Backpacking Chile: Top Tips for a Safe and Memorable Journey

Backpacking Chile: Top Tips for a Safe and Memorable Journey

Chile is a backpacker’s paradise, offering an array of spectacular landscapes, from the arid Atacama Desert in the north to the glacial expanses of Patagonia in the south. The country’s unique geography, rich culture, and friendly locals make it an unforgettable destination for any adventurer. However, to ensure a safe and memorable journey, there are several key considerations to keep in mind. This guide will provide you with essential tips on how to make the most of your backpacking experience in Chile.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit

Chile’s diverse geography means that the best time to visit can vary depending on the region:

North (Atacama Desert): Visit between March and November to avoid the intense summer heat.

Central (Santiago and Wine Regions): Spring (September to November) and fall (March to May) offer mild weather and fewer tourists.

South (Patagonia): The best time to visit is during the summer months (December to February) when the weather is relatively warm and the days are longer.

Visas and Entry Requirements

Most visitors from North America, Europe, and Australia do not need a visa for stays up to 90 days. Always check the latest entry requirements and ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned departure date.

Packing Essentials

Clothing and Gear

Layers: Chile’s weather can be unpredictable, so pack layers that you can easily add or remove. Think moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and waterproof outer layers.

Footwear: Invest in a good pair of hiking boots with ankle support for trekking and a comfortable pair of shoes for city exploration.

Backpack: A sturdy, comfortable backpack is essential. Look for one with a capacity of 50-70 liters, depending on the length of your trip and how much gear you plan to carry.

Camping Gear: If you plan to camp, bring a lightweight tent, sleeping bag rated for the temperatures you will encounter, and a compact camping stove.

Travel Essentials

Travel Insurance: Comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost belongings is a must.

First Aid Kit: Include basics like band-aids, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any personal medications.

Travel Documents: Keep a copy of your passport, visa (if applicable), and travel insurance policy. Consider storing digital copies on a secure cloud service.

Getting Around

Public Transportation

Chile has an extensive and reliable public transportation network. Buses are the most common mode of long-distance travel, with several companies offering comfortable and affordable services. In cities, you can rely on buses, metro systems (in Santiago), and taxis.

Car Rentals

For more flexibility, consider renting a car. This is particularly useful in regions like Patagonia, where public transportation is limited. Ensure you have an international driving permit and familiarize yourself with local driving laws.

Must-Visit Destinations


As the capital city, Santiago offers a blend of modernity and tradition. Visit landmarks like Plaza de Armas, La Moneda Palace, and the historic neighborhood of Bellavista. Don’t miss the panoramic views from San Cristobal Hill.


A UNESCO World Heritage site, Valparaíso is famous for its colorful hillside homes, vibrant street art, and bohemian culture. Explore the city’s many funiculars and enjoy fresh seafood at the local markets.

Atacama Desert

Experience otherworldly landscapes in the Atacama Desert. Visit the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), the Tatio Geysers, and the stunning salt flats. Stargazing here is unparalleled due to the clear skies and low light pollution.


Patagonia is a dream destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Trek the famous W Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, explore the glaciers of the Southern Ice Field, and visit the charming town of Puerto Natales.

Chiloe Archipelago

Known for its unique wooden churches, palafitos (stilt houses), and rich folklore, Chiloe offers a glimpse into a different side of Chilean culture. The island’s national parks are perfect for hiking and wildlife spotting.

Safety Tips

Health and Hygiene

Water Safety: Tap water is generally safe to drink in cities, but in rural areas, it’s best to stick to bottled or purified water.

Vaccinations: Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Typhoid vaccines are recommended.

Altitude Sickness: If traveling to high-altitude areas like the Atacama Desert or the Andes, give yourself time to acclimate to avoid altitude sickness.

Personal Safety

Emergency Numbers: Familiarize yourself with local emergency numbers: 131 for medical emergencies, 132 for fire, and 133 for police.

Local Laws: Respect local laws and customs. For example, drug use is illegal, and penalties can be severe.

Travel Advisories: Stay informed about any travel advisories or political unrest. Register with your embassy if possible.

