The Cost of Travel in Chile and How to Keep Your Expenses Low
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The concept of South America being cheap to travel does not apply to Chile. The cost of travel in Chile turned out to be quite high compared to its neighboring countries Peru and Bolivia, but most parts it is cheaper than Argentina. However, the laid-back and funny people and the out-of-the-world scenery made me feel that the expensive travel cost made the whole experience worth it.
In this post, I will share how much it costs to travel in Chile and budget-travel tips, so you can plan your trip accordingly.
Average cost for meals
If you love to eat out, you will find lots of delicious local food and have some wonderful dining experiences in Chile. If you want to save for lunch, you can take advantage of the menu del dia (lunch special). It usually costs between $3,000 CLP to $6,000 CLP, and the menu comes with soup, meat or seafood, salad, and rice. For dinner, I usually went to the grocery store to purchase food and made my own at the hostel.
Apart from eating the lunch menu and buying your own food, you can always ask locals for cheap places to eat or take a walk in the local market and the alleyways, and you will find inexpensive restaurants with delicious food.
Average prices of eating at a restaurant:
Menu Del Dia (two to three lunch courses) CLP 3,000 – CLP 6,000 /person
Meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant CLP 17,000 – CLP 30,000
Water (0.33 liter bottle) CLP 500 – CLP 1,000
Coke/Pepsi/Fanta CLP 600 – CLP 1,200
Coffee (small size) CLP 1,500
Average cost to travel by bus
Taking the bus around Chile is more expensive than its neighboring countries (other than Argentina); and the bus journey is long and exhausting. The bus does not serve free meals and does not stop at a roadside restaurant for you to eat, so make sure to pack your own food and drinks before boarding.
If you are not in a touristic area or the capital, do not worry; public transport in remote areas is still accessible and they have minibuses available from town to town. In some remote areas like the Carretera Austral, the bus does not run frequently in the low season and the schedule is not shared to the public, so be sure to ask the people who work at the bus station and the tourist office.
You can take the bus from Arica all the way to Punta Arenas, but if you plan to travel that way, you have to pass Argentina at some point as there is no road after Villa O’Higgins. You can either take the bus straight from Puerto Varas to Punta Arenas or go through the Carretera Austral. Bus tickets can be purchased in advance at the bus station by credit card or cash, and the employee at the office will tell you the bus schedule and the price.
Here is a breakdown of the price I paid for the bus trip from Arica to Punta Arenas. All fares are one-way:
Arica – Antofagasta 9 hours CLP 10,700
Antofagasta – La Serena 12 hours CLP 19,000
La Serena – Santiago 6 hours CLP 9,260
Santiago – Valdivia 12 hours CLP 10,723
Valdivia – Puerto Varas 3 hours CLP 4,500
Puerto Varas- Chiloe (Castro) 4 hours CLP 8,000
Puerto Montt- Chaiten 10 hours CLP 20,000
Futaleufu to La Junta 3 hours CLP 12,000
Carretera Austral (South of Coyhaique) CLP 12,000 – 15,000 for three/four hours bus
Puerto Natales – Punta Arenas 3 hours CLP 8,000
All the hostels I stayed at came with complimentary breakfast and internet, and the friendliness of the staff and the service far exceeded my expectations. At some hostels, the owner allowed me to check in early and offered me tea and breakfast. I found a hostel in Antofagasta for CLP $12,000 per night and the owner invited me for breakfast, lunch, and night tea, and allowed me to check out late at 6:00 pm.
Here are the hostels I have stayed at and recommend according to my experience and the overall rating:
Santiago: Hostel Forestal CLP 18,960/night (a private room)
Antofagasta: Aires del Sur CLP 12,000/night
Puerto Varas: Casa Vieja Hostel and Camping CLP 10,000/night
Coyhaique: Hospedaje Simon Bolivar CLP 14,000/night (private room)
Punta Arenas: Endless Sky Hostel CLP 15,000/night
Puerto Williams: Refugio El Padrino CLP 15,000/night
Apart from staying at the hostels, you can find other affordable and even free accommodation through couchsurfing or volunteering at the hostels. Camping is also popular in Patagonia, and it usually costs between $3,000 to $6,000 per night with access to the kitchen, shower, and a common area.
