Should you visit Chile or Bolivia?Chile is significantly more expensive than Bolivia as a travel destination. Bolivia is actually one of the least expensive destinations in all of South America, where as Chile is one of the most expensive. Both countries offer a great deal of sights and activities for visitors, though.
The top three destinations in Chile include the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia for some raw and picturesque scenery and wildlife, The Lake District region, especially for water-sports lovers and Atacama for the desert, salt flat and stargazing.
Chile is a long and narrow strip of land that's almost entirely mountainous with some coastal plains. While there are a few airports within the Chile's Patagonian region, travel is mainly handled over land and by water. Therefore the most important question that you need to answer before you head this far south on the globe is how much time you have.
The reasons to visit Bolivia are also abundant. While it's true that much of Bolivia isn't set up for tourism, those willing to go on this less traveled adventure are rewarded with eye-opening experiences, breathtaking activities, and stunning photo opportunities, not to mention fabulous stories to tell back home. On thing Uruguay and Bolivia have in common is that friendliness in both countries is reciprocal. Despite the widespread poverty in Bolivia, there is a amazing energy from locals eager to share the beauty of their country. In Uruguay and Bolivia, gracious hospitality and warm smiles are given to tourists who show respect, consideration and a genuine interest toward the local way of life. Contrary to what you may have heard, Bolivian food does not only consist in rice and beans but include meat, corn, eggs, potatoes and the "superfood" quinoa, one of the most commonly used ingredients in Bolivian cooking. Traditional dishes come from a mixture of Spanish cuisine and indigenous ingredients and include a lot of spice.
On the contrary to Uruguay, Bolivia is a country of extremes. From freezing cold snowy mountain peaks to sweltering hot amazon lowlands, the country has a great array of climates and cultures, attractions and adventures. With its high altitude cities and glistening lakeside villages, Bolivia's landscapes are incredibly diverse. From spectacular dusty red mountains and beautiful lakes to the dense Amazon jungle or the stunning Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia's transcendent scenery is breathtaking at every turn. This makes Bolivia one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet and has about thousands of species of birds, animals, fish, reptiles and amphibians, which travelers can encounter during their trip if they pay attention. Bolivia is also a budget traveler's paradise that offers the best value for money in South America. You can eat well, sleep comfortably, purchase souvenirs and experience many of the activities and tours on offer without having to worry about money. Steeped in history and with indigenous culture everywhere, Bolivia will not disappoint you. The country's ability to combine a modern lifestyle with traditional values is truly wonderful. Ancient Andean customs are still practiced by many indigenous Bolivians who wear traditional dress and use natural remedies to treat illnesses. Catching a glimpse of the 36 indigenous cultures present in Bolivia, each with their own customs and most with their own languages, really makes an impression.. Finally, from the spiritual and traditional, to the more wild and westernized, Bolivia's festivals are unique, colorful and fun. If you can, travel to Bolivia during the Oruro Carnaval, a fantastic experience for any fun loving traveler.
When is the best time to visit Chile and Bolivia?
However, if you are planning to hike through Patagonia and visit the natural wonders, then prioritize mid-seasons. Either go around September to November or from March to May. Both are low seasons, but the spring landscape, September to November, is the nicest of the two. If you do not handle the cold very well, avoid going to Patagonia before mid-October and after April. On the other hand if you love the snow, winter landscapes, skiing and travelling during low season with few tourists and lower prices, you should definitely visit Patagonia during end of autumn or beginning of spring. While you will get all the advantages of travelling during low season, you will also be able to enjoy a sunny weather, still quite cold but manageable. While a few activities (hikes, excursions) will begin to close (end of autumn) or still be closed (towards spring), you will definitely be able to do most of the essential activities and to fully enjoy some of them as you might find that you have a hiking path all to yourself! The differences in prices between low and high season are not tremendous but you will probably be able to save some money on deals with accommodation and a few other fees.
Consisting of temperate valleys, semi-arid highlands, humid jungles and balmy villages, Bolivia's weather differs greatly depending on the altitude and topography of the region. Because most of the country is situated at a high elevation, temperatures vary from hot and humid during the day to freezing cold at night. Although Bolivia is a country of climatic extremes, it is a destination that can be visited all year-round. Bolivia's temperatures are determined by the altitude as well as the season, with highland areas such as La Paz, Lake Titicaca, Potosi and Uyuni generally cool year round, extremely cold at night and with strong sunshine in the dry season, making high factor sunscreen essential. The ideal time to visit Bolivia depends on the sights you want to see, the tours you would like to experience, and the mode of transport you intend to travel. The eastern lowlands, including Santa Cruz and the Amazon, enjoy warm temperatures year round. The best time to visit the highland areas is from April to October, with June to September being the peak time for visitors, meaning that you should plan well in advance to get the best choice of accommodation. While it is the cooler winter period, it should be dry with plenty of sunshine. Bolivia's dry season is the most popular time of the year to travel, as road travel is easier and the bright sunny conditions mean you can photograph the salt flats and Lake Titicaca against dazzling blue skies. For those wanting to experience the "largest mirror on earth", visiting Salar de Uyuni between March and April will increase your chances of seeing the natural phenomena. Visiting Bolivia in November to March is still perfectly enjoyable for the more adventurous who don't mind occasional delays as roads can be disrupted due to heavy rains. The lower visitor numbers are also a bonus of visiting Bolivia at this time. As the rain season begins, temperatures become a little milder in the highlands and more humid in the lowlands.
