Travel Guide: Chilean wine country on a budget

After stumbling through Mendoza and its surrounding wine regions, we headed back to Chile to explore Santiago and some of the neighboring Chilean wine regions. We were most excited to visit the Colchagua valley which is known for its Mediterranean climate and production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, and Malbec. The steep slopes of the Andes Mountains in the valley prove to be both scenic and the ideal location to grow the various varietals. 

Getting There

Views while biking on the Ruta del Vino in Colchagua Valley

🚍 We took AndesMar from Mendoza to Santiago costing $595 pesos per person, or ($54 USD per person) for two suites on the bus. Be prepared for a very long, frustrating border crossing! It took approximately 3.5 hours to clear customs from Argentina into Chile. The total time on the road was approximately 9 hours, including the time at the border crossing. In the end, we were happy we purchased the suite that came with a light lunch, movies (in English), and comfortable seats. We were however slightly disappointed that there was no bingo for wine.

Nightmare Border Crossing from Argentina to Chile

🏬 Santiago Accommodations

Views of San Cristóbal Hill and the Andes from the rooftop of the condo!

In Santiago, we stayed in a modern, super clean apartment which we enjoyed as there was a nice rooftop pool, laundry (~$2.00 USD per wash or dry). It was located in the Provendencia which is a friendly, safe neighborhood. It was close to the subway Metro and in walking distance to some of the nicer restaurants, grocery stores, and shops in the area. The only downside was no air conditioning. So even in our modern apartment, it was sometimes stuffy in the mornings and late afternoons. Cost per night was $67 USD.

Fully-functional condo at a good price.

Another apartment we stayed in Santiago cost a very budget friendly $45 USD per night. It was super clean, modern, had access to washer/dryer (for a few pesos per load), and was fully stocked. It was located in the downtown and within walking distance to many of the popular attractions. The only negative was that the busy daytime streets turned a little questionable at night, with a “ladies of the night” club only one block away.

Maipo

Maipo is the closest wine region to the city of Santiago. Vineyards stretch eastward from Santiago to the Andes and westward to the coast. The area is most known for its production of Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s often described as the Bordeaux of South America. We were excited to learn that we could use public transportation to take an afternoon day trip to the Cousiño Macul Winery.

Cousiño Macul Winery

Founded in 1856, this winery is one of the oldest in Chile boasting some of the oldest vines and is still in the hands of the original founding family. Using Santiago’s subway system, take the Tobalaba line and get off at the Quilin stop. Although Trip Advisor reviews said the walk from the stop to the entrance takes 25 minutes, it took us closer to 40-45 minutes. Tasting and tour cost 9,000 pesos ($14 USD) per person. We didn’t feel like walking back so the winery called us a taxi back to the subway which cost 6,000 pesos ($10 USD).

Colchagua Valley

What’s waiting for you beyond the cellar door?

Carménère is to Chile as Malbec is to Argentina, and the Colchagua Valley is probably one of the best places in the world to taste this varietal. Wine Folly even recommends Carménère for the beer drinker in your life who loves IPA. “The flavors and aftertaste of Carménère resemble the complexity of an IPA, making it the ideal wine for someone more loyal to beer, but looking to branch out into wine.”

🚍 We took the subway to Santiago’s bus terminal to purchase tickets to Santa Cruz/Colchagua Valley. When we arrived at the bus terminal, we scouted out which bus company was the cheapest. Ask around because there was a variance in quoted prices. We paid 4,000 pesos per person, or $6.00 USD each.

Reservations for wine tours and tastings are mandatory in Colchagua Valley. We will not go through and rate each winery, because there are extensive reviews on TripAdvisor and your visits will really depend on what wineries eventually get back to you to secure the reservation. As mentioned in previous South American wine country posts, return email correspondence was poor and it was disappointing how many of my emails inquiries went unanswered.

Any wine lovers dream…to drink wine straight from the vineyard’s vast!

On our first day, we splurged on a tour and tasting with food pairing at Mont Gras. It’s the number one winery on TripAdvisor. We had a private tour of the vineyard with an in depth lesson on the vines, leaves, and grapes. We toured the distillery being able to taste Sauvignon Blanc right from the stainless steel vast. From the town center, a taxi cost 10,000 pesos, $16 USD to get there and back.

Afterwards, our hostel owner let us borrow his rental bikes for free to taste wine by the glass at Laura Hartwig. Tasting costs range from $1.50-$3.50 USD with reserve wines on the more expensive side.

Enjoying a glass of wine with these views was a highlight when biking the Ruta Del Vino

On day two, we rented two bikes from our hostel and explored the Ruta del Vino. Our first reservation took us to Montes, where we blew off our scheduled (costly) tour and opted to sit on their lovely outdoor patio to order wine by the glass. We paid $7,50 pesos for each glass of wine, or ~$1.00 USD per glass. They have an outdoor restaurant onsite, but we had a lunch reservation later that afternoon. Afterwards, we attempted to visit Lapostolle but we’re turned away at the gate due to not having a reservation. Many say this is one of the most beautiful wineries in the area so it may be worth a visit.

Very charming and welcoming with a panoramic view of the hills of Apalta, the recently opened Rayuela is Viña Viu Manent’s new restaurant in the Colchagua Valley.

Next, we biked to Viu Manent. We also made a reservation for a tour here as it includes a charming horse drawn carriage tour through the vineyards, however at the last minute, we decided to skip this tour too and use the money towards a really great lunch, as we were starving and hot!

In conclusion, we saved money in this expensive region by skipping the tours, opting to order wine by the glass (or bottle), then enjoying each wineries’ beautiful surroundings. Although, many of the top wineries offer something special to make their tours unique (e.g., horse carriage ride, drinking from the vast, hiking opportunity on the grounds, skylift, etc.), after a while the tours do start getting repetitive.

🏬 Accommodation

We had a hard time finding budget accommodations in this area. We booked Hostel del Centro which was in walking distance to the bus terminal in Santa Cruz. Although the host/owner was great, the rooms and experience was very average. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend this hostel. Our full review is <here> on TripAdvisor.

💰B$ Tips

We totally would have jumped on this experience had we known, but unfortunately our hostel owner thought he told us about it. Viña Santa Cruz winery hosts an Astrology and Wine night which sounded amazing! It is only held on certain evenings so do your research ahead of time and make a reservation!

From our hostel, we walked to Prado’s Pizza which was recommended by locals and actually turned out to be a very large, tasty pizza. Thick and hearty, it was a good option for an inexpensive dinner.

0 thoughts on “Travel Guide: Chilean wine country on a budget”

  1. Great article! Planning a trip to the valley now- A little clarification: As I understand it, you need to make a reservation to get in to each winery, but once you’re there, you can order wine by the glass without paying for a tour or entrance fee. Is this correct? Do you reserve for a specific time of arrival, or for the day? We are trying to decide if we do a day tour from Santiago, or take the bus as you did and get taxis or a private driver to 2-3 wineries. Our objective is to visit 2-3 and save money, and we were thinking we could possibly get off cheaper by doing maybe one tour and just having a couple of glasses of wine at another or two. The day tour with transportation we are looking at costs $101, or $126 with “premium lunch”. Suggestions?

    Much thanks!

    1. – As I understand it, you need to make a reservation to get in to each winery, but once you’re there, you can order wine by the glass without paying for a tour or entrance fee. Is this correct?

      Generally speaking, if the winery has a restaurant then you’re able to order an individual glass of wine. We didn’t make a reservation at any of the winery restaurants we visited and were able to walk right in and be seated without waiting. For the most part, we enjoyed these experiences the most because it seemed like we were getting the best value for our money. We were able to order individual glasses of wine or bottles that we knew we’d enjoy and didn’t have to feel hurried or rushed to finish.

      If the winery doesn’t have a restaurant then most likely you won’t be able to purchase an individual glass of wine and your only option is a guided tour with tasting. Most high-quality producers will require a reservation.

      – Do you reserve for a specific time of arrival, or for the day?

      Most will request a specific time and you will go with a large group of people through the winery and for a tasting afterwards.

      If you love wine and visiting wine growing regions then you’ll regret only doing a day trip. The wineries are very similar to Mendoza but the scenery is more dramatic. Unfortunately, we had a hard time finding a budget accommodation and really got stuck at a dump (owner was a great guy though). Luckily we only booked 2 nights. It’s such a beautiful region and kind of far from Santiago (2 1/2 hours) that we’d recommend staying in/near Santa Cruz for 2-3 nights at a minimum.

