From Mendoza, Argentina, I entered into Chile, the world’s narrowest and longest country. Like Argentina, I did not go to Patagonia as I felt that it deserves a trip on its own (and also Shelly wants to go too!) Other than that, I felt like I got a great insight in travelling in Chile by visiting Santiago, Valparaiso, and the Atacama Desert. Below is my budget breakdown, giving you an insight of the cost of travelling in Chile.
Currency Info: When I was there in April 2019, the exchange of the Chilean Peso to the Canadian Dollar was 509 CLP to $1 CAD.
I flew with budget airline Sky Airlines from Santiago to Calama, which was the closest airport to get to San Pedro de Atacama. The cost of the 2 hour flight was $50.93 USD.
Food & Drinks
With its long coastline, a wide variety of seafood is present in Chilean cuisine. The influence from the Spanish and the indigenous Mapuche culture also creates the blend that is Chilean food. The following are some of the food and drinks I tried during my 8 days in Chile:
- Chilean sea bass and ceviche as a starter. For those that do not know what ceviche is, it is fresh raw fish drenched in lemon or lime, and spiced with chili peppers, chopped raw onions, salt, and cilantro. Definitely get this when in Chile or Peru! 8550 CLP ($16.80 CAD)
- Chorrillana, Chile’s answer to Canada’s poutine. Imagine a plate of french fries topped with different types of sliced meat, sausages, fried eggs, and fried onions. It is a large dish meant to be shared. 7000 CLP ($13.75 CAD)
- An Italiano hot dog. Hot dogs are popular fast food in Chile and have many different variations. The Italiano completo has toppings of chopped tomatoes, mashed avocados and mayonnaise, resembling the Italian flag. 690 CLP ($1.36 CAD)
- All you can eat sushi, Chilean style. I had cravings for sushi and decided to try out the sushi scene in Santiago. I thought Brazil loved cream cheese on their sushi, but Chile is on whole other level. Every piece of sushi had cream cheese. It seems like it was as common as rice and seaweed. 9850 CLP ($19.35 CAD) includes unlimited ceviche and a drink as well.
- Chile’s national cocktail, pisco sour. The cocktail is a simple mix of pisco, a brandy made of fermented grape juice, lemon juice and sugar. 2500 CLP ($4.51 CAD)
- Terremoto (Earthquake) a drink of sweet Chilean wine topped with pineapple ice cream. Best place to get in Santiago is at La Piojera. 2700 CLP ($5.30 CAD)
- Mote con huesillo, a traditional Chilean street drink. It consists of a sweet juice with caramelized peaches (huesillo) mixed with fresh cooked husked wheat (mote). The juice and peach was really good and refreshing, but I didn’t care too much for the wheat. 800 CLP ($1.57 CAD)
Chile is a big country. My transportation costs would have been a lot higher if I had visited more areas in Chile such as Patagonia. I only went to the cities of Valparaiso and Santiago, which are close (for South American standards) and San Pedro de Atacama, which I found the cheap flight with Sky Airlines.
Buses are a great way to get around. The bus system is quite extensive, with many buses running between major cities. The interior of the buses are also comfortable. I primarily booked my buses with Busbud.com. They are easiest to book and charge minimal to no admin fees. Here are the buses that I took:
- Mendoza, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile: a 12 hour overnight bus journey which included about an hour wait at the border (at around 3 AM). During the winter season, which is June to August, it is not uncommon for the road from Mendoza to closed for days at a time. 19,500 CLP ($38.16 CAD)
- Valparaiso to Santiago: a 1.5 hour bus ride. 7800 CLP ($15.32 CAD).
Here are some of other transportation costs:
- Santiago to the Airport: Instead of taking an uber or taxi, I took the Centropuerto airport bus which picks up passengers at the Los Heroes metro station and runs every 10 minutes. The ride costs 1900 CLP ($3.73 CAD) compared to 15,000 CLP ($29.47 CAD) that you would pay for a taxi.
- Calama to San Pedro de Atacama: Another opportunity to save on transportation, I decided against a direct shuttle from the airport. I shared a taxi with other travellers who were doing the same route to the centre of Calama which came to 3000 CLP ($5.89 CAD) per person. Then we took a 1.5 hour bus to San Pedro for another 3000 CLP ($5.89 CAD). The shuttle would have been the double the cost at around 12,000 CLP ($23.58 CAD).
There is a sales tax in Chile of 19%. Foreign tourists can be exempt from this 19% additional fee by either paying in US dollars, or showing an immigration card and passport, depending on the hostel. This is why I paid some of my accommodation in US Dollars.
Casa Volante Hostal for 1 night at $9.46 USD per night
This hostel has a great location as it is within walking distance to many attractions of Valparaiso such as Plaza Sotomayor and Cerro Concepción. Breakfast costs extra, but the hostel has great amenities such as a kitchen and comfortable common areas.
Merced 88 in Bellavista for 2 nights at 12,000 CLP ($23.58 CAD) per night
This hostel is situated in a great location, with Bellavista having lots of restaurants and bars. It was also walking distance to many attractions such as Santa Lucia, the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, and Cerro San Cristóbal. The rooms are spacious and the bathrooms are maintained pretty well. They also provided free fruits all day, which is quite nice. Unfortunately, it was hard to meet other travellers as the hostel was pretty large with no single common area and no social events other than Fridays.
