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Patagonia Travel Tips and Planning Your Trip

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Travel Tips for Planning a Trip to Patagonia

Patagonia Travel Tips – Everything you need for planning your trip to Patagonia, including bus, flights, visas, travel tips, planning resources and itinerary suggestions.

Planning a trip to Patagonia- Travel tips, maps, itineraries and more.Piloto Glacier Excursion Cruising Ushuaia to Punta Arenas aboard the Via Australis www.compassandfork.com

Patagonia Travel Tips and Planning Your Trip

Why is Patagonia so expensive? It is a remote area and the distances are vast, population is limited, and these factors help the area retains its charm and beauty. It also means traveling around can be challenging. This is what we learned including our Patagonia travel tips and will hopefully help you planning your trip to Patagonia.

During our trip we traveled by plane, bus, taxi, ferry and cruise ship. We did not rent a car in Patagonia during any of our travels.

If you explore the region thoroughly you will be crossing the borders between Argentina and Chile, maybe more than once, we crossed three times. From Chile to Argentina and back (near Bariloche), by land into Argentina (leaving Torres Del Paine to El Calafate) and back to Argentina on the cruise around the tip of South America.

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Our Patagonia Itinerary for help Planning your Trip to Patagonia

This map details our Patagonia itinerary through Chile and Argentina.

Patagonia Travel Tips and Planning your Trip to Patagonia Itinerary www.compassandfork.com

And in a bit more detail the Northern Route of our Patagonia Itinerary

Patagonia Travel TIps Northern Patagonia Itinerary www.compassandfork.com

And the Southern Route of our Patagonia Itinerary

Patagonia Travel TIps Southern Patagonia Itinerary planning your trip to Patagonia www.compassandfork.com

Planning your Trip to Patagonia: Border Crossings

It can be time consuming to cross the Argentina/Chile border in either direction and car rental in Patagonia can be expensive. Bus travel can be lengthy, but the buses are new and comfortable. Over the years we have traveled through South America for over 12 months and never rented a car. We have relied on public transport. With the exception of Puerto Varas and the Lakes Region this has been fine. As mentioned in our post about Puerto Varas I would have preferred a car to reach some of the more remote areas to hike. Thus a post with Patagonia Travel tips, hopefully some of this information makes planning your trip to Patagonia easier.

Using Public Transport for Your Trip in Patagonia

So Patagonia Travel Tip #1, minimize your border crossings!  Finding and arranging transport between Chile and Argentina can be challenging and may try your patience. There is little coordination between the two countries and most transport companies do not have operations in both countries. This requires you to use one company to travel between the two major points and then change carriers. Often you cannot purchase the ticket for the second leg of your journey until you arrive. Luckily it is the same for everyone and this is just the way it works.

Here’s an example getting to Torres Del Paine and El Chalten

These are both very popular places for hiking with some of the best hiking in Patagonia. I am sure this is a route many people travel. It involves a border crossing between Argentina and Chile. To make this journey the route is- Torres Del Paine- Puerto Natales-El Calafate- El Chalten.

It is impossible to do it in one day unless you pay for a private transfer which can be close to $500 USD. It is a fraction of this on the public bus but takes considerably longer. On day one you will exit the Torres Del Paine National Park (Chilean side) and return to Puerto Natales (also in Patagonian Chilean side). On day two you just manage to travel from Puerto Natales to El Chalten (Argentina), via El Calafate.  You can purchase a bus ticket Puerto Natales to El Calafate in Puerto Natales, but we could not organize the ticket for the El Calafate to El Chalten sector until we arrived in El Calafate.

The good news is, you can catch an onward bus upon arrival in El Calafate is you take the morning bus from Puerto Natales.

You can arrange a private transfer on the Chile side all the way to El Chalten, but not purchase a bus ticket which I find very interesting. (And inconvenient, to say the least!)

Rome2Rio, a site I have mentioned before, is a great site for finding transport routes.  It tells you every method to get anywhere.  Just enter in point A and point B.  (For this and other travel planning tips, I suggest this post.)

