This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General availability: Excellent
Quality of bandwidth: High (Except in San Pedro and the Carretera Austral)
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Medium
Frequency of internet in hotels: Medium-High
San Pedro de Atacama was the only city we visited in the north. We reentered Chile near Santiago and traveled all of the way south to Villa O’higgins. Information on southern Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego will be included in the Southern Argentina Wifi Report.
Excellent. Internet was much easier to find in Chile than expected. Every town had multiple internet cafes. Most larger towns (and Villa O’Higgins) offered some type of free wifi at the main square. Some campgrounds had wifi, but not all, especially those more than a few miles from a town. Internet in hostels was very common. Most guest houses offer it, but ask in advance to be certain.
Throughout central Chile there is usually free wifi at larger petrol/gas stations. Copec stations, especially just off major highways, have nice large sitting areas and free wifi. Although generally you will need to purchase something to get the password. We even found some stations with calling booths and cheap rates for international numbers. Be wary though, just like internet in cafes, some places are more reliable than others. We stopped at more than a few that clearly had a wifi signal but refused to give out the password, or didn't know the password.
Bandwidth was surprisingly good, especially compared to the maddening speeds and unreliability we experienced in Northern Argentina. Between Santiago and the start of the Carretera we hardly had any connection or bandwidth issues. I used Skype for my conference calls for the first time in months.
San Pedro de Atacama was without a doubt the worst possible place on the planet to find wifi. We spent four days here and the one service provider was down. The free wifi on the square didn’t work. All the restaurants would say their internet was working, but it never did. We started opening our laptops in the reception area to see if it worked, and then walking out without ordering if it didn’t. Internet cafes refused to let us use our laptops, and did not offer wifi.
The Carretera Austral had better than expected internet. Every town had connectivity and most offered some sort of free service at the library or main square. That said, the most amazing places we camped on the Carretera did not have internet access.
In San Pedro de Atacama we bought an Entel sim card for CLP 5,000 (US$10). Originally we used this only for phone calls, but later determined we could plug in the APN settings and get this to work on our unlocked modem. Details below.
We did see Entel prepaid modems for sale for CLP 20,000 (US$40) that came with CLP 10,000 that you could use to activate internet packets. Claro modems were a much better deal at CLP 15,000 (US$30), because they came with three months free usage. We spent two hours at a phone shop in Pucon (Lakes District) trying to get the Claro modem to work. It never did. This is the first time in our travels that we could not get a prepaid modem to work.
Entel had the best coverage by far. It worked everywhere in the Lakes District, on the Carretera Austral and up in San Pedro de Atacama. If you need reliable service, go with Entel.
The downside is that internet packets are expensive. You pay CLP 1,000 (US$2) for 7MB of data, or CLP 3,500 (US$7) for 25MB of data. Both packets expire in one week, but it doesn't matter. I can’t even get through a half a day’s worth of email with only 7MB. Despite having great reception, the data caps were unbearable and made even simple email checking expensive.
Here are the APN settings to use if you buy a prepaid Entel SIM card:
Dial number: blank
Authorization Type: PAP
As I mentioned previously Entel Sim cards cost CLP 5,000 (US$10). Costs to call the US were a whopping CLP 415/ minute (US$.83). Rates were similar with Claro and Movistar. I used Skype whenever possible and calling centers all other times. There are international packets available for calling other countries in South America. To call internationally from Chile dial 123 and then the international number.
Between Santiago and the Carretera internet is excellent. With minimal research you can have it in every hostel or campground. If you need it in more remote areas, pick up an Entel sim card and hope that you mom doesn’t email you 10MB of funny cat photos.