Tips and prices on independent travel to South America

Independent travel tour to South America: 3 weeks & 3 countries

To see national parks of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina in three weeks I spent (all prices converted to USD):

  • $905 Food in cafes, restaurants, street food
  • $890 Flights
  • $750 Hotels
  • $485 Excursions and tickets to national parks
  • $215 Water, fruit, snacks, tips, and other small expenses
  • $60 Bus tickets
  • $27 Taxi

Total $3332 for 3 weeks or $1110/week.

glacier in south america

Tour plan

Natural attractions inspire me much more than architectural monuments. South America was still an unknown continent for me, and when I saw photos of the Altiplano lagoons in Chile and the Uyuni salt marsh in Bolivia, the question “to be or not to be” disappeared by itself.

Chile, Bolivia and Argentina can offer the traveler all the best: Chile has the driest places on the planet, Bolivia has the world’s largest salt marsh, and Argentina has the world’s most beautiful glacier. These countries share common borders and similar visa conditions, so it is easy to visit all three in one trip.

On the plane. From Barcelona to Santiago, the plane flies 14 hours. It was the longest flight of my life. I solved the issue of food simply: I have a business card with which I can visit business halls at airports around the world for free and use their services. As a rule, in any business hall there is a choice of hot and cold snacks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. I not only had a good meal before the flight, but I also took sandwiches, yogurts, and water with me.

In Chile

When entering Chile, you must fill out a declaration – the forms are distributed by the flight attendants on the plane.

Animal products, unprocessed vegetables and fruits cannot be imported into the country. Compliance with this rule is strictly monitored: in Santiago, all the luggage of our passengers was passed through a scanner. Prohibited products and unprocessed vegetables and fruits found in the luggage are seized. The same control was on the border of Chile and Argentina. At the border of Chile and Bolivia, the luggage of our group was searched by Chilean border guards with dogs.

chile santiago

When entering Chile, each foreigner is issued a migration card, which looks like a receipt from a supermarket. In electronic form, this card is filled out by an employee of the international police, which in Chile refers to the police of investigations, in Spanish-Policía de Investigaciones, abbreviated PDI. The migration card in Chile is also commonly referred to as the PDI.

On the front side of the document, personal data is indicated, on the back — the seal of the customs control point. The PDI card is withdrawn from a foreigner when leaving the country. When I crossed the borders with Bolivia and Argentina, the PDI was taken from me by customs officers. When I returned to Chile, they gave me a new one.

In Argentina

When crossing the border of Chile and Argentina, I did not fill out the migration card, the Argentine border guard put a stamp on the entry in the passport and wished me a good day. This was the easiest border on this journey.

Bolivia

When entering Bolivia, you need to fill out the migration card yourself. When I passed the control, the border guard put a stamp in my passport and kept half of the migration card form. The second half I handed over to the border guard when leaving the country.

bolivia llama

In San Pedro de Atacama, I bought a trip to Bolivia. It cost $155, and after a little haggling I paid $110. I also exchanged $30 for pesos to pay for the entrance to the Eduardo Avaroa National Park in Bolivia.

The tour was a four-day jeep trip in groups of 4-5 people with a Spanish-speaking guide-driver. My companions were a young couple from Switzerland, who are traveling for the fourth month, and a couple from Italy.

The price of the trip to Bolivia included accommodation and three meals a day. Our guide-driver prepared our camping breakfast; for lunch and dinner, we stopped at small cafes, where the table was already set for our group.

During the first two days of the trip to the Uyuni salt marsh, we visited several places: the lagoons of Blanca, Verde and Polkes, the Lycancabur volcano, the bright yellow mountain range with the Putana volcano, hot mud volcanoes, the dried — up Catalan lagoon, the Anaconda Canyon and the incredible beauty of the place-the Colorado lagoon with maroon water and hundreds of pink flamingos.

The third day we spent on the Uyuni salt marsh, the fourth day was completely spent on the return trip back to San Pedro de Atacama.

beach in chile

Internet and communication

Chile has five major mobile operators: Entel, Claro, Movistar, VTR, and Virgin Mobile. I didn’t need a local SIM card for communication: when traveling around the world, I usually use my home tariff from MTS and additionally connect the “Zero without Borders” option, which reduces the cost of calls.

With the local mobile Internet in Chile, I had two unexpected difficulties. On the first day in Santiago, I visited several mobile phone shops, but they refused to sell me a SIM card with a prepaid Internet package: the consultants offered a permanent connection to local mobile operators Claro or Movistar and at least a six-month full-fledged contract for cellular communication. I could only find a sim card with a prepaid Internet package from Entel at the Fotokina kiosk at Santiago Airport before my flight to Calama. 3 GB was not cheap — $25, the package is valid for 15 days from the date of activation.

In Santiago, I lived in a small family hotel in the center of the city. For 4 nights, I paid $250. In the morning, the owner of the hotel prepared breakfast, sang and taught us to speak Chileno-a Chilean dialect of Spanish.

In San Pedro de Atacama — a small village in the Atacama Desert and the starting point for trips to the desert-I chose a room in a cozy wooden mini-hotel, it costs $136 for 4 nights.

In the city of Puerto Natales in Patagonia, I had a room with a great view in a great five-star hotel on the shore of a fjord. Breakfast, a white robe and access to the spa were included in the price. For 4 nights in this hotel, I paid $411. I also stayed overnight in Punta Arenas, for a night in a small hotel near the airport paid $45. All hotels were booked in advance on booking.com, so the prices are indicated in dollars.

piedras rojas

When staying in hotels in Chile, foreigners are exempt from paying the local tax of 19% if they pay for the room in cash in US dollars. This rule is not always followed. In Puerto Natales, I paid for a hotel room with a card, and in San Pedro de Atacama-with Chilean pesos, but in both cases, after the magic phrase “I do not have to pay taxes because I am a foreigner”. In order not to pay the tax, you must present the PDI.

Groceries

I used to eat out white at a trip, so I bought only water, snacks and fruits, but still wrote down the prices to compare:

  • chilled salmon fillet, 1 kg — $17
  • cheese, 1 kg — $6.3
  • pork, 1 kg — $5.3
  • frozen shrimp, 1 kg — $10.2
  • beef, 1 kg — $4.2
  • mango, 1 kg — $2.1
  • chilled chicken, 1 kg — $1.9
  • wine, 1 bottle — 
  • freshly baked bread, 1 kg — $1.7
  • eggs, 12 pieces — $1.7
  • tomatoes, 1 kg — $1.4
  • bananas, 1 kg — $0.85
  • milk, 1L — $0.7
  • pasta, 400 g — $0.6
  • potatoes, 5 kg — $0.6

My tips before traveling to South America:

  • If you fly to Chile with hand luggage and buy tickets on sale, you can save up to 35% of the ticket price
  • The easiest way to buy a sim card with a prepaid mobile internet package is at the Santiago airport immediately upon arrival
  • If you have a phone older than 2016, mobile internet in Chile may not work
  • To mitigate the symptoms of altitude sickness, it is necessary to increase the altitude gradually
  • Mid-April to mid-May is the best time to visit the Atacama Desert, the Uyuni Salt Marsh and the Perito Moreno Glacier in one trip
  • To ensure that you do not pay the local tax, you need to pay for hotels in cash in dollars and present a migration card — PDI
  • Portions in Chilean cafes and restaurants are large — you can order one for two