Spoil your eyes by exploring the long thin country of Chile.
My personal list of handy Chile travel tips. All first hand knowledge - written during my travels in Chile.
All the tips have been categorised into sections. Just click on each tab to fully open and start reading.
- Bus services around the country are frequent and efficient. Prices will vary according to the type of service the bus route is offering:
Clasico – standard bus, less leg room, poor toilets if any.
Semi-cama (half bed) – extra leg room
Cama (bed) – extra leg room with calf rests, have plusher seats that recline further back. Great for overnight and long journeys.
- The further south you go in Chile, the less frequent the buses are. So you may need to book in advance during the high season, typically January/February.
Chile Travel Tips - Cities
- Two bus companies offer airport shuttle buses to Santiago city centre: TurBus Aeropuerto and Centropuerto (makes a couple of extra stops further).
- Visit the upmarket Bellavista district in the evenings. Especially for the great choice of restaurants and lively bars, some with live bands playing salsa music.
- Most museums in the city are free on Sundays. However, have heard they could be free during the week too, as the government tries to revive culture interest by the locals.
- When you get a clear day (which is not often due to the smog and fog) take that opportunity to get to higher ground. Firstly, take the funicular up Cerro San Cristabal for panoramic city views. After that, take the cable car down for views over the whole park and the other side of Santiago.
VINA DEL MAR
- There used to be limited direct buses from Santiago airport to the coastal city of Vina Del Mar – offered by Chile’s Lan Airlines and Tur Bus. But the services are no longer in existence. It’s now a 2-2.5 hour journey as you have change buses in Santiago city centre. Firstly, from the airport take the airport shuttle bus TurBus or Centropuerto to the city centre – to either Terminal Pajaritos or Terminal Alameda (both are metro stops as well). Then transfer to a bus heading for Vina Del Mar. Such bus companies include TurBus, Condor and Pullman.
- It's not recommended to go swimming at the beaches here as they are polluted and have strong undercurrents. Generally, most locals go further north to Renaca beach.
- On Sundays stroll along the beach boardwalk, lined with artisan stalls selling their arts and crafts.
- Make the most of sunny days by eating seafood lunches at different coastal villages. Either go north of Vina to Renaca, Coochoa and Zapallar (best views from Restaurant Chiringuito).
Or south of Vina there is Algarrobo (with the beautiful beach of Canelillo).
Inland is the village of Pomaire where the main street is full of pottery and craft shops.
The most interesting and colourful city to visit in Chile. So unique in design with a maze of steep footpaths and zigzag roads. Explore and wonder how all the houses remain stacked on the steep hills.
- Take the funicular at Ascensor Polanco to get great views of the city and the bay.
Ascensor Concepcion is the oldest funicular. Next door is Café Turri with nice food and a great view.
Ascensor Mariposa is a funicular that goes under a road and then it’s a short walk to La Sebastiana – one of the eccentric houses owned by the famous poet Pablo Neruda.
- Recommendation – try Los Portenos for a good, cheap meal in typical Chileno style. In particular try the Chupe dish. It's like a seafood mornay/soup made with egg and breadcrumbs.
- The best bar for ambience is Bar J Cruz. Walk in any time of the night and its alive with people and music. Its unique décor feels like you are walking back in time or a museum. The dish to eat is Chorillana – a big plate of fries topped with cooked onion and small pieces of meat. An excellent choice if you have the midnight munchies.
VALLE DE ELQUI
A 30 minute drive from La Serena, this beautiful valley is definitely worth the visit. Lots of vineyards, growing grapes to make the local drink Pisco. Pisco distillery tours abound as well as local arts and crafts.
- Popular Pisquerias (pisco distilleries) that you can visit areTres Erres, Mistral and Los Nichos. All located near the village of Pisco Elqui and Los Nichos, just outside of Vicuna.
- If you can’t afford one of the more luxury accommodations, you can still enjoy the ambience of watching the moon rise above the mountains while drinking a pisco sour on their balcony. Which we did at Los Misterios de Elqui. It’s quite a mystical place.
- This valley is also popular with star gazers as many observatories are located here. For example, this is one website that offers information on star gazing options and tours in the valley.
- If you are doing a self-driving tour of Chile, there are a few campgrounds in this area. Specifically, there is Camping Rio Magico at Cochiguaz (my favourite as we camped by the river with a small waterfall), Camping Los Olivos (at Pisco Elqui) and Rio Claro camping (at Rivadavia).
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
- Rent a bike or walk for an hour to the nearby old Inca ruins – Pukara de Quitor. It's not the greatest ruins. But from the top of the hill you have great views of the oasis town (San Pedro), the desert and the line of volcanoes which are basically the border to Bolivia.
- The Moon Valley tour during the afternoon is interesting to do, especially if you don’t intend to go over the border into Bolivia. In particular, see Devils Throat, Time Valley, Death Valley and finally Moon Valley. It definitely felt like being on the moon. It was magical as we watched the sunset from the top of a huge sand dune.
- The Atacama desert and salt plains are the third largest in the world, just across the border into Boliva. But no need to make the effort to see it in a day. Instead, you can visit the largest salt plains of Uyuni salt plains by organised 4WD tours. Uyuni is stunningly beautiful and should not be missed. Many agencies in San Pedro can organise a tour for you.
- An adventure town with the highlights being white water rafting and hiking up the volcano Villarrica. Highly recommend tour operators Politur or Sol y Nieve. Although, I still keep hearing negative reports about Turismo Trancura, after all these years!
