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Chile

Last updated: October 2023

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Key Facts Cycling

Louisa & Tobi's Bike Route through Chile
  • 92 days in the country, from 25/01/2023 to 23/02/2023; 11/03/2023 to 06/05/2023 & 22/05/2023 to 26/05/2023

  • 4,932 km / 3,065 mi cycled

  • 71 cycling days

  • Overnight stays: 

    • Wild camping: 47

    • Other free camping (villages, etc.): 12

    • Paid campsites: 2

    • Hosts: 6

    • Paid accommodation: 18

    • Other (bus, ferries, etc.): 5

  • The Route: Border Crossing Paso Fronterizo Hito Cajón - San Pedro de Atacama - Calama - Taltal - Huasco - Vallenar - La Serena - Ovalle - Caimanes - Santiago - Los Angeles - Villarica - Puerto Montt - Carretera Austral - Ferry Puerto Yungay to Puerto Natales - Cerro Sombrero - Border Crossing San Sebastián

  • Our Cycling Highlights: Atacama Desert & Patagonia 

Note: On this page you will mostly find information about cycling the northern half of Chile, even though there is lots of general information about the whole country. For more detailed information about cycling Patagonia, especially the Carretera Austral & Tierra del Fuego, please visit Patagonia.

Key Facts Country

  • Official name: Republic of Chile

  • Population (2023): 19,630,00

  • Capital: Santiago

  • Official language: Spanish

  • Currency: Chilean Peso (CLP)

  • Dialing code: +56

  • One of the most economically & socially stable nations in South America

  • A long & narrow country - it stretches 4,300 km / 2,672 mi north-south, but only 350 km / 217 mi at the widest east-west point

  • Closest country to Antarctica

  • Extremely diverse geography from the Atacama desert to Patagonia

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Atacama Desert

Louisa cycling through the Atacama Desert in Chile
Wild camping on the Pacific Ocean while Bike Touring through Chile
  • ​​2,000 m / 6,560 ft descent from the Altiplano to San Pedro de Atacama: ~40 km / 25 mi downhill with stunning views of the vast desert on Highway 27

  • The Atacama region surprised us with beautiful landscapes, some good and empty roads and very friendly people

  • From San Pedro we cycled the highways 23, 25 & 5 via Calama through the desert; it wasn't too busy and most of the time there was a good shoulder; this part can be very windy/sandy though and camping can be tough

  • There are long stretches with no villages or any kind of shelter

  • Highway B-70 / B-710 between La Negra and Paposo was nice and empty, but there is literally nothing for 150 km / 93 mi

  • The Nationalpark Pan de Azúcar (south of Taltal) is beautiful and a very enjoyable ride on the smooth and empty dirt road (C-110 / C-120)

Camping & Accommodation

  • Wild camping in Chile was generally quite easy, even though sometimes you have to search a while until you find a good spot to camp

  • In greener, more fertile regions many areas are fenced in (more agriculture and generally more inhabitants), making wild camping harder, but not impossible 

  • We always avoided being seen

  • You'll find accommodation in many places, the cheapest we had cost 20,000 CLP, often prices ranged between 25,000 - 50,000 CLP, depending on the region and the kind of accommodation

  • On the Carretera Austral it can make sense to share a Cabaña (Cabin) with other travelers, as it's charged per cabin and not per person (around 50,000 CLP); they are really cozy 

Infrastructure

  • Chile has many nicely paved small roads

  • Cycling on the motorway is prohibited, but everyone does it (especially if there is no other road); sometimes heavy traffic, but usually there is a good shoulder

  • You'll find some shops to buy basic food in almost every village/town, the bigger towns may have a proper supermarket

  • Food Trucks are very popular, we loved Completos and Churrascos

  • The tap water in most of the country is potable; we always carry chlorine tablets to disinfect water if necessary 

  • Many towns and villages have clean public toilets where you can fill up water (and wash yourself)

  • There is a good network of ferries established in Patagonia (learn more here)

Spare Part Availability

  • We didn't need spare parts in the north of Chile, but as the country's infrastructure is generally quite good, you will probably find sufficient shops in many towns 

  • Calama, Antofagasta, Copiapó, Vallenar, La Serena & Ovalle are some examples for northern cities with bike shops 

  • Santiago has good shops as well; there you might also find a bit more high-end parts 

  • In Puerto Montt are some basic bike stores/mechanics 

  • Punta Arenas has some good shops, we were happy with Bikeservice Patagonia, where we bought some spare parts and got Tobi's hub serviced

Sim Card & Internet

  • Network providers: Entel, Claro, Wom & Movistar

  • We had a Claro sim card which we bought in a money exchange house in San Pedro de Atacama 

  • Unlike in many other countries in Central and South America, we found Claro isn't the best option to go with in Chile

  • Especially on the Carretera Austral we barely ever had internet, while our Chilean friend often had 3G or 4G with his Movistar sim card

