Click the dots on the map above to view pictures I have taken in these locations.
Chile, the seemingly thin strip of land along the southwest part of South America. The country stretches north to south for 2,650 miles (4,270 km) but averages only a width of 110 miles (177 km). As you can imagine, the country varies greatly as you work your way south.
The north contains one of the driest areas on Earth, the Atacoma Desert. Bordering Bolivia, Argentina, and even all the way up to Peru, some parts receive no rainfall in an entire year. The main town in the desert is San Pedro de Atacama. Although a dirty, dusty town, the surrounding mountains give the area a striking beauty. The town does not have a lot to offer, but seeing the landscapes are worth it in itself. One must-see place is the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon).
As always, I rented a bicycle rather than take the standard bus tour. I figure that I might as well get a workout in and have some freedom, plus a self-guided tour on bicycle will always be cheaper than hiring a guide. I had met an Irish lad, so we braved the heat and pedaled the 16 mile (26 km) trip. The scenery is incredibly different than I had ever seen. The name Valley of the Moon comes from the scenery seemingly being on the moon. At points, all one can see are large hills of sand, strange rock formations, and the large sun beating down. Being out there is a serene experience.
When traveling in Chile, I was unfortunate enough to get sick in Santiago, the capital and largest city. I went to an urgent care center and found that I had strep throat, so all I could do was rest. I had plans to spend a few days in Santiago and then head west to the coastal cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. Instead, I spent all of that time sleeping in a hostel.
I did have the chance to walk around Chile. From what I saw, it seemed like a nice city. Very modern. In my mind, it very well could’ve been situated in Europe; It just had that feel. I think it would be a very nice city to live in, but I don’t think it offers travelers a unique experience. This is coming after I spent several days in hostels, though, so take this opinion with a grain of salt.
The best part I saw of Chile was in the far, far south part of the country in a national park called Torres del Paine (Towers of Pain). I was lucky to have the chance to spend 3 days backpacking in the park with a German friend I met in Ushuaia, Argentina. We rented gear and bought food from the town of Puerto Natales, and we set off. Torres del Paine is not known to be easy. The trails wind up, down, and around mountains. The weather changes in a second. And carrying backpacks full of supplies makes it even more challenging. But like most things in life, the challenge makes it even more worthwhile.
The most popular hike is the W Trek, a 4 day hike. Because the last leg of the W had recently experience a forest fire, we decided to stick with a 3 day hike to avoid that area. The best spot, by far, was camping about 30 minutes below the Torres del Paine, which are large, dramatic rock structures. Waking up early the next morning and being one of the first people to the viewpoint was incredible. The sun came out, so a short swim in the freshly melted glacier waters was perfect!
Torres del Paine is one of the great national parks in South America. Although far out of the way from Santiago, it could easily be added on to a Patagonia trip. This is a place where I hope to spend more time.
Although I didn’t spend a lot of time in Chile, I enjoyed the nature of the country. And I really only had the chance to visit the far north desert, the city of Santiago, and the very south national park. There is much more in between that is well worth the trip!
Chile Frugal Travel Tips
- If going to Torres del Paine National Park, shop around before renting gear. Prices vary greatly as some shops charge outrageous prices.
- Buses are generally comfortable in Chile and cheaper than buses in Argentina. Getting to San Pedro de Atacama and Torres del Paine will probably require you to take buses. Use an overnight bus to save money and time.
- If you plan to tour the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, San Pedro de Atacama is a great place to either start or end the tour. This avoids any backtracking on the tour