It’s been a minute hasn’t it … First of all, please forgive me. I’ve been selfish, just thinking about me and my pretty Instagram content and I neglected you, I hope we can move on from this and have beautiful conversations about this part of the world together. I’ve been in South America for 4 months now and before I catch you up on all the wonderful adventures you can have here I need to share with you what NOT to do at the bottom of the world.
I’ve never experienced a place as difficult to navigate as Patagonia. I’ve been to the Himalayas, the far reaches of India and some pretty remote islands in Asia but all of them where a piece of cake to travel around in comparison to Patagonia.
It may be one of the most famous spots for nature lovers and climbers around South America but as a backpacker on a budget who can’t afford to rent a campervan or car it felt like mission impossible.
The roads in Chilean Patagonia are near non-existant. The land is broken into many pieces and ferries are slow and expensive, but embarking on our journey through Chile during December and January (high season!!) fuelled me with confidence that buses would be frequent, the sun would shine and we’d have a blast.
Our hostels in Chile said we could hitchhike very easily too and this is actually the most common solution for most travelers in Chilean Patagonia … except if you’re 2+ people – then things get really tricky.
Puerto Montt is also called the ‘gateway to Patagonia’ and after a smooth 5 hour bus from Pucon (a nice lake town where we celebrated New Year) we were excited for our mountain adventures to start and had a lovely nights rest.
There is a 9 hour boat directly from Puerto Montt to Chaiten every night except Sunday. It leaves at 11pm but you need to book in advance – Naviera Austral have a website with a booking page that occasionally works but unfortunately for us it didn’t. When we arrived at the ticket office 1 hour after they opened all of the seats had already sold! There was only 1 daily bus at 7am (it was 4pm) so all options of leaving that day were useless.
An unexpected night in Puerto Montt set us back another £18 and we set early alarms to get the 7am bus.
**Kemel Bus leaves at 7am every day from Puerto Montt but their office is never open so again – get there early otherwise you won’t have a chance**
This journey comprises of 3 ferries and took 12 hours for us to reach Chaiten by which time the last bus to Puyuhuapi (our first stop in Patagonia to visit Queulat National Park) was gone.
Once we arrived, we spoke to a woman at the bus station in Chaiten and she said we might be able to hitchhike from a town 2 hours out of Puyuhuapi called Santa Lucia, we thought it would get us 30km closer so why not take the bus she recommended and be as close to our destination as possible – we had a hotel booking that night and I didn’t want to get charged for not showing up so our energy was low but determination was high.
So another bus to Santa Lucia was our solution and we fell asleep feeling confident we could reach our hotel. However, there was NO bus station here, just a tiny wooden hut that the buses pull up outside so we couldn’t find information anywhere about getting to Puyuhuapi.
We asked around and there was no transport that night so we stood on the side of the notorious ‘Carratera Austral’ with our thumbs out at 8pm, praying for a ride. We were desperate to reach Puyuhuapi and keep our booking, all we’d done for three days was catch buses and Patagonia is a beautiful but expensive place to do nothing.
In one hour only one car passed and he wasn’t heading the right direction for us, but at least he stopped to ask if we were okay. We gave up once our toes were numb and there was no sign of life on the road (plus, I had to pee and we hadn’t eaten for 9 hours).
We found a room in town for £8 each and emailed our hotel in Puyuhuapi to explain we’d be there tomorrow, praying for no charges as this journey was costing a fortune so far.
The next morning we headed back to the wooden shack for 9.30am as we read online that there would be a bus leaving at 10am on its way to the south, FINALLY. We waited and waited, but no bus showed.
All this time I was standing outside with our ‘Puyuhuapi‘ hitchhiking sign but any campers or cars that passed us were headed north and nobody else had room for 2 heavily loaded backpackers.
4 hours passed and I was at the point of tears, the journey from Pucon to Puyuhuapi was supposed to be easy! Then we met a handful of fellow travelers hoping to reach Puyuhuapi who said they knew of a 1pm bus and our hope was restored.
We all waited in anticipation and the bus rolled up with only a few seats spare. At least 15 people crowded the bus door with hopes of a seat and the driver prioritised the locals of Patagonia so we had no chance. We begged him if we could sit on the bus floor but he closed the door and left before we could say, ‘por favor’.
Six of us took to the road to try and hitchhike a ride but we had slim chances with that amount of people and cars rarely stopped.
After 45 minutes I decided to knock on some houses to see if anyone could take us to Puyuhuapi for a fair price (in my best Spanish). Within 10 minutes we had secured a ride and shared the price out between the six of us.
I was so relieved to finally be on our way and we arrived in Puyuhuapi at 5.30pm on January 5th after leaving Pucon on January 2nd at 4pm.
I found very limited resources online before venturing into Patagonia without a tent or rental vehicle so I feel this post is necessary to prevent any backpackers experiencing the amount of stress, uncertainty and expense that we did.
Chilean Patagonia isn’t for the fainthearted, in a car this journey can be done in as little as 10 hours but venturing to the end of the world means facing challenges and we are thankful for the experience.
Look out for my next post on recommended routes and tips for how to navigate Patagonia.
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