Patagonia Travel TIps Trail near El Chalten- planning your trip in Patagonia www.compassandfork.com

Tourist Visas for Patagonia: Chile and Argentina

Another of our Patagonia Travel Tips: make sure you have your visas organized.  Both Argentina and Chile require a lot of countries to have visas. You need to check with the government issuing your passport. Argentina’s visa must be organized and paid for before arrival. In Chile you can pay by credit card or US Dollars (USD) on arrival. Be aware if you pay in USD they are incredibly picky about the condition of the bills rejecting anything looking even slightly worn. If you are getting cash do it before you leave home.  You need to go inside the bank and get the teller to let you pick the bills. Or start early and save your best ones from the ATM. I have seen bills rejected that look fine. (Note:This is true of all overseas travel with USD.)

You can check visa requirements for Patagonia (Argentina and Chile) for Americans, Australians and the UK at the respective government sites.

Getting Around: Flights to Patagonia versus the Bus

We choose to travel by plane for the long distances. For two reasons; one, our budget allowed us to, and two, the thought of 24 hours on a bus was just too long.

Any trip longer than 8 hours on the bus, we flew. The bus is cheaper, but it also is time consuming.  So if time is an issue keep that in mind when planning your travels in Patagonia.  If you are going to fly, this is another of our Patagonia Travel Tips: book your flights in Patagonia in advance, it will be cheaper.

We purchased a LAN Pass covering most of our internal flights within South America. If you fly into South America on an airline that is a member of the One World Alliance you are eligible to buy a LAN Pass for internal travel. I am not sure it saved a great deal of money. Airline travel within South America can be quite expensive, just one more reason why Patagonia is so expensive. using a LAN Pass for flight in Patagonia did provide flexibility as you can change the dates or your flights if you need to and it also allows you to maintain your international luggage allowance which for us was two bags per person rather than the one or none you may be allowed on some airlines. 

There is a low cost Chilean airline servicing parts of South America, SKY Airlines. We have flown them before and have no complaints. They can be quite competitive if you book in advance. It is worth mentioning there is a two tier pricing system within South America. Buying your airfares once you arrive in Chile is usually cheaper than buying them from outside Chile. Locals pay a lot less than international passengers and you may be able to access these prices if you buy your flights to Patagonia locally.

I tend to like to be organized, and we traveled at a busy time of year so I was happy with the LAN Pass. You can check current schedules and prices for flights to Patagonia here.

We flew on the routes Santiago to Puerto Montt, Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales (after the ferry was canceled) and flew from El Calafate to Ushuaia. The El Calafate to Ushuaia route was not serviced by LAN on the day we needed to travel so this was not part of our LAN Pass.

Car Rental in Patagonia

As I mentioned we did not rent a car, it seemed an expensive option to leave it parked for vast periods of time while we hiked and the distances and travel routes are far.  However renting one for short segments might be a worthwhile option.

For car rentals we use and recommend Holiday Autos.  The price quoted discloses what is and is not included.  Make sure if you plan to cross the border between Chile and Argentina you disclose this and the price quoted includes the border crossing and insurance fees for your car rental in Patagonia.  You will need paperwork to cross the border with the car and insurance.  You can download our rental car checklist listing what to check on your rental car quote to make sure you have included what you need and don’t get a bill much higher than you were anticipating.

Patagonia Travel TIps The Chilean Patagonia Lakes and Volcanos region from the air www.compassandfork.com

Further Information for Planning your Trip to Patagonia

Our bus and other internal transport is discussed in each of the posts, so for more information refer to the individual posts, you will find a lot of other Patagonia travel tips in these posts:

Exploring the Natural Beauty of Bariloche (Some of the best skiing in the winter or great hiking in Patagonia in the summer.)

Visiting Puerto Varas Chile Lakes,Volcanos and More– some of the best volcano, lakes and hiking you will find in Northern Patagonia on the Chilean side)

Chiloe– Chile’s largest island, on the northern edges of Patagonia.

Entering Torres Del Paine National Park via Rio Serrano (includes all options for getting to Torres Del Paine- this one was a highlight of our Patagonian adventure.)

Torres Del Paine National Park: Hiking the “W” (one of the best hikes in Patagonia and the premier Torres Del Paine hike)

Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier– main tourist attraction in Patagonia on the Argentina side.  One of the world’s largest glaciers. You can get very close to the glacier, including a glacier hike.)

El Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy: Argentina’s Hiking Capital (A whole town devoted to hiking!  Day and overnight options for some of the best hiking in Patagonia on the Argentina side)

Ushuaia to Punta Arenas via Cruceros Australis (A small ship adventure cruise we highly recommend.  The Patagonia itinerary crosses from the Chilean to the Argentina side (or vice-versa) via  Cape Horn. The cruise provides access to some of the most remote country in Patagonia, and honesty it is just spectacular- a true Patagonian adventure you will never forget!)

Food in Patagonia

There are some fantastic local products worth trying. Meat, particularly beef and lamb are a large part of the diet in Patagonia and it is plentiful. All of their meat is grass fed being reared on large estancias. Seafood also is quite common as many of the towns in the region are near the sea.

Some of our favorite foods from Patagonia are shared in the recipes for this destination:Scallop empanadas www.compassandfork.com

Patagonia Roast Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce

Dulche de Leche Creme Caramel

Patagonian Scallop and Leek Empanadas

Patagonia Fish with Red Bell Pepper Sauce

In addition, if you get the chance we recommend trying curanto, a dish cooked in the earth a specialty of the Chiloe region.

Bariloche is the chocolate capital of Argentina, so if you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss Argentinean chocolates.

Wine in both Argentina and Chile is excellent. Argentina is known for its Malbec (particularly from Mendoza) and Chile is known for both its Sauvignon Blanc and its Carmenere (red). More about South American wine in the Patagonian Dinner Party post, which includes a menu, complete recipes and wine suggestions.

Dinner is served late, with some restaurants not even opening until 8 pm or later. These restaurants tend to have better and more traditional food as they are not catering to tourists, it is where the locals eat. If you don’t like a big meal late at night consider going out for lunch.

We tend to always drink bottled water when we travel, but you can safely drink and brush your teeth with the tap water.

Accommodation in Patagonia

Sleeping will probably be your largest expense. As mentioned Patagonia can be expensive, so this is not going to make a list for cheap travel destinations but there are options for every budget. Camping is available, hostels, guest houses, hotels, some independent apartments and some very nice luxury accommodation. Another of our Patagonia Travel tips: if you are traveling during high-season (December to February, you will want to organize accommodation in advance.)

Many people think December to February is the best time to visit Patagonia, but it is also the busiest and most expensive time to visit Patagonia.  November and March can also be good times to visit Patagonia and depending on your point of view a better time to find the best hiking in Patagonia.

We list the accommodation options near Torres Del Paine National Park and tell you where we stayed in El Chalten and Chiloe.

In Bariloche we rented an apartment. This was the only accommodation where we had a washing machine, to do our own laundry, this is not a common feature (see essentials below).

To browse hotel prices and check availability click here.

If you have read about our cruise with Cruceros Australis from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, you know we highly recommend it; the food and standard of accommodation were excellent, and as far as adventure in Patagonia, this is a highlight.

Patagonia Travel TIps Via Australis and Zodiac www.compassandfork.com

The Essentials: Laundry and Language

Planning a trip to Patagonia Patagonia Travel TIps Horses in front of Mount Fitz Roy www.compassandfork.comLaundry service is everywhere and is cheap and quick. Drop your clothes off and in many places you can pick it up the same day. 24 hours is considered normal service.

Both Argentina and Chile are Spanish speaking. Take time to learn the basics, the locals always appreciate the effort and there will be times when you need to communicate in Spanish. Through most of Southern Patagonia it is pretty touristy, especially the areas you will travel, and we found we spoke more English than Spanish. This is somewhat unusual in South America as in many places there is little English spoken. If you need assistance to learn try Duo Lingo a free app for your phone.

Planning your Trip to Patagonia

It is a difficult area to find information about Patagonia (other than someone wanting to sell an expensive tour of Patagonia) but it is worth it to persevere. There are a lot of tour companies and this can be a convenient way to explore the area, but it also comes at a price. We organized all of our travels independently and while it took a while, we saved thousands of dollars. Patagonia is not going to make anyone’s list of cheap travel destinations, but it is extremely remote which does explain why Patagonia is so expensive.

If you love nature, honestly this is nature at its finest. If it wasn’t so cold and windy in the winter I could live here! It is one of the prettiest places you will ever see. Its reputation is well deserved.

We receive many questions about what to pack. If you want to know what we pack for a hiking trip when we travel you can download our free list of what we pack for hiking.

If you have questions, please leave a comment. We are happy to help you planning your trip to Patagonia if we can, and we hope our Patagonia travel tips help you with planning your Patagonia adventure.

