Planning a ski trip to South America can seem intimidating, doubly so when considering the language barrier, but it doesn’t have to be. Getting to South America has never been easier now that there are numerous direct, daily flights to Chile and Argentina by most major airlines, including flights from long-haul international destinations such as Sydney, London and Paris.
Argentina’s devaluation of the peso has also made the destination cheaper than ever, and, for the most part, both countries have low crime levels when compared to their neighboring countries. Many resorts offer all-inclusive packages with transportation that takes the guesswork out of trip planning. Or, leave all the planning to pros such as Ski.com’s South America specialty division, or contact the knowledgeable Powderquest, which, in addition to planning multi-destination backcountry trips, can also book more general ski vacations in Chile and Argentina.
Depending on your travel date, how far you book in advance and how many stops you’re willing to suffer through, flights from the United States to Chile and Argentina range from approximately $800 to $1,300 in economy class. The easiest part of arriving to South America is that during the northern hemisphere summer, Chile and Argentina are on EST time zone so jet lag isn’t a major issue.
Getting to South America: Flights
International travelers to Argentina arrive at Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini de Ezeiza (EZE) in Buenos Aires, which also offers service to San Carlos de Bariloche (BRC). The country’s main domestic hub is Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP), where skiers can catch flights to regional cities close to ski resorts. If you’ve scheduled a connecting flight from Newbery, be aware that the taxi transfer between that airport and Ezeiza is about one hour. If spending time in Buenos Aires, plan to fly to your domestic destination from the Newbery airport, which is more convenient.
Travelers to Chile arrive at Arturo Merino Benítez Santiago International Airport, also known as Nuevo Pudahuel Airport (SCL). The airport is about 20 minutes from the city center, which can be reached by private Taxi Oficial (book this at the official counter when you arrive); by Centropuerto Bus, which drops you off at bus and Metro stations; or, if you’re willing to walk out to the parking lot, you can call an Uber using the regular app. Avoid the taxi ‘freelancers’ who wait at the arrival gauntlet.
From Canada: For 2019, Air Canada will increase its frequency from three to six flights per week from Toronto to Buenos Aires (with a stopover in Santiago, Chile). Travel from other Canadian cities requires a stopover at one of the airline’s hubs in the U.S., normally JFK, Atlanta or Miami.
From the United States: Daily nonstop service to Santiago and Buenos Aires is available from New York and Miami aboard Latam, Delta, United and American Airlines, and Aerolineas Argentinas has nonstop service to Buenos Aires. There is nonstop service from Atlanta on Delta Airlines; from Houston, United Airlines; from Dallas, American Airlines; and Latam Airlines offers direct flights to Santiago from LAX, but double check when booking as some LAX – SCL flights stop in Lima, Peru.
Getting to the Resorts & Day Trips
A big difference between skiing in Chile and Argentina is accessibility. In Argentina, you’ll need to take a long bus ride from Buenos Aires to any ski resort, or a two-hour domestic flight followed by a ground transfer. In Chile, skiers with a short amount of time can make day trips easily from Santiago. The “Tres Valles” (Valle Nevado, La Parva, El Colorado) are just 60 minutes from the city, 90 minutes from the airport or 15 minutes by helicopter from the city—pricey at $1,000 one way for four people, but worth every mind-blowing minute.
Portillo can be visited for a day trip but the roundtrip drive is five hours. Public transportation isn’t available to ski resorts in the Central Valley, so day trips to Portillo are easiest with a rental car. Day-trippers can also book shared or private transportation through Ski Total, which has daily service leaving at 8 a.m. from Santiago to the Tres Valles resorts, and private shuttles to Portillo. Ski Total sells cheaper package day tickets that can also include rentals. However, the newest player is Uber, which costs, on average, $60 to $100 one way to Valle Nevado, depending on where you are being picked up. A lot of people hitchhike at the bottom of the road to Farellones (the center “village” at El Colorado resort), which is free, but you could be holding your thumb out for a long time.
For skiers who have booked a stay at Portillo or Valle Nevado, the resorts can help organize transportation. To get to Portillo, there is economical shared coach service from the airport to the resort, and private van shuttles from the airport or a Santiago hotel, through Portillo Tours & Travel. Valle Nevado guests can organize their shuttle transportation when booking their stay with the reservations department.
Nevados de Chillán resort is a little more than an hour from the city Chillán. To get here, rent a car in Santiago and drive a scenic six hours, or fly to Concepción (one hour) and take a transfer taxi to the resort (about two hours) or rent a vehicle and drive. Regular, comfortable buses offer daily service to Chillán from Santiago, where you can grab a local bus to get to the resort. If you’re staying at a hotel at the base of the resort, then you might just want to fly down and grab a shuttle or taxi from Concepción to the resort, which you can arrange upon arrival or with your hotel. The TerraSur train takes five hours and is probably the most fun way to get to Chillán; from here you can get a transfer taxi to the resort.
