Here is a Chile Travel Guide detailing the practical side or our journey. In Chile we traveled some 120 days between 2007-2013.
Crossing borders between Chile and Argentina means that you get to see the most beautiful parts of the Andes. Do drive back and forth often, because many of the passes are just stunning! Do keep in mind, though, that many border crossings are closed during the winter because of snow. Chile provides info online on the matter.
Our 10+ border crossings into Chile have been straightforward in terms of immigration and customs. However, there is SAG, and these guys are at every border, and that’s where the nuisance starts.
SAG – Handing over fruits, vegetables, meat
You are not allowed to bring fresh/dried fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products into Chile. You may like this law or not, but is an understandable one since Chile is such a closed-off country and therefore free of a lot of diseases – and they like to keep it that way.
The nuisance is the inconsistencies in the enforcement of this law. You’ll hear the stories from other travelers. Many have had to hand over stuff that just didn’t make sense: a still-closed bag with dog food that was bought in Chile only weeks earlier, cans of tuna, a still-sealed container with dried pepper are among the ones I remember.
Our weird ones that I can remember:
- At one border they made an issue of bird feathers that we keep as souvenirs pinned to the inside of the Land Cruiser. After a long discussion we could keep them as look as they came from Asia and not Argentina. Makes sense?
- At another border the official wanted to confiscate an almost completely gone mini broom made of natural materials (there could be seeds in there).
At the border crossing coming from Mendoza the Land Cruiser was checked by a sniffer dog. I have to say that this thorough check (1,5 hours) was one of the friendliest we had. This was our first crossing into Chile and the officer handed us a leaflet, which listed the following forbidden products (for up to date info, check SAG’s website):
- fruits and vegetables
- potatoes and lentils
- plants and seeds
- wood (artesanía)
- honey, wax, propólea y polen (last 2 are Spanish words, I don’t know the translation)
- meat, sausages and cecinas (another Spanish word unknown to me)
- cheese and eggs
- animals, birds and bees
After all these crossings we concluded that the level of nuisance depends on the border crossing, as well as the mood of the officer (and no doubt your own mood will help or be counter productive). Sometimes we crossed without an officer checking the Land Cruiser’s bowels, at other times the officer was obviously searching for something to confiscate because he felt like it.
Luck helps, no doubt.
Stocking up for Torres del Paine
If you drive down from El Calafate (Argentina) to Torres del Paine, you have two options:
- Take the short route via Cancha Carrera (Arg) – Cerro Castillo (Chile)
- Take the longer route via Puerto Natales.
If you intend to stay in Torres del Paine for a while, we suggest driving via Puerto Natales for your shopping. Taking the short route meant passing only by Cerro Castillo, where the tiny grocery shop was hardly stocked at all (Dec ’07).
Our Travel Budget
The rate was 672 pesos to a euro (Sep ’13). All cities have ATMs, including the more remote ones such as Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas and San Pedro de Atacama.
Chile is an expensive country compared to most South American countries (with the exception of Brazil and French Guiana), especially the daily groceries add up quite a bit compared to Argentina. The toll on the Pan-Am can add up as well.
On the other hand, the products in hardware stores seem to be cheaper and definitely of better quality than in Argentina. A comparison between Toyota garages gave us the impression that many of the spare parts are also cheaper than in Argentina (or cost the same).
On average we spent 31 euros per day in Chile.
You don’t need a Carnet de Passage, at the border you will get a Temporary Import Document. There was one exception to the otherwise straightforward paperwork for the vehicle: on the Tacna-Arica border and the Chilean border with Bolivia & Chile (Visviri), we needed a paper called Relación de Passageros, on which you register who are the passengers.
People who regularly cross the border generally carry a stack of these forms, and the easiest is just to ask one of them for one.
At the border we got a 3-month visa, free of charge (this may differ per nationality, do check the official channels for specific info).
Read More: Chile’s Northernmost Border Crossing
02. The Land Cruiser
We have good experience with the Toyota Garage in Osorno (Sep ’07), where they ordered parts for us in Santiago and had them delivered within two days.
Good experience as well at the Automovile Club de Chile in Calama (Nov ’08). Coen could work on the Land Cruiser by himself.
Automovil Club de Chile
Av. Ecuador 1901
Phone: 055 – 342770
GPS Waypoint: -22.46890, -68.92390
Read More: Magic-number Car Tires for Overlanding
Some of the parts we bought in Chile:
- shock absorbers
- air compressor
- a couple of tools
- 5 tires (Iquique, Zona Franca) and tubes.
Type of work we got done in Chile:
- Welding of the exhaust (several times)
- Changing of oil/filter brake fluid
- Vulcanizing of the engine supports
03. Diesel, Gas Stations, Roadmaps & Guidebooks
- October 2007 (around Santiago): diesel costs around 470 pesos per liter.
- December 2007 (southern Chile): around 573 pesos per liter.
- December 2008 (San Pedro de Atacama): around 634 per liter.
- January 2010 (Iquique): around 455 pesos per liter.
- September 2013 (Arica): around 660 pesos per liter.
Gas stations are everywhere with the notable exception of the altiplano in north Chile. If you plan to do off-the-beaten trips east of Iquique and/or Arica, stock up on fuel because the chance is high you won’t find it along the way. The towns with gas stations we remember: Arica, Iquique, Pozo Almonte (all on Ruta 5), the village of Pica and in Putre you ask around and maybe find somebody who can sell you a couple of liters.
The towns with gas stations we remember: Arica, Iquique, Pozo Almonte (all on Ruta 5), the village of Pica and in Putre you ask around and maybe find somebody who can sell you a couple of liters.
In general public toilets in Chile are reasonable clean (well, at least compared to neighboring countries), have toilet paper and often have hot showers. At the Copec stations you pay for these services. The Copec stations along the Pan-Am have WiFi, you recognize them by a red shopping bag on their road signs.
Roadmaps & Guidebooks
We are happy with Reise Knowhow maps, which are made of strong quality paper (they don’t tear and are water resistant). The Chilean map is 1:600.000. We’ve also had good experiences with Nelles Verlag Maps and International Travel Maps.
In Chile: YPF and Copec gas stations sell good roadmaps, which of course include the locations of their gas stations.
Our standard guidebook is Lonely Planet. Although quality can differ quite a bit per country and edition, we generally find it gives a good overview of the country. We use this book to get a feel for the country and once we’ve crossed the border we will search for local guidebooks and other sources of information.
Other travelers, especially overlanders, are smitten with the South American Handbook as it is more focused on road travel.
I have also enjoyed Lonely Planet’s phrasebooks and find its Healthy Travel booklets useful as well.
04. Public Transport
That part of the budget was spent on:
- Ferry crossing at Punta Arenas.
- Ferry crossing at the border between the Argentinean and Chilean Lake District, Puerto Fuy (recommended).
- Ferry crossing to/from Tierra del Fuego.
05. Sightseeing in Chile
Although we spent most of our time on road trips, enjoying landscapes and wildlife, we did our share of sightseeing as well. Apart from spending money on Torres del Paine and a couple of other national parks we paid entrance fees for:
- Couple of museums, observatory Cerro Mamalluca (recommended).
- Thermal bath Amarillos (near Chaitén, GPS Waypoints: -45.99642, -72.44222).
- Sights around San Pedro de Atacama.
06. Accommodation & Camping
Read More: Accommodation & Camping in Chile
07. Other Expenditures
All expenditures mentioned above minus what we totally spent is what we call daily expenditures. This is mostly groceries and going out for lunch/dinner.
La Cumbre – equipo de montana, is a store with lots of quality outdoor equipment (Sep ’07).
Av. Apoquindo 5220
Las Condes (neighborhood northeast of Santiago)
GPS Waypoints: -33.41055, -70.57395
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