In the north of Chile, the Atacama Desert offers one of the best places in the world to stargaze, but if endless sand dunes aren’t your fancy than Santiago’s buzzing markets and lively atmosphere would be a quick change of pace. If you’re looking to delve into the country’s artistic side, then a two hour detour to the protected UNESCO world heritage district in Valparaíso is a good place to lost in the endless blocks of graffiti. Chile may be narrow on a map, but the excitement and adventures within the country are anything but slim. And of course you can venture to the very southern region of the country to explore Patagonia, a cool and dry climate full of icebergs, whales and open landscape featuring some of the most beautiful sights the country has to offer.
Why Travel To Chile
The Chilean people are proud of their culture; from their baked shrimp and cheese empanadas to their unique twist on the Spanish language. Their slang makes listening and communicating in Chile an activity of its own, but they love it and they’re not shy in sharing all their quirky adaptations of traditional Spanish. More deeply, Chile is an interesting place to visit because they’re still recovering from the seventeen year Pinochet dictatorship that only ended in 1990. Political conversations and discussions between generations are growing, but much of the country is still divided on pro/con Pinochet. This makes traveling in the country a ripe experience. They wear this political wound on their sleeves. The powerful presence of street art in Chile is a testament to the country’s healing process as the younger generations fully embrace their artistic freedom after two decades of artistic bans. So whether it’s food, art, or history that draws you, Chile has it all.
The Nitty Gritty Facts
Over 18 million people live in Chile, roughly 7 million of them live in Santiago, the capital.
Chile’s national language is Spanish, but is spoken with lots of slang.
The driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert, is in the north.
The largest ever recorded earthquake was in Valdivia, Chile. It was a 9.5 on the Richter Scale lasting 10 minutes, and triggering a devastating tsunami.
The Republic of Chile is a Democratic Republic after almost two decades of being a military dictatorship.
World famous Easter Island belongs to Chile.
San Pedro De Atacama — Calama — Santiago — Valparaíso
South America is largely an overland commuter continent. There’s no standard recipe or consistency for airline tickets like there is in Europe and Southeast Asia, so the most popular way to travel is by bus.
Bus Companies include:
Cruz Del Sur (Most popular for backpackers)
Frontier Del Norte
Airlines for Chile include:
The Rugged Budget
Chile uses Chilean Pesos (CLP) as their currency
Transportation between cities by bus averages at about $17,000 CLP ($26 USD)
Accommodation in a 8 bed mixed dorm $6,500 CLP ($10 USD)
Private room in a 4 star hotel start at $84,600 CLP ($130/night USD)
Draft beer at a restaurant $3,200 CLP ($5 USD)
Bottled beer at a bottle shop $1,900 CLP ($3 USD)
Street food like empanadas $1,200 CLP ($1.80 USD)
Sit down restaurant $6,500 CLP ($10 USD)
Pack of 20 cigarettes $2,800 CLP ($4.3 USD)
Chile From From The Scratch My Pack Lens
Helpful Hints For Traveling In Chile
Plan appropriately for Patagonia. You either pay a hefty chunk to fly to the Patagonia National Park, take a bus, which routes through Argentina, or hitch-hike your way down the coast. Whatever your route, it’s not cheap to travel down to the very south and will take some time to make the entire journey. Be advised that the buses from Santiago travel through Argentina which for some nationalities requires a visa.
We found out the hard way that it’s not permitted to drink alcohol on buses. It is illegal in most places to drink on the streets in Chile.
Talking politics can be a touchy subject. Despite our fascination and desire to ask locals about Pinochet and the dictatorship, it’s a controversial topic that should probably only be prompted if initiated by a local first.
The best way to buy bus tickets is to actually go to the bus station. You can roughly search around on the internet to find timetables and prices online for buses using sites like Busbud and Recorrido, but because there are so many buses and varying schedules their sites can’t always offer accurate information.
Hitch-hiking is an appropriate way to travel in Chile. It’s not uncommon that travelers, specifically heading down south to Patagonia from Santiago, will hitch-hike to cut their costs.
Some hostels in Santiago offer dinner with a night’s stay. It’s not the fanciest meal, but it offers a nice break on the budget.
