Most people fly into Chile, arriving at Santiago’s modern international airport, though some travel by land from neighbouring countries, and a handful arrive by sea.
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Airfares depend on the season. You’ll pay the highest fares in the December to February and June to August periods, the southern and northern hemisphere’s summer holiday months, respectively. Fares drop slightly during the “shoulder” months – March and November – and you’ll get the best prices during the low seasons: April, May, September and October.
Flights from the US and Canada
US travellers shouldn’t find it too hard to get a fairly convenient flight to Santiago. American Airlines (aa.com), Delta (delta.com) and LAN (lan.com) offer non-stop flights from airports such as Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta. It is also possible to travel via other Latin American countries such as Peru and Brazil. Typical fares are around US$1000–1200 in the high season.
LAN and Air Canada (aircanada.com) both have flights from Toronto to Santiago; high season fares are around C$1600–1900.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
There are currently no direct flights from either London or Dublin to Chile, so you’ll have to travel via a European, Latin American or US city; LAN (lan.com), Iberia (iberia.com), British Airways (britishairways.com) and Air France (airfrance.com) are all options. In general, high-season fares cost around £900–1100. In addition to price, it’s also worth paying attention to the routes used by the different airlines; even the shortest and most convenient ones via Madrid or Buenos Aires entail a total travelling time of over 16 hours. Flying via the US is longer still (though sometimes cheaper).
Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
Qantas (qantas.com), Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.com), LAN (LAN.com) and – via Buenos Aires – Aerolíneas Argentinas (aerolineas.com) offer flights from Sydney and Auckland to Santiago. In the high season, expect to pay from around Aus$2100/NZ$1700.
From South Africa, South Africa Airways (flysaa.com) has flights from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo, Brazil, from where there are regular connections to Santiago. It is cheaper to buy the main flight separately – expect to pay around R8000–9000 – and then book your flight on to Chile.
If Chile is only one stop on a longer journey, you might want to consider a round-the-world (RTW) ticket. “An off-the-shelf” ticket will have you touching down in about half a dozen cities. An itinerary including Santiago costs from around £1000. Alternatively, you can have a travel agent custom-make a RTW ticket for you, though this is more expensive. Trailfinders (trailfinders.com) and STA Travel (statravel.com) both sell RTW tickets.
Air passes are another alternative if you plan to visit several destinations in South America. The Visit South America pass (oneworld.com) is operated by the Oneworld alliance (which includes LAN, British Airways and American Airlines). It allows you to plan your own itinerary, with set flight prices depending on the distance travelled between (or within) countries; note that you must use a minimum of three flights. LAN’s South America Airpass is similar, though generally a little cheaper. However, you may find that promotional fares within Chile are a better option than either of the passes.
If you plan to visit Easter Island, your flight there from Santiago will be far cheaper if it is bought in conjunction with a LAN international flight.
Chile has international rail links between Arica and Tacna in Peru and between Uyuni in Bolivia and Calama; at the time of writing, however, the latter route was suspended. There are also plans to construct a railway line between Arica and La Paz in Bolivia.
Several roads connect Chile with Argentina – from Santiago or Valparaíso to Mendoza via Los Andes; from Osorno and Puerto Montt to Bariloche and from Puntas Arenas to Río Gallegos – all of which are served by buses. There are other routes, including the Ruta 41 from La Serena, one of the most dramatic, which leads over the mountains from the Elqui Valley before joining other roads to San Juan. The route only opens in the warmer months between October/November and April. All Andean routes, even the road to Mendoza, can be blocked by snow from April onwards. A decent road and regular buses link Chile to Peru from Arica through to Tacna. You can also catch buses from Arica to La Paz in Bolivia; this takes you through the stunning scenery of the Lauca National Park, but it does mean travelling from sea level up to 4500m in just a few hours so take plenty of water and expect to feel pretty uncomfortable.
Agents and operators
Adventure Associates Australia 02 8916 3000, adventureassociates.com.au. Established operator with tours and cruises to Antarctica, Chile and South America as a whole.
Adventures Abroad 1-800 665 3998, adventures-abroad.com. Adventure specialists offering two-week tours to Patagonia, and extended trips throughout Chile and Argentina.
Austral Tours UK 020 7233 5384, latinamerica.co.uk. Small company offering a 16-day tour in northern and southern Chile, plus tailor-made itineraries based around wine, fishing, trekking or archeology.
Dragoman UK 01728 861 133, www.dragoman.com. Overland journeys in purpose-built vehicles; shorter camping and hotel-based safaris, too.
Exodus UK 0845 240 5550, exodus.co.uk. Adventure tour operator taking small groups for specialist programmes including hiking, biking, overland and cultural trips.
Explore Worldwide UK 0870 333 4001, explore.co.uk. Small-group tours, treks, expeditions and safaris throughout Chile.
Intrepid Travel UK 0800 781 1660, intrepidtravel.com. Small-group tours with the emphasis on cross-cultural contact and low-impact tourism.
Journey Latin America UK 020 8747 3108, journeylatinamerica.co.uk. Long-established Latin America specialists, with a huge choice of trips (both package and tailor-made) across Chile.
Mountain Travel Sobek1-888 831 7526, mtsobek.com. Trips include a “Patagonia Explorer” package, featuring hiking and sailing.
Nature Expeditions International 1-800 869 0639, naturexp.com. The 15-day Chile tour takes in Torres del Paine and the Atacama desert.
REI Adventures 1-800 622 2236, rei.com/adventures. Climbing, cycling, hiking, cruising, paddling and multi-sport tours.
Ski.com 1-800 908 5000, ski.com. Package skiing trips to Portillo and Valle Nevado.
South America Travel Centre Australia 03 9642 5353, satc.com.au. Large selection of tours and accommodation packages throughout the region.
Tucan Travel UK 020 8896 1600, tucantravel.com. Backpacker group trips in Chile and neighbouring countries.
Wilderness Travel1-800 368 2794, wildernesstravel.com. Specialists in hiking, cultural and wildlife adventures.
Wildlife Worldwide UK 020 8667 9158, wildlifeworldwide.com. Customised trips for wildlife and wilderness enthusiasts.
World Expeditions Australia 02 8270 8400, worldexpeditions.com.au, New Zealand 09 368 4161, worldexpeditions.co.nz. Offers a range of adventure holidays.