Getting around Patagonia – Lonely Planet
In the vast Patagonia, the transportation options are surprisingly plentiful.
Cities in the region are well served by a bus network, with frequent flights to major cities from the respective capitals of Chile and Argentina. The long Chilean coast, for its part, is served by a multitude of boats. For greater flexibility, you can choose to explore Patagonia on your own, two or four wheels.
It is crucial to remember that Patagonia is a vast region sparsely populated with mountains, glaciers and pampas (meadows) at the end of the world. Any trip here presents logistical challenges and requires careful planning. As the attractions of the region are widely dispersed and where and when you go depends largely on what you want to do, here is everything you need to know about getting around Patagonia by plane, bus, or train. boat, bicycