. The weather won’t be perfect, but it’s a good compromise for travelers looking to dodge the crowds.
How to Stay Safe in Chile
Chile is considered a safe destination and generally ranks as one of the safest on the continent. That said, crimes still do occur so you’ll want to take some precautions during your trip. The most common crimes in Chile are petty theft and bag snatching. Since these are crimes of opportunity, you’ll always want to make sure your possessions are secure. Be extra vigilant when riding the bus and when you’re in areas popular with tourists.
When taking the bus (especially the night bus) make sure you don’t have any valuables in your checked bag. Additionally, keep any valuables secure and out of reach from any would-be pickpockets.
If you’re enjoying the nightlife of Santiago, keep an eye on your drink as drink-spiking can occur.
Be sure to read about the common travel scams to avoid here.
Earthquakes are also common enough in Chile that you’ll want to make sure you are prepared should one occur. Know where your emergency exits are in your accommodation as well as any local evacuation locations for major emergencies. If you have a map downloaded on your phone, save the location of the nearest hospital and airport as well, just in case.
If you need emergency services, dial 113 for assistance.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Chile Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
- Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!
Chile Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of TNN+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Chile Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Chile travel and continue planning your trip: