Holiday Hotspots: Cheap and Chile-Ful; LIVE LIKE A LORD AND BE KIND TO YOUR WALLET IN SOUTH AMERICA

Article excerpt

Byline: By PETER WILSON

AS I watched the sun set from my restaurant table, I suddenly realised I was becoming a cheapskate. "This bottle of wine cost pounds 2!" I had spluttered.

At pounds 3 a meal too, Chile was spoiling me - and I realised I should really be drinking a toast to finding a destination where I could live very well and cheaply.

Yes it is a long haul to the South American country and as yet there are no budget airlines offering flights.

But once there you can live like a lord for a fraction of what it costs in Europe or the US.

Chile has a 2,600-mile coastline so you can pack everything into a tour - desert, wine country, hot springs, lakes, the foothills of the Andes and the icy world of Patagonia.

My wife and I spent most of our trip in a well-equipped cabana (chalet) yards from the beach at La Serena. The cost for six days was only pounds 125.

To work off all the delicious seafood we'd eaten, we rented bikes and rode for miles along the Pacific coast.

The area is in the warm central region where it's dry for around nine months of the year.

Earlier we had stayed in the capital, Santiago which is dominated by a hillside monument to the Virgin Mary.

You can take the funicular railway to the statue for amazing views of the sprawling capital. Santiago has pedestrian squares where families walk at weekends and evenings.

They echo with melodies played by pan pipe musicians and other entertainers including clowns.

The central market is a must and full of craft shops and stalls.

There are great restaurants, including those selling exotic Patagonian king crab and the renowned Como Agua para Chocolate themed restaurant.

Unlike in some South American countries, the stallholders were unfailingly polite.

In fact Chileans are renowned for their good manners. It is easy to get around using the efficient and modern Metro system where top-up tickets cost under a pounds 1. …