We opted for Chile quite early in our journey because we wanted to see Patagonia before the Austral winter. There are two options to get there, by air or overland. If you choose air travel, you should fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas with Sky Airlines (the low-cost choice for Chile). When booking early, you can get a great deal. We booked one month early and got one-way tickets for 50 USD each for an over three-hours flight. Overland you may travel via Buenos Aires down to Patagonia, reserve at least 3 days if you want to enjoy some interesting spots on the way down. Also remember to use enough sunscreen in Patagonia as it lies partially under the ozone hole.
In Chile, they speak Spanish. English is not widely spoken, even in hotels, unless you stay in an upmarket or chain hotel. Chileans are very friendly and willing to help, so with basic Spanish and some sign language you will be fine.
Chile is considered as the safest country to travel in South America and according to a recent study, the happiest people in Latin America. We could quite freely use our mobile phones and display our cameras in public without the fear of getting robbed. Of course, you need usual care when it is dark or if you wonder in remote areas, also you need to beware of pickpockets in public transportation and crowded areas, more so in cities than in villages.
Santiago has a good selection of hotels. There are many small hotels or “boutique hotels” that have less than 20 rooms. We stayed at the Quiral Hotel Boutique which was quite well located. It was a great choice due to the quality of the bed, cleanliness and friendly staff.
Another option are hostals, that you can compare with Bed & Breakfast hotels. Especially outside of Santiago they are a good option. You will find most of them on Booking.com and spend some time to read the reviews to find a suitable one for your taste. In Valparaiso, we stayed at the Pasta & Vino hostal, greatly located in the upper part of the city, only 10 minutes’ walk from Plaza Sotomayor.
The third option is Airbnb, offering various quality accommodations. In Punta Arenas we opted for an Airbnb, that was an apartment located in a hostal so we had the benefit of a reception desk for queries and issues.
Many ATM’s in Chile take a charge when you lift money with your card. Try to avoid free standing ATM’s in supermarkets or other spaces that are not inside of a bank. We noticed that ATM’s at Scotia Banks do not charge you extra, at least with our DKB Visa card. Other banks charge you between 4000 CLP and 6000 CLP (6 to 9 EUR) per
Foreigners do not pay the VAT of 21% on accommodation, so you need to keep the immigration card received at the entry to Chile as a proof of you not being local. Normally, the hotel will photocopy your passport with the immigration card and this will allow them not to charge you the VAT. However, in some smaller hotels or hostals, you will be asked to pay cash to avoid paying the VAT. We did not quite get the point of this, but agreed then to pay cash and get a 21% “discount”.
Four major providers share the market, WOM, Entel, Movistar and Claro. It is a hassle to get this done as most staff in the stores only speak Spanish, is mostly bored and are not willing to help. You need to buy the card in the specialty store, then you need to get it charged in a pharmacy or kiosk, then you need to put in data to activate the credit you bought. Really messy! We went for Entel as they were most willing to help, even though it also turned out to be a mess. We needed to go to a specialty store to get help to charge the sim card with credit and activate the package we had bought.
Travelling around is easy and you may choose bus for overland or a dense air travel network. There are no train options worth mentioning. You can use buses easily to travel anywhere, the quality of the buses is good and the prices are reasonable. All cities have a main bus station called Rodoviario. We travelled between Santiago (Rodoviario Pajaritos, accessible by metro) and Valparaiso (1 hour 15 minutes) and during low season (not holiday period and weekdays) you can buy your ticket at the bus station and sometimes even get a discount. You may also buy your tickets online. We also used the bus between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales (3 hours) as well as between Puerto Natales and El Calafate, Argentina (5 hours). Most buses even have a free wireless connection.
Uber is a good deal in Chile, prices are reasonable and the cars are usually in good condition. It is available in larger cities only though, in Patagonia (Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales) there is no Uber. In Patagonian cities, you may opt for “Colectivos”, that are shared taxis. Colectivos have more-or-less fixed routes, and the prices are really low. One trip is usually less than 1 EUR. Colectivos look like taxis but have a larger sign on the roof. You only need to stand by the street and wave at them.
Food & Drinks
Chile has the longest pacific coast in South America, so you may imagine the amount of sea food you could get. Well, there is fish and seafood on the menu in the restaurants, but unfortunately, a part of a few inspiring exceptions, most of the fish is prepared deep fried or sunken in some kind of cream sauce or baked in cheese.
Chilean wines are delicious, cheap and in large variety. You can find cheap and tasty wine in the supermarket. Chile also has some good beers and there are many small local breweries.