But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to Chile. We can’t tell you how often we heard budget travelers using the higher prices as the reason not to travel through Chile. But this is a mistake. This over 4,000km long country is so diverse, plus the higher living standards make it much easier to travel here. If you want to limit your time here, check out our top five places to visit in Chile, and use this post as a budget guide to independent travel in Chile.
CLP indicates Chilean Pesos and $ is the US dollar conversion at the time of publication. Chile is much more stable than neighboring Argentina, so expect normal inflation and rise in prices – no dramatic ups or downs.
How to get more for your pesos in Chile
Especially when coming from Bolivia, Chilean prices will come quite as a shock. Prices are on par with the US, Canada or Argentina – yet without that Blue Dollar rate the Argentines enjoy next door.
Knowing these key money-saving tips in advance will help your budget while traveling in Chile.
1 Drink the water
No need for bottled water here, water is clean and fine to drink throughout the country. Get yourself a water bottle and fill it up straight from the tap. The only place where we didn’t drink the water was San Pedro De Atacama (close to Bolivia) and Iquique due to the city being close to several mines. But La Serena to Santiago, the Lake District, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego – you can drink tap water all the way.
Bottled water in Chile can cost $1.50-$2 a piece, so this is a great way to save money.
2 Buy bus tickets in advance
For frequent travelers, it’s easy to be laidback about buying tickets on the day of travel – and it often makes no difference at all to do so. But in Chile you can save over 50 per cent on the price of a ticket by purchasing your ticket in advance.
Turbus.cl is a great website and you can easily find prices for anywhere you want to go. Unfortunately, you need a RUT number- a Chilean ID number – to actually make the purchase online so we did always have to make an extra trip to the bus station or buy our departure tickets at the same time we arrived to a city.
It was definitely worth it.
- Same-day bus ticket for Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama = CLP48,900 (roughly $100)
- Advance bus ticket for Santiago to San Pedro = CLP36,900 (roughly $72)
- Savings: $28
- Same-day ticket for Puerto Montt to Santiago = CLP23,000 ($46)
- Advance ticket for Puerto Montt to Santiago = CLP17,900 ($36)
- Savings: $10
We recommend both Turbus and Pullman for bus travel in Chile.
Note: Prices for bus tickets rise significantly during holidays like Christmas and New Years. Book well in advance if you are traveling during this time.
3 Avoid traveling between December and March
Traveling between December and March means traveling in high season in Chile. Like in most developed countries, the locals travel, too, during high season, which means hotels and hostels are heavily booked in advance, plus prices rise – especially in popular destinations like the Lake District or Patagonia. If your travels fall into this period, booking in advance will improve your experience. Not only do prices rise, but the hotels that are available at short notice are crap – often makeshift and cold.
We traveled during high season and when we didn’t book a private room in advance, we had to stay in dorms, which we really don’t like. Luckily, double rooms are usually only a smidge more anyway. What made matters worse was that these were dorms in low-quality hostels at much higher prices than normal. A dorm bed is usually CLP8000 ($16) in Chile, but during high season, we paid up to CLP11000 ($22) for a dorm bed.
Check hotel booking websites like Booking.com for special deals – we found some great last-minute deals on there.
4 Get lunch deals and eat in for dinner
Most places in Chile offer a special set lunch menu, including a starter, main course, dessert and a drink for as little as CLP2500 ($5) and usually ranging from CLP3000 to CLP5000.
Fill up at lunch and cook in your hostel kitchen at night. Always opt for a hostel with a kitchen, as this will save you loads of money. Unless you are always eating snack foods and fried chicken, dinner can easily cost you around CLP7000 ($14), or even more, depending on where you’re traveling.
5 Take advantage of Couchsurfing
Since accommodation costs are so high in Chile, a good way to stay within your budget – and meet friendly locals – is to try couchsurfing. Chile has a very active couchsurfing community and you’ll be able to find a host in most places. You can cook at home (a great way to thank your host) plus get first hand recommendations and possibly meet many more people than you would on your own.
How much we spent traveling in Chile
We spent 103 days traveling in Chile and spent a total of 3,191,910 Chilean pesos, which is as much as it sounds. In US Dollars, that’s about $6,705. This comes to $65 a day between the two of us, or US$32.50 per person.