Hostal Yungay in Yungay for 2 nights at $10.50 USD per night
I decided to stay in this hostel as it was across the centre of Santiago, closer to attractions such as the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Plaza de Armas, and the Chilean National Museum of Natural History. The rooms are spacious as I had three beds in a room, whereas most other hostels can fit in another three beds. This was the only hostel where I had to pay in cash to be exempt from the 19% tax.
San Pedro de Atacama
Feel Atacama Hostel for 3 nights at 9090 CLP ($17.86 CAD) per night
This remote hostel has some of the best views! During the day, you can see snow capped mountains and at night, thousands of stars. This chill and social hostel has bonfires every night, making it easy to meet other travellers. Unfortunately, the pros ends there. The bunk beds are not sturdy and some do not have ladders. I had to use a chair to basically jump onto my bed. As it is a 20 min walk from the centre, it makes it very inconvenient when you want to go out to get a bite to eat (they also don’t have breakfast available). They do have shuttles, but only 6 times during the day. The staff are also not organized, as it took me an hour to check in. Apparently the only staff that can check guests in is also the shuttle driver. Power outages are also common.
Hostel Rural for 1 nights at 11,900 CLP ($23.38 CAD) per night
After my experience at Feel Atacama, I moved to Hostel Rural, which was a few minutes walk from the main centre of San Pedro. The hostel creates a perfect atmosphere with nightly activities and made it easy to meet other backpackers. The staff was friendly, offering great advice for the area.
Even though I missed a lot of the amazing landscapes in Patagonia, I was able to do a lot of other stuff in Chile’s cities and the surreal Atacama Desert. Here is what I was up to:
- A Valparaiso Free Tour with Ecomapu, checking out art murals and riding the funiculars to get some awesome views of the UNESCO World Heritage city. This tour ended up being a private tour, as I was the only that arrived. Don’t forget to tip your guides!
- A trip up to Artillery Hill, a panoramic view of the Valparaiso and its port. Watch the cranes do its magic picking up container boxes from ships. Can hike up or take the funicular which is 300 CLP ($0.59 CAD)
- A Free Historical Centre Tour of Santiago with Strawberry Tours. We got to learn more about Santiago’s culture and history. The tour includes the main sights of central Santiago such as La Moneda Palace, Hills of Santa Lucia, Lastarria neighbourhood, etc.
- Hike up (about 50 minutes) Cerro San Cristóbal for views of Santiago. You can also take the funicular which is 1500 CLP ($2.94 CAD) one way.
- Learn about the dark past of the dictator of Augusto Pinochet and his regime’s human rights violations at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. FREE. Since many exhibits in the museum lack of English translations, I got an audio guide for 2000 CLP ($3.93 CAD)
- Take in the fine arts scene in Santiago at the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA). This FREE museum doesn’t house a lot of art pieces compared to other museums, but is worth an hour or two of your time.
- Learn more about the diverse landscapes, fauna and animals of Chile at the Chilean National Museum of Natural History. FREE. Again, the lack of English translations made it difficult for me to fully enjoy it.
San Pedro de Atacama
- Visit the other worldly views of the Valle de la Luna. This Salt Mountain Range offers stunning rock formations that make you feel like you are standing on the moon! I took a tour from my hostel which cost 15,000 CLP ($29.47 CAD), but it is possible to bike from the town and just pay the entrance price. The half day tour led us to the Grand Crater, the Salt Canyon, salt mines, the Salt Caves, ending with a beautiful viewpoint for sunset.
- Explore Geysers del Tatio. At 4200 m above sea level, these are some of the highest geysers in the world along with the third-largest geyser site on Earth. Again I went on a tour from my hostel for 22,000 CLP ($43.22 CAD). We arrived there at the break of dawn as that is the best time to see them. Before any sunlight, it gets ridiculously cold up there (around -8 degrees Celsius). I found the geysers to be not as what I expected, they didn’t erupt high like I thought it would. Also being up so high, be careful with altitude sickness. Drinking lots of water and eating some sugar helps your body recover. After the geysers, we went to a bunch of viewpoints with wild vicunas (a relative of the llama) before heading to a village where we got to taste roasted llama meat.
- Gaze at the beautiful stars as the Atacama desert is one of the best place on Earth to see the night sky. There are many tours offering star gazing tours, but unless you are a big astronomy nerd, you can just walk 15 minute out of town and enjoy them for FREE.
Here are my other expenses in the 8 days in Chile:
- ATM fee at San Pedro de Atacama. 4738 CLP ($9.31 CAD). I was able to withdraw without any fees with Scotiabank in Santiago, but getting to San Pedro, I needed more cash to pay for my accommodation and activities (including the Uyuni Salt Flats tour). Make sure you use a debit card that doesn’t charge you for any foreign transaction fees. If you are from Canada, I recommend using STACK!
- Laundry for 5000 CLP ($9.82 CAD)
- Extra socks for my trip to Uyuni Salt Flats 3500 CLP ($6.88 CAD)
The Sum of Travelling in Chile
For the 8 days in Chile, I spent a total of 321,315 CLP or $631.27 CAD which came out to 40,164 CLP or $78.91 CAD per day! I think this is a fair representation of the cost of travelling in Chile. My budget would’ve been a lot higher if I also included Patagonia on my trip.
Chile is considered to be most expensive country to travel in South America. The cost of living in Chile is significantly higher than in Argentina, with my food, drinks, and accommodation costs being 15% to 25% more expensive. The tours I partook in San Pedro de Atacama were also pretty expensive, further increasing my spend in Chile.