Backpacking in Chile
Chile is a South American country of superlatives that makes the backpacker’s heart beat faster. Like its neighbor Argentina, it has a lot of adventure and culture to offer. First I’ll show you what the international travel papers and magazines in their travel departments say about Chile. The New York Times, for example, ranks Chile among the world’s best travel destinations. In 2013, National Geographic also ranked the city of Valparaiso as one of the top 20 destinations in the world. And in the same year, the same magazine named the superspot Torres del Paine one of the 5 most beautiful places in the world.
All these are real travel hits that you can discover during a visit to Chile. But you can be sure that the long country has more to offer than the just mentioned spots. After all, Chile stretches over 4,000 kilometres from Antarctica to the subtropics. You can observe, dive, surf, kayak and much more along more than 6 000 kilometres of coastline. And if you have good visibility, then you can see from the Pacific right across the 220 km wide country to the snow-covered Andes peaks.
Furthermore, the country presents itself quite differently in comparison to the European influenced capital or cities like Valparaiso or the far-off places in the high south or the deepest north of the country. You will have to search for the indigenous Chile off the beaten track. In the high Andes as well as in the Pacific beaches you will get to know indigenous tribes.
Traveling in Chile is not quite inexpensive, but you will be rewarded with breathtaking highlights, ranging from the extremely dry and warm north to the fertile middle part with its wine-growing areas to the partly really cold and rainy south in Patagonia. Discover huge deserts, impressive snow-capped mountains and volcanoes with bizarre rock formations and a bubbling capital.
Experience culture in Chile
The Chilean culture is a really exciting mix of European and indigenous influences. There are still enough indigenous people like the Mapuchos and others in Chile. It is logical that the culture has also been shaped to a great extent by agriculture and geographical conditions in the course of time. The deep cold south, where European immigrants traditionally dance the polka, has little in common with the high hot north in cultural terms. Nevertheless, the culture in Chile can be described as quite homogeneous, which is due to the immigrants.
But everyone can easily imagine that an island inhabitant living thousands of kilometres in the Pacific has nothing to do with a polka. How at all the dances, the dialect, the handicrafts, the traditions and also the clothes as well as the dishes are different from region to region. But this is exactly what makes a visit to Chile so exciting.
If, for example, you visit the atacameños, you will have to head north to the province of El Loa in the Antofagasta region. There you’ll find another 22,000 of them. Visit the Museo Arqueológico R.P. Gustavo Le Paige in San Pedro and learn more about the culture and history of the tribe.
A completely different tribe, which is almost threatened with extinction, can be found in the very south of the country. The tribe of the yaganes or yámanas has been living in the region from the Beagle Channel to Cape Horn for more than 6,000 years. You are not visiting an ordinary tribe, but the most southern indigenous tribe in the world. The Indians were once true masters of whale and seal hunting. If you’re lucky, you can take some nice sovereigns made out of whale bones or seal teeth with you.
Traveling Chile in one tour borders almost on madness. Better you divide the country into three parts, which you then depart one after the other. You can do this for the south, the north and the middle of the country. If you only want to see the most important of the country, do the classic tour. The problem in Chile is similar to the one in Argentina. The country is on the one hand bigger than you think and on the other hand very long.
Most important Chile highlights 14 days
- 2-3 days Santiago de Chile
- 2 days Valparaiso
- 3-4 days San Pedro de Atacama and the Salar de Uyuni
- 2- 3 days Torres del Paine National Park
- 2 days Chiloe and Puerto Varas
The four-week week tour through Chile
- 4 days Atacama Desert incl. highland lagoons
- 2-3 days Santiago de Chile & Valparaiso
- 1 day Carretera Austral
- 2 Tae Torres del Paine National Park
- 2 days thermal springs in Pucon
- 2 days penguin reserve Seno Otway
- 2 days Beagle Channel
- 2 days Cillán
- 2 days Pucón
- 2 days Valdivia
- 2 days Chiloé
- 2 days Puerto Montt
- 2 days Puerto Natales
- a few days Easter Island
Travel times in Chile
Chile can be visited all year round. However, one should know that in the European summer it is winter there and vice versa. A weatherproof clothing is always essential, especially for the south of Chile. While it is tropical hot in the north, the south is arctic cold. In Santiago de Chile it is not exactly pleasant in July with 10 degrees day temperature. For each region you should prepare your own itinerary. It gets complicated if you want to travel from the north to the south, especially in the South American winter. The best time to travel depends on where you want to go or what you want to do. If you want it warm, it is better to stay in the north of Chile and in the middle. From November to March it is pleasant. It is cold in the south, where it rains a lot from April to September.
For travelling in Chile you should be prepared for higher costs. Chile is one of the most developed countries in South America and that costs a lot. But you can keep the travel costs bearable if you prepare for it. In the following you see what you should plan on average for the daily budget. Mind you, it’s also cheaper.
The costs for backpackers can vary a lot in Chile, but also in other countries. There are also very different offers from the accommodation to the tour depending on the comfort you want to afford.
- Avg daily budget € 50
- Accommodation € 11.00
- One meal € 8
- 1L water € 1
- Public transport € 3.05
- Entertainment € 11 -15
- Bus outside € 17
You can surely get along with 15 Euro per day without overnight stay. But there are also inexpensive campsites. Remember: the further away from the capital, the more expensive it can get. Especially deep down in the south. It is best to always fall back on local things also with regard to the supply of food. There are different possibilities in the north than in the south due to the temperature.
Bus prices and domestic flight prices in Chile
The transport costs in Chile are not exactly cheap. Especially those who fly have to pay a lot of money. If you know Spanish, you can order cheap tickets online here at turbus.cl. Also here you find suitable bus offers chiletrip.cl, sernatur.cl or chiptravel.cl. Special offers can be found regularly flights are not exactly cheap.
The best is to have a look at aeropuertosantiago.cl and click through to the local airlines LAN or PAL, Aerolineas del Sur and Sky-Airline and their offers on their websites. Here you can also find cheap domestic flights in Chile. If you want to jet on Easter Island, you have to latte a lot. There is no competition. Flights are best booked via the German search engines. During the holidays in the summer months in Chile therefore from December to March hardly anything goes anyway. The rich bonzes from Santiago have spread there to the chagrin of the islanders.
Train and boat
In Chile you can also use the train as a means of transport, especially in the middle part. The route goes from Santiago in southern direction to Puerto Mont. The website of the Chilean Railway is efe.cl. If you want to travel in the north, have a look at the website of Empresa Ferroviaria Andina SA. To the islands like Chiloé before Puerto Montt you come with the ferries. From Puerto Montt you can also book a cheap ferry trip to Puerto Natales through the fjords.
In Chile you will find every kind of accommodation. You can rent a simple or luxurious apartment in the city or you can stay in a 3 or 4 or 5 star hotel depending on your budget. In the country or in the mountains there are also completely furnished chalets in Alpine style for every budget to choose from. Especially if you’re travelling with several people, it’s worth looking for such accommodation. This can save you money and you have your privacy.
Hotels in Chile have basically the same prices as in Europe. This is certainly not cheap for backpackers. However, those who look around for offers outside the high season can always make a good deal themselves in the tourist strongholds. Otherwise, backpackers are more likely to resort to hostals or Alberguen as they are called in Chilean usage. In almost all hostels there are single, double or dormitory rooms for up to 10 people, only men, only women or mixed. It is best to reserve your beds in remote regions such as San Pedro de Atacama, Arica etc. and also in Santiago de Chile always in advance.
Hotel rooms in Chile are also available in good locations for 37,000 (65 euros) to 47,000 pesos (85 euros). A room in a nice boutique hotel costs so around 70 000 pesos (125 euros). There you should better look around for so-called Departamentos, these are fully equipped rooms, they already exist for 45 000 pesos (81 euros) also in the middle of Santiago de Chile. To second this is worth it. Another alternative is the accommodation in a Bed & Breakfast.
Here, too, with 25 000 pesos (44 euros), you get off quite well. For a hostel bed in a dorm you pay about 7 000 Pesos (12 Euro). If the rooms become more private, it can cost 25 000(44 Euro) and more. Camping is not quite as common, but it is possible. Depending on the standard of the site, accommodation costs 5,000 pesos (8 euros). The most inexpensive places are the public ones that are supported by the local authorities. And apart from that, it’s also free of charge.
In Chile there is a lot to see for backpackers and globetrotters. You will experience surprises and great possibilities on your travels from the far north in the Atacama region over the middle with the capital Santiago de Chile down to the south to Patagonia. In the area Highlights there are further trips, which we would like to emphasize in particular.
Here it is necessary to introduce individual areas and tours bit by bit. Please understand if this process takes a while, as we only report on tours that have already been made by other backpackers or are more or less well known and worth implementing.
Valle de la Luna in San Pedro de Atacama
The Valle de la Luna in San Pedro de Atacama lies on the Altiplano at over 2 400 meters and is considered one of the top spots in Chile. Here you should visit the geyser fields of Tatio and the Valles de la Luna y de la Muerte. And especially at night keep your eyes open. You won’t see such a starry sky any more. Not for nothing the international observatories are also there. If we are talking about the starry sky, then you have to go to the Valle de Elqui, where supposedly the clearest starry sky at all can be observed. In addition, the region is considered the center of Pisco production.
Another hammer is the Parque Nacional Lauca in northern Chile. The national park is about 150 kilometres away from Arica at an altitude of up to 4,500 metres. Make a detour to the Lagunas de Cotacotani and the small volcanic islands in El Lago Chungará. You always enjoy a view to the snow-covered peaks of the volcanoes Parinacota and Pomerape.
If you have the money to visit Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you should of course do so. Besides a breathtaking panorama of the island, you will also be shown how the human race can exterminate itself. Especially the surfers get their money’s worth there.
Rent a car in the middle of Chile and drive down the 1240 km long Carretera Austral to Patagonia. From Puerto Montt we go to Villa O’Higgins, the entrance to the ice fields. You will see dense impenetrable forests, deep fjords in the Pumalín National Park, and you can take a warm bath in the thermal baths of Puyuhuapi. A detour to the Parque Nacional Queulat or to the hanging glacier in the Parque Nacional Queula is an absolute must.
Backpacker Highlights in Chile
Chile without a visit to the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is worth nothing. But you have to be prepared for real shit weather most of the year. But you’ll probably never again see such a panorama, which throws unique color compositions into the sky just by the refraction of the sunbeams in the sometimes opening cloud cover.
Isla Navarino – most southern inhabited island of the world
Most of the adventure highlights in Chile can be found in the south. There you will meet loneliness and can become one with nature. From Cape Horn, sail over to the southernmost inhabited island in the world, la Isla Navarino with the port city of Puerto Williams. You will not only encounter excavations of the Yámana culture, but also experience a species-rich flora and fauna.
Observing Southern Northern Lights
If you are already deep in the south of Chile, don’t forget to look into the sky at night. You might miss the so-called Auroras Australes or Southern Lights. What Norway and Sweden have to offer with their northern lights, you can also observe in the south. Unfortunately, the southern lights can only be observed with different frequency, but the chances to see them are relatively good, because according to the American space agency the intensity has increased again in recent years.
Adventure in the Voranden region around Maule Norte
That Chile is a country with a lot of untamed nature is nothing new, but if you go to the Voranden region Maule Norte you will find yourself in the Canadian south. Just to make a comparison. Apart from the size, which has nothing in common with Canada, but also there only concentrated nature and no people. The area is crossed by the two rivers Mataquito and Maule. In addition there are a lot of volcanoes, glaciers and Andean lagoons like the Laguna de Teno, which at 4000 meters at the foot of the volcano El Planchón. You can find the Laguna del Maule at 3 000 meters. Despite the cold you can also swim in the hot springs of Panimávida and Quinamávida, which are about 8 kilometers southeast of Panimávida.
Waterfalls in Chile
With the many rivers, which cross the country from the Andes to the Pacific with partly strong gradients, you will meet also again and again fascinating waterfalls. Spectacular is the Salto del Laja, which can be found about 25 km from the city of Los Ángeles in the Biobío region.
