Chile really stole my heart from the second I stepped foot in this country. From the San Pedro the Atacama desert in the North of the country, all the way down to Patagonia, at the end of the continent, Chile is the prefect country both for people who love nature and for those who love cities and culture.
In this post, you will find information about:
- Border crossing from Bolivia (by bus)
- Discovering cities and nature – our itinerary
- When to go
- Getting around
- Food and drinks
- Volunteering in Chile
Border crossing from Bolivia
We heard that crossing into Chile from Bolivia was going to be very hard and controls would be very strict, but we found it easy enough.
Crossing into Chile from Bolivia by bus was very easy and stress free for us, as we did it as the final part of our tour to the Uyuni Salt Flats. As we waited in our jeep, our guide went into the migration office to get our exit stamps for us. Since tour guides get a separate line, this was very fast. Once at the actual border, they checked our bags very carefully, but also this was quite fast, compared to other border checks.
Discovering cities and nature – Our itinerary
We spent a month in Chile, but at this stage we had decided to take it slowly and really enjoy the places we were visiting, rather than moving from one place to another. For this reason, we only had 5 main stops in Chile.
After crossing by bus from Bolivia, we stayed a couple of days in San Pedro de Atacama, where we enjoyed some nice and warm weather, beautiful markets and traditional music.
We then moved to Santiago, where we spent 10 days in total. In Santiago, we took a walking tour where we learnt about the history of this beautiful city and country, but we also took a night tour in an abandoned asylum, experience the night life, went to see a dance show, and more.
The next stop is Valparaiso, a couple of hours away from Santiago. Here we spent a few days admiring the incredible and world famous street art, exploring less known corner of the town and having the best empanadas ever!
From here took a bus all the way back to the airport in Santiago, where we spent the night, waiting for our early morning flight to Easter Island, one of the most incredible places we have seen on our trip. We spent a few nights on this remote island, where not only we saw the famous Moai statues, but we also drove around the island exploring its volcanoes, caves and beaches, we tried typical food and went to a traditional dance show.
After flying back to Santiago, we started making our way down towards the Chilean Patagonia, the last stop in this country. From Punta Arenas, we went to Puerto Natales, which was our base from where we did the famous W Trek in the Torres del Paine National Park.
Backpacking can get exhausting, and sometimes you are forced to skip some places on your Bucket List…or leave them for your next trip! Among the places we wanted to see in Chile, but we decided to skip, mainly because we wanted to make sure we could hike in Torres del Paine before the winter are:
La Serena – This town on the coast of Chile is known for its long beaches, big waves ideal for surfing, relaxed vibe that made it very popular among backpackers, picturesque landscape and its world famous lighthouse.
Puerto Montt – This place is the gateway to Patagonia and, if you can, you should stop here a couple of days to explore both the cute town and the surrounding areas, full of volcanoes and forests.
Chiloe Island – Famous for its iconic wooden colourful houses and churches, you could easily spend a week or two here and enjoy the beautiful landscape, culture and food, and the nature.
When to go
As you may imagine, due to its shape and latitude, climate in different areas of Chile is very different and it would be hard to pick just one ideal time to visit. The best time to visit will depend on what you are planning to do in the country: if you are only keeping to the North and Central part of the country, it may not make a huge difference what time of the year you go. However, if you are planning to hike in Patagonia, you should plan this a bit more carefully.
As a general rule, seasons are reverse than in Europe, so Summer goes from December to February, Autumn from March to May, Winter from June to August and Spring from September to November.
Santiago, Easter Island and the Atacama Desert are year round destinations, as even in the winter, the climate remains temperate. As far as Patagonia and the South of the country is concerned, instead, you should avoid the months between June and August, not only because temperature drop up to 15 degrees below 0, but also because some of the shelters, hostels and trails close down.
Considering that Chile extends for 4,000 km North to South, travelling its whole length by bus can be tiring and extremely time consuming.
Although during our trip we tried to avoid flying, in attempt to travel more sustainably, in Chile we had to fly on 3 occasions. One time was to go to Easter island, that we couldn’t have reached otherwise. The other two times, we flew from Calama to Santiago and from Santiago to Punta Arenas. While these routes could have been done by bus, we were already forced to cut down on a few stops on our itinerary to be able to get to Patagonia on time, and we didn’t want to miss out on any other one.
Any other time we decided to travel by bus. Travelling by bus in Chile is actually very good. Buses are comfortable and generally on time. There are several companies, but we normally used TurBus. You can find information on timetables on the company’s website and even reserve your tickets online.
Chile is generally very safe. Santiago is a big city and so, like in any other big city of the world, you should be aware that pickpockets could be around in the more touristic areas.
In some of the main Santiago nightclub areas, like Suecia and Bellavista, people told us to be careful about drink spiking: however, not accepting drinks from people you don’t know is always a good idea, right?
At the end of 2019, some protests have been taking place in Chile, but these have usually had the form of pacific demonstrations. Sometimes, protests got more violent, and there were fires and other forms of protest around the cities. However, as a tourist you should be safe. Also keep in mind that these demonstrations tend to happen only in the bigger cities, like Santiago, and so if you choose to visit places like Patagonia or even Valparaiso, you will be safe.
Overall, we didn’t have any problem at all in Chile and we felt safe at all time.
Food and drinks
Chilean food is delicious and underrated. Although like in other parts of South America, food in Chile isn’t very vegetarian or vegan friendly, we found Santiago and Valparaiso to have a very hipster vibe, and so it won’t be hard to find places that make vegetarian adaptations of traditional food.
Completo – Chilean Hot Dog: This is one of the most popular street food and it’s a hot dog with mayonnaise, tomatoes, onions, avocado, pickles, sauerkraut, etc.
Empanadas: Even though people think of empanadas as something more typical from Argentina, they are a very popular Chilean food too.
Porotos Granados: This is a traditional Chilean countryside stew made with beans and other vegetables and spices. Surprisingly enough, even though it’s a stew, it is considered a summer dish.
Pastel de Choclo y Humitas: This dish, which is popular also in other areas of South America, is a corn and cheese baked casserole or it can be wrapped in a corn husk and boiled.
Sopaipillas: These are pumpkin fritters served as street food or as a side to your dish in some restaurant. Really worth trying!
Volunteering in Chile
Chile offers many volunteering opportunities. Here you can find experiences in different fields: teaching English, hospitality, conservation projects and community projects.
Both in Santiago and in other smaller towns, you can find online so many opportunities to teach English to children in school or with NGOs.
If you prefer to volunteer in the hospitality sector, many hostels offer food and accommodation, in exchange for your work, particularly in the backpacking hotspots, like La Serena or Viña del Mar.
If you are interested in sustainable development, you can find several opportunities working with youth and community development and with the indigenous Mapuche people.
Finally, Chile has plenty of volunteering opportunities if you are looking for experiences in the field of environmental protection. A quick Google search, and you will see all the volunteer work opportunities with wildlife and environmental protections, particularly in areas like the archipelago of Chiloe or Patagonia, as well as the possibility to volunteer in animal shelters and wildlife sanctuaries.
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