For a country-wide hop-on, hop-off bus service, see Pachamama. Named after a goddess of the Andes, this company offers an alternative to often expensive plane tickets, frighteningly-long bus trips or perhaps the intimidating option of hiring a car. Facilitating easier, perhaps cheaper, but definitely interesting long-distance travel, this company operates on the premise that travelling should include the chance to enjoy, savour and explore more than just the most beaten of tracks.
They say they’re not a tour company… But it sounds like they kind of are a tour company, just not in the traditional sense. They’re a little bit less about bombarding you with noise and a little more about allowing you to see Chile as it really is.
If you’ve ever travelled in Austalia or New Zealand, this is similar to the Kiwi/ Oz Experience buses (where long distances are broken down into legs/ sections of travel). If you’ve travelled by train in Europe, it’s similar to having a EuRail pass. In all cases, you can pay for a certain number of legs/ transfers, or (like the EuRail pass) unlimited legs/ transfers for certain periods of time.
Here’s how it works
You buy your tickets in Santiago. You can travel either north, the Atacama Desert route, or south, the Lake District route; you can travel one-way or return. Your ticket guarantees you transport between the designated towns and the prices change depending on the number of days you want to travel for. If each day counts for transport between certain places, you can use the website to plan what you want to see, and pay for the amount of days you’d need to complete your journey.
If you were to stay longer at one place, you can – just tell the driver (or call the company) to tell them that you’ll get on the next Pachamama bus a few days later. You don’t pay for days that you don’t take the bus. Departure dates for the southern route change in summer – these are well-displayed on the website, so just check it out and familiarise yourself.
The “paying for travel days” setup means that you have the option to pay only for the section or route that you plan to use. If you’re not sure yet, you can buy the ticket and if you change your plans, you have the option to transfer the remaining amount to someone else (if you can find someone).
Accommodation is your own to organise. Staff can suggest options on arrival in a town but it’s not their responsibility and you should really plan ahead. If you get really stuck, they can provide camping and cooking equipment for free.
Main conditions page of travel (I have paraphrased):
– The ticket is valid for an unlimited period of time – just don’t forget that Chilean tourist visas only last for 3 months – you may have to go out and come back in again.
– Don’t be silly – don’t take drugs, don’t get stupid drunk, don’t do anything dumb – they can refuse to let you on the bus and/or cancel your ticket if you’re found out doing anything dangerous or illegal.
– They are not responsible for your valuables and/or “lost, stolen, damaged or forgotten items”.
– They have compulsory accident insurance but this does NOT cover illness or injury – always, always, always have travel insurance.
– If you lose your ticket, they can replace it for $10,000 CLP ($20 USD) plus postage.
– They will not refund partially used tickets, but you can transfer it to another person.
– Tickets must validated (first used) within 3 months of purchase.
– “Travel reservation must be made 48 hours prior to departure, either by calling the head office or talking with your bus guide/driver. Failing to board a bus will result in the cancellation of the booked segment.”
Pricing and Reservations
Ticket prices obviously depend on the length and direction of travel – see either north or south pages for complete listings. There doesn’t seem to be an all-inclusive option – but if you buy both tickets, you can get a 5% discount for the price of the Atacama Desert ticket. To make a reservations, contact Pachamama here, call +56225888018, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their office in Santiago Centro (address: Augustinas 2113, Santiago).
For any questions regarding luggage, bus schedules or facilities, please visit the website and/or email the staff. They speak several languages (including English) and will be able to help you with specific answers.
Have you travelled on Pachamama buses? What did you think? We’d love to hear about your experiences, so we can share with visitors to Santiago Tourist – email “santiagotourist DOT com AT gmail DOT com”. Thanks!