Ferry crossing in Patagonia
Some remote areas in Patagonia are only accessible by ferry, and oftentimes the cost of ferry crossing is different for locals and foreigners. In other words, foreigners need to pay several times more than the local price.
There are also other ferry crossings in the remote region of Chile’s Patagonia and a speedboat taking you across the Tierra del Fuego between Puerto Williams and Ushuaia. While it is true that ships provide a unique way to explore Patagonia and bring you the unspoiled nature of glaciers, fjords, and national parks that are only accessible by ferry passengers, the fares can be exorbitant so be selective on which ferry you want to take.
Here are the estimated costs for ferry crossing in Patagonia:
Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales 4 days 3 nights USD $400 starts
Caleta Tortel to Puerto Natales 41 hours CLP 120,000
Chiloe to Puerto Cisnes 18 hours CLP 11,250
Punta Arenas to Isla Magdalena 2 hours CLP 50,000 (round-trip)
Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams 31 hours CLP 108,110
Puerto Williams to Ushuaia 30 minutes boat and 90 minutes bus transfer USD $115 – $135 per adult
Chile has many surreal landscapes. However, in some areas, you need to take a group tour to be able to get access to them. I went on a few group tours on the Carretera Austral, as well as a day tour to Torres del Paine and a free walking tour in Santiago. There are free museums and treks offered in Patagonia as well.
If you plan to see the penguins and trek the glaciers, the price of the tour in Chile’s Patagonia is significantly cheaper than the Argentinian counterparts, so take full advantage of it when you can.
Laundry is not cheap in Chile and it usually costs between CLP 4,000 and CLP 6,000 for both wash and dry, and it takes 24 hours to finish. The best option is to wash your own clothes and dry them in the air. Several hostels in Chile allowed me to do the laundry on my own, but not every accommodation in Chile has facilities and places for you to do so.
Get the cash out of an ATM and you usually need to pay CLP 4,000 to 6000 extra for every transaction if you go to a different bank from your own. Depending on the policy of your bank, it may refund you that extra fee or charge you extra for getting money outside of your country. You need to clear this up with your own bank in advance before you go and tell the customer service that you are traveling in Chile, so they won’t block your overseas access to your bank account.
Extra tips on keeping your Chile travel cost low
Public Transport in Santiago
For public transport in Santiago, you can get around by subway and the bus. I took the metro in Santiago every day and found it clean, safe, and efficient, and the tickets started from $660 CLP one way. The subway in rush hour is super crowded and the fare rises.
If you arrive at Santiago Airport, you can take an official shared taxi to the downtown area for $7,000 CLP. The taxi will leave from the airport in every 15 minutes and drop you off in front of your hostel and the hotel. A bus to the airport from the city center is cheap but takes an hour to 90 minutes.
Flights can be cheaper than a bus
Traveling overland in Chile is always my preference However, if you are short on time or want to just visit certain destinations instead of traveling all the way from north to the south, you can take a flight to save your time and the travel cost.
In low season, you should be able to get a one to two-hour flight for a decent price. I took the bus from Puerto Varas to Coyhaique for a total cost of $40,000 CLP, and the cheapest flight I found on the same route was USD$22.
Coffee and tea in Chile are not cheap, and your best option is to have wine. Tap water is drinkable and before you go on a day out, you can fill up your water bottle with tap water so you won’t spend money on buying water every day.
Torres del Paine
While I did not spend too much time in Torres del Paine and found the price was very expensive for the entrance and camp. I would like to recommend that you visit if this national park has been on your mind for long. If you decide to travel long term in Patagonia, your budget will be better spent elsewhere.
While the incredible landscape in Torres del Paine is totally worth the cost, there are many remote parts of Patagonia offering a wide variety of beautiful and challenging hikes and camping opportunities. Dientes de Navarino is one of the places where outdoorsy people go for multiple day circuit treks for free. There are other hiking opportunities on the Carretera Austral and in El Chalten offering equal and even greater experiences.
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