Hi. I begin backpacking in South America soon by flying into Santiago. From there I intend to head to the Bolivia border. However, I get the impression that there is little of interest in North Chile, and many people opt to take a massive bus journey to San Pedro de Atacama. Therefore, I'm wondering if its possible and recommended to cross into Argentina and move North over there instead, then returning into Chile once near San Pedro de Atacama?
Hi - if it's of any interest, after our flight into Santiago we immediately took a flight from there to Calama followed by a 90 minute bus journey to San Pedro de Atacama and had three nights there before heading across the salt flats to Uyuni. With the deal we had with LAN airways and the Lanpass, this was a reasonably cheap option and meant we pretty much started our trip in San Pedro saving time and the expense of Argentina. It might be worth weighing up the cost of flights against time and accommodation in Argentina.
You can do the 22 hour bus ride from Santiago to Calama in one hit, but Calama is a dodgy town with questionable police, so leave as quickly as you can, either by heading to the coast and spending a few days exploring around Iquique or across to San Pedro de Atacama, where you can travel across the Salt Flats to Uyuni, Bolivia.
Not sure there is too much worth stopping for between Santiago and the north on either side of the border with Argentina. Flying might be worth looking into, but the bus journey is not as bad as it sounds.
I have taken the bus journey from San Pedro de Atacama all the way to Santiago, and I thought it was worth doing just to see the amazing landscape of the Atacama desert. It's not so long and uncomfortable if you book a sleeper seat, and once you get to San Pedro you can really kick back and relax. It's a really chilled out town. From there, it's easy to take the journey across the Salar de Uyuni, which you should not miss! Truly spectacular.
Your other option is to take an overnight bus over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza. Mendoza is beautiful and also so worth seeing on your trip. From there, you could travel north to Salta and cross back into Bolivia, but all that is going to add extra hours of journeying time. So, the first option is the more direct route. It depends - if time isn't a problem, I would say take the amazing bus journey (the scenery is incredible) to Mendoza, see some of Argentina too
hope that helps
Amazing answer Evelyn, thankyou. You've summarized my options perfectly.
I have 3 and a half months to go from Santiago, to Bolivia, to Peru, to Ecuador. I'm guessing that is plenty of time to go the Argentinian route if it's the better (but longer) route? What do you think?
Glad to be of help.
I think you would have plenty of time to take in some of Argentina if you have 3.5 months. I suppose it depends also on what kind of traveller you are. I like to take my time, see less places but spend more quality time in each place I stop. I think in that timeframe, you should be able to cover quite a few of the highlights along the route from Santigo to Quito.
So, if it was me, I would take the second option. Take the bus journey from SAntiago overnight to Mendoza. Mendoza is a lovely city and the centre of the wine industry in Argentina. You can take a day trip (short bus ride) out to the local vineyards, hire a bike and visits the estates or you can take a horseriding trip out into the desert and end the day with a typical argentinian 'asado', having amazing steak and local wine. You can then travel on to Salta (I haven't done this part of the journey, so I can't give you any tips for this leg) but I have heard from fellow backpackers that Salta is a great place to visit, and from there it's not too far to cross back into Bolivia and maybe you can still take in the Salar de Uyuni then! So you won't have missed anything other than visiting San Pedro. While it's a great town to visit, it's just a small little place and the gateway to the salt flats, so you won't miss too much
ps: check this out. i always wanted to do it, but never made it to salta . looks incredible! http://www.trenalasnubes.com.ar/turismo_salta/en_tren_a_las_nubes_home.html
I'm not a wine drinker, so that part of the trip isn't appealing to me, though maybe its still worth seeing west Argentina. I'm wondering once in Salta if I can, and should, cross over into San Pedro though. If going to Salta means missing out on the best overland trip into Bolivia, then it may not be worth going to Argentina at all. Mmm, the decisions of backpacking! :D
Yep, it's never easy trying to decide!
Good luck anyway. Whichever route you take will be fantastic so you can't lose
If you have three and a half months, you certainly have time to do the longer option. We didn't dawdle but we saw most of what we wanted to see from San Pedro to Quito in six weeks. Given more time we'd have called in at Sucre and gone from Lima to Quito overland but that still wouldn't have taken the extra eight weeks you have at your disposal. I still think it's worth your while calling in at San Pedro though.