Patagonia Travel Tips and Planning Your Trip www.compassandfork.com

56 Responses

  1. Julie Small
    | Reply

    This place is right at the top of my bucket list!!! Thank you for all these wonderful tips. Especially the food section – my fave part of travelling is discovering new cuisine. Your photos are lovely too.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Julie, Thanks for you kind words- you have made my day! I hope you make it to Patagonia- it is fantastic. I hope you read more of Compass & Fork.

  2. Marjorie
    | Reply

    I really want to save time too when traveling but sometimes, the budget doesn’t allow it.

    This guide is information packed, I must say I’m impressed. I’ll take note of your tips if I get a chance to go to Chile.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comment Marjorie. Yes it is pretty detailed as we found it difficult to find information about Patagonia. We hope other people find it useful so they get to travel to such a magnificent region.

  3. Sue @NoFixedAbodeForSue
    | Reply

    Fabulous post. The more detailed research you can do before a trip, the better it will be and you won’t look back and realize you had missed something major (can you tell I have done that!)

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Good on you Sue, thanks for your post. Learning by experience always drills in the message, doesn’t it? We haven’t had any major mishaps, some of which is luck mind you. Research certainly minimizes the risk of it happening though.

  4. Prianka | Map Halves
    | Reply

    This is a great post with lots of really helpful information! I am always worried of places that are more expensive to get around – but Patagonia looks so beautiful, I will definitely have to add it to my (every growing) list. I had the same experience with having bills rejected in Vietnam earlier this year, kind of a frustrating experience if you aren’t well prepared! In Vietnam, I ended up paying half my visa in Singaporean dollars!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comment. Patagonia is the most beautiful place we have visited but that remoteness and unspoilt beauty comes at a price unfortunately. Having crisp US dollar bills is not much advertised but if yours are worn they just won’t accept them.

  5. Sarah
    | Reply

    I have yet to visit the Southern part of Argentina. I definitely love the food! Thanks for all the info, it certainly does sound like it is complicated to get there, so it’s awesome that you’ve put it all in this post and make it easier on the rest of us! Thanks!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      My pleasure Sarah. It is a bit complicated but it is such a stunning place it is worthwhile doing the research.

  6. Maria
    | Reply

    Great post! Really comprehensive and full of info, thanks for sharing.

    And I’m drooling over the food, it looks amazing!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Glad you like the food posts Maria. It is a stunning place and I’m so glad we got to go there.

  7. Heather Cole
    | Reply

    Bookmarked! We’re considering Patagonia for our 10 year wedding anniversary, but didn’t want to hire a car for those incredible distances, so this is a super place to start our research, thanks!!!!!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      My pleasure Heather. What a great idea for a place go on your 10th wedding anniversary. It’s stunning and you will never forget it.

  8. dannielle
    | Reply

    Thanks for including your actual route, I find that really helpful. Patagonia looks unreal!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comment Dannielle. I’m into maps so it was mandatory to include one. It also shows you the scale of the place. It’s huge.

  9. Anne Klien ( MeAnne)
    | Reply

    I read so much about patagonia. This place is high on my list such a beautiful place nature and hiking its perfect for me oh and the food looks yummy

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Anne, it was on our bucket list from the start. And it was brilliant! You will love it when you get there. Maybe the best hiking we have ever experienced.

  10. Erica
    | Reply

    Great! I’ll be keeping this in mind! looks like a very lovely place to visit.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Eica, It was one of our favorite trips. Nice place and very friendly people.

  11. Sher
    | Reply

    patagonia is on my bucket list! i love how comprehensive your tips are – bookmarking this for when it comes time to plan for my own trip 🙂

    Sher
    http://www.shershegoes.com

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Sher, If you have questions when you start planning please feel free to ask, it is one of those places it is hard to find information about.

  12. Natasha
    | Reply

    What an awesome and comprehensive guide. I wasn’t planning on visiting anytime soon but it looks wonderful!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      It was on our list for a long time and it did not disappoint.

  13. Natasha
    | Reply

    I agree those bus rides sound way too long. But air travel is rarely affordable in South America. Very infomative post.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Natasha, I agree about the cost of air travel in SA. It is expensive. Unfortunately some of their low cost airlines have gone out of business in the last few years making it worse. Planning in advance helps lower the cost.

