In preparation for our trip I have been researching topics such as potential accommodations, activities, landmarks, and transportation methods for each destination. I figure this will give us a better idea of the daily cost, and therefore help determine how long we will want to stay in each country. It will be interesting to see the difference between the ideas I have researched and what we actually do when we are on the road!
Click the small arrow button on the top left of the map header (left of where it says “Potential Destination”) to expand out additional details about many of the locations and activities described below.
U.S. Visa/Travel: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/chile.html
Chile will be interesting because of the diversity of climates and natural landscapes, from deserts to glaciers, as well as the ability to hang out in a city one day and horseback ride with a gaucho in the middle of nowhere the next day.
Helpful Web Sites
Which type of accommodation we go with in Chile may depend on the area we are in at the time. Prices seem to vary quite a bit north versus south, with the southern Patagonia area costing a bit more.
For example, a private studio apartment through Airbnb can be found for $30 in the heart of Santiago, where in southern regions $40-$50 will only get you a private room.
To keep costs lower we will most likely look at hostels in southern Chile, with even those running around $20-$25 per person for dorm rooms with shared bathrooms. It would be great if we can find a house/pet sitting gig through Trustedhousesitters.com, maybe in the northern region to give plenty of time to check out the Elqui Valley wine region, or maybe the lake region in middle Chile.
From Santiago I think our best option to explore areas north will be to rent a car. Pete and I each plan to get an International Drivers Permit (which by the way is recognized by all South American countries EXCEPT Uruguay). More information on obtaining an IDP is available at https://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html The benefit is having a document with our information written in seven different languages, which will hopefully cut down on miscommunication and bogus fees/fines that sometimes happen. Apparently, you can also get better car rental rates when you have an IDP, and some car rental companies won’t even rent to you at all if you don’t have one.
Bus Transportation (12+ hour rides)
As with Peru and Argentina, bus transportation will be a top mode of transportation throughout Chile, for both shorter and longer (and I mean VERY long) distances. Along with Busbud.com, another website that we will be checking for bus tickets/price comparison will be https://www.recorrido.cl/en. Thankfully, there are options for more comfortable seating on these long bus rides, such as “Semi-cama” seats which are basically a recliner, or the “Salón cama” sleeper seats that almost fully recline.
Some of the durations we would be looking at are around 12 hours (costing around $35 for Salon Cama) or more impressively 30-plus hours (Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, $48 per person, standard seat). Can we say numb butt!
Low Cost Airfare
Now, if we are going for convenience and short duration, versus something you don’t do every day in the states and taking it slow, a flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt or Puerto Arenas might be the way to go. Surprisingly, you can find fights through Sky Airlines as low as $34 to $41 from Santiago to the areas south.That sounds pretty awesome considering these fights are significantly shorter but cost about the same as the bus.
A Hostel on Water
Another option I would love to go with, but don’t think we will because of the price, is taking a ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. A company by the name of Navimag Ferry (https://www.navimag.com/explora-la-patagonia-en-ferry-navimag) is a cargo ship company that has cabins/bed space for rent. Basically a “hostel on water”, which costs $350 per person for a 4 day/3 night trip, and includes 3 meals per day. One nice thing is that this would get us directly to Puerto Natales, versus getting dropped off by bus or plane in Puerto Arenas and then having to catch a bus to Puerto Natales. There is no WiFi on the ship so we would have to suffer through 4 days of looking at beautiful surroundings, possibly seeing dolphins and other marine life, and doing nothing. Oh darn, that sounds horrible! Personally this would be my first pick.
I don’t anticipate spending more then a couple days in Santiago before moving on to less crowded areas of Chile. The plan is to head north from Santiago to the Elqui Valley and San Pedro de Atacama, then head back down to Santiago to catch the bus or flight to the southern regions of Chile.
Elqui Valley – Vino & Pisco
As mentioned earlier, to visit the areas north of Santiago we plan to rent a car, which will give us freedom to roam and discover on the fly. We will be sure to take some time to explore the Elqui Valley which is known for its wine (particularly Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah) and distilleries. These distilleries produce Pisco which is a brandy made from fermenting grape juice.
Can’t say either Pete or I have every tried Pisco before. Here’s to trying new things! Salud!
San Pedro de Atacama – Star Gazing Opportunity
Heading further north, the scenery will change from grape vine covered valleys to desert in San Pedro de Atacama. The Atacama desert it known for its Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) both of which you can visit via group tours or by bike on our own for much less money. Because of its remote location, altitude and lack of air pollution, the Atacama desert is a prime spot for star gazing, if not the best in the world.
Estancias & Gaucho Experiences
South of Santiago we have many options, including hanging out on an estancia and horseback riding with a gaucho, or exploring the Lake Region including Frutillar, Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt, and of course discovering Patagonia. While you can find listings on TripAdvisor and similar sights for estancias and gaucho experiences, I wonder what we will find if we just ask around once we get there. Because of its popularity, the majority of what you find on these sites are quite expensive and more tailored/luxurious than what I would expect or we would want. My hope is that we can find something more rustic and genuine, and of course less expensive then what I have seen listed so far.
Pete and I have only gone horseback riding a couple of times, so we are complete novices. I’m sure it will be the usual. Pete will hop right up on the horse and be at ease in two seconds. And then there’s me, telling myself to “relax Rachel, just freaking relax!” After an hour or so of saying this to myself I will finally stop trying to control everything, relax, and thoroughly enjoy myself.
Lakes with Volcano Views
From what I can gather, Puerto Montt is the transportation hub for catching the ferry, bus or flight the rest of the way down to Patagonia. A short bus ride from Puerto Montt is the Lake Region. Both Frutillar and Puerto Varas rest on the edge of Llanquihue Lake and have views of two volcanoes in the distance. If the weather cooperates we may be able to either hike up or even ski on one of these volcanoes! A quirky thing about these two towns is that they are strongly influenced by German culture, which sounds very strange for a town/city in South America! Both areas are filled with Bavarian-inspired architecture and boast traditional Bavarian food. That could be a nice switch from constantly eating empanadas and pastel de choclo.
Patagonia Weather Challenges = TBD
No matter whether we try to go in May when we first get to South America, or later in August after traveling through northern areas of South America, these times of year are NOT the time to go to southern Chile/Patagonia. For one thing, it is their winter and obviously very cold, but also just about everything has shut down. We may still say screw it and go anyway, or we will just have to come back to South America again in the future. Oh darn!
Any thoughts about our ideas above, or suggestions of “must see” activities/landmarks? Please include those below!