      Thanks for the comments! Let us know if you have any other questions.

  2. Hi Audrey and Harry!

    Thanks for this great post 🙂 My fiance and I are traveling to this area in October as part of our honeymoon and we are trying to figure out a way to get to Santa Cruz for a few days (without renting a car or taking a taxi). I was wondering if you remembered how early buses would generally depart from the Santiago Bus Terminal for the Santa Cruz/Colchagua Valley area? Were you able to travel there directly, or did you have to stop in San Fernando and take a taxi the rest of the way? I’m getting conflicting information from the bus companies and the ticket comparison sites (i.e., VoyHoy) online, and can’t really find any schedules. I’m not terribly comfortable just sauntering up to the bus station and picking a bus company if I don’t know what times of day they generally leave for that area (I don’t want to eat up a day waiting around the bus station). This also affects our return trip to Santiago and what flight we will purchase to head on to our next destination (Bariloche)…though I think I might try and arrange an airport transfer from the hotel we are planning to stay at in Santa Cruz (if those can be done early enough). Any insight you can provide would be really helpful and thanks again for all this information!

    1. Hi Kelly! Congrats on your unique honeymoon destination. Very cool! There are several buses and bus companies leaving every hour (from very early in the morning to late at night). It’s very easy! Don’t worry. When you’re sightseeing/touring around Santiago just stop at the Universidad de Santiago Metro stop and the bus station is right there. You can check out schedules and purchase tickets a day before (or whenever).

      Here’s some tips to help you:

      1) You can remain on one bus from Santiago to Santa Cruz. The bus will make other stops, but no need to change buses.

      2. We took the bus company Nilahue from Santiago to Santa Cruz (and I think Bus Sur on the way back to Santiago). We just showed up and took the next bus (since they leave so consistently). Here is the time table. Buses leave nearly every hour (if not more). From this link, it looks buses can leave as early as 6 am.

      http://www.recorrido.cl/buses-nilahue/es/bus/santiago/santa-cruz/22-05-2016?utm_campaign=whitelabel&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=busesnilahue

      3. There are several bus company kiosks at the Santiago bus terminal. You can buy tickets a day or two before (we shopped around for the best price). Not a huge difference in prices but it can save a few dollars. The bus terminal is located at metro Universidad de Santiago. Exiting the metro, you’ll go right and head through a tunnel that will take you to Terminal Alameda Santiago. This is Santiago’s primary bus terminal.

      4. Here is another helpful article. http://www.visitcolchaguavalley.com/colchagua-transportation/bus-transportation-services-to-colchagua-valley-chile/

      We have a post on Patagonia that includes some tips from Bariloche all the way down to Ushuaia, so feel free to check that out if you think it could help. Not sure exactly your question on the transfer from Santa Cruz though.

      If you have any other questions please feel free to ask!

      1. Thank you Audrey for the quick reply! This helps a lot 🙂 I guess I didn’t really have a question about the transfer from Santa Cruz when I wrote earlier (just thinking/typing my thoughts I suppose). However, what I meant was that we also weren’t sure how early buses leave from Santa Cruz to return to Santiago. We were hoping to also leave early from Santa Cruz so we could catch a 1:40pm flight from SCL to Bariloche (we haven’t purchased tickets yet). So whether we bought that flight was dependent on how early we could leave Santa Cruz. I also found that article you posted about transportation from Colchagua Valley, and it mentioned that it was possible to get transfers from certain hotels directly to the airport in Santiago. So I was thinking if we couldn’t get an early bus, then we could try and get one of those private transfers (and hopefully make that afternoon flight). It could potentially be tight, but after looking at the bus schedule you sent, it might work 🙂 Unfortunately our time on this trip is limited, and we’re still deciding if we want to spend more time in Santiago, or try and make this side trip to Colchagua Valley (we don’t want to spend too much time traveling, though we know that can’t be avoided if you really want to see the big sites of Chile and Argentina). Thanks again for these posts and I’ll let you know if we have any more questions!

  3. Thank you again Audrey! We’ve been going back and forth on this, an we were curious if you knew if there are any independent bike rental outfits in Santa Cruz? It looks like you can only rent a bike through a hotel or a tour group, and we’re really having a hard time finding any information about what’s in the town of Santa Cruz. If you know of any other resources, that would be great!

