As its name would imply, Chile is hot with travelers right now. Unfortunately, it is also one of South America’s pricier destinations, thanks in part to having one of the continent’s strongest and most stable economies, but also because of the not-insignificant transportation costs involved in even getting there, and then navigating up and down its more than 2,670-mile length.
But you can’t put a price tag on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, so when doing your planning or during your trip, here are some ways to make that dollar last longer and get more out of your time in Chile.
1. Don’t waste money by taking the wrong sort of transport.
From planes to buses to autos, Chileans know how to travel for cheap. Case in point: Chile is master of the affordable and comfortable long-distance bus ride, with companies like Turbus and Pullman offering routes all over the country. Some longer rides even include amenities such as meals, bathrooms, and reclining seats. But if you’re in a time crunch, national airlines like Sky, JetSMART, and even LATAM have low-cost flights from Santiago to major regional airports for as low as $30 USD a leg. Taxis are expensive in Chile, so for getting around cities and towns, use colectivos, the original Uber Pool. These communal cabs service specific barrios or areas. Similarly, local buses (known as micros) are everywhere.
2. Learn Spanish beforehand.
Unless you’re in a tourist hub, English-speaking is pretty rare in Chile. Learning the basics of Spanish will help you in being able to talk to locals, find your way around, get insider tips, and, sometimes, avoid the “tourist tax” by being able to use Spanish-language sites for booking hotels, flights, or buses, or visiting attractions. Some prior knowledge of Spanish will also help in understanding “Chileno,” the Chilean version of Spanish which is spoken at a rapid-fire pace and uses lots of slang words like al tiro (right now) and cachai (you catch my meaning). Chileans are very warm, open people who love to help, so sometimes, after striking up a conversation, you might be invited to join them at their house for onces (tea time) or dinner.
3. Travel in low or shoulder season.
If your dream is to visit Torres del Paine or the Atacama desert, then by all means go, they are amazing places and should be experienced. But know that visiting these top destinations during their peak season means you’ll be paying high season rates and will probably be surrounded by more tourists than locals. If you want a less frenzied and expensive trip, plan to visit during shoulder or low season. High season in Chile usually runs from December to February, during the height of summer, so planning your visit for spring, fall, or even winter will have the added benefits of better prices, fewer tourists, and the chance to see Chile’s gorgeous landscapes either in fall foliage, in bloom, or covered in snow. There may be some drawbacks (such as less-than-ideal weather) but the chance to enjoy nature in peace and on your own terms makes the sacrifice worth it.
4. Find alternatives to the popular tourist sites.
If you can only visit during high season and are flexible about where you want to explore, a great way to forego pricey destinations or attractions is to seek out lesser-known alternatives. For example, if you want to see glaciers and mountains that are reminiscent of Torres del Paine, go instead to the Aysen region to visit the San Rafael Glacier and go trekking at Cerro Castillo National Park. They are just as beautiful, but with far fewer people and much cheaper.
5. Shop local
If you are planning on camping, cycling, or road tripping during your stay, stocking up on your own food is a good penny saver. But supermarkets like Lider and Jumbo usually have high prices on fresh food and the quality can be so-so, so just do like the locals do and hit up the local mercados and panaderias (bakeries). Chile has a ton of fresh, seasonal produce, so check out the local markets in whatever city or town you’re in, and you’ll walk away with bags full of delicious fruits and veggies at super-low prices. The same goes for panaderias. Chileans eat bread every day, so pop into a bakery for a bag of steaming marraquetas to make sandwiches or to just lather with avocado for a quick, on the go, bite.