Now that I’ve told you about my Patagonia nightmare it’s time to discuss how you can avoid it…
When we were in Pucon (Chile) having the time of our life on New Years Day we met some travellers who were crossing the border to travel down Patagonia on the Argentinian side. At the time we thought they were crazy for going back and forth between the 2 countries and we decided to carry on down in Chile so we didn’t miss anything …. Well, my drunken decision that night resulted in the nightmare of trying to navigate islands and broken pieces of beautiful mountain filled lands and spending A LOT of money on extra days of food, travel and accommodation.
**Before we start this blog post I’d just like to advise that this trip would be more easy and enjoyable if you have your own transport. You can still follow the suggested route below – just check with the rental company about crossing borders.
(Unfortunately being high season, their campers were sold out or too pricey for us. Looking back I think we probably spent the same amount on buses and hostels in Patagonia and would of had the most awesome camping spots if we had a van or a tent with us. There are hundreds of free camp sites so a car + tent will also be a super cool way to explore here – and WAY more reliable than public transport.)
No fear! If you can’t budget for a car/van rental for your Patagonia adventure then simply follow the below route.
STOP 1// Puerto Montt
Get yourself to Puerto Montt – the gateway City to Patagonia. Enjoy a day here and take the local bus to Osorno (1 hour away) to enjoy cycling around the volcano trails – or hike it if you prefer. They have free bike rentals in this town. Get some sleep or catch the overnight ferry at 11pm to Chaiten.
***There is a 9 hour boat direct from Puerto Montt to Chaiten every night except Sunday. It leaves at 11pm but you need to book in advance – Naviera Austral have this online booking page or office next to the main bus station.
STOP 2// Chaiten
Stay in Chaiten for 1-2 nights. You can hike the volcano, spend a day at the thermal baths and try some local Patagonian artesnal beer. But before anything else book one of the daily buses to Puyahuapi in advance, they leave at 4pm and are very small.
STOP 3// Puyuhuapi
Puyuhuapi is a tiny town so it won’t take you long to explore the entire town, enjoy the lake views and book your tickets! Scarlett Hostel do daily shuttles to Queulat National Park where you can do all 4 hiking trails and marvel in the views of the hanging glacier and waterfalls before they collect you at 2.30pm. They also have some of the best food in town to fuel your next adventure.
The local supermarket next to the tourist information centre sell the bus tickets and one of the only destinations is the economic capital City of Patagonia – Coyhaique. Book your ticket early (getting bored of those words yet?) The bus leaves from the police station at 6.20am and takes around 4 hours.
STOP 4// Coyhaique to Chile Chico
Time to book your tickets to Argentina! Coyhaique might be a bit of a shock after all the small towns you’ve been in, and again the ticket booking has to happen first but it will take a little more time. You will most likely need to spend 1 night here as the buses leave for Chile Chico (the border) in the morning.
You will need to visit the Manuel Acuna office out of town to get your tickets ~ in Patagonia it’s never as easy as buying it from the bus station! The office is 20 Minutes walk from the main Plaza and ask them for Chile Chico. The bus leaves at 7am and will get you to the ferry port for 10am. The ferry leaves at 11am to Chile Chico, you can buy your ticket at the port or visit the Naviera Austral office in the main Plaza of Coyhaique and book in advance to be safe.
The ferry will drop you right in the town of Chile Chico. Now you have a 10 minute walk up the main Street to the Martin Pescado office to book your transfer to Los Antiguos in Argentina, they will escort you through the border crossing for 3,000 CLP. Their transfer heads out several times per day, we left at 3pm to enjoy some lunch first. Many people walk the 7km no-mans land between the borders but this didn’t appeal to us with 15kg bags on our backs.
***Chile Chico is also a good place to exchange your leftover Chilean peso for Argentinian real.
STOP 5// Los Antiguos
You’re in Argentina! Well done for making it this far! The journey is almost over, in Los Antiguos book your bus tickets for El Chalten with Chalten travel. It’s a pricey ticket but they sometimes offer discounts so keep your eye out. The bus leaves at 8.30pm and takes 11 hours.
Right now you should have a few hours to relax and enjoy some Argentinian beer and dinner.
STOP 6// El Chalten
El Chalten is a beautiful town and my favourite stop in Patagonia. You can do many day hikes from here and return to a warm bed each night or camp in the many free campsites on the trails if you have the gear and supplies for it.
We started our first hike after dropping our bags at Condor de los Andes Hostel with an hour long hike to the Chorillo del Salto waterfall and then 3km up to Laguna Capri. 10km in total to get you warmed up for the big hikes to come!
You have many options for hikes in El Chalten but we chose to tackle Laguna Los Tres which was 26km round trip from our hostel and took around 8 hours. It was worth every step and most of the trail is flat and scenic. Take a picnic and enjoy your lunch at the top – you deserve it. Soak in the views before tackling the 10km down and stop at one of the town’s bakery cafes for a well deserved cake and coffee afterwards – don’t forget to stretch!
STOP 7// El Calafate
El Calafate is an easy 3 hour bus ride from El Chalten and buses leave multiple times per day. We went with Chalten Travel again and stayed at the awesome Del Glacier Pioneros Hostel. They have free breakfast and empanada making classes in their restaurant.
The main reason people come to Calafate is to see the impressive Perito Moreno Glacier. Book the shuttle bus in town (several companies run them) and pay the entry fee when you arrive. It’s a pricey day but you can explore the several different trails around the Glacier and forests and watch several large chunks fall from the fast moving, 30km wide glacier. It’s truly incredible.
STOP 8// Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales
From El Calafate many bus companies can take you back across the border to explore the bottom of Chile. We decided that after having such incredible hikes around Fitz Roy we didn’t want to pay out for the famous Torres Del Paine hike from Puerto Natales – you need to book your campsites very far in advance and the entire 4 day W trek will cost anything from £100 or more. The hike is supposed to be very beautiful but after 5 months of hiking around South America we decided to see some wildlife in Punta Arenas instead.
The towns are 3 hours apart with multiple connections per day so you can certainly do both.
It took about 8 hours (with a 2 hour stop) to reach Punta Arenas from El Calafate and included a really easy bus connection in Rio Gallegos, Argentina. *Top tip: you can’t bring fruit or meat into Chile, be careful what you pack. My main reason to visit Punta Arenas was to see the arctic King Penguins, this is the furthest North they will come from Antarctica (and I don’t plan to go there anytime soon) and a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them with their eggs. Many tours offer the trip to see the penguins, its a long trip from the mainland and multiple ferries but so worth it!
You can also see humpback whales with tour company Solo Expeditions which was a dream come true however our trip was cancelled twice due to bad weather, hopefully you will see them on your visit!
Onward travel …
From Punta Arenas we took a flight to Mendoza in North Argentina to explore the North before heading to Brazil. There are many destination options if you aren’t done with your Patagonian adventure yet, take a bus to Ushaia – the southernmost City in the world. Or head to Bariloche – the ski heaven of Argentina. Wherever you head, it may be wise to take a flight as the land around Punta Arenas is mostly … water.
I really hope this helped some of you, this would of saved me A LOT of time talking to tourist information centres and asking locals for directions. Leave a comment if you’ve visited Patagonia or if you experienced anything similar there.