    1. Hi Kelly,

      The hostel we stayed at, Hostal del Centro, (as we quoted in our post) also rents bikes. Pepe is the owner of both the hostel and bike shop. The bike shop is attached to the hostel, which located right in the city center of Santa Cruz. He was really great about providing information and even called some wineries for us to help with reservations. I just checked trip advisor and it appears that he is still there and still renting bikes. (Reference that post for details where the hostel is located.)

      There is really not much going on in Santa Cruz. It’s a very quiet, traditional Chilean neighborhood. Wineries are the main focus for tourists there. If you do decide to go there, head to that Pizza Restaurant we quoted in this post. It’s just a simple place to order some good pizza and eat it outside the little stand.

      I’m curious where you are looking to stay for lodging there.

      One more thing, the bike ride into Colchagua Valley wineries were a pretty good distance away. I would estimate 30-40 minutes? Pepe was kind enough to bike with us to the start of the main route which was helpful. Just something to note if you are not avid bikers or enjoy a long bike ride on some (at times) busy main roads.

      1. Hi Audrey,

        Thanks for this info! Although we would love to spend one or two nights in Santa Cruz, it looks like if we do this side trip, it will have to be a day trip (we just can’t make a longer side trip work in our trip schedule). So if we do this, we are planning to take an early (6 or 7am) bus to Santa Cruz, work with Hostal del Centro to rent a bike (we have actually been emailing someone there named Jose Leon), and only go to two wineries (probably Viu Manet and Montes…depending on whether we can get reservations). Then hopefully we can get a late bus back to Santiago from Santa Cruz (although the website you listed in one of your previous responses won’t let us see ANY bus times for ANY day for some reason…even though it seemed to work the day you first posted that link :/) So we’re waiting to see if that works and whether there are any evening buses back to Santiago. We realize it will be more difficult to make reservations at wineries and rent bikes without staying at a hotel/hostel down there, but this might be the only way we can do this trip (without going through an expensive tour group or renting a car). It’s tricky, but we’ll just have to see I suppose! However, since you are curious, we were originally considering staying at the Hostal Cruz de Valle (but they haven’t responded to our emails, so we’re not sure about them).

        https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g303682-d3885701-Reviews-Hostal_Cruz_del_Valle-Santa_Cruz_O_Higgins_Region.html

        Also, we are comfortable with long bike rides, and even biking on busy roads (we did something similar in the Dry Creek Valley in California :)) So thanks for that info too!

        However, I did have one more question that I hope you might be able to answer. When you traveled from Mendoza to Santiago, did you have to get a tourist card? We are flying into Santiago at the beginning of our trip, and we know we will have to get this card (and turn it back in when we leave the country to fly to Bariloche), but later we are flying from Bariloche to El Calafate and then crossing back into Chile (to Puerto Natales) by bus. Since that will be a land crossing, I’m not sure if we need to get this card again (and I’m not sure where to get it down there if we did). I can’t find any current information about land crossings into Chile, other than the fact that don’t have to pay that reciprocity fee anymore (yeah!). So when you went into Chile after Mendoza, did you encounter this at customs?

        Thanks!

        1. Kelly,

          Harry and I took a few days to try to think about your question. Our Argentina and Chile segment of our trip happened so long ago that the details are starting to get a little fuzzy. In fact, we barely remember that tourist card that you referenced. It is basically the card that you receive upon arrival and need to present again upon departure, correct?

          I will tell you that we flew from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Then bused in and out of Argentina and Chile numerous times. And then departed South America via Santiago. I don’t recall us having any issues with paperwork.

          The only thing that caused issues was having proof of onward travel, which you will have as you will have your flights secured prior your trip. It may be helpful to have your travel information available (i.e., print out, screen shot) to show to customs so you will be able to provide proof of your travel plans.

          Hope this helps!

          I would also try that bus company link again. I too had issues with loading the webpage, but I tried again and it worked. Don’t forget Bus Sur was another option. Maybe their website will be more reliable.

          1. Thank you for your reply Audrey! The website did work (yeah!) and I appreciate your tips about onward travel (I read about that somewhere, but wasn’t sure how much of an issue it might be). I think we’ll be okay in our land crossings in to Chile (and Argentina), and we’ll see if we can ask folks at our various hostels about this. Thanks again taking the time to follow up. You guys (and your website/blog) are great!

Leave a Reply