Chile travel tips – Santiago, Valparaiso & San Pedro de Atacama

After my very quick side trip into Chile these are my travel tips.

The Sights

– free walking tours are a great and cheap way to get a quick introduction to a city. I went on three Tips for Tours walking tours in Valparaiso and Santiago and generally they were pretty good. There are numerous similar free walking tour operators in Santiago offering basically the same service but have varying routes. Just remember to tip your guide when the tour finishes
– my must see sights in Valparaiso include doing a boat tour of the harbour for $2000 pesos (tour is in Spanish but it’s a good way to see the city), the Graffiti Festival to see incredible street art, taking a ride up an ascensor for $200 pesos and you get an awesome feel of the city by exploring on foot

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– in Santiago my must see sights include a walk up the San Christobal hill for awesome views of the city and the Andes behind, to learn and understand more about the dictatorship a visit to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights should be on your agenda (getting the audio tour in English is well worth while) and visit into the Museum of Fine Arts for enjoying the building as well as the art inside it (no entry fee just a donation is required)

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– in San Pedro de Atacama there is this special feeling in town that deserves to be explored. Outside town is where the magic is though. A sand boarding and sunset tour of the Valley of the Moon is a must for $15,000 pesos. Also take advantage of the clear skies and book on an astronomical tour to star gaze for $13,000 pesos.

Accommodation

– in Valparaiso I stayed at Hostal Casa Aventura. It was approximately $18 USD per night and included an excellent breakfast. Good location and the staff were extremely helpful
– in Santiago I stayed at Hostal Boutique Bella in the Bellavista neighbourhood. Again it cost about $18 USD per night and also had a great breakfast. The location was close to restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, 5 minutes from the subway and generally in the heart of everything. Best beds and dorm facilities in any hostel I have EVER stayed at
– in San Pedro I stayed at the homely Hostal Puritama. Visiting in winter I was extremely glad to be sleeping in the warmest bed ever (it had fleece sheets and 5 massive blankets!) and the showers and other facilities were top notch too.
– I found that accommodation is more expensive in Chile than most other counties in South America. A lot of the cheaper ($15 USD per night) accommodation didn’t include breakfast and generally had more negative reviews. Like anything you get for what you pay for

Food & Drink

– in Valparaiso I enjoyed traditional food at El Domino’s. Fauna restaurant had the best view of the harbour and an excellent 3 course lunch set menu for $8000 pesos. Cheap seafood straight from the sea can be eaten in the dodgy port area but just go there for lunch
– in Santiago traditional food can be enjoyed at the large Centro Market for under $2000 pesos. Also Galindo in Bellavista is a good place to eat with the local students. For a snack or for after drinking munchies you can get a Completo (fancy hot dog) for less than $2000 pesos. For the BEST ice cream I have ever had (this includes all the gelato I have previously enjoyed in Italy) go to Emporia
– in San Pedro to spurge visit the restaurant Adobe for an excellent meal and traditional live music. And for fresh, high quality meals a stop at Todo for lunch and the Tea Salon for breakfast is a good idea
– drinking wise it’s essential to enjoy a pisco sour cocktail, a terremoto (meaning earthquake) which is a wine based cocktail with grenadine and pineapple ice cream and of course enjoy some Chilean wine including the recently rediscovered Carmener
– I enjoyed drinking at The Clinic in Santiago and any terrace bar with a harbour view in Valparaiso. Booze can also be purchased cheaply and of a reasonably high quality at supermarkets

Money

– ATMs can easily be found around both cities
– exchange rate is approximately $1 USD to $500 pesos
– can’t get USD out of ATMs but you can get approximately the equivalent of $500 USD from ATMs. This is significantly more than what you can withdraw in Argentina

Border crossings

– note that Australians who fly into Chile at any point are required to have a visa costing approximately $130 USD. I think you need to organise this visa prior to entering the country
– Australians do not need a visa for land crossings into Chile
– do not bring any food, in particular fruit, vegetables, meats and diary products into Chile. You will be fined heavy if you do
– if you are entering Chile from Mendoza you must cross over the Andes. In winter, if there has been snow the border crossing may be closed for days at a time. So in winter, build in additional travel time for delays
– the border crossing at San Pedro is a lot more relaxed and doesn’t take as long as the crossing between Mendoza and Santiago but all the same rules apply.

Getting around

– in Santiago, the metro is quick and easy to use. The cost of a one way fare will vary from $600 to $750 pesos depending on what time of the day you are traveling
– in Santiago, taxis are frequent and easy to call down. I used a taxi to get to the bus terminal on a Sunday and from Bellavista it was only $8 USD. I wouldn’t recommend taxi travel during the week days as the city is always grid locked
– in Santiago, there are two massive bus terminals for long distance bus travel. They are easy to navigate but take a long time to walk through due to their size so allow extra time. There is also a metro stop right outside the bus terminal which is convenient getting into the city
– in Valparaiso, local buses are the cheapest and quickest way to travel. Normally you can just flag down a bus from anywhere on the street but there are set stops as well
– in San Pedro the best way to see the city is to walk around the small town. If you want to visit some of the sights the best way to get around is to hire a mountain bike for the day. For a full day of hire it is around $10,000 pesos. Look for a hire shop with good quality bikes and they should give you a helmet and lock too.

Well I hope that this little list of tips helps those planning trips to Santiago, Valparaiso and San Pedro de Atacama. Get out there and enjoy the cities!

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