Here you will find all the information about backpacking in Chile based on my experiences from 2 trips in which I have traveled to 13 of 15 regions of the long South American country. My Chile travel tips compiled here should help you plan your own individual trip through the country – regardless of budget.
My first backpacking trip to Chile was also my first trip to South America and also my reason to learn Spanish. Chile is a great introduction to South America.
1) Why Chile?
Due to its huge north-south extension, Chile is one of the most versatile countries on the continent. Backpacking in Chile is particularly appealing but, due to the large distances, also very time consuming – plan well and do not underestimate the distances!
The country is considered the most European in South America, besides Spanish there are also German influences in the south (Puerto Varas, Valdivia). Chileans have a high reputation and are especially appreciated.
2) Language & Getting along
While English is often spoken in tourist centers such as the airport and tour offices, it becomes difficult in the bus terminal and on the street.
I recommend learning at least some basic Spanish – I took an online language course from the Internet before my backpacking trip (no prior knowledge) and I was able to cope with it on the spot.
As I said, people are very friendly and do their best even if your Spanish is not perfect. Chileans are very proud of their country and will often ask for your opinion – try not to offend them.
3) Prices & Finances
Chile is by far the most economically strong country in South America, the prices are depending on the region just below European level.
For orientation; a night in a dorm costs between 10-15€, in a private 17-25€ – a meal in a restaurant is 5-10€, a long distance bus ride costs about 50-60€ (Santiago-San Pedro). In Patagonia and the Atacama Desert it is a bit more expensive.
4) Food & Drink
Backpacking in Chile also means: forget your diet 🙂 Chileans love meat often and a lot of it, as well as fast food. One of the most important ingredients is the avocado (‘palta’), which is much softer and tastes more intense than in other countries.
The most common dishes: Asado (grilled meat), empanadas (dumplings), completos (hot dogs), cazuela (hearty soups), but also fish dishes (in coastal towns and Santiago).
As for drinks, Pisco Sour is the national drink and a MUST during a visit (and without question one of my most important Chile travel tips, haha), also Chilean red wine is recommended. Otherwise, people like to drink beer.
5) Safety, Health & Insurance
In general, Chile is quite safe for South American conditions, caution is advised in the big cities and at night. Consider the following Chile travel tips when it comes to safety:
Before traveling to Chile you should always check your vaccinations, some vaccinations are a requirement for entry. Consult your doctor already 6 months before your departure (consultation usually costs 30€, vaccinations are often even paid by your health insurance).
South America, the insurance coverage of your health insurance does not apply. Therefore you have to get travel health insurance.
6) Transportation & Luggage
Domestic flights can be quite cheap here as well, but if you want to save even more and keep your CO2 footprint a bit smaller, the mode of transportation par excellence is the bus. The buses in Chile are among the most comfortable in the world and cannot be compared to European ones, long journeys are extremely pleasant and affordable (22h trip for 60€).
There are different classes in the buses (semi-cama = half bed, cama = bed, premium), usually snacks and a movie program are included. The best nationwide operating companies are TurBus (my recommendation!) and Pullmann.
As for luggage: try to pack sparingly, a 44-65Lbackpack is usually quite enough. I was traveling with a Kaikkialla backpack from Globetrotter: the front access, the good organization by means of pockets and the carrying comfort are super – an absolute recommendation!
7) North: the Atacama Desert
San Pedro de Atacama is the destination for desert fans – the place in the far north is the mecca for those who want to experience the extraordinary landscape, characterized by volcanoes, salt lakes, lagoons and rock formations.
8) Center: Santiago & Valparaiso
For most, the capital is the starting point for their backpacking in Chile adventure. In addition to the sights of the metropolis, the beautiful port city of Valparaiso is waiting to be discovered not far away.
9) Little south: Pucón
Get out into nature – rafting, hiking, climbing a volcano and swimming in hot springs. Pucon is a true must for active backpackers, the associated travel guide shows you the best tours and gives numerous other Chile travel tips around Pucon.
10) Patagonia: Carretera Austral & Torres del Paine
For me the national park Torres del Paine was the absolute Chile highlight. Those who like it even more adventurous should make a note of the Carretera Austral. This 1200km long road (mostly a gravel road) leads through the most remote areas of Patagonia, I myself have already traveled the entire route 2x by hitchhiking.