Chile Trip 2018 Planning
Planning for a trip for Chile started with a spontaneous where should we go for spring break next year? The choices we considered included somewhere in the southwest or southeast US, Europe, or South America. Alissa really enjoys learning Spanish in high school and even thinks she might minor in it in college. So, we decided to try to go to a Spanish-speaking country.
Nova and I went to Spain a couple years ago without the kids, so we decided to go to South America for the first time, but, where to go in South America?
We looked at our options and initially I was thinking Argentina. However one of my dreams is to visit all seven continents. I knew on this trip we would not have enough time to go to South America and take a cruise to Antarctica. So, in looking at our choices we were thinking Ecuador, Peru, Chile, or Argentina.
In Ecuador we want to someday see the Galapagos. In Peru, we definitely want to visit Machu Picchu. However, given the amount of time we had, we decided those places would have to wait to another time. Of course I still want to go to Argentina at some point however this time around we decided to go to Chile.
Tip: Deciding where to go usually consists of where you WANT to go and where you CAN go based on your budget and time available to travel.
How to get to Chile
One of Alissa’s Spanish teachers actually did a study abroad program for a while in Pucon which is south of Santiago and near the Villarrica volcano. After picking her brain a bit on where to go in Chile we began to make our plans.
First consideration was how to get there. While there’s not much of a time difference, it is a long flight to go all the way to southern half of the southern hemisphere from the U.S. Some of the flight options were as expensive as going to Europe. Luckily, we had United Mileageplus miles to spend and they had the cheaper saver fare flights going to Santiago out of Houston.
Tip: I like to have multiple options for flights. I normally start with a search through Kayak or Orbitz and then decide what airlines have flights and times that work for our trip at the best price. I’ll then either book through those sites, or directly with the airline site.
Where to go in Chile
After booking for round-trip tickets from Columbus to Santiago Chile with a connection through Houston international airport, then it was time to look for places to stay and what to do or see. I really, repeat really wanted to go to Patagonia. The problem was getting to Patagonia takes pretty much a full day even after you get to Chile. Knowing that we were going to be spending 2 to 3 days just getting to Patagonia and back and only having eight days for the vacation made it a no-go.
Other places we considered were Pucon and the Villaricca volcano south of Santiago, as well as even going to Easter Island. We decided on going to the Atacama desert up north. If you’re not familiar with the Atacama Desert it is the driest non-polar place in the world. It’s also at a little bit of altitude at approximately 2500 meters and has amazing scenery.
Tip: Think about where you want to go (include multiple options) and then look at where you ‘can’ go based on your time, funds and what is the most you can squeeze in.
Where to Stay in Atacama
After looking extensively at places to stay and reading reviews on the area, I came to the realization that going to Atacama was going to be a little pricey. Even the most basic places ranged from around $100 or more. After several reviews and looking through multiple options we found a great place in San Pedro de Atacama on booking.com at a very good price. We booked four nights at Hostal Pablito arriving on Saturday and departing on a Wednesday based on the price, breakfast being included, and free parking.
Tip: Shop around on multiple sites. I like to use booking.com, Kayak, Trip Advisor, and even Orbitz to shop for the best prices on accommodations when travelling abroad.
Getting around Atacama
I debated whether to rent a car, or take a bus, or take a shuttle between the airport in Calama (the city with multiple connections from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama). We decided on renting a car to be able to drive around and check things out on our own on the first day and last day if we decided to do so. After scouring a lot of sites, I again came to the realization that the car was going to be a little pricey luckily we found a good deal for about $130 for a small subcompact car from budget.
Tip: One note, when traveling abroad especially overseas, it’s very likely the cheapest offers will be for manual transmission cars. It’s not they don’t have automatics, it’s just that overseas they usually cost more to rent. I don’t mind driving a stick. However, if you’re doing a lot of city driving or are not comfortable driving one at home, then you probably won’t feel comfortable doing it in a foreign country.
Travel within Chile
There are a few airlines that fly out of Santiago to the nearby airport in Calama. These include: Sky Airlines, and LATAM. After comparing prices and reading some reviews I realized Sky was going to be no-frills, think the South American version of Ryan Air, but was a good bet for our travels. I booked our flight to Atacama ensuring we had several hours between landing in Santiago and our flight to Calama.
Tip: I made the ticket a roundtrip with an early afternoon so we didn’t have to rush back to Calama and had some time to explore in our rental car if we chose to.
Our Lodging in Santiago
We knew we wanted to go back and spend a few days in Santiago, as well as to visit Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar on the coast. After reading reviews and mulling it over, I decided on a place in the older part of Santiago called Hostal Rio Amazonas. It received good reviews. It was in a great location near the metro and Cerro San Cristobal and was a very reasonable price.
Next up was deciding how to get from the airport to our Hotel in Santiago. Options included taking a taxi, taking a bus, taking a shuttle (Transvip), or hiring a car. While the prices were all different we decided on the car hire to maximize our time. This method saved us ~30 minutes and cost around $16 more than public transit or a shuttle.
Tip: Depending on your budget and how much time you have, you may want to consider the fastest method of getting somewhere, or the cheapest, or a trade-off. Hiring a car is nice in that it is quick and private. However in some places, you can save a lot of money by taking public transit.
What to do during our time in Chile
The last thing that I planned was what tours to take while we were in both Atacama and Santiago. Knowing we wanted to take a tour to learn more about what we were seeing in the Atacama Desert, we decided to book tours with a local company there.
For that I booked three days’ worth of tours with SORBAC Travel Company. After a lot of correspondence back-and-forth over email we arrived on an itinerary for the three days around San Pedro de Atacama. Our excursions included visiting the Valle de la Luna, Salar de Atacama, Lagunas Altiplanicas, Laguna Cejar, and Sandboarding at the Valle de la Marte
Booking tours like these might seem a little pricey, but for what you getting it is well worth it. The price included transportation from your hotel to the sites, a guided tour with someone knowledgeable in the geography geology and history of those places. Additionally, they provided a really nice lunch on the full day trips and a snack at every sunset consisting of fruits, crackers, chips, spreads, olives, beer, juice, and soda.
In Santiago, we essentially decided to ‘wing-it’ and look for interesting places to visit with a day trip or two to see Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to reach out to the company directly via phone or email. In doing so, ask for quotes for places you want to go and help in deciding how best to arrange your time there as some of the sights might be very far apart. Also ask for any discounts for booking more people or more tours.
I hope this helps you in planning your visit to Chile or wherever you decide to travel.
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