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 is country 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
2. Discover Torres del Paine National Park
3. Explore Santiago
4. Marvel at San Pedro de Atacama
5. Visit colorful Valparaiso
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 CLP for a basic tour, though fancier tours at more prestigious vineyards can easily be over 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 a guided day tour, expect to pay 150,000 CLP.
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 sand board for around 7,500 CLP or go on a sand board tour for 23,000 CLP per person. There are even tours that sand board at midnight, using spotlights to light the way (they have 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. Moon Valley National Park
Also located near San Pedro de Atacama, this otherworldly landscape 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 15,000 CLP per person. Admission (not always included in tours) is 3,000 CLP for foreigners.
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 30,000 CLP. You can visit without a tour (admission is 10,000 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 hot spot 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.
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, about 100 kilometers 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 – Dorms here start around 8,500 CLP and private rooms come in at around 17,500 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 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 10,000 CLP per night for shared accommodation. If you want a private home or apartment, expect to pay at least 25,000 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 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 6,000 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 5,000 CLP.
A latte or cappuccino costs 2,300 CLP while a domestic beer can be as cheap as 3,000 CLP. Bottled water is 800 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.
Activities – Entrance to National Parks and museums varies between 4,000-21,000 CLP (though there are some free national parks as well). Entrance to the world-famous Torres del Paine park is 21,000 CLP for foreigners in the high season and 11,000 CLP in the low season. Cycling tours are available around the country, covering all the various terrain Chile has to offers. Expect to pay 2-5 million CLP per person for a multi-day excursion. White-water rafting in Patagonia is also a great, adventurous way to spend a few days. Most companies offer 4-5 day tours, usually costing around 3,000,000 CLP per person.
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 30,000-37,000 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 74,000 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 260,000 CLP per day, you can stay in a hotel or scenic lodge, 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!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CLP.
Chile Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
There are plenty of ways to keep your budget intact when you travel Chile. As I mentioned, tours and transportation are going to increase your expenses a lot. Traveling slow, renting a car, or hiking without a tour will help keep your costs down. Beyond that, here are some tips to save money in Chile:
- Buy wine at the supermarkets – Surprisingly, buying wine from the vineyards can be more expensive than in the supermarkets. You can pick up nice a bottle of wine for around 4,000 CLP in most stores.
- Take the bus – Bus service is inexpensive and efficient here. Night buses are quite 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.
- Couchsurf – 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, like 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!
- 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 will be 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 LifeStraw – LifeStraw is a water purifying tool that you can use instead of buying single-use plastic bottles of water. It will remove bacteria, parasites, micro plastics, and any other contaminants from any water source. They make versions that fit inside reusable water bottles so you can purify water anywhere and save yourself the daily cost of buying bottled water.
Where to Stay in Chile
Hostels can be found in all the major destinations across Chile. They are well kept, arty, and fun! 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 will 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. You have to pay for your card and top-ups in cash; non-Chilean credit cards are not accepted.
Additionally, keep in mind that in the off season the local buses (micros) become less frequent — especially in tourist areas around the city.
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 22,000 CLP per person from Santiago to Antofagasta. From Santiago to Valparaiso, bus tickets cost around 3,000 – 3,700 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 will be better off breaking into stages or 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 35,000 CLP per person 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 55,000 CLP. Round-trip flights from Santiago to the remote Easter Island cost around 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 150,000 CLP for a one-week rental.
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 will be 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 almost 50% 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. However, crimes still do occur so you’ll want to take some precautions during your trip.
The most common crimes in Chile against tourists 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. Never leave it at the table and come back to finish it as drink-spiking can occur.
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.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid.
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
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Chile. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- 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.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- BudBud – If you’re going to be traveling by bus around the country, use BusBud to find the best prices (as well as all the bus schedules that you’ll need). It makes buying tickets simple and easy.
- Rome2Rio – This is my go-to website to get price estimates and routes for all my trips. It will compare all your transportation options (i.e. bus, train, plane, car) so that you can figure out which option is best for your itinerary and your budget.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Canada, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
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, large 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 NM+, 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: Suggested Reading
The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
Spanning generations, this book is an epic tale of love and magic. Allende is often considered one of the first successful female novelists in Latin America, making this an important read for anyone looking to walk in the footsteps of Chilean art and writing (the book was adapted into a Hollywood film in the early 90s). The House of Spirits weaves historical events with magical realism, embedding itself in myth and magic as well as the social upheavals of Chile’s tumultuous past.
Curfew, by José Donoso
Curfew is set in 1985 at the tail end of Pinochet’s brutal rule. The story takes place over 24-hours, its events set in motion by the death of Pablo Neruda’s widow. While fiction, the book illuminates the stark realities of life in Chile under Pinochet, painting a vivid and accurate portrait of the suffocating nature of Pinochet’s corrupt dictatorship.
My Tender Matador, by Pedro Lemebel
Another book set during the waning years of Pinochet’s dictatorship, My Tender Matador is a poetic, lyrical, and devastating novel of forbidden love by openly gay activist, essayist, and author Pedro Lemebel. The book tells the story of a lonely aging queen and her relationship with young revolutionary, weaving politics and sexuality into a nuanced and moving tale of revolution.
The Postman, by Antonio Skarmeta
Written in 1985, The Postman tells the story of an apprehensive teenager who turns away from the path set out before him and decides to become a postman instead. Only one person in the village can read, however: Pablo Neruda, the poet in exile. The novel depicts the unlikely friendship of the two, as well as life in rural revolutionary Chile. The book, itself based on a film, inspired both another film and an opera.
Ways of Going Home, by Alejandro Zambra
Zambra’s Ways of Going Home is another one of the few Chilean books that found international acclaim. Published in 2011, the novel explores what life was like under Pinochet for the children of the country from the point of view of a novelist who was living under the regime. The story weaves between his reality and the fictional novelist’s works, exploring the subtle ways that life under Pinochet impacted everyone in the country — even those who weren’t immediate victims of his dictatorship.
Chile Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Chile travel and continue planning your trip: