The Road to Patagonia

Best ways to see Patagonia:

Everything you need to know

 

Dates Visited: November 2018

Here we will go over the best ways to see Patagonia. Everything from trekking/tours, how to protect its beauty, transportation options, where to stay, and budgeting tips.

Though we only stayed in Patagonia for just over a week, we could have easily spent at least a month down there. It's so much larger than we originally anticipated. After learning so much about this spectacular region we already have plans in to make it back there to do one of the renowned hiking circuits.

Where is Patagonia?

Patagonia is a sparsely populated region spanning both Chile and Argentina. In the southern part from Torres del Paine to Tierra del Fuego, the region spans mostly through Chile. However, El Chaltén and El Calafate are areas of growing popularity in Argentina.

Puerto Natales, where we spent most of our time, is a backpacker and outdoorsmen's paradise. It's the gateway to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. We met some awesome new Swedish friends in this town and swapped backpacking stories.

The picture icons below are the places we will go over the best trekking. The plane icons below are the best places to fly into or start routes in Patagonia. You can also take a bus out of any of the cities with a plane, bus, or picture icon.

Treks | Tours

One of the best ways to see Patagonia is to go trekking in one its many national parks. Perhaps the most popular is Torres del Paine, home to the well known 'W' and 'O' treks. Of course, these multi day treks require planning pretty far in advance. If you're short on time, or didn't plan ahead like us, then the another one of the best ways to see Patagonia is a day tour of the park. Check out our post below about our day trip to Torres del Paine for more info.

However, all of that is just on the Chilean side of Patagonia. Unfortunately this is the only portion of Patagonia we got to experience...this time around. But we did meet a group of guys that came from the Argentinian side in El Chaltén and El Calafate. After spending over a week doing day treks and multi day camping trips, they preferred this side of the region more than the Chilean side. Mostly because Chile is much more expensive than Argentina (as of November 2018).

When we went to Buenos Aires, Argentina we realized the significant price decrease from Chile. Though, as of 2018, the Argentinian Peso is one of the worst performing currencies in the world. As a result, for now it's currently much more cost effective to travel in Argentina.

Patagonia Chilena

Patagonia Chilena Torres del Paine - day Tour and W Trek and O Trek Guide

The W Trek is a 43.1 mile (69 Km) point-to-point hike that takes approximately 5 days/4 nights. The O Circuit essentially covers the same ground as the W trek, but it is a complete loop that clocks in at 77 miles (124 Km) and will take at least 8 Days/7 Nights. Important Note* - You will need to reserve campsites quite far in advance (but no more than 6 months in advance is permitted).

All campsites and refugios in Torres del Paine are required to be reserved. Allegedly, it can be done through CONAF, the Chilean Government's website. However, we've heard from numerous people that the website does not work correctly and is confusing to use. The park rangers are aware of the issue, but really don't seem to care. If by some miracle you can reserve a campsite on there then congratulations, you're one of the lucky ones!

Two other companies that run lodging in Torres del Paine are Fantastico Sur (much more expensive) and Vertice Patagonia (more affordable). Both of these companies offer package treks for these hiking circuits, but they will cost quite a bit of money. For example, Vertice Patagonia offers an express version of the W trek - 4 Days/3 Nights for ~$766 USD. Fantastico Sur has prices for the W trek (5 Day/4 Night) starting at $810 for an unguided version of the trek.

Nonetheless, you can save quite a bit of money by bringing your own equipment and solely booking lodging online through one of the companies below. If you don't want to fly with all the hiking equipment, then gear can be rented for varying daily rates in Puerto Natales. We highly recommend checking out Erratic Rock before starting on a trek. They offer equipment rentals/guided tours, and a free talk every day at 3 pm that covers what to pack, expect, and hiking tips for your time in Torres.

Patagonia Hiking: Erratic Rock
Patagonia Hiking: Erratic Rock
Day Hikes and Tours

If you're like us and came completely unprepared for a multi day hike through Torres del Paine, don't worry because there are other options. Another one of the best ways to see Patagonia is to do a day trip to Torres del Paine. There are several options, but if you want to get the best taste of the park you should opt for doing a full day tour or trek (10-12 hours).

Cost: $30,000 Clp + $21,000 Clp Park Entry

Operator: Nikos II Adventure

Length: 12 hours | ~1-5 miles hiking (1-8 km) hiking

This full day tour picks you up from your hostel and gives you a driving/hiking tour around the park. If you're short on time, this is one of the best ways to see Patagonia in a day. You have the option of doing 2 short hikes, which range anywhere from 1-5 miles depending on your ability - but not required. Read more about our day trip here.

Niko's offers the cheapest day trips we could find online, and after searching around in person in Puerto Natales.

Cost: $35,000 Clp (if booked in person) + $21,000 Clp Park Entry

Operator: Nikos II Adventure (35k if paid in cash)

Length: 10-12 hours | 11 miles (17 km) hiking

The three Torres, or towers, pictured below are the icon of this national park. If you want to hike to the base of them, it can be done in a day but it's about an 11 mile (17 Km) hike that takes roughly 10-12 hours.

Niko's was the hostel we stayed at in Puerto Natales. They also offer the cheapest day trips we could find online and after searching around in person when we arrived.

Patagonia Argentina

Our friends Erik, Jon, Antoine, and Andrew all had nothing but amazing stories from their time in El Chaltén, Argentina. They said there are plenty of treks, which make some of the best ways to see Patagonia.

There are countless places to see: El Chaltén, Perito Moreno Glacier (pictured below), Los Glaciares National Park, Cerro Torre, etc. El Chaltén is home to Mount Fitz Roy, which is pictured in the Patagonia clothing company's logo.

Los Glaciares National Park

Located about 3.5 hours from Puerto Natales is town of El Calafate. It's known as the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park due to its close proximity to the Perito Moreno Glacier. However, from the Argentine side, the best way to see Patagonia is from El Chaltén.

From El Chaltén, its possible to hike straight into the national park. The national park fee is supposed to be $500 Argentinian Pesos. However, we heard its possible to hike straight into the mountains without paying the fee. Los Glaciares is also much more relaxed about camping in the park; they don't require reservations in specific campsite like Torres del Paine. Our Swedish friends said this was their favorite part about El Chaltén and wished they hadn't even come to Torres del Paine because of this! Can't say we blame them once we saw all their pictures. Check out our friend Andrew's instagram for some dope shots of El Chaltén!

Perito Moreno Glacier
Photo Credit: @erikliindgren
Perito Moreno Glacier

Cost: $65,000 Clp (if booked in person)  + $500 ARP Park Entry

Operator: Nikos II Adventure (65k if paid in cash)

Length: 10-13 hours driving | 2 hours hiking

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the prime attractions in Patagonia Argentina. Located in Los Glaciares National Park, it's about a 1.5 hour drive from El Calafate, Argentina or a 5 hour drive from Puerto Natales, Chile. However, the border crossing between Chile and Argentina will add a varying amount of time to the journey.

Unlike most glaciers in the world that are receding, Perito Moreno is actually advancing! It is an absolute beast of nature, check out the stats below (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Area:  250 km2 (97 sq mi)
Length:  30 km (19 mi)
Width:  5 km (3 mi)
Thickness:  170 m (560 ft)
Area:  250 km2 (97 sq mi)
Length:  30 km (19 mi)
   
   
Width:  5 km (3 mi)
Thickness:  170m (560 ft)
   
   
Area:  250 km2 (97 sq mi)
Length:  30 km (19 mi)
Width:  5 km (3 mi)
Thickness:  170 m (560 ft)

Love It? Protect It

If you come to Patagonia, it's most likely because you love the outdoors and are keen on connecting with nature. If you love it, then why not work to conserve it? While we walked around the beach in Punta Arenas we noticed heaps of trash littered about the shore.

Fortunately enough we had a bag with us to pick up some of the trash we saw. But in reality, it shouldn't be there in the first place. Not only is it nasty to look at, but it can harm animals because they mistakenly ingest it as food.

Patagonia Conservation: Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas: Low Cost Fun

On the bright side, Chile does seem to do a decent job of providing public waste receptacles. They usually offer separate recycling containers for both plastic and aluminum products. However, we've even seen compostable receptacles out and about which takes waste collection to the next level. We were pleasantly surprised to see all of the effort put into collecting and separating the waste. We can only hope it stays that way at the processing facilities!

Patagonia Conservation: Punta Arenas
Patagonia Conservation: Puerto Natales

Transportation around Patagonia

The quickest way to get to Patagonia is by plane, because it will take forever to get there (40+ hours) by bus. If you're traveling from Santiago to Punta Arenas, the bus ride is 44 hours and costs ~$88 USD. In fact, our round trip plane ticket including checking a backpack was cheaper than the one way bus ticket!

Though, the best way to travel once you're there is by bus, and it's absolutely worth it. Not only are the views amazing, but the cost is significantly cheaper than hopping on a plane.

Flights to Patagonia

Depending on where you want to start your journey, the most cost effective way may be to fly into the region. In our experience, it is cheaper to fly in Chile than Argentina. Flying international from Chile to Argentina or vice versa is the most expensive option. We recommend picking one country and flying domestically to begin a trip through Patagonia.

However, the cost of living (as of November 2018) is cheaper in Argentina. Nonetheless, the most cost effective places to fly out are in Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The main cities in Patagonia to fly into the Patagonia Chilena are Puerto Montt (very far north) and Punta Arenas (very far south). Patagonia Argentina has twice as many airport access points. From North to South they are: Bariloche, Rio Gallegos, El Calafate, and Ushuaia.

All flights shown below are one-way; prices are the variance found over a three month search window on Google Flights.

Argentina (from Buenos Aires)

 ➳  Bariloche, ARG ($27 - $181 USD)

➳  El Calafate, ARG ($62 - $223 USD)

➳  Puerto Montt, CHL ($137 - $734 USD)

➳  Punta Arenas, CHL ($173 -  $765 USD)

➳  Rio Gallegos, ARG ($51 - $184 USD)

➳  Ushuaia, ARG ($67 - $222 USD)

Chile (from Santiago)

➳  Bariloche, ARG ($560 - $699 USD)

➳  El Calafate, ARG ($372 - $737 USD)

➳  Puerto Montt, CHL ($14 - $62 USD)

➳  Punta Arenas, CHL ($18 - $95 USD)

➳  Rio Gallegos, ARG ($565 - $686 USD)

➳  Ushuaia, ARG ($471 - $756 USD)

Cheapest Flights: Consistently, the cheapest flights we found were out of Santiago. You can either start in the far north of Patagonia Chilena in Puerto Montt for $14 - $62 USD or in the far south at Punta Arenas for $18 - $95 USD.

Busing in Patagonia

The good thing about taking buses to and around Patagonia is that the prices are relatively consistent, unlike airfare. However, taking a bus to Patagonia takes a long time; usually anywhere from 24-44 hours depending on your start/end points. Nonetheless, we highly recommend taking a bus around Patagonia as the views are amazing.

The most helpful websites to book buses in Patagonia are: 

  1. Bussur
  2. Buses Fernandez
  3. Platforma10
  4. Omnilineas 
  5. Busbud
From Punta Arenas

➳  Puerto Natales, CHL

  • Length: 3.5 Hours
  • Cost: $12 USD

➳  Río Grande, ARG (Tierra del Fuego)

  • Length: 8 Hours (border crossing)
  • Cost: $29 USD
  • Need to book separate ferry

➳  Ushuaia, ARG (Tierra del Fuego)

  • Length: 11 Hours (border crossing)
  • Cost: $51 USD
  • Need to book separate ferry

➳  El Calafate, ARG

  • Length: 9 Hours  (border crossing)
  • Cost: $37 USD
From Puerto Natales

➳  Río Gallegos, ARG

  • Length: 5 Hours (border crossing)
  • Cost: $22 USD

➳  Río Grande, ARG (Tierra del Fuego)

  • Length: 11 Hours (border crossing)
  • Cost: $41 USD
  • Need to book separate ferry

➳  Ushuaia, ARG (Tierra del Fuego)

  • Length: 13 Hours (border crossing)
  • Cost: $63 USD
  • Need to book separate ferry

 ➳  El Calafate, ARG

  • Length: 6 Hours  (border crossing)
  • Cost: $25 USD
From El Calafate

➳  El Chaltén

  • Length: 3 Hours 
  • Cost: $22 USD

 

See how this fit into our Chile Itinerary:

See how this fit into our Chile Itinerary:

Where to stay in Patagonia

From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you a deal with either of the sites, but are affiliate links so we earn a small commission.

If you're looking for somewhere to stay in Patagonia, you'll first want to look at which cities/town you want to base yourself out of. Though there are so many places to stay in Patagonia, we have listed both of the cities we visited: Punta Arenas and Patagonia.

Punta Arenas

Personally, we were not very impressed with the hostel options in Punta Arenas after seeing the prices and reading the reviews of most of the hostels. This is why we opted for an Airbnb at Martin's for $38/night. It was cheaper than both of us booking dorm beds, and we also had access to our own kitchen so we could cook our own meals.

Dorms: $18.63+ USD

Private: $28.50+ USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Free Breakfast, Spanish/English speaking, Excellent location

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: $28.67+ USD

Private: $64.50+ USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Free Breakfast, Spanish/English/French/German speaking, Central location

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: $20.28+ USD

Private: $50.16+ USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Close to Bus companies, Free breakfast Private Room only

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is the gateway to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. We took a 3.5 hour bus ride from Punta Arenas with Bussur for roughly $12 USD each way. When we got there we stayed at Niko's Adventure II Hostel.

We highly recommend this place as its not only a hostel, but also a tour agency (most here are) We ended up booking a day trip to Torres del Paine through them. Not only were the cheapest option we could find online, but we also got a few quotes once we got to Puerto Natales and they had the best prices.

Dorms: $22.93+ USD

Private: $43.00+ USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Free Breakfast, Kitchen, Spanish/English speaking, Tour Planning (extremely good prices), Airport/Bus Transfers, 24 Hr Reception

Dorms: $21.50+ USD

Private: $57.33+ USD

Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Self Catering Services, Free Parking, Luggage Storage

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: $18.63+ USD

Private: $50.45+ USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Free Breakfast, Spanish/English speaking, Tour Planning, 24 hr Reception

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: $14.61+ USD

Private: $56.97+ USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Free Breakfast, Bar, Spanish/English speaking, Bar/Restaurant, Laundry Facilities

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Budgeting

Compared to the rest of South America, Patagonia is expensive. In our experience, Argentina has a lower cost of living than Chile. However, our only experience in Patagonia is on the Chilean side. So we will share our budgeting experiences with what we know.

During the helpful talk we went to at Eratic Rock, we learned that Chile is the most expensive country in South America and Puerto Natales is the most expensive city in Chile. While we're not sure of the hard evidence to back up this claim, we can tell you that our anecdotal experience there's some truth to it. In fact, Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales have about the same cost of living.

Travel Costs: the breakdown

We were in Patagonia for a total of 8 days (not long nearly long enough). Between the both of us we spent a total of $990.18 USD.

Cost per Person: $445.09 USD

Cost per Person per Day: $61.88 USD

Our daily budget is $70 USD/person, which we admit is quite high. However, we still came in slightly under budget for this portion of our trip. But we know there are definitely more budget friendly ways to see Patagonia. First and foremost we could definitely cut down on lodging and not eat out as much. Below are some helpful tips to bring down your budget and free/cheap ways to keep yourself entertained in Patagonia!

Patagonia Budget Guide Breakdown
Patagonia Budget Guide Breakdown
Helpful Tips
  • Grocery Shopping: This is the most cost effective way to feed yourself. Nonetheless, groceries are still quite expensive in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales (similar or greater costs than a grocery store in the U.S.) Granted, your accommodation will need to have a kitchen if you actually want to make the most of this tip.
    • Ex: If you don't have a way to boil water on a stove then you can't buy cheaper foods like rice, pasta.
  • Lodging: This one can really make or break your budget. Booking shared rooms or dorms is usually cheaper, especially while traveling solo. However, if you're traveling with a group of two or more people then private rooms are sometimes cheaper. Nonetheless, its best to look at reviews for the hostels because sometimes the really cheap ones might not be worth the value.
    • Sometimes Airbnbs are more cost effective, like what we booked in Punta Arenas.
    • Some hostels offer free breakfast, this is great because it's one less meal you need to worry about.
  • Transportation: Flights to Patagonia, particularly within Chile are consistently cheaper. However, once you're there buses are the best budget option.
  • Food Out: If you're looking for cheap ways to feed yourself, this is not the way to do it. However, if you just came back from hiking for multiple days and have been eating trail mix and PB & J sandwiches then maybe you'd be okay with splurging for a meal out.
Punta Arenas: Low Cost Fun

Punta Arenas is a city with quite a bit of coast line. It's also rather small so you can easily walk around without the need to call an Uber or taxi. This is great exercise and saves some cash. The 'downtown' area is not far from a boardwalk where you can walk along the sea or even watch some kids in the skate park.

Punta Arenas: Low Cost Fun
Punta Arenas: Low Cost Fun
Punta Arenas: Low Cost Fun

The beach in Punta Arenas is rather beautiful, but extremely windy! If you notice some trash along the shore, maybe it would be worth picking it up. If you're there, you're contributing to the waste so why not make sure it goes in the right place 🙂

GOPR3157 - 1000 custom
Puerto Natales: Low Cost Fun

Similar to Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales is also right along a body of water. In our opinion, it's a much more decorated coast line as there are gorgeous mountains in the background. You can also watch some of the colorful ferries going along for a scenic view.

As it turns out, skate parks are fairly popular in Chile. Each afternoon you can find young lads riding bikes or skateboards in the park doing some impressive tricks. It's definitely worth a visit.

Puerto Natales: Low Cost Fun
Puerto Natales: Low Cost Fun

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By |2019-08-03T07:11:03-04:00November 21st, 2018|Chile, South America|2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Rochelle January 15, 2020 at 2:03 am - Reply

    Best information I have found! Love your site!

    • worldlywander January 15, 2020 at 8:10 am - Reply

      Thanks Rochelle!

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