Why is Chile more expensive than Bolivia?Foreigners often have a misconception about all of South America being cheap. This is not the case of Chile. Especially when coming from other nearby countries, Chilean prices will come quite as a shock due to the high cost of living in the country. Its political and economic stability means that it is one of the most expensive South American countries and Chile continues to boast one of the highest ratios of executive salary rates to cost of living.
Traveling between December and March means traveling in high season in Chile. Like in most developed countries, the locals also travel during high season, which means hotels and hostels are heavily booked in advance and prices rise, especially in popular destinations like the Lake District or Patagonia.
Bolivia is the ultimate cheap destination of South America. Although the country's recent economic progress has seen some prices and the standard of living rise, there are still bargains to be found in food and accommodation. Bolivia tends to offer the lowest prices for accommodation and the cheapest options for food and drink as well. There are certain tourist activities that you will need to take into account. For example, a popular activity is to ride a mountain bike down the so-called 'Death Road' near La Paz, which costs around USD$100 depending on the company and the quality of the bikes. A 3 day tour of the Salt Flats of Uyuni roughly costs $120, which is a steal for the incredible experience you will get.
What are the most expensive and cheapest cities and regions in Chile and Bolivia?
Bolivia has long been a favorite among backpackers and adventure travellers due to the simple fact that it is very affordable to travel. If you are seeking comfort, although it might not be up to "Western" standards, it is available but if you are looking to save your pennies, this may be the best place in South America. There is not much difference in prices when travelling around Bolivia. Large cities such as Sucre, Copacabana and La Paz are perhaps a little more expensive than smaller towns due to competition and increasing tourism but accommodation and food remains so cheap that it is barely noticeable. Sucre is possibly the most beautiful city in Bolivia, full of proud inhabitants, cultural expressions and colonial architecture. Copacabana is mainly a base city from where you go explore Isla del Sol at Titicaca lake. You can also find cheap places to stay. If you are in a group, you can usually get a good discount if you all stay at the same hostel. La Paz is certainly one of the most unique cities in the world, a spectacular mix of chaos and beauty. La Paz is the highest capital in the world, and it is the true face of Bolivia.
How you can save money when visiting Chile and Bolivia?Cooking in your hostel's kitchen is one of the best ways to keep your travel costs down, to meet fellow travellers and supermarkets are also great places to go to see what the local people eat. Another good self-cook method is to make your own picnic for lunch, especially if you plan to spend the day outdoors, perhaps trekking in one of the many national parks.
Don't fly domestically, as a two-hour flight can be quite expensive. Unless you are in a rush, consider taking the bus to your next destination. While not very common in the north of the country, if you're in Patagonia, you'll see many locals and tourists alike hitchhiking, as long-distance buses in that part of the country can be on the expensive side and infrequent. An inexpensive way to get around and also out of the cities is to rent bicycles from your hostel or rental shops, usually for no more than USD$10 a day. Hiking is free, and throughout the country you'll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy this and other free outdoor activities since Argentina and Chile are blessed with many city parks and nature reserves where you can spend the day wandering around and relaxing. As you start to travel south to Patagonia, accommodation costs get higher. Hostels are often USD$17 USD or more a night as opposed to as cheap as USD$6 a night in Buenos Aires for example. Look for camping opportunities as often as possible. When you aren't in the national parks, many hostels will let you pitch your tent for a small fee.
In Bolivia, the surest way to waste money is to use credit cards. First of all, you will pay an extra 3% to use them anywhere you go. Secondly, many places don't accept them.
In supermarkets and stores that have price tickets on their items you cannot bargain the price down. But in most open markets it's a mistake not to. Vendors automatically increase the price as soon as they see you are foreign and expect your first reaction to be a request for a price break. Hold your line, stand firm, and be prepared to walk away if you don't like the price. After that, you'll be surprised at how prices will come down just a few seconds later.
Ask the locals what is great to see. Stay on the tourist path 100% of the time and you will waste a lot of money as well as miss out on some really nice places to visit. Most museums and art galleries in Bolivia don't charge an entry fee. Check out the hundreds of great local parks and plazas that provide amazing photo opportunities.
Be careful of fake taxis and other scams, especially in big cities like La Paz. Be particularly attentive to shared taxi, which are cheaper, but extremely dangerous as the driver can pick up other passengers without your permission.
Research what documentation is needed to enter the country. Americans need a tourist visa to enter Bolivia along with a yellow fever card and several other documents. Tourists from other countries have different requirements but all are required something to enter. Having all the correct documents before you arrive will be a true blessing to your wallet. Getting them here can cost you more, waste your time, and potential end up getting you sent home if you don't have the documentation you need.