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  • Total days on the road: 586
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  • Miles Driven: 36821
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Chile Budget Recap

Written by Jared on February 13, 2013

This article is part of our Budget and Money Report series.

Our per diem expenses cover food, lodging, gas and other supplies and travel costs for three people. We travel in a 1997 Toyota 4Runner, tent camp in paid facilities roughly 70% of our nights and eat less than 10% of our meals in restaurants. This budget does not reflect personal spending money, which is mostly used to buy souvenirs and booze. We don't track this money, but we do know we have not come close to spending our budgeted amount of $10 per person per day.

Chile was by far the most expensive country of our trip to date. By all accounts we should have been much farther over budget than we were. The big three: camping, groceries and gas all exceeded our budget. We managed to save by harldy ever staying in hotels and by only eating out one lunch.

We also didn't partake in any tours or activities that tend to drive up our budget significantly. In fact, our next biggest expensive behind groceries, gas and lodging was transportation costs. It's necessary to take a couple ferries in southern Chile to reach the island of Chiloe and the beginning of the Carretera Austral in Chaiten. We didn't budget separately for this, as we should have, and ended up spending $300 between the two boat trips.

This recap covers our time between Concon, a beach town west of Santiago, through the Carretera Austral in the south. It does not include the time we spent in northern Chile in the town of San Pedro de Atacama before entering northern Argentina, nor does it include the time we have yet to spend in the far south of Chile between Torres del Paine and Punta Arenas.

Budget Recap

Number of Days: 52
Average ATM Exchange Rate (CH Pesos per USD$):  464
Budgeted Per Diem:  $82.45
Actual Per Diem:  $86.36
Per Diem Budgeted:  $4,287.40
Per Diem Spent:  $4,490.78
One-Time Expenses:  $166.28
Balance:  -$203.38

A per diem budget of $100 per day would have been more suitable for us, allowing us to eat out a couple more times and not stress about the massive ferry costs. To make our lives easier we budgeted the same numbers for Argentina and Chile since we planned to cross between the two several times. It's our hope to make up the overage during the time we have left in Argentina.

More than any other country, it helps to have an ATM card with a bank that will refund in-network ATM fees in Chile. We were dinged $6-8 every time we used our card to get cash from the wall, but were refunded over $100 by our bank during the 52 days we stayed in Chile.

Our one-time expenses included a rather pricey oil change, and a few inexpensive spare parts that we may need down the road. Our vehicle maintenance/emergency fund is down to $673 from its starting amount of $1,500. Not bad considering we're nearing the end of our trip.

Per Diem Breakdown

Groceries:  $1,863.76 39.07%
Lodging:  $1,493.17 31.30%
Gas:  $1,006.76 21.10%
Transportation:  $302.33 6.34%
Vehicle Maintenance:  $178.37 3.74%
Tolls & Parking:  $29.08 0.61%
Supplies:  $28.72 0.60%
Laundry:  $25.91 0.54%
Eating Out:  $8.66 0.18%

Normally this list has at least 15 line items - gifts, phone calls, coffee runs, park fees, etc. That fact that we were in Chile for 52 days and spent around 90% of our money on gas, groceries and lodging tells the story fairly accurately. We limited ourselves to the necessities and didn't splurge on eating out, going on tours or sipping expensive espressos in fancy cafes.

Thanks to this we stayed closer to budget than we could have hoped for. Unfortunately it meant we spent almost all of our time in campgrounds cooking for ourselves. Nothing we aren't already used to, but it would have been nice to have a bit of wiggle room to enjoy a meal out or to spend a night in a hotel after a week of rain.

Food & Lodging

  Budget Actual Difference
Percent Time Camping:  65% 76.92% +11.92%
Average Camping Cost:  $15.00 $23.21 +$8.21
Daily Food Expenses:  $25.00 $36.01 +$11.01

The price of camping in Chile came as a big surprise. Pricing was always random - by site, by person, by vehicle or by tent. Sometimes a combination of the four. A price of $30 per site or $10 per person was not uncommon. We never paid more than that, but paid less than $20 only a handful of times. We managed to lower the average by camping for free a couple nights on the Carretera Austral.

At the start of our time in Chile we rented a beach house in the town of Concon for about $70 a night for ten days. We spent one night on a ferry during the crossing from Chiloe to Chaiten, and our first night in a proper hostel in three months in the town of Cochrane after being rained out for a work day. Hotel/hostel prices are very expensive in Chile. It is difficult to find a room for less than $20 per person.

The only eating out we did in Chile was to grab a few empanadas from a shop for lunch. Restaurants were double the cost of what we were used to in most places, and due to the high cost of gas and camping we were forced to avoid them to keep our budget in check.


  Budget Actual Difference
Average MPG: 13 17.2 +4.2
Average Gas Price $USD/Gallon: $4.00 $6.36 +$2.36
Miles Driven: 3,033 2,635 -398
Total Spent on Gas: $933.33 $1,006.76 +$73.43

Gas prices were a shocker to say the least. The farther south we got, the more expensive it became. We sent a new record on a fillup, breaking $100 for the first time. In Villa O'Higgins, the southern end of the Careterra Austral, we paid $7.94 per gallon of gas.

Once again, our budgeted fuel economy saved our skin. Drastically underestimating that amount has been one of the best things we've done for our budget on this trip considering how much gas prices have changed in the past two years and how difficult it is to estimate the total distance we'd be driving in each country.

Lessons Learned

  • The bigger the supermarket, the more expensive it is. Jumbo is a fantastic place to shop for food you might be missing from home, but you will pay a lot of money for the basics.
  • When you see cheaper gas, buy it. Prices vary, especially in the more remote areas in the south. Avoid filling up in Villa O'Higgins or on the island of Chiloe if you can. If you are crossing between Chile and Argentina, always fill up on the Argentinian side.
  • On the Carretera Austral grocery selection is very limited. Supply trucks arrive weekly in most towns, and the pickin's get slim in the days before they arrive. Stock up on fresh produce whenever possible. Don't expect to find much more than apples, potatoes, onions and rotting carrots in the smaller towns along the Carretera Austral.
  • Larger Copec gas stations sell a book for $5 that lists camping sites and information about Chile's national parks. It took us a few tries to find it, but it proved very useful in finding cheaper places to camp. The information isn't always accurate, but the prices were close enough that we could choose a campsite without fear of paying $40 for a night in our tents.
  • Wild camping in the Carretera Austral and around the lake district is very possible. Road traffic in the south is infrequent, and there are plenty of places you could easily pull off the road for a night provided you can sleep inside your vehicle.
  • Seafood, especially salmon, is a very good deal in Chile. We bought a 4 kilo salmon fillet for less than $20 on the island of Chiloe. Avoid buying it in supermarkets, seek out the local seafood market for the best deals.
  • Beef in Chile proved to be very disappointing coming from Argentina. Not only is it prohibitively expensive, the quality isn't nearly what you will be used to after a few weeks in Argentina.
  • If you grill a lot, considering buying a big bag of charcoal from a roadside dealer. The smaller 5 kilo bags you find in grocery stores are very expensive and often not the best quality. Keep your eyes out and you shouldn't have trouble finding a charcoal truck or stand selling 20-30 kilo bags for less than $15.
  • Chile is an expensive place to have work done on your car, but it's easy to find parts at respectable prices. Consider buying the parts in Chile and having the work done when you cross back into Argentina.

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