We find South America to be much more expensive than we thought. So when fellow travellers told us that Chile is so expensive, we thought we might spend a lot more money than anticipated. They said it is even more expensive than Argentina!
Well, we loved Chile. It is a true adventurer's paradise. Sometimes it was expensive, but we actually spent less than in any of the other countries we visited thus far. I guess it's all relative. You just need to know how to go about doing things. So here are our tips for saving money in Chile.
Buy food and cook for yourself
Ok, so every backpacker and budget traveller knows this one, so it's not so little known. But in Chile, it is necessary. Food in a restaurant or even cheaper street food, often comes with a price tag of 3500 to 5000 pesos (R70 - R100/ $6 - $8) each. Maybe this doesn't sound so bad, but you have to consider the fact that this is usually a vienna hotdog slathered with avo and mayo, or a box patty burger with mayonnaise. This is not the price of a proper plate of food that you would find anywhere else. Drinks and fries are usually extra as well. Honestly, even if they were included, it is still a lot of money for a meal you can make at home. In the supermarket, you can buy food for 3 days for the same price and it would be a healthier option.
Buy from Lider Supermarkets if you must buy from a supermarket
Buying fruit and vegetables from the local market is by far the cheapest option. Fresh produce is more fresh and cheaper, but if you have to go to a supermarket, buy from Lider.
Lider is a chain supermarket In Chile. You find them in most cities. The other popular one is UniMarc. The reason why we suggest Lider specifically, is because they are 1) cheaper than Unimarc or any other store; and 2) they have great specials ALL THE TIME.
They have daily specials on many products for a 1000 pesos (R20/ USD 1.6/Euro 1.35). The items can range from a quarter roast chicken with chips to combo packets of pasta and sauce, bread, cheese, toiletries etc. You will find many products on this type of promotion that would cost you at least double to triple the price anywhere else. It is totally worth it. We saved a lot of money just buying from this store.
Buy bus tickets on the same day you plan on leaving
We never really plan our next step beforehand. We would usually decide where we want to go the night before, and in the morning, we'd get up, pack our bags and make our way to the bus station to get tickets. We didn't realise this until much later, but, if you buy the tickets either just before the next bus leaves, or at least in the morning of the same day, you save a whole lot of money. Most bus companies usually have a discount (which they don't tell you about) when you buy tickets on the same day you travel. For example, we travelled from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago, a 24 hour bus ride, with a Premium bus (this is like business class buses from Turbus). The tickets were cheaper than a semi-cama bus for the same route. But nonetheless, because we bought tickets the same morning as we travelled, we paid 52 100 pesos each (R1000/USD 86/Euro 70), instead of 85 500 pesos (R1666/Euro 114/USD 141) each. That is a saving of about 33 000 Pesos per person! From Valparaiso to Pucon we paid 13 900 Pesos, instead of 34 000 Pesos also with Turbus. From Santiago to Valparaiso, we paid 4 000 Pesos each instead of 10 000 Pesos. *Note that you might sometimes have to wait quite a few hours at the bus station or wherever if the bus only leaves at night, and as usual there is a chance that it might be fully booked for that day, but we only experienced this scenario once.
Or better yet, get a bike and cycle, or hitch hike. In Patagonia especially, this is very easy and plenty people have done this.
Alternatively, if you are 4 people, consider hiring a car, especially in Patagonia, as you can stop where you want, when you want and see the little in-between towns.
Take the Collectivo taxi instead of a metered taxi
Sometimes you find it necessary to take a taxi. Maybe it's too far to walk or the weather is crap or whatever. Chile has a service called Collectivo's. So this is a taxi, with a set price, that takes you to a certain place, but it also picks up other passengers and the price is shared - that is why it is cheaper It did differ from place to place and the distance, but a Collectivo would typically cost between 500 and 700 Pesos per person, whereas a metered taxi would charge 4000 Pesos for instance for the same distance. Or other taxi's would just give you a price per person for the route, from 1500 to 3000 Pesos per person. Collectivo's are marked and they usually display the price in the window and a price list for all other destinations it can take you to. They are like a bus that go to specific areas. But note that in Santiago specifically, it is probably cheaper to take the Metro train if you are travelling around the city.
To use the Metro Subway, you have to buy a Bip! Card and reload it for trips. The card cost 1500 Pesos and can be used by 2 or more persons. You pay per one-way trip, regardless which stop you get on or off and the price depends on the time of day. Peak hours cost more. You will typically pay between 750 and 900 Pesos per trip.
Camp instead of booking hostels
Chile is great for camping. With all the national parks around, you'd probably want to anyway. Locals even travel with tents and mattresses and camp where they can. Most towns have campsites with differing levels of services.
We camped in San Pedro de Atacama because a campsite was the cheapest accommodation option we could find. We didn't have anything booked before we arrived at 10 at night. We didn't even have a tent! Luckily the campsite had a tent for an extra fee. We stayed at Camping Los Chanares for 6 000 Pesos per person per night, and another 3 000 extra for the tent. There is a kitchen, not very well equipped, charging stations and hot showers. There is no wi-fi though.
In Puerto Natales, the hostel we stayed in for the first couple of nights, Hostal Backpacker Cortes, had a camping option for half the price, however, you could not make use of any of the other facilities such as wi-fi or the inside common area or kitchen. There were separate showers outside. The hostel itself was great though with the best view of the mountains in Puerto Natales.
Camping Guino for quite some timeWe then moved across the road and stayed at . There is place for a lot of tents, and camper vans and vehicles are also welcome. There are hot showers in the mornings and evenings. There is a communal area with a big kitchen, WI-FI, charging stations and lockers. You can rent a locker or keep your bags there if you are going on the hikes in Torres del Paine for an extra fee. The cost is 6 000 Pesos per person per night.
We also camped in the National Park in Chiloe island at El Manzana Camp site. No WI-FI as this is in a reserve, but there are hot showers and dedicated campsites. you can make a fire to cook or for heat on cold nights. Cost was 4 000 pesos per person per night.
With all the National Parks and long stretches of beach, there are plenty of places to camp in this country. You can check your options on Booking.com below.
Or check out the following websites for camp sites:
www.ioverlander.com Great for campervans or overlanding with lots of info on gas stations, food, and services and camp sites.
Shop around for accommodation when you arrive
This one can be a bit more hard core and most people like the comfort of knowing that they have accommodation when they arrive. Especially late at night it is better. But, we found, even in smaller towns that there are hundreds of places that offer accommodation that is not advertised on Booking.com or AirBnB or any other booking sites. You can often ask at tourist information in the bus terminal. They sometimes have a map of all listings in town and can provide suggestions for cheaper accommodation options.
Alternatively, if you don't mind walking a bit with your bags, just walk around and ask places that advertise "hospedaje", "alojamiento" or "hostal". You can also usually bargain for a better price.
You can always book for the first night and shop around whilst having a place to leave your bags.
I mean, actually create a profile and request a place from hosts. So many travellers use this service but also so many know about it but have never even tried it. We sent some requests but haven't been too successful, or they replied after we left a place already. But this is a great way to save money by getting free accommodation, and get to experience a place from a local's perspective.
The truth is, even though a place might be expensive in terms of living cost and exchange rates, there are always ways to save money and travel on the cheap.
Do you have any money saving ideas to share with fellow travellers? Comment below or post on Facebook.
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