- After the long hike up the volcano, spend the evening relaxing your muscles in natural hot water springs. The Termus de Pozones is 35km away from town but we loved it. It consists of 6 rustic, natural rock pools filled with hot thermal water at different temperatures. In contrast, the closer Termus Huife felt too commercialised with a large swimming pool filled with hot spring water.
- A much nicer place to use as a base in this area instead of the larger port town of Puerto Montt.
- Handy adventure base to do a lake cruise on Petrohue, climb Volcan Orsono, white water rafting (grade 3) or maybe canyoning.
- Also, its the base to commence the Lakes Crossing (Cruce de Lagos) to Bariloche in Argentina. Details of crossing the 3 lakes can be found in the Argentina Travel Tip pages. Its a beautiful scenic alternative compared to taking a regular bus ride.
- A quaint island about an hours bus journey from Puerto Montt. The landscape reminded me of Prince Edward Island in Canada. However, it does rain 300 days of the year, so you’re extremely lucky if you get a sunny day. I luckily got two sunny days.
- Castro is the more popular town to stay in than Ancud, therefore it is more touristy too. Hospedaje’s (small lodgings) are everywhere.
- A quiet, relaxing spot to do either boat cruises to neighbouring islands or walks in the national park.
- Try the local dish called Curanto – layers of seafood (mussels and clams), meats (pork, chicken and sausage) and potatoes. Very filling!
- Take the bus to the southern most town of Quellon to catch the Navimag ferry (car ferry service) to arrive back on the mainland. You eventually arrive at the town of Chaiten. Then you can continue your journey southwards in Chile.
- Taking the 13 hour bus ride from Chaiten to Coihaique was so worth it for its beautiful and varied scenery. For instance, see amazing valleys, huge mountains, glaciers and dolphins. I even saw a huge salmon trying to jump up a waterfall.
- I eventually understood why people said that the best way to see Patagonia is to drive yourself – there were no frequent buses to enable you to do day visits to the surrounding countryside.
- Although we couldn’t find any bus tours either, it was easy to make a deal with a local taxi driver to take us to nearby hiking spots like Villa Cerro Castillo or Parque National Coihauque.
- If planning to go further south to Punta Arenas, I would recommend you prebook a flight at least 3 days prior to get a seat. In contrast, it was much better than sitting on a long, uninteresting 22 hour bus ride. The landscape changed from mountains to rolling hills with no vegetation then to flat scrub land.
TORRES DEL PAINE - HIKING
- Use the town of Puerto Natales as your base to get information on hiking in Torres del Paine. Also the town has a few shops that rent out all sorts of gear – tents, sleeping bags, stoves, mats, gortex jackets, fleece jackets and walking poles.
- Choose a hotel/hostel in Puerto Natales that will store your unwanted luggage for free while you hike in Torres del Paine.
- Buses leave daily for the 2 hour journey to the park entrance Guarderia Laguna Amarga. I don’t recommend getting off at the stop before, called Sede Administration, to begin your trek in reverse. Note, you will be hiking against strong glacial winds.
- You have the option of two trails to hike. The full circuit around the Torres which takes 7-10 days (depending upon your speed). Or the shorter ‘W’ portion of the walk which takes 4-5 days.
- The trails in the park contains refugio/hostel accommodation at inflated prices. Creature comforts and over priced food that offer equally inflated priced boxed lunches and dinners. Or you have the option to camp free (no facilities) or paid (with facilities) in strategically placed campgrounds. Stock up on camp food from Puerto Natales to avoid the over inflated prices in the parks’ supermarkets.
- The first section of the ‘W’ trail is the busiest in foot traffic as many people do a one day hike only to Las Torres and back. However, we camped at Camp Torres and woke up at 5am to watch the sunrise on Las Torres. Beautiful colours on the rocky peaks from pinks to yellows.
- The second section of the ‘W’ – middle leg – is up Frances Valley. Stunning views of Frances glacier in the distance.
- The third leg of the ‘W’ trail is gentle walk up a valley/canyon but with strong icy winds blowing hard against you. It's blowing straight from the huge Glacier Grey which is the final lookout. Consequently, I don’t recommend camping at Refugio Pehoe because it was so difficult to sleep in a tent with the strong winds all night long.
- If you’re not going to continue with the full circuit from Glacier Grey, there are two ways out of the park. From the last section of the ‘W’ (ie. Refugio Pehoe), you can take a catamaran from Refugio Pehoe to Refugio Pudeto (if its operational) and wait for a bus there to take you back to Puerto Natales. Or walk for 4.5 hours (19km) from Refugio Pehoe to Sede Administracion and wait for bus back to Natales town. However, be aware that the first part of the walk you will be pushed along from behind by the strong winds coming from Glacier Grey . Don’t forget to stop and look behind you for one last glimpse of Torres Del Paine. Otherwise you will miss the panoramic view of three distinctive, very different mountains that you have just been hiking over for the last 4 days.
- Be prepared for all kinds of weather at all times as it changes constantly. You will definitely have wind and rain.
- You can bring perishable food as the weather is not that hot. We kept them in the pot with a lid, just like a fridge!
- Not necessary to bring large bottles of water with you. We filled up on fresh icy cold river water from the mountains the whole time.
- If you like warmth and comfort, you can do the whole trek from refugio to refugio instead. Why camp when you can sleep indoors in a bed and pay for ready cooked meals. Just bring your money!! Besides, it saves you carrying a tent and food for 4 days.
- Note that there is no centralised bus station here. It seems that all bus companies have their own bus station located in different parts of the town.
- Visit and walk amongst the Magallenic penguins at Otway Sound. They nest here from September to April. Shop around for the bus ticket as the prices vary greatly between the companies. This is a cheaper option than paying for a tour to Isla Magdalena, however it apparently has a larger penguin colony.