Driving in Northern Chile

Arica to Santiago: Where to Camp & Routes to Take

Leaving Peru and entering Chile is a cool experience. They're SUCH different places and it's always amazing to watch the terrain slowly change as you continue south. 

Immediately you'll notice the large, 2-lane, super straight highways with gradual curves and speed limits between 80-120 km/hour. If you're coming from the winding and narrow mountain roads of Sacred Valley Peru, you'll suddenly feel like you're flying.

There was very very little construction going on in Jan 2017 and quite a few BRAND new gas stations with impeccably clean facilities. But the stretches between cities are LONG so pack snacks and rest assured that the new gas stations will prevent you from running out of gas (a serious concern for overlanders until recently). The police officers suddenly have radar guns in Chile and the men and women take their jobs very seriously. This is a great thing, its just uncommon if you've been driving through Central America and the northern countries of South America for the past 6 months. From this point on, we encountered ZERO bribes or shady run-ins. Luckily for us, there were surprisingly very few officers patrolling the highways (at least when we were on them) so we made great time. 

Although there is a lot of desert in Northern Chile, the beaches are nice and there's something really cool about desert beaches and beautiful water that crashes into the cliff sides. Some of the things you'll see along the way: San Pedro de Atacama, the incredible Hand of the Desert, Santiago, and Pucón.

We counted 35 tolls from Arica to Villarica/Pucón (including the road from Santiago to Mendoza) and they were not cheap!!


Have we mentioned iOverlander before? If you don't know what it is and you're driving or backpacking and camping across the world, just download the app and thank us later ;) It is what we used to find all of our campsites along the way, with advice for driving conditions, wifi, tourist centers, hot showers, laundry, the list goes on...

Arica to San Pedro de Atacama

Camping Campestre (& Hostel) in San Pedro de Atacama
*DON'T FORGET to stop by the HAND OF THE DESERT on your way to Bahia Inglesa :)!

Atacama to Bahia Inglesa

Bahia Club Camping in Bahia Inglesa (south of town and famous beach)

Bahia Inglesa to La Serena

Camping Ripipal in La Serena (we really enjoyed this one) – awesome, inexpensive burgers in their little restaurant + warm showers for 700 and a really sweet family who came to peruse the tent

La Serena to Valpariso to Santiago in 1 day

Family Farm in Santiago (email us for recommendations) - felt like home, outside the big city, in love!

Santiago to Mendoza

Camping El Mangrullo in Mendoza (just outside of town)

Mendoza to Santiago

Same family campsite we used in Santiago (email us!)

Santiago to Temuco

Camping @ Canopy Lautaro in Temuco.  This was not really a camp site but it was the cheapest place we’ve stayed… which we should have appreciated more before we got to Patagonia). PLUS the husband and wife who ran the place were SO sweet. We had a nice conversation with them in our (still) broken Spanish. It was a little hard to find, so use google maps if you can. Otherwise, ask around. 

Temuco to Villarica & Pucón

Hostal Ecole in Villarica: we treated ourselves to a room but looked for the most inexpensive one in town. It was tiny, but clean and comfortable with clean bathrooms AND (to Meg’s delight) a vegetarian restaurant on-site. Breakfast was AWESOME. There are “more hip” hostels and much nicer hotel options if you're on vacation and are not trying to save money. 

We absolutely loved driving around northern Chile and even more so when we entered the lakes district (basically everything south of Santiago). Chile is an absolutely beautiful country with friendly people and so much trekking and exploring to be done!! Comment with places you've visited and things you did! 

See you down the road! 
Meg + Tyler

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