The marble caves
After only about 10 minutes by boat (you can also go by kayak) you’ll come across bizarre rock formations not far from Puerto Río Tranquilo in Lago General Carrera. Make sure that your camera has enough storage space, because the light contrasts of the rock to the crystal clear water are incredible in the caves.
Chilean cuisine is a fusion of indigenous elements in combination with influences from Europe. In the course of the centuries, a Chilean cuisine of its own has developed, above all due to various waves of immigration in which Germans and Italians flocked into the country. At the beginning of the 20th century, French influences were increasingly added.
The most famous traditional dishes, which you will find on every menu in variations, are among others asado, la cazuela, el charquicán, el curanto, las empanadas de pino, las humitas, el pastel de choclo and el pulmay. In colonial times, the common people ate only dried meat, flour and pulses seasoned with salt and pepper. Every 15th of April the Día de la Cocina chilena (Chilean Cuisine Day) is celebrated.
Today you can buy the rolls Marraqueta for a few Pesos in every bakery. There is also a Chilean version of the Spanish paella called Paila marina. A real treat for fish and seafood fans is Ceviche chileno. It is a copy of the famous Peruvian model with pickled raw fish. Each region has its own cuisine. It can be roughly divided between the
- Gastronomía del Norte de Chile
- Gastronomía del Centro de Chile
- Gastronomía del Sur de Chile
can be distinguished. In the dry, hot north other fruits come on the table, like in the cold south. But fish is eaten everywhere. This is hardly surprising, as the sea is only 150 kilometres away. It is best to try all Empanada varieties from north to south. Famous are the Empanadas de machas with seafood and fish in the north. In the middle, however, more vegetables are added.
A special treat from the south is the Pollo marinero, prepared with an exotic combination of chicken and mussels. Stews with all sorts of ingredients from chicken, pork or beef, as well as corn and everything else the market has to offer, of course there is also Chilean fast food. Among other things, Barros Jarpa are popular, which consist of a sandwich covered with melted cheese and ham.
Also Barros Luco might be a delicacy for the friends of the fast kitchen. Instead of ham, a piece of grilled meat is added to the melted cheese on the sandwich. A classic is the Americano, which consists of beef, a fried egg, warm cheese and ham.
Drinks in Chile
Chile is meanwhile known for its first class wines, which are cultivated in the middle part of the country. But a national drink is the Pisco sour. Mate and tea are also enjoyed in Chile. Especially in the south one still drinks the mate.
Entry requirements for German citizens according to the Federal Foreign Office. Travel documents for entry is possible for German citizens with the following documents:
- Passport: Yes
- Provisional passport: Yes
- Identity card: No
- Temporary identity card: No
- Children’s passport: Not yet officially recognised, but will be accepted in practice.
Still valid child ID card according to the old model (the child ID card has not been issued since 1 January 2006): Not officially recognised, but accepted in practice if accompanied by a photo.
Comments: Travel documents must still be valid for at least six months. Children’s entries in a parent’s passport are no longer valid as of 26.06.2012. Each child needs his or her own ID document.
Visa for backpackers
No visa is required for a short-term stay for tourism or visiting purposes. Upon entry into the country, a “Tarjeta de Turismo” (tourist card) is issued free of charge at the border, entitling the holder to a maximum stay of 90 days.
The “Tarjeta de Turismo” must be returned when leaving the country.
The stay can be extended once by 90 days for a fee of 100 USD. The “Departamento de Extranjería” in Santiago (San Antonio 580, Tel. +56 2 24863000) or in other regions the respective “Gobernación Provincial” is responsible for this.
Vaccination and medical advice
A valid vaccination against yellow fever for all travellers from the age of one is required when entering the Easter Islands from a yellow fever area, see here. The Federal Foreign Office also recommends checking and completing the standard vaccinations according to the current vaccination calendar of the Robert Koch Institute. This also includes vaccinations against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, mumps, measles, rubella (MMR) and influenza for adults. Hepatitis A is also recommended as travel vaccinations, and hepatitis B for long-term stays; rabies and typhoid fever may only be recommended in the case of special exposure.
Chile is malaria free.