  14. Grietje | Travelgretl
    | Reply

    Oh man, this must be such an amazingly beautiful piece of earth! I am so crossing my fingers to ever be able to go here 😀 Beautiful simply!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Grietje, you are right on the money. There are not enough adjectives to describe the beauty of the place. Thanks for your comment.

  15. wow! this is very detailed and informative article! Will def bookmark this! Thank you!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      My pleasure. It is a hard place to find information on, so we thought we should provide a starting place for those considering a trip. Thanks for your comment.

  16. Nic from Roaming Renegades
    | Reply

    Wow, what an unbelievable stunning place. It’s on our bucket list for sure, we can’t wait to visit in the future.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      You will love it Nic. You have to pinch yourself to make sure that it isn’t a dream. Thanks for your comment.

  17. Crizzy Kiss
    | Reply

    Awesome post! Very informative,thanks! I’m adding it on my bucket list 😉

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Patagonia deserves to be on your bucket list. You’ll love it! Thanks for your comment.

  18. Alexis
    | Reply

    What an informative post and that first photo is insane!! Definitely going to give Argentina a second look for our RTW

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Alexis, It was a beautiful place. Let us know if you have any questions. Happy to help.

  19. christine
    | Reply

    This is great!! Thanks for all the detailed information!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      My pleasure Christine. Good information can be scarce in that part of the world. Thanks for your comment.

  20. evan kristine
    | Reply

    One World Alliance seems quite alright. Some Finnish Airlines allows you to be part of this and everytime you buy flights from them you get points. I wouldn’t mind travelling slow in this place though, it looks divine! But yeah, more than 8 hours in the bus could be really painful and I’d certainly rather fly 😀

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Hi Evan. Yes Patagonia is a huge swathe land across Southern Chile and Southern Argentina, with not many towns. So the distances are vast. Too long on the bus for me.

  21. Julius from Traveltipy
    | Reply

    Amazing pictures indeed! I prefer summer and sunny holidays but I would like to try this for sure!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Julius thanks for your comment. It may not be the warmest place on the earth but it may be the most stunning. It is still the highlight of all of our travels.

  22. Juergen | dare2go
    | Reply

    Hello! You state “It is difficult to cross the Argentina/Chile border in either direction[…]” without giving any further reason for this. So my question is WHY? We’ve crossed this border countless times and never found it very difficult, only sometimes time consuming. Come prepared, know the rules, be friendly, maybe speak some Spanish, and everything will be alright…
    If you want to find really difficult borders travel with your own vehicle through Central America or Africa!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Juergen, Time consuming is probably a better description!

  23. Stephanie Langlet
    | Reply

    One of our famous French singers lives there. I understand why looking at these wonderful landscapes!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Stephanie, It is one of the most stunning place I have ever been.

  24. heather
    | Reply

    We are headed to S. America next year and found this post very helpful. Thank you for all the info!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      My pleasure Heather. We found information rather difficult to come by in Patagonia so I am glad you found this information helpful. I hope you enjoy your trip.

  25. melody pittman
    | Reply

    Patagonia is bucket list, travelporn, life’s ambition, and all things of that nature in my book. Amazing! Thanks for sharing so I can dream about it all over again. 😉

    • Editor
      | Reply

      It is without doubt the most spectacular scenery we have been too. Dreams do come true. We had been planning to go to Patagonia for 20 years until we finally made it.

  26. Rob Taylor
    | Reply

    Wow! That’s quite the trip, and I totally agree about flying: 24 hours on a bus would be too much. Seriously though, what a cool experience between cultures, sights, food and hiking. This is on our long term radar.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Rob it seemed like we dreamed of going to Patagonia for an eternity before we made it there. The scenery is just stunning and something we will never forget.

  27. Ami
    | Reply

    Patagonia is really interesting and quite far off too 🙁 Your tips are really useful and hopefully someday I will be referring back to it to get here.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Never lose the dream of going there Ami and you will eventually make it there. We dreamed about it for 20 years before we made it and it was so worthwhile.

  28. Vyjay
    | Reply

    Patagonia seems to hold the promise of a great enriching and fun experience. Your exhaustive guide is bound to be of tremendous value when planning a trip to Patagonia.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      It is a great place to visit but finding out information about it can be difficult. Hope you enjoyed the guide.

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