  • Entel & Movistar seem to be the best options to go with 

  • For fast free WiFi on the road go to the Copec gas stations

Climate & Weather

  • General climate zones: 

    • Warm and arid in the north

    • Mediterranean in the center

    • Cool and oceanic in the south

  • Northern Chile's warm and dry climate was the reason we decided to cycle there instead of Argentina's Ruta 40 in February, where it is usually hot, humid & rainy around that time 

  • We loved the pleasantly warm, but not too hot weather along Chile's northern coast and barely had any rain until reaching Puerto Montt

  • We cycled the Carretera Austral in Autumn and were expecting rainy days and cold temperatures, but were surprised by many sunny days and temperatures above 10°C / 50°F on some days (not normal in that season)

  • The mornings and evenings were freezing cold though and the days were short

  • The winds in Patagonia and especially Tierra del Fuego are supposed to be strongest in summer; in autumn it was still quite strong with up to 50 km/h / 31 mph

Border Crossings

  • Bolivia to Chile: Paso Fronterizo Hito Cajón (Chile) - in the middle of nowhere, fast and easy

  • Chile to Argentina: San Sebastián - also fast and easy (this border has a warm waiting room where cyclists can spend the night!)

  • Airport Santiago de Chile (Aeropuerto Arturo Merino Benítez, SCL)

  • These are only the border crossings we took, there are of course many more

  • With our German passports we got 90 days without having to apply for a visa

  • Chile was the first country where we had to fill out customs documents for our bikes (the 90 days also apply for bikes)

  • No costs

  • Some documents to fill out beforehand

  • When entering Chile, your luggage might be checked

  • Most people zigzag between Chile and Argentina when taking the most common route through Patagonia

  • Always check regulations before entering the country as they might change on short notice 

Safety

  • Generally we felt safe, but we always try to stay hidden when wild camping

  • Big cities are potentially more dangerous, just be cautious and inform yourself about areas you better avoid; we didn't have any dangerous situations

  • Hardly any dog problems

  • The drivers were mostly considerate 

  • Emergency numbers: 

    • Police (Carabineros de Chile): 133

    • Ambulance (Ambulancia SAMU): 131

    • Firefighters (Bomberos): 132

Cash & Expenses

  • Compared to most of the other South American countries, Chile is quite expensive, especially in remote & touristy regions

  • Exchange rate Oct. 2023: 1 EUR = 995 CLP / 1 USD = 930 CLP

  • Payment by card is often possible, provided there is internet 

  • When paying by card, the cashiers always ask 'Débito o Crédito?' - our Revolut Visa cards, which usually count a credit cards, counted as debit cards in Chile

  • When choosing 'Crédito' while paying by card, we were charged a small fee, with 'Débito' it was free

  • Always take enough cash with you, just in case

  • Almost all ATMs charge an 8,000 CLP fee for cash withdrawal; the only free withdrawals we made were with the Scotiabank ATMs

  • ATMs are called Cajero Automático in Spanish

Tourism

  • San Pedro de Atacama:

    • A touristy and expensive town 

    • Lots of tourist attractions around (e.g. Geysers del Tatio or Valle de la Luna)

    • You can book tours or cycle to these attractions, we didn't do any of that though (but Tobi went there on vacation in 2018 and really enjoyed the Geysers)

  • There are some nice and empty towns along the coast, like Taltal

  • The Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar is worth a visit, especially if you want to go for a swim in the ocean

  • Santiago doesn't have the best reputation, but we enjoyed the city

  • The Marble Caves in Puerto Río Tranquilo at the Lago General Carrera (along the Carretera Austral) are really beautiful; you can only see them by boat (many tour operators are situated at the shore of the lake in town)

  • Rafting is popular in Patagonia, a cyclist we met went rafting in Futaleufú and really liked it

  • Nationalpark Torres del Paine: 

    • Chile's main tourist attraction, famous for its hiking routes through breathtaking landscapes

    • The park is open all-year round, but in winter (May - September) you can only enter the park with a certified guide

    • High season is in summer, from December to February

    • Two main hikes: 

      • O-Circuit - approx. 120 km / 75 mi, open from 1st of November to 31st of March, possible without a guide, campground reservations are mandatory

      • W-Circuit - approx. 80 km / 50 mi, open from 1st October to 25th of April, possible without a guide, campground reservations are mandatory

    • Tobi hiked the W-Circuit in December 2018 and loved the landscapes, but it was quite busy  

  • Puerto Natales is a cute, but touristy town (the closest town to Torres del Paine)

  • Parque Pingüino Rey:

    • A colony of King Penguins has settled in Tierra del Fuego, east of Porvenir, in 2010

    • You have to book a tour online, it costs 12,000 CLP per adult

    • Opening times in low season are from Thursday to Sunday - unfortunately it was closed when we were there

    • It's completely closed from June to September

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