Chile, longtime a favorite for first-rate Andean ski trips that keep you under budget, is quickly also becoming a year-round LGBT-friendly draw. In just the past six months, the Chilean peso has decreased about 30 percent against the dollar -- making what would have been an $8 meal for just a little over $6. And flights, which were over $1200 a few months ago, hover under $1000 and can be as low as $700.
The coastal region boasts miles of free beaches, and Valparaiso is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architecture. But little known to gay travelers is its bounty of gay and gay-friendly clubs and bars. Travelers might have once stayed in Santiago for its gay life, but doing so now would mean missing out on a unique and affordable array of bars.
The port city, known locally as Valpo, also has narrow, winding streets and beautiful architecture throughout its numerous hills. Just to the north is Vi?a del Mar, which sports high-rises, resort-town streets and expensive hotels. Just north of there, you'll also find Re?aca, known for its spotless beaches, sun and especially the seafood empanadas. A few straight bars operate late into the night here.
Tips for a successful visit:
LANGUAGE: Although the government has heavily promoted English education, you'll need at least basic Spanish to get by in all but the priciest hotels and restaurants.
CULTURE: Public displays of same-sex attractions may be uncommon in the region, but problems should be few and far between. There have been occasional reports of roving gangs who set out to attack gays late at night, so always travel in groups and be aware of your surroundings.
TIPPING: Ten percent is normal in restaurants; most bars and clubs don't expect it, but if you throw in the equivalent of a few quarters, they'll really love you.
GETTING AROUND: If you want to travel as the locals do, take buses, known as micros. They're cheap (from about 80 cents to $1.25, depending on the trip's length), but also noisy and crowded. There are also colectivos, cars that fit four people that travel in a fixed route, as well as taxis, which should be metered.
WHERE TO STAY: Lodging can be pretty cheap if you're willing to stay in hostels, most of which cost less than $15 a night per person. Always insist on seeing the room and bathroom where you're going to be staying, even in better hotels. It's not considered rude (in fact, most owners offer to show you), and it will ensure that you know what you're getting into beforehand.
A super-cheap but very clean hostel in Valparaiso is the Residencial Universitaria, which is on Colon with Las Heras. It's a little far away from the top tourist destinations -- the hills Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion -- but it only cost 5000 pesos ($9) a night per person. The owners were flexible about letting a gay couple sleep in the same twin bed, and only charge them what they would've charged a single person. There's no sign outside; you'll have to call +56-32-2239572 or +9-479-1081 to inquire about rooms.
If you're looking for more of a traditional hotel, try Hotel O'Higgins in Vi?a del Mar. It's right on the Plaza so you can't miss it, and is only a few blocks from the club Zeuz's. During busy seasons, most rooms will go for around $50, but during off seasons it drifts down to around $30, the staff says.
Part One | Part Two