Central and South America

VISITING PATAGONIA 101: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE

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Patagonia is a magical place you may have never heard of. However, it does exist and I think it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. This article is more about a guide to visiting Patagonia if you are looking for a complete itinerary make sure to check out my 10-day Patagonia itinerary. 

In this article, I will be answering the essential questions asked about visiting Patagonia. 

Hiking trail up to Mount Fitz Roy

Patagonia has a very vast landscape and actually is spread across two different countries: Chile and Argentina. This place is located on the southernmost tip of South America. There are lots of things to see, do, and eat while visiting here.

So, let’s get into it! 

How do you get to Patagonia?

If you didn’t figure this out already, flying will be the best way to get to Patagonia. I recommend flying to Argentina vs. Chile. Chile tends to be more expensive. To get to actual Patagonia I highly recommend you fly into El Calafate. You will most likely have a layover in Buenos Aires. 

The most popular entry points to Patagonia with international airports are:

  • El Calafate, Argentina (for Perito Moreno Glacier)
  • Ushuaia, Argentina (for Tierra Del Fuego)
  • Bariloche, Argentina (for the Lake District)
  • Punta Arenas, Chile (for Torres Del Paine)
  • Puerto Montt, Chile (for the Carretera Austral)

You should fly internally and then use the bus to cross the border. This will save you a ton of money. LATM and Sky are Chile’s main airlines. Pro tip: Book through LATM’s Chilean website to save a ton of money. It is in Spanish, but if you book from the US site you will spend more money.

To get to Buenos Aires from the US I used Aerolineas Argentina. I have read bad reviews about them, but I had no issues with this airline itself. 

You can use skyscanner or booking.com to help you find the best deals. 

What is the best way to get around when in Patagonia?

There are quite a few options for getting around in Patagonia. If you are going on an organized group trip then they should have transportation all set up for you. 

Other options are as follows: 

Rent a car: If you are traveling on your own and don’t want to be restricted to time, then this would be the best option for you. Make sure to get the extra insurance if you plan to cross over between both countries. 

Bus: There are tons of bus options. You can basically get anywhere via bus. Most of the buses are nice too with reclining seats! Although this is definitely the cheaper option, you will pay for it in time. Buses take a lot longer than personal cars as I am sure you are aware. Most hostels have options for you to book the bus from. 

The bus schedule also does change based on the season. 

Hitchhiking: This may sound silly, but a lot of people actually do this. I have heard it is pretty safe to hitchhike here. Kristin has some stories here from her time hitchhiking.

Hike/backpack: If you really want to save some money the plan to backpack around Patagonia. This will save you the costs of hotels, car rental, food, and much more! The W is a super popular backpacking trail to do when in Patagonia. 

If you plan to backpack then I recommend you check out this article on backpacking Argentina for more details.

Flying: If you plan to go back and forth between countries then intra country flights may be cheaper. For example, book a flight to Buenos Aires through a major airline and then use an Argentinian airline to book your flight to El Calafate. 

Intra country flights are cheap, but not in between countries. So, a spot in Argentina to another spot in Argentina is cheap, but not from Argentina to Chile.

When is the best time to visit?

You can expect varying weather all throughout the year when visiting Patagonia. It is usually highly unpredictable and is always changing. The weather also can drastically change depending on which region of Patagonia you are in. 

Patagonia travel in El Calafate

However, let’s discuss the seasons broken down even more so you can get a better understanding. 

If you are from the US don’t forget that Patagonia is opposite seasons than us. Their summers are our winters. 

Winter: June to August. Patagonia can get freezing during this season. Snowstorms are here during this time and are chilling. The snow-capped mountains definitely make for some beautiful photos. Also, be warned some places may be closed or inaccessible due to the snow.

Spring: September to November. The temperatures begin to rise however, it can remain very cold still. Especially, at night. Usually, people start backpacking routes in November.

Summer: December to February. This is considered to be the warmest time of year for Patagonia, but the weather can still vary drastically. The days are longer and rainfall is at its lowest. 

Fall: March to May. The temperatures start to cool down again and come May the snow begins to fall again. March and April weather usually remains good for hiking.  

I personally went at the end of February and the first week of March. We mostly got good weather. Thankfully, both of our “big hike” days were clear and sunny skies-one day up to 80F even! It was gloomy and rainy two other days for us too though.

So, as I previously stated the weather can totally vary. 

If you are looking for the best time to visit for certain activities, here is a very detailed guide to follow.

How long should I visit for?

This is a hard question and I am sure everyone has a different opinion. There are so many factors that go into how long you should stay in Patagonia. You need to factor in what you would like to do while there.

Are you wanting to just do day hikes? Want to go backpacking? No hiking at all? What kind of activities are you looking for?

Hiking in Torres Del Paine National Park
Trekking through Chile

Then most people need to ask themselves, well how much time can I get off work? Then comes the financial portion.

Traveling for a while can definitely add up. So, you have to ask yourself, how much am I willing to spend?

People end up spending months in Patagonia and say they still have not seen it all. I personally spent a total of 10 days from start to finish for my trip to Patagonia. 

It did feel a little rushed and crammed with a lot of time spent in the bus or car; however, at the same time, I do feel like I got to see the main “attractions” that I wanted to see.

So, yes it is possible to do in 10 days, but if I had to recommend a time frame to someone I would recommend two weeks minimum

What do I pack? 

This is a great question! It is definitely different for every season. If you plan to go in the winter then you will definitely want to bring lots of snow gear. 

But, for the most part, when visiting Patagonia you will want to pack for varying weather. I experienced both hot and cold/rainy days.

You can check out my full packing list here!

How expensive is visiting Patagonia? 

Visiting Patagonia is definitely not a budget type destination, but there are certain ways you can save on your trip. 

The best time to visit Patagonia to help save on costs while still obtaining good weather would be in the “shoulder season.” The weather probably won’t be perfect like the summer weather, but it is definitely still doable if you are looking to save on cost!

Also, the shoulder season is not the tourist season, so it will definitely be less crowded. 

So, when is the shoulder season? It is both March to April and October to November.

Food in Argentina and Chile

Eating out in Patagonia can get quite pricey. You will definitely want to eat at some restaurants to try out their lamb and steak though! But, to save money I recommend buying your groceries and snacks ahead of time and carrying them with you instead of eating out for each meal. 

Also, to save on costs a lot of the hotels and hostels have buffet breakfasts for you to enjoy! 

Check out this article to see a full guide on budgeting for Patagonia

Do I need to know Spanish?

This is a great question! Again, I went with a group and two of our group leaders were fluent in Spanish, so this made life really easy.

I also personally know a little Spanish to get by, so this helped occasionally when trying to purchase something or ask a simple question.

I would say you could get by without knowing Spanish though. A lot of people spoke English unless you were in very remote areas. 

But, it never hurts to learn some basic phrases. Here is a list of basic phrases to know.

Should I book group tours?

This is completely up to your personal opinion. You need to weigh all the pros and cons of going with a bunch of “strangers.” I traveled in a group to Peru too and have loved both my group organized trips. 

Visiting Patagonia on a group trip

When I was visiting Patagonia, I chose to go with Trova Trip for my organization. They were a fairly new company when I used them and have expanded to multiple locations now. I felt like the trip was extremely organized and I felt extremely safe.

I flew to Patagonia myself (husband had to work) and met up with 20 other strangers to experience Patagonia with for 10 days. I am an introvert, so this was a step out of my comfort zone, but I would highly recommend doing it this first before traveling solo. It makes a great first step to solo trips. 

What should I know about crossing the borders?

Crossing the border is very simple, but it does take time. Especially when going from Argentina to Chile. We probably waited around two hours to cross. 

When crossing the border, you cannot take fresh fruits or vegetables with you. They also do not allow open packages of food. You have to put your bags through an Xray machine, so don’t try to get away with hiding these items.

Crossing the border from Argentina to Chile

They will confiscate them and could fine you for it. This is especially for when you are going from the Argentinean side to the Chilean side. 

If you are renting a car when you are visiting Patagonia you need to make sure to get the extra insurance to be able to cross the border. Just talk to your car rental company about it and they should know. 

Final thoughts from your outdoor loving girl 

I hope this article has helped inspire you to start planning your trip to Patagonia. I hope you find this article informative. Patagonia is a beautiful place and I highly recommend taking a trip there regardless of how long you can go for! 

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