I had high expectations before arriving in Chile, and the country exceeded them. The scenery was spectacular, and the people were so welcoming. I had a tough time understanding Chilean Spanish since the slang and quick cadence were too much for my untrained ear, but that didn’t discourage Chileans from being kind.
Below is a summary of the locations, accommodations, and transport from my time in Chile.
Arica (January 2 to 4)
- Guest Home Valto and Ziron (January 2 to 3; 27,000 CLP/$40 per night for a single room). The guesthouse was small but clean. I had an updated room with a TV and a nice, modern bathroom. The rooftop terrace had a good view of Arica, and I had a fantastic free breakfast there, which included avocado and other spreads. The rooftop also had a kitchen, which was where I prepared dinner. The WiFi was great. The guesthouse was far from sights and the beach, so colectivos or taxis were necessary to get to the city center.
- Hostal Sunny Days (January 3 to 4; 11,000 CLP/$16 per night for a four-bed dorm). The owner was very friendly, and he lived in the hostel. He gave me cookies and tea when I checked in. The hostel had large common areas, and my dorm had single beds, not bunks. My biggest issue was that the hostel wasn’t clean; I swore I could smell previous guests’ hair on my pillow. My dorm’s ensuite bathroom was dirty, and the shower door was broken. I also roomed with really loud snorer (not the hostel’s fault), so I ended up sleeping in the common room. The WiFi was very spotty, but the owner provided a great map of Arica. The hostel was about a 30-minute walk from city center. I didn’t think this would be a big deal when I booked the hostel, but I underestimated the desert heat.
- Transport to Arica:
- Five-hour-and-45-minute bus ride from Arequipa, Peru to Tacna, Peru, and then a 40-minute colectivo ride to the Peru-Chile border. The colectivo driver guided me and the other passengers through immigration and then drove us the remaining 20 minutes to Arica.
- Transport within Arica:
- I took a taxi to get from the Arica bus terminal to my guesthouse. I walked within the city during the rest of my stay.
- Blog post:
Iquique (January 4 to 6)
- Accommodation: Backpacker’s Hostel Iquique (9,000 CLP/$13.50 per night for an eight-bed dorm)
- The hostel had indoor and outdoor dining tables, a bar, and a cafe. My dorm and the restrooms were cramped but clean. The hostel didn’t give off party vibes and I didn’t see reviews that indicated it was a wild hostel, so I was annoyed when a group of guests played music and drank outside my dorm until around 1:30 AM. (I’m grumpy and old.) I can only blame myself, though, because I didn’t ask the group to quiet down. The WiFi was spotty, which made it difficult to plan onward travel.
- Transport to Iquique:
- Four-hour bus ride from Arica.
- Paragliding with Puro Vuelo (45,000 CLP/$67)
- Transport within Iquique:
- I took a taxi to get from the Iquique bus terminal to my hostel, and Puro Vuelo took care of transport for paragliding. I walked within the city during the rest of my stay.
- Blog post:
San Pedro de Atacama (January 6 to 11)
- Accommodation: Casa Sorbac (15,000 CLP/$22.50 per night for a six-bed dorm)
- I wanted to love Sorbac, but it didn’t end up being a perfect fit for me. I fully recognize this was my issue rather than Sorbac’s. I tried to book accommodations at Sorbac before I reached San Pedro but wasn’t able to do so because of the finicky WiFi in Iquique. As a result, San Pedro marked the first time I arrived in a location without my accommodation being confirmed.
- Here were the positives: my dorm was huge and clean and had a large ensuite with hot water. TBH, I wasn’t expecting accommodations in the desert to be that nice and modern. The guesthouse had a large outdoor common area and dining table, and free breakfast (yogurt, cereal, bread, cheese, coffee, tea) was provided. The guesthouse was run by a group of friends, who were all gracious and accommodating. Sorbac’s tours were excellent.