Las Leñas is in the middle of nowhere and is the most difficult to get to. If booking a regular Las Leñas Saturday to Saturday package, the resort offers charter flights from Jorge Newbery Airport to Malargue (LGS), the closest town, 48 miles away. There is air service from Buenos Aires to San Rafael, located 127 miles from Las Leñas or about two hours, and there is more frequent air service to Mendoza, famous for its wine industry and located 260 miles, or four-and-a-half hours, from Las Leñas. The cheapest way to get to the resort is via a 12-hour bus ride from the Retiro Station in Buenos Aires to San Rafael, where you change to another bus for the final 2-hour ride. The resort can book an overnight bus ride on Fridays and Sundays from Buenos Aires with meals here. A rental car is unnecessary but might be an interesting option if you are in Mendoza and would like to self-drive and visit wineries along the way. Road trippers can rent a vehicle and drive over from Chile, but they will need to organize special paperwork and insurance when doing so.
Bariloche (for Catedral) and San Martin de los Andes (for Chapelco resort) are almost completely dependent on tourism, and as such they have frequent flights from Buenos Aires from Aeroparque Jorge Newbery and Ezeiza. Note: Check when booking your flights to see which airports you’ll be flying out of as Ezeiza and Jorge Newbery airports are a one-hour taxi ride apart. Once you arrive in Bariloche or San Martín, the best way to town or your hotel is a taxi.
The resort Cerro Catedral is a 12-mile drive from downtown Bariloche, and to get there you can take the No. 55 bus or have your hotel call a taxi—called a remise—with a ski rack that can take you there for around $20. The ride up to Chapelco is even shorter at seven miles, and cheaper. Have your hotel call a remise to get there. Of course, if you want freedom and to explore the region more, you might consider a rental car.
Chileans and Argentines speak Spanish, but there is a stark difference between their accents, slang and even verb conjugations. The Chilean accent is sing-song, and they cut off the “s” on words. The Argentine dialect is reminiscent of Italian, and they pronounce the double “ll” and “yo” with a sh sound, and change “tu” for “vos.” Residents of Mendoza and Bariloche have a dialect that is closer to their Chilean counterparts.
There are no vaccinations necessary for Chile or Argentina, and no other major precautions are needed when traveling or dining out. You can drink the tap water in both countries; it’s just not tasty. If you have U.S. health insurance it is very strongly recommended that you buy travel health insurance because your regular policy will not directly cover medical expenses incurred in Chile or Argentina. Most insurance companies will reimburse later for medical costs but you are responsible for the bill while in the country. Travel health insurance is economical, and a good policy will also cover medivac services in the case of an extreme emergency.
Visas & Documents
When you land in Chile or Argentina, you’ll be given a tourist card to fill out, a copy of which you’ll keep in your passport and use when checking into hotels. When presenting a tourist card and paying with a foreign credit card, travelers skip paying the IVA tax on hotels or all-inclusive packages. Your passport needs to be valid for six months from the day you travel. There are no reciprocity fees for North Americans, and there are no visas required for Chile or Argentina.
Money & Exchange Rates
The Argentine peso comes in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 peso bills, and coins are so scarce they’re hardly worth mentioning. In 2018, the Argentine peso tanked, losing half its value and it continues to slide in 2019, creating extremely favorable travel conditions for North Americans with greenbacks. Although ski resorts and major hotels price their products in dollars that are resistant to peso fluctuations, smaller hotels and Airbnbs, restaurants, bars, shopping, taxis and just about everything else are now a bargain in Argentina.
Chile also uses the peso, albeit a different—and more stable—variation, that comes in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000. Coins are in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 pesos. A 2,000-peso note is worth approximately USD $3.
Tipping is not as common in Chile and Argentina as it is in the U.S., but, as a rule, leave 10% at restaurants, and a couple of bills to any baggage handler. Taxi drivers are not tipped.
Chile is one of the safest countries (often the safest) in Latin America, but the country is having a rampant problem with home break-ins and car theft. Do not, ever, leave anything in a transfer or rental vehicle unattended, even if it is for 10 minutes. Use common sense when walking streets at night and try to utilize a taxi or Uber. While violent crime against travelers is not common in Argentina, pickpocketing is, so keep a close eye on belongings.
Travel Tips From The Pros:
Busses are an excellent way to travel (and even spend the night!) in South America. You can choose semi-cama or full-cama (which means semi-reclined or fully-reclined seats), and many of them go overnight, so for the price of a bus ticket you can stretch out fully, get a decent night’s sleep and wake up where you want to be. Be sure to get a bus with wifi, bring earplugs and hit the grocery store beforehand for snacks.