How to visit Chile on a budget
Chile is a land of extremes. The narrow South American country has some of the world’s most diverse and pristine landscapes – it’s a nature lover’s dream. The soaring Andes mountains are present along the whole country, but there’s way more than just those.
In the north, you have the world’s driest desert, the centre has the country’s two biggest cities – the capital Santiago, and artsy and bohemian Valparaíso. When you head further south, you’ll be closer to Antarctica than anywhere on earth.
For many tourists, Chile is a highlight when travelling in South America. It’s the most developed country on the continent and many travellers compare it with Europe. This comes at a price – Chile is also the most expensive country in South America. Especially if you’ve been following the Gringo Trail, you’ll really notice a difference from the low cost of travel in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.
That shouldn’t put you off though. In this article, we’ll look at how to visit Chile on a budget to make sure you get the most out of your cash – and your trip!
How to travel in Chile on a budget
As we’ve already said, Chile is very narrow (on average, it’s 175km wide), but it’s 4,300km long. Time is money here. Don’t expect to see everything you want to in just a couple of weeks here, as travelling will cost a lot of money.
The good news is that Chile has the most efficient transport network in South America. Buses leave on time, often arriving at their destinations early. Not only that, the buses are comfortable and perfectly set up for a long journey – which is no less than you’d expect when journeys can be upwards of 24 hours!
If you don’t mind where you sit on the bus, companies like Turbus sometimes offer lower prices depending on where the seats are located on the bus. You may be at the back near the toilet, but you’ll have paid 50% of what those at the front or in the VIP part have on some buses!
Do be aware that sometimes a bus isn’t the cheapest option. With careful planning in advance, it’s sometimes cheaper to fly long distance in Chile. There are a number of budget airlines. So, forget LATAM, and instead, take a look at Sky Airlines or JetSmart when it comes to internal flights.
For example, A flight from Calama Airport (which serves San Pedro de Atacama, the tourist centre of the Atacama Desert) can be booked for as little as 20USD in advance. A semi-cama – reclining bed is likely to cost twice as much and that’s the cheapest option. A bus will cost you more, and it’ll take almost a whole day – so it’s a no brainer really!
Bring a water bottle
This one is especially relevant if you’re in the north of Chile which is one of the driest places in the entire world. Not staying hydrated here is a recipe for disaster, and also for losing a chunk of your budget! A litre bottle in most shops will set you back a couple of dollars, and over a week that’s almost 30USD – just on water!
However, most towns in Chile have a tap with purified water, so bring your own water bottle and keep refilling it. You’ll stay hydrated and have more money to spend on cool activities.
Always stay somewhere with a free breakfast
It’s rare that you’ll find somewhere to stay for less than $10 – $15 a night in Chile, and if you do, you certainly won’t get breakfast with that. It may seem like a small thing, but breakfast in your accommodation will save you at least $5 a day – which can quickly mount up.
If you’re planning to trek in Chile, it’s also a great way to fuel up before a long hike in the Torres del Paine National Park or through San Pedro’s Valle de la Luna.
Explore all your accommodation options!
If you’re staying in Talca, check out the fantastic Casa Chueca! It’s just one of many lodges you can find dotted throughout Chile. This will allow you to see the traditions and culture of the country in a way a hotel or hostel won’t. Add in the fact that there’s a swimming pool, a wine cellar, and bike rental and it really does look great. Of course, your breakfast is included too!
Head for the market
Eating out is another thing in Chile that can end up being very expensive. Rather than heading to an expensive restaurant, make for the market where you can pick up fresh fruit and vegetables to prepare them yourself in the kitchen of your lodge or hostel. If you’re in a group, cooking together is a great way to bond too!
Of course, one of the best things about travelling is tasting local food, and there’s nothing more synonymous with Chilean cuisine than the humble empanada. You can pick these delicious treats up at markets throughout the country, and you’re sure to love them!
Offline Maps are the best way to navigate
City travellers (especially in huge metropolises like Santiago and Valparaíso) will find that taxis eat up huge chunks of budget. Rather than using them, download an app like Maps.Me, where you can easily navigate around the city offline. Apps like this are also great for our last activity – trekking!
Embrace the great outdoors
Yes, Chile’s cities are great, but most travellers come to this beautiful country to experience the great outdoors. Trekking, after all, can be a reasonably cheap activity. Just make sure you’ve stocked up on plenty of water, snacks, and have a comfy bed to come back to when you’ve finished! A trip to Chile isn’t complete until you’ve hiked through the national parks, scaled snow-capped volcanoes, and swimming in crystal blue lakes. Chile is waiting for you! For more budget tips and destination guides, check out Trip101.