- This was my challenge: I function well in structured environments, but Sorbac’s organization didn’t make sense to my (boring) ex-lawyer brain. Since the owners at Sorbac were close friends and liked to hang out at the house, it was difficult for me to figure out if someone was working or off-duty. I hesitated to bother the staff with questions, and this actually stressed me out. I’m sure the staff would have allayed my concerns if they were aware, but I didn’t voice them. I didn’t want to be “that” guest…although I think I ended up being that guest anyway. There was also a language barrier since most guests were Brazilian and Chilean. Everyone was friendly, but it was intimidating to butt in and socialize when they were speaking Portuguese or Spanish. (To be clear, I didn’t expect everyone to speak English, and I wanted to practice my Spanish. A language barrier alone doesn’t cause me to feel uncomfortable. However, in this case, the language barrier was paired with an organizational mismatch, which caused me to feel more out of place.)
- Tl;dr: Sorbac was too cool for this nerd.
- Sorbac was a 40-minute walk from the town center. I thought this was a manageable distance before arriving in San Pedro, but it ended up being a problem when I dealt with banking and airport transfer issues. I couldn’t resolve the issues online since the WiFi was nonexistent. I didn’t expect reliable WiFi (hi, we’re in a desert), but being in the town center would have made the banking and airport transfer issues less of a hassle. If I hadn’t experienced these issues, I would have loved the remote location. Unfortunately, it ended up creating more stress.
- The next time I visit San Pedro, I’ll stay in the town center and go on tours organized by Sorbac.
- Transport to San Pedro:
- Six-hour bus ride from Iquique to Calama and then an hour-and-15-minute bus ride from Calama to San Pedro.
- Full-day Lagunas Altiplanicas, Tuyacto, and Piedras Rojas tour with Sorbac (68,000 CLP/$101.50)
- Half-day Valle de la Luna tour with Sorbac (40,000 CLP/$59.50)
- Full-day Tatio, Guatín, and Puritama baths tour with Sorbac (96,000 CLP/$143)
- Transport within San Pedro:
- I took a taxi from the San Pedro bus terminal to Sorbac. Sorbac provided all the transport for tours, and a couple of fellow guests from Santiago were kind enough to drive me and a British guest around for a self-guided tour of the desert one morning. I walked between Sorbac and the town center a few times.
- Blog post:
Santiago (January 11 to 17, January 21 to 23)
- Ventana Sur (January 11 to 15; 12,000 CLP/$18 per night for a six-bed dorm). The staff was very helpful, and I felt a lot more at ease here than in San Pedro. I received an email before my arrival with a map and instructions on how to get to the hostel. Laundry was done in record time: I handed over my clothes in the late afternoon and got them back the same night. My dorm was basic but spacious and had a balcony. The hostel had a lot of outdoor space, including a pool. The kitchen had everything, including a ton of wine glasses. The WiFi was great, and it was easy to chat with other travelers and staff.
- Knutsen Housing and Hostal (January 15 to 17; 12,000 CLP/$18 per night for a single room). Loved it. All the rooms were private, which I needed after a few nights of very little sleep. Knut, the owner, gave me a warm welcome and offered cake and tea when I checked in early. The building was a bit worn, but everything was roomy and clean. My room even had a wardrobe and desk. Each room had an assigned cabinet and storage bin in the kitchen, which was genius. I didn’t have to worry about anyone mistakenly taking my food. I loved the patio since it had hammocks, and Knut hosted a BBQ there during my stay. For 3,000 CLP/$4.50, we had delicious meat and veggie skewers, bread, chocolate bananas, cake, and plenty of wine. The hostel had three dogs, and I loved two of them. (Knut acknowledged that Rud, the third dog, lived up to his name.) The WiFi was good. I wanted to return to Knutsen for my second stay in Santiago, but no rooms were available. Knutsen is a steal, so I wasn’t surprised.
- Hostal del Cerro (January 21 to 23; 21,700 CLP/$32.50 per night for a single room). The owners were friendly. I had a clean and large room with a TV and access to a terrace. WiFi was good, and laundry was free, although the owners forgot about my clothes. The hostel was in an upscale part of the Providencia neighborhood and within walking distance to a large mall called Costanera.
- Transport to Santiago:
- For my first stay in Santiago, I took an hour-long van transfer from San Pedro to Calama and then a two-hour flight to Santiago.
- For my second stay in Santiago, I took a 1.5-hour bus ride from Valparaiso.
- Half-day “highlights” walking tour with Tours 4 Tips (I gave a 10,000 CLP/$15 tip to my guide)
- Transport within Santiago:
- I took the city metro a few times, which was cheap and efficient. Otherwise, I walked within the city during my stay.
- Blog post:
Valparaiso (January 17 to 21)
- Hostal Escalera al Puerto (January 17 to 19; 24,000 CLP/$36 per night for a single room). This guesthouse was so charming. As the hostel name suggested, stairs literally led to the entrance. I had a lovely, small room with a fantastic view of the hillside. My room included a chest of drawers, hooks, and a hanger. All guests had access to the living room, kitchen, and patio. I overloaded on the wonderful free breakfast, which consisted of fruit, warm bread, ham, cheese, eggs, juice, coffee, and tea. Great WiFi, and the location was close to a lot of dining options and street art.
- Planeta Lindo (January 19 to 21; 9,500 CLP/$14 per night for an eight-bed dorm). The friendly staff was always eager to help. My dorm and the restrooms were clean. My dorm had huge lockers, and WiFi was good throughout the hostel. The rooftop terrace had amazing views of the hills. The hostel was social, so after the terrace closed at midnight, everyone headed to the bar in the basement and then went out. A club called Woo!–exclamation point included–was a favorite among the Planeta Lindo crowd. The hostel was a couple of blocks from Escalera al Puerto, so it was also in a great location.
- Transport to Valparaiso:
- 1.5-hour bus ride from Santiago
- Transport within Valparaiso:
- I took taxis between the bus terminal and my hostels. I walked within the city for the rest of my stay.
- Blog post:
Pucón (January 23 to 27)
- Accommodation: Chili Kiwi (11,000 CLP/$16.50 per night for a nine-bed dorm)
- The hostel was right by Lago Villarrica, and it was easy to walk to restaurants and shops. The staff was very attentive, and the 1.5-hour daily activities briefing was wonderful. My dorm was in a separate building from reception and shared a kitchen with a four-bed dorm. It was such a cute setting, complete with timber trimming. I normally prefer bottom bunks, but I loved the top bunk here since it was sturdy and cozy with a slanted ceiling. Each bunk had a power outlet, shelf, and lamp. The dorm had huge lockers with another power outlet. Towels were free(!). The hostel had a yard and bar, both of which looked inviting, although I didn’t get to spend time in either. The only downside was the unreliable WiFi, but you should put down your phone in Pucón anyway. There’s so much to do here.
- Transport to Pucón:
- 12-hour bus ride from Santiago
- Half-day trek up Volcán Villarrica with Antü (105,000 CLP/$156.50)
- I booked this tour before arriving in Pucón, and I was slightly upset–if I’m honest, kinda pissed–when I discovered that other visitors had booked tours that were half the price I paid or cheaper. That said, I was outfitted with all the gear I could have wanted (oh hai, ice pick!), and my group was small, with only two other travelers. Other groups had twenty or more guests.
- Half-day trek up Volcán Villarrica with Antü (105,000 CLP/$156.50)
- Transport within Pucón:
- Antü provided transport for the Villarrica trek. I took a bus between Pucón and Huerquehue, which took about an hour one way. To get to Salto El Claro, I did a mix of walking and hitchhiking. If you stick to the center of town, it’s small and easily walkable.
- Blog post:
Puerto Varas (January 27 to 31)
- Accommodation: Margouya Hostel (10,675 CLP/$16 per night for a six-bed dorm)
- Margouya was homey, literally: it felt like I was staying in someone’s (huge) house. The staff–each of whom spoke at least three languages–bent over backwards to help guests. I stayed in a roomy dorm with a huge ensuite bathroom. My bunk was made every day, and I was given a free towel. The reception area had an adorable fake fireplace, and the kitchen was well equipped. The dining and common areas were a little cramped, but the main draw was a giant TV with tons of movies. The WiFi was fast.
- Transport to Puerto Varas:
- 4.5-hour bus ride from Pucón
- Transport within Puerto Varas:
- I biked to Frutillar, which would have been a great workout if I were an avid biker or sweat enthusiast. I am neither, so…yeah, that was an eventful three-hour bike ride/walking expedition. I took buses between Puerto Varas and Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales. Otherwise, I walked within the town during my stay.
- Blog post:
Punta Arenas (January 31 to February 3)
- Accommodation: Sol de Invierno (15,000 CLP/$22.50 per night for an eight-bed dorm)
- My dorm was clean, and each bunk was assigned a large locker in the hallway. The shower itself was small, but there was plenty of room to change and hang clothes. The water pressure was excellent, and the hot water was glorious. The hostel offered free breakfast (toast, jam, cereal, cookies) and fast WiFi.
- Transport to Punta Arenas:
- 30-minute airport transfer from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt and then a two-hour flight to Punta Arenas
- Half-day cruise to Isla Magdalena with Comapa (50,000 CLP/$74.50)
- Transport within Punta Arenas:
- I took colectivos to get from the city center to the port where the Isla Magdalena cruise departed. Otherwise, I walked within the city during my stay.
- Blog post:
Puerto Natales (February 3 to 7)
- Accommodation: Hostal Camino de Santiago (20,863 CLP/$31 per night for a four-bed dorm)
- Such a wonderful hostel. It was pricey for a dorm, but so were most accommodations in Puerto Natales. My dorm was spacious, clean, and modern. Each bunk was wide and comfortable, and everyone had a large locker. The owner Jose Mari was incredibly accommodating and took care of everything: he gave suggestions for activities, booked tours, and made breakfast. Breakfast technically started at 7:00 AM, but Jose Mari was happy to provide breakfast to guests who had tours that left earlier. I never saw a breakfast that actually started at 7:00 AM since Jose Mari was always up earlier. I’m not a baby person (like, at all), but Jose Mari and his wife Paula had a sweet 11-month-old son named Daniel.
- Transport to Puerto Natales:
- 3.5-hour bus ride from Punta Arenas
- Full-day glacier cruise, booked through Hostal Camino de Santiago (90,000 CLP/$134)
- Full-day Torres del Paine bus tour, also booked through Hostal Camino de Santiago (35,000 CLP/$52 plus 21,000 CLP/$31.50 Torres del Paine entrance fee)
- Transport within Puerto Natales:
- The tours provided transport. Otherwise, I walked within the town during my stay.
- Blog posts:
During my 37 days in Chile, I spent about $3,619.34, or $97.82 a day. Before I visited Chile, everyone warned me it was expensive, so I knew what I was getting into. It isn’t a cheap backpacker destination, but it’s absolutely worth it.
My expenses were categorized as follows:
- Entertainment: $994.26
- This category includes tours, activities, entrance fees, and spa treatments.
- Considering that I was able to do a multi-day trek in Peru for less than $100, tours in Chile were pricey. All the experiences were fabulous, though, so I don’t regret spending the money.
- The entrance fee for Torres del Paine (21,000 CLP/$31.50) is not cheap. But, I’ve paid similar prices–or more–for meals, nights out, etc., and none of them were nearly as memorable as the park. Entrance fees for parks in the Lake District (5,000 CLP/$7.50 for Huerquehue and 4,000 CLP/$6 for Saltos del Petrohue in Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales) were significantly cheaper, but fewer visitors tackle multi-day treks in Huerquehue and Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales than in Torres del Paine.
- Accommodation: $849.38
- Prices ranged from 9,000 CLP/$13.50 to 20,863 CLP/$31 per night for dorms, and 12,000 CLP/$18 to 27,000 CLP/$40 per night for a single room.
- Food: $815.22
- I was surprised my food costs were so high, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. I spent about 13,542 CLP/$20 per day.
- Chilean cuisine tended to be red meat-centric, which isn’t really my thing. I prefer chicken or fish, and chicken didn’t appear frequently on menus. I often went for pasta instead. My costliest meals were mostly in cities and Puerto Natales:
- San Pedro: 15,000 CLP/$22.50 for quinoa risotto and beer
- Santiago: 17,500 CLP/$26 for risotto and beer. (I swear I didn’t have risotto and beer for every meal. I tend to splurge when I go out with other people.)
- Valparaiso: 12,000 CLP/$18 for gnocchi and pineapple juice; 12,000 CLP/$18 for pesto pasta and strawberry juice
- Puerto Natales: 17,600 CLP/$26 for a sandwich, brownie, and juice; 15,840 CLP/$23.50 for crab pie and tea
- With my sweet tooth, I had dessert and coffee/tea almost every day, which was usually around 4,500 CLP/$6.50 to 7,000 CLP/$10.50.
- Since I didn’t want to blow my budget, Chile marked the first time I cooked a meal other than breakfast during my travels. “Cooking” is a generous term, though; “used a knife to cut something” is more accurate. I stayed true to my basic self and made avocado toast a lot…like, sometimes twice a day.
- Transport: $573.25
- This category includes domestic flights from Calama to Santiago ($102) and Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas ($191), airport van transfers, taxis/colectivos, buses, metros, a bike rental for the trip from Puerto Varas to Frutillar, and terminal fees.
- If you don’t mind sharing a vehicle, colectivos are the way to go. For instance, a colectivo in Punta Arenas cost 500 CLP/$0.75. Colectivos usually drive on fixed routes, and you can hail one like a taxi. Passengers hop on and off along the route.
- Miscellaneous: $387.24
- Clothing made up most of this category (173,940 CLP/$259).
- I was proud of my ability to retain my belongings while on the road, and I had a great track record in Asia. (Modesty is my strong suit.) This went down in flames in Chile. I lost a pair of leggings in San Pedro and a hoodie in Puerto Varas, which meant I had to find replacements. To understand why this was a daunting task, you need to know about my clothing philosophy: I’m picky, especially when it comes to my backpacker wardrobe. It’s not that I’m a fashion maven (dri-fit v-necks aren’t appearing on the runway any time soon…or ever), but I try to stick to items that are durable, lasting, and reasonably priced. When you wear and wash the same six pieces of clothing every week, you better make sure they’ll last. All of this sent me into a mild panic when I went shopping. I spent way more on replacement clothing than I normally would have because I wanted to stick to recognizable brands that wouldn’t deteriorate after one spin in a washing machine. So, I spent 79,990 CLP/$119 on a fleece (I can’t rehash this again because it pains me, but I discussed the ordeal here) and 37,990 CLP/$56.50 for leggings (I’ve never spent this much on dumb leggings–leggings!–and refuse to talk about this).
- My other clothing purchases were slightly less traumatic but still splurges. I spent 33,980 CLP/$50.50 on gloves and a hat and convinced myself that I would continue wear the hat after I returned from my travels. Now, I am not a hat person, so I never ended up wearing the hat (and still haven’t). I also bought two multi-use bandanas for 21,980 CLP/$33. I’m a weirdo and find the strangest things cool, so I was on the hunt for these after I saw a few locals and travelers donning them. Unlike the hat I bought, these were super-useful, and I wore them as neck warmers and headbands.
- I normally buy a SIM card in each country I visit, but I decided not to get one in Chile. Travelers need to register for a SIM card, and after hemming and hawing about registering for a couple of weeks, I finally opted out. Honestly, the registration process probably would have been straightforward, but I figured I could subsist on WiFi. WiFi was hit-or-miss in Chile, but besides my stresses in San Pedro, it served my needs just fine.
- The rest of this category consists of toiletries, towel rentals, laundry, and postcards. I had to buy a replacement adapter since my original broke, and this was a lot easier (and cheaper at just 1,500 CLP/$2.50) than buying replacement clothing. I also rented pants and trekking poles for two days in Puerto Natales (8,000 CLP/$12) but didn’t end up using either since my original plan to go hiking in Torres del Paine was canceled.
- Clothing made up most of this category (173,940 CLP/$259).
I couldn’t see everything in five weeks. Below are a few noteworthy destinations that I missed:
- Carretera Austral
- Once you hit the Lake District, you’ll meet visitors attempting to drive down the Carretera Austral. On hostel bulletin boards, you’ll see notices where travelers will attempt to find fellow guests who want to take on the drive. The highway weaves by mountains and lakes and is supposed to be stunning. It also requires advance planning. A large portion of the road is unpaved, and you can drive for days before you reach a gas station, grocery store, or lodging. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’m not a great driver, and I certainly would have been out of my element on unpaved road. I’ll save the Carretera Austral for when I become friends with someone who has excellent off-roading skills.
- Easter Island
- I mean, duh. Money was the big constraint, though. Easter Island isn’t exactly a budget backpacker destination, so it will have to wait until I have more $$$.
- I first heard about Chiloe while watching the excellent travel show Departures in NYC. (Seriously, you have to watch this show, and you have no excuse to miss it since it’s on Netflix.) The island is known for its wooden churches, colorful houses on stilts, and penguins. Although I wanted to go, I was running low on time in Chile since I wanted to reach Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine by early February. Chileans and travelers also told me that good weather was important for a visit to Chiloe. Since the forecast for Chiloe looked pretty bleak, I decided to prioritize the Lake District and Torres del Paine instead.
- Hiking in Torres del Paine
- My visit to Torres del Paine was everything I could have hoped for. If I get the chance to return, I’d love to do a multi-day trek in the park. But, even if I never get to go back, Torres del Paine will always be a standout moment from my travels.
Finally, here are some general observations about Chile:
- Chilean Spanish
- I gave up on trying to pick up on Chilean slang after Spanish speakers from other countries said they sometimes struggled to understand it. To be fair, they might have just been trying to make me feel better (and they succeeded). I did learn that “party” is “carrete,” not “fiesta.” And that’s all the Chilean slang I remember.
- If you’re looking for a mixed drink in Chile, you’ll probably be offered a piscola. I’d never tell a Chilean this, but I prefer pisco sours since they mask the rocket fueledness (sure, let’s make up words) of the pisco better. But, hey, if someone’s going to prepare a piscola, I’m not going to refuse. And, although I’m unqualified to evaluate since I know very little about wine, all the Chilean wines I had were cheap ($5 or less per bottle) and very, very drinkable.
- Rules of the road
- Driving culture is great in Chile. Chilean drivers–especially in Pucón and Puerto Varas–stop once a pedestrian gets within 10 feet of a crosswalk. This was a striking contrast from NYC, where drivers accelerate as soon as they see a pedestrian crossing the street. Travelers will sometimes try to capitalize on drivers’ goodwill by hitching rides, especially in the Lake District and Patagonia. For my two short hitchhiking experiences in Pucón and Puerto Varas (each ride was less than 10 minutes), my drivers refused to accept any cash that I tried to give.
- Chilean hospitality
- The driving practices were reflective of Chileans’ generosity. All the Chileans I met were eager to share things and help. For instance, a Santiago traveler in Puerto Varas was excited to buy pisco and Coke for all the guests at our hostel because many of us hadn’t had a piscola yet. Although I like to think I’m a nice person, sharing and offering things doesn’t come naturally to me (blame it on me being an only child), so I thought the generosity was particularly noteworthy.
- Other travelers
- I pay attention to the nationalities of travelers I meet since it’s fun to see which destinations are popular for specific travelers. For the first time in South America, I met a lot of domestic travelers in Chile. Brazilians were well represented, in addition to the typical Brits, Germans, and Australians I had met throughout my travels. I also met a few Irish, American, Korean, and Dutch (of course) travelers. Israelis fresh from military service were a common sight, but I usually kept my distance since I wasn’t in much of a partying mood in Chile.