Environmental Responsibility

Leave No Trace: Follow the principles of Leave No Trace to minimize your impact on the environment. Pack out all trash, respect wildlife, and stick to marked trails.

Sustainable Tourism: Support eco-friendly accommodations and tour operators. Avoid single-use plastics and consider using a reusable water bottle and bags.

Budgeting and Money Management

Currency and ATMs

The local currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP). ATMs are widely available in cities and towns, and most accept international cards. Credit cards are commonly accepted, but it’s a good idea to carry some cash for small purchases and in remote areas.

Budget Tips

Accommodation: Hostels, guesthouses, and campsites are budget-friendly options. In cities, consider staying in residential neighborhoods to save money.

Food: Street food and local markets offer delicious and affordable meals. Try empanadas, cazuela, and completos (Chilean hot dogs).

Activities: Many outdoor activities, like hiking and beach visits, are free. Look for free walking tours in cities to learn about local history and culture.

Cultural Insights


Spanish is the official language of Chile. While English is spoken in tourist areas, learning some basic Spanish phrases can enhance your travel experience and help you connect with locals.


Greetings: A handshake is common, but friends and family often greet with a kiss on the cheek.

Dining: It’s polite to say “buen provecho” (enjoy your meal) before eating. In restaurants, tipping 10% of the bill is customary but not mandatory.

Personal Space: Chileans may stand closer and use more physical contact than you might be used to. Be respectful and adapt to local customs.

Recreating the Experience

Virtual Travel

If you can’t make it to Chile, there are ways to immerse yourself in the culture and landscapes from home:

Documentaries and Films: Watch documentaries like “Patagonia: Earth’s Secret Paradise” or movies set in Chile, such as “The Motorcycle Diaries.”

Books: Read travel books and novels set in Chile, like “My Invented Country” by Isabel Allende or “In Patagonia” by Bruce Chatwin.

Virtual Tours: Many museums and landmarks in Chile offer virtual tours. Explore sites like the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino or take a virtual hike through Torres del Paine.

Tasting Chile at Home

Bring the flavors of Chile to your kitchen with these traditional recipes:

Empanadas: These savory pastries can be filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables.

Pastel de Choclo: A comforting corn pie made with ground beef, chicken, olives, and boiled eggs.

Pisco Sour: Try your hand at making Chile’s national cocktail with pisco, lemon juice, simple syrup, and a dash of bitters.

Engaging with the Culture

Language Learning: Use apps like Duolingo or Babbel to learn Spanish. Practice with native speakers through language exchange platforms like Tandem.

Music and Dance: Listen to Chilean music, such as the folk tunes of Violeta Parra or the rock rhythms of Los Bunkers. Learn the traditional dance, the cueca, through online tutorials.


Q: Is Chile safe for solo travelers?

A: Yes, Chile is generally safe for solo travelers. Exercise common sense, avoid isolated areas at night, and stay informed about local safety advice.

Q: What is the best way to exchange money in Chile?

A: ATMs are the most convenient way to get Chilean Pesos. Alternatively, you can exchange money at banks and official exchange offices. Avoid changing money on the street.

Q: Do I need to know Spanish to travel in Chile?

A: While it’s possible to get by with basic Spanish, knowing some key phrases will greatly enhance your experience and help you navigate more easily.

Q: How do I stay connected to the internet?

A: Wi-Fi is widely available in cities, hostels, and cafes. Consider getting a local SIM card for more reliable internet access, especially in remote areas.

Q: What are the must-try foods in Chile?

A: Some must-try dishes include empanadas, pastel de choclo, cazuela, and seafood like congrio (conger eel) and machas a la parmesana (Parmesan clams).

Chile’s breathtaking landscapes and rich culture make it a prime destination for backpackers. By following these tips and preparing ahead, you can ensure a safe, enriching, and truly memorable journey. Whether you’re trekking through Patagonia, exploring the Atacama Desert, or savoring the flavors of Chilean cuisine, your adventure awaits. ¡Buen viaje!

Share via
Copy link