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.
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.
Our Patagonia Itinerary for help Planning your Trip to Patagonia
This map details our Patagonia itinerary through Chile and Argentina.
And in a bit more detail the Northern Route of our Patagonia Itinerary
And the Southern Route of our Patagonia Itinerary
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.)
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.
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:
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.
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.
The Essentials: Laundry and Language
Laundry 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.