So why is this number inaccurate for you? We housesat for 51 of those 103 days, saving us well over $1000 in accommodation, plus food we cooked for ourselves. Our fabulous housesit in Santiago allowed us to get a real feel for the city rather than just rushing through like most travelers do, and we were able to still splurge on luxuries like decadent French breakfasts or the occasional Starbucks.
During our time in Santiago, we spent $2166 between the two of us – roughly $42.50 a day, or $21 per person.
The real per-day budget breakdown in Chile
Once we left the comfort of our free and luxurious housesit, our costs shot up as we traveled, in high season, through the Lake District and Patagonia. How high? More than double.
Our daily budget per person in Chile: $44
Over the next 52 days we traveled through Chile, we spent a total of $4,540, which comes to a daily spending of $87, or roughly $44 per person per day – but this is always based on two sharing.
At any rate, $44 per person per day is a more accurate estimate of costs of traveling in Chile and includes meals, accommodation, transportation and activities.
Normally we are not shoestring backpackers, but it is hard to see how we could have cut our costs any lower. We stayed in budget hotels and hostels throughout the country, tried to cook for ourselves whenever possible, chose our adventure activities carefully and booked our buses in advance to get better deals on tickets.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of what to expect for accommodation, transportation, entertainment, food and drinks in Chile:
Private rooms are always our preference and usually paid around CLP20,000 for a private room ($40). Dorm beds ran as high as $22 per person, or $44, but in low season you should be able to get a dorm bed for CLP8,000 ($16) and the cheapest private room we found was CLP17,000 ($34).
Purchase bus tickets in advance and you will usually pay CLP4,500 ($9) for a 3-4 hour ride in the Lake District or up to CLP36,000 ($72) for a 24-hour bus ride – a more common distance in this long country. On average, we paid around CLP10,0000 ($20) for long-distance bus rides that weren’t overnight buses.
Transportation in Santiago itself is affordable for the quality. The subway in Santiago is clean, fast and efficient and tickets range from CLP560 to 620 ($1.10 – 1.20), depending on the time of day of your journey.
You can take private taxis in Santiago and other cities, but a much smarter option is to take the colectivos, or shared taxis. In some cities these work on a similar route system as buses while in others you just hop in, say your destination and you’ll get dropped there as it fits in with other passengers’ stops. This option is easier than buses and equally as cheap: CLP250 – 300 ($0.50 – 0.60) per ride.
Private taxis cost between CLP2,000 – 4,500 ($4-$9) depending on the size of the city.
Lunch usually cost us between CLP1,800 ($3.60) and CLP4,000 ($8) each, but when we went out for dinner, we easily spent between CLP17,000 ($34) and CLP20,000 ($40) for the two of us. Grocery stores and hostel cooking reduced the cost to between CLP2,500 ($5) and CLP7,000 ($14) for a complete meal for two depending on the ingredients.
Entertainment and tours
Chile has incredible landscapes, but often times it takes joining a tour to see them.
Average tour price per person = CLP20,000 ($40)
We opted to do a full-day tour of the Atacama Desert in the north and Torres del Paine in the south at that cost. If you’re planning to hike the W Trek, check out this great breakdown of costs on BeyondBlighty.com.
Half-day tours usually ran much cheaper. One of our favorite tours in San Pedro was the Valle de la Luna, salt caves and sunset in the Atacama Desert, which cost a reasonable CLP7,000 ($14). We paid CLP10,000 ($20) to visit a penguin colony on Chiloe.
Museums ranged from free to CLP3,000 ($6).
Take advantage of free walking tours offered in Santiago and Valparaiso. They give you great insight to the city and you only pay your guide a tip at the end.
Drinking is not cheap in Chile. Keep your eyes out for happy hours to save you loads of money on alcohol. The best option is to drink local Chilean wine at around CLP1,500 ($3) for a glass of decent red or white.
Locally brewed beers range from CLP1,500 ($3) for a half-liter bottle to CLP2,500 ($5) for a one-liter bottle. Cocktails are usually around CLP4,000 (US$8) and bars will often offer 2×1 pisco sours for CLP3,000 ($6) during happy hour. Bottles of wine in the supermarket can be as little as CLP2,000 ($4).
Have you traveled in Chile? If you have any money saving tips, please share them in the comments below!