Chile supports the two prong and three prong power plugs mainly used in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.
The voltage used in Chile is 220—240 V so the US, Canada and most South American countries require a voltage converter for charging electronics.
Activities That Won’t Scratch Your Budget
Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago: Free
This museum fully dives into the political rise to power of Pinochet and the persecution of the people during his dictatorship. It’s a powerful exploration that’s historically informative and emotionally explosive. We recommend renting the audio guide for the $5 USD because there’s a lot of extra information that paints a powerful image of the Chilean people. Give yourself 2-3 hours to fully explore everything this museum offers.
The Cementerio General de Santiago: Free
The cemetery in Santiago stretches 120 soccer fields in length with graves as small as a PO box and as large as a two-story building. The cemetery is divided into sections because it’s so big. They have mausoleums for families, the police force, and even one specifically dedicated to shoe-shiners. You can walk or hire a bike for the day. Bikes were around $15,000 CLP ($23 USD). The easiest way to get to the cemetery is by taking the Red line Metro to the Estación Cementerios for $625 CLP each way ($0.95 USD).
Tours 4 Tips starts at the Museo Bellas Artes and departs at 10am everyday. The tour is free, but you tip at the end for the tour guide’s time and awesome knowledge about their city. The offbeat walking tour was awesome as you wander through the Esmeralda neighborhood, visit the Mercado Central and Mercado La Vega, as well as explore the Cementerio General. This tour is fantastic because the Wally guides focus on the locals rather than the big picture spots.
Mercado Central, Santiago: Free
If you don’t get to take the walking tour, the Mercado Central is a great place to check out. It’s the fish market, so go in with an open mind. It’s a good place to eat local.
Valpo Street Art Tour, Valparaíso: Free
This free walking tour in Valparaíso was one of our favorites. The guides are local, edgy and personable. The idea behind the tour is in exploring the levels of artwork in the city, what’s legal and what’s not, and to give more context to the intensity of graffiti in Valparaíso. Make sure that you tip your tour guide at the end of the tour for their extensive knowledge about graffiti and their time. Buses from Santiago to Valparaíso are only $6,000 CLP with Romani buses ($6 USD) and it takes roughly two hours.
Stargazing, San Pedro de Atacama: Free
You can see the stars quite clearly from any point in San Pedro. Even in the town, which is small and bears very little light pollution, you can see the stars. If you have the patience and fancy not paying money to stargaze then we suggest packing a warm blanket and heading just outside of town to have a look.
Observatory Stargazing Tour, San Pedro de Atacama: $20,000 CLP ($30 USD)
As it is one of the greatest places on earth to experience the stars, taking an observatory tour is awesome. There are all kinds of tour agencies offering nightly tours in different languages that all center around high-powered telescopes. You’ll get to see the deep craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn, galaxies and traces of a far off black hole. Tours sell out quickly, especially the tours to the main observatory. Some companies accept email reservations, but we found ourselves just wandering into different offices to book our tour.
Where Did We Stay (Accommodation We Recommend)
Juriques Hostels, San Pedro de Atacama $12/night for an 8 bed mixed dorm
This hostel isn’t anything flash, but it’s welcoming and the courtyard full of hammocks and harbors a very natural environment to meet travelers and even to see a few stars. It was cozy, the owners were lovely and the beds were comfy.
Aji Hostel, Santiago $14/night for an 8 bed mixed dorm
We enjoyed the tranquility of Aji hostel, two times. It had a cozy home feel from the quaint den to the grand wooden staircase. We enjoyed that the hostel included dinner with each night booked. It was pretty simple, either pasta or chicken, but free is free. It also brought everybody together every evening and we met some fun people that way. The only downside was no outside common area.
Escarabajo Hostel, Valparaíso $9/night for a 10 bed mixed dorm
The restored Victorian style home is near local shops in a quiet part of town. It’s on top of one of the many hills about a ten minutes walk down into the busy part of town. For us, Escarabajo was arguably the best part about Valparaíso. The staff was welcoming and fun and their creative activities along with evening family meals, were a big part of why we extended everyday— for nine days we kept extending. The Escarabajo courtyard became our home over the course of our stay and we lucked out that for a week the whole hostel extended their stay and we all explored Valparaíso together.