Chile is a country of incredible landscape diversity, with the world’s driest desert in the north, giant ice fields in the south, and so much more beauty in between. But how much does a Chile trip cost? Is Chile expensive? In this article, we break down our Chile travel costs after our 23-day journey through some of the country’s highlights. Read on below to find out what we spent on transport, food and drink, accommodation, activities and sundries, as well as some tools you can use to help plan your Chile budget.

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2020 update: latest costs and budgeting tools

This article breaks down the costs of our Chile trip in late 2017, which was part of a year-long travel career break. We recorded everything we spent throughout the journey so we could analyse it and share the information with other travellers.

We show our costs in US dollars. At the time of our trip, the exchange rate was roughly 640 Chilean pesos to the dollar. While local prices in Chile have increased a little with inflation since our trip, currency fluctuations have had the reverse effect and made the country a bit cheaper for foreign travellers in 2020.

Political instability in the country during 2019 saw the Chilean peso slide in value, and by the end of the year it reached 750 pesos to the dollar. At the time of this update, in March 2020, you can now get around 830 pesos to the dollar. You can check the latest rates at xe.com.

Planning your Chile budget

We always use Budget Your Trip when planning our travel budgets. It’s a handy tool that provides cost estimates for pretty much any location in the world, giving useful breakdowns by different areas of spending.

Budget Your Trip is particularly useful for countries like Chile where prices vary a lot depending on the region, as you can explore estimated costs for different towns and cities. You can begin with the tool below and see estimated costs based budget, mid-range and luxury:

What our Chile trip cost: an overview

In total we spent 23 days in Chile, including the capital Santiago and nearby coastal city Valparaíso; San Pedro de Atacama and the Elqui Valley to the north; and Torres Del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. This analysis covers our entire expenditure during this trip, including accommodation, transport, food and drink, activities and sundries.

Most of the money we spent was in the national currency, Chilean pesos. However, as I have outlined above, for formality I have converted all costs into US dollars. All the costs I have detailed are for two people given that we travel as a couple, but where relevant I have shown single unit costs.

Our travel style

Not everybody has the same travel style and budget, so let me tell you about ourselves to give all of this a little context. We are a couple from the UK in our mid-30s. Our backpacking adventures in Chile were part-way through a one-year, round-the-world travel career break.

We travel on a fairly mid-range budget. We are not luxury travellers by any means, but nor do we scrape by on a tiny budget – we like to save enough for trips so we can enjoy some comforts. We tend to prioritise activities and experiences with our spending, which means that we look for savings in other areas, such as transport and accommodation. We’d rather stay in hostels and take public transport if it means we can do more tours and eat great local food.

For a complete overview of what we spent on our entire travel career break, check out our article on how much it costs to travel the world.

The overall cost

Let’s cut straight to the big figure. During our 23 days and nights in Chile, we spent $2,697, which equates to $1,348.50 each.

I must point out here that a large chunk of this spending in Chile went towards undertaking the W Trek hiking trail in Torres Del Paine National Park. The costs directly associated with this amounted to $600.60. That’s 22.7% of our total Chile spending, when the trail only took up 17.39% of the time.

To put it another way: our total daily costs in Chile were $117.26 for the two of us, but if you remove the W Trek our total daily costs were $110.33.

If you plan to head to Chilean Patagonia on your trip, our guide to hiking the W Trek includes the latest season’s costs associated with the trail, including entrance, transfers and accommodation.

It’s also worth noting that Chilean Patagonia in general was more expensive than the other parts of the country we visited. I cover that in more detail below. But, as you will see, regardless of whether or not we include the Patagonia segment of our trip, Chile was the most expensive of the seven countries we visited in South America.

The W Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park accounted for nearly a quarter of our Chile trip cost
The W Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park accounted for nearly a quarter of our Chile trip cost

Our basic Chile travel itinerary

Our journey through Chile was not completed in one single stretch. We crossed back and forth across the border several times between Chile and Argentina.

This creates some slightly grey areas when calculating the number of days we spent in the country and apportioning transport costs, but wherever there may be any confusion in the analysis I have outlined my methodology below.

This is an approximation of the amount of time we spent in each destination in Chile:

  • San Pedro de Atacama: 5 days
  • Santiago: 5 days (split between two visits)
  • Valparaíso: 3 days
  • Elqui Valley: 2 days
  • Punta Arenas: 1 day
  • Puerto Natales: 3 days
  • Torres Del Paine W Trek: 4 days

You can read our suggested itinerary for two weeks in north and central Chile here.

Our journey through Chile began in the Atacama Desert in the north, the world's driest desert
Our journey through Chile began in the Atacama Desert in the north, the world’s driest desert

Is Chile expensive compared to other South American countries?

In total, we visited seven countries in South America during a five-month trip: Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The graph below shows our basic travel living costs – food, drink and accommodation – in each country:

Chile was the most expensive country of our trip, with daily living costs of $76.65. This is almost double our daily costs in the cheapest country we visited, Paraguay.

Note that even if we remove the W Trek costs from our daily spending in Chile and recalculate, it still remains the highest at $73.49 per day.

Chile travel costs by category

The graph below shows how our total Chile costs break down into different categories:

It’s interesting to note that in comparison to other countries in South America we have analysed, the basic living costs in Chile account for a much higher proportion of the total costs. The combination of food, drink and accommodation combined accounted for roughly two-thirds of our expenditure in the country

Less than 10% of our expenditure in Chile was on activities, whereas in Peru and Bolivia activities accounted for about half of what we spent. This is mainly because in Peru and Bolivia we did some big-ticket activities like hiking the Inca Trail and touring the Uyuni salt flats, whereas in Chile we had a great time doing lots of free or cheap activities like museums, walking tours, cycling and hiking.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.

Accommodation costs in Chile

With the exception of four nights’ camping on the W Trek, we stayed in hostels everywhere we went in Chile.

We love hostels because they are cheap, great for meeting people and usually a fantastic source of information about the local area. But while we look for cheap rates wherever we can, we don’t compromise on certain factors such as location and security.

Our total expenditure on accommodation in Chile was $659.10, of which $100.10 was for our campsites on the W Trek.

The average cost for hostels per person per night (PPPN) during our Chile trip was $14.72. Here’s a look at how that compares with the other South American countries we visited:

Again, Chile comes out as the most expensive. Note that Patagonia as a region is spread across both Chile and Argentina – you can read about our Patagonia trip costs separately here.

The average hostel cost during our whole time in South America was $11.87 PPPN. Therefore, our hostel costs in Chile were 24% above the average for the continent.

We found, unsurprisingly, that hostels in the bigger cities in Chile were cheaper than those in more remote locations. For example, our hostel in the Elqui Valley was $20.15 PPPN, and our hostel in Puerto Natales (the small town near Torres Del Paine) was $18.2 PPPN. This compares with just $14.3 PPPN at a Santiago hostel, and $10.40 PPPN at a Valparaíso hostel.

Food and drink costs in Chile

Food and drink was our biggest expenditure in Chile, amounting to $1,103.70 in total, which breaks down to $47.98 per day. Even when removing the W Trek, this figure is still pretty high at $44.06 per day.

This is especially significant when considering that we cooked our own food a lot more in Chile than in other countries we visited. Dining in restaurants was very much a treat.

We do enjoy a drink, and Chile is renowned for its excellent wine (and less renowned for its beer, which is nonetheless fantastic). We spent $248.30 on alcohol during our travels in the country, which accounts for 22.5% of our food and drink costs.

In many of the destinations we visited in South America we had to buy bottled water; in Chile this was only the case in San Pedro de Atacama. As such, we only spent $7.80 on bottled water.

Restaurant cost examples

Drawing on the few occasions we did treat ourselves to a meal out in Chile, here are a few examples of the prices for dining out. Costs are shown for two people in Chilean pesos (CLP) as well as dollars (USD):

  • Special lunch deal (selection of rolls, dumplings and a soft drink) at Yama Sushi, Santiago: CLP 10,800 / USD 16.90
  • Miso soup, main dishes and soft drinks at Sui Hwa Chinese restaurant, Santiago (Brasil district): 16,965 chilenos / USD 26
  • Meat sandwiches and soft drinks at Fuente Alemana, Santiago: CLP 14,000 / USD 22.10
  • Two-course meal with a bottle of wine in Almacén Nacional, Valparaíso: CLP 28,900 / USD 45.50
  • Pizzas and soft drinks at Pizza El Charrua dinner in San Pedro de Atacama: CLP 13,900 / USD 22.10
  • Two-course meal including special Chilean lamb BBQ main and two beers each at El Asador Patagónico, Puerto Natales (this was a special treat after completing the W Trek): CLP 47,630 / USD 75.40
  • Pizza wedding anniversary lunch with two beers each at Mesita Grande, Puerto Natales:  CLP 29,150 / USD 45.50
We treated ourselves to a special meal at El Asador Patagónico after completing the W Trek
We treated ourselves to a special meal at El Asador Patagónico after completing the W Trek

Transport costs in Chile

In total we spent $443.95 on transport in Chile, of which $352.95 was on buses and $57.20 on a ferry transfer at the end of the W Trek. The small remainder was split between taxis, public transport and bicycles.

Chile is long and narrow in shape, which means that travelling between destinations often involves significant distances. For example, from Santiago to the hub city of Calama in the north, it’s a 21-hour bus ride.

As I mentioned above, we didn’t traverse directly through Chile; instead, we zig-zagged between Chile and Argentina. As such, to calculate Chile travel costs, I have split the amounts for cross-border journeys between the two countries.

Here are a few examples of bus routes we took, including the full journey cost for one person:

  • San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) to Salta (Argentina) with Andesmar: $37.70
  • Mendoza (Argentina) to Santiago (Chile) with Buses Ahumada: $29.90
  • Santiago to Valparaíso with Turbus: $6.50
  • Santiago to La Serena with Pullman Bus: $22.10
  • La Serena to Pisco Elqui with local transfer bus: $6.50
  • Ushuaia (Argentina) to Punta Arenas (Chile) with Taqsa: $43.55
  • Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales with Bus Sur: $11.05
  • Puerto Natales (Chile) to El Calafate (Argentina) with Bus Sur: $27.30
  • Bus and shuttle from Puerto Natales in Torres Del Paine National Park: $27.95

For the longer journeys we always found it best to book online in advance. Busbud is a great online service for comparing prices and booking. For more information about getting around Patagonia specifically, check out our guide to how to get around Patagonia by bus.

We crossed borders several time travelling between Chile and Argentina
We crossed borders several time travelling between Chile and Argentina

Activity costs in Chile

In Chile, we did a range of fun activities while only spending $250.90 during our 23 days in the country.

I’ve already mentioned that the Torres Del Paine W Trek was a significant expenditure in Chile. However, most of the costs associated with it were transport, food and accommodation. The only cost that goes into the ‘activities’ column of our records is the $33.15 national park entrance fee per person, and everything else into the other relevant sections.

Here are some examples of other activities we did in Chile and the costs per person:

  • Stargazing tour in Pisco Elqui: $23.40
  • Tips for guides on three walking tours (one in Santiago, two in Valparaíso): $33.80
  • Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago: $3.90
  • Meteorite Museum, San Pedro de Atacama: $3.90
  • Valle de La Luna tour and entry fee: $16.90
  • Torres Del Paine National Park entrance: $33.15

Additional costs in Chile (sundries)

Any costs that don’t fit clearly into the main categories detailed above we class as sundries. In total we spent $239.20 on sundries in Chile, which included:

  • $75.40 on general items, which included some accessories for the W Trek
  • $46.80 on laundry
  • $45.50 on cigarettes and tobacco
  • $26 on gifts and souvenirs
  • $23.40 on money charges
  • $11.70 on clothes (extra socks for W Trek)
  • $10.40 on toiletries and pharmaceuticals
Our Chile travel costs were higher than any other country we visited in South America
Our Chile travel costs were higher than any other country we visited in South America

Quick tips for travelling in Chile on a budget

While it’s not the cheapest of countries to explore, there’s plenty you can do to keep your Chile travel costs down. Here are a few of our best tips:

  • Most ATMs charge a withdrawal fee, but you can sometimes find ones in the main cities that don’t. When you do need to pay withdrawal fees, withdraw the maximum possible amount to keep them to a minimum (but be careful with the cash!). Read more on ATMs and fees in Chile here.
  • Take overnight buses for long journeys – it’s a cheap form of transport and saves on accommodation costs. Check out our guide to taking overnight buses like a pro for some tips.
  • Cook your own food! Local markets in Chile are a fun experience. Try and book into accommodation that has good kitchen facilities.
  • Take free walking tours (but give the guides a tip!).
  • Look after your belongings – crime is generally low in Chile, but there are pickpockets in tourist areas, especially Santiago and Valparaíso
  • Make use of lunch deals in restaurants
  • Look for camping options, especially in Chilean Patagonia
  • Book accommodation and transport in advance, especially when travelling in Patagonia
  • Look out for discounts on activities – we got a group discount for our Valle de la Luna tour in San Pedro de Atacama as we were in a group of six

Have you been to Chile? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.

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