Usually when I’m doing one of these price rundowns for a country, it’s to show you what a bargain it is in one of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. When I went on a trip to Chile this past week for a wine tourism article though, I knew that would not be the case. Chile is, in most respects, at the top of the pyramid in Latin America. It’s got the most stable government, the best infrastructure, water you can drink, and a great airline—LAN.
So traveling here feels like it does in most developed nations: predictable (in a good way), hygenic, safe, and well…easy. There are a few relative bargains, but for restaurant meals, airport taxis, and hotels, expect to pay about what you would in the U.S. Especially now with the exchange rate around 500 pesos to the dollar.
The Santiago Metro will get you around most of the city for a buck in off-peak hours, a bit more during rush hour. Here’s more on that in English from the Urban Rail site. A short taxi ride will only cost you a few dollars and riding one of the 17 funicular trains up the hills of Valparaiso will only cost you around 25 cents U.S. Long-distance buses are nice and comfortable and cost $2 to $6 per hour of travel depending on the class. The best overnight bus from Santiago to Puerto Varas, for example, is $60 for 10 hours, while the cheapest is $26 for 12 hours.
Chilean wine is one of the world’s best values, as you’ve probably noticed already by browsing your local store. If you’re going to spend $10 or less on a bottle of Cabernet, Chardonney, Savignon Blanc, or a blended red, your odds of getting something really good are better if it’s from Chile than from anywhere else. (In the interest of research, I tried about 100 wines the past week, so I should know.) Buying locally in Chile, there are only a few labels that can top the $20 mark at retail, so you drink well there and the mark-up at restaurants as in Argentina is low enough that most everyone orders wine with dinner.
Seafood is abundant and reasonable, though again you’ll pay more for it here than in neighboring countries. In general the food is excellent, whether you’re eating at a great locals’ hangout like Liguria—where most dishes are under $10—or a fancy “tough to get a reservation” place like Pasta E Vino at The Aubrey.
The price that really hurts the most in Chile though is the one you’ll pay just to enter the country: $140 if you’re American. You’re down that much plus your long-haul flight cost before you even step out of the airport. That hurts. It’s good for the life of your passport, but if you’re like me and up for renewal soon, you’re SOL on that. You’ve just made a fat donation to the Chilean government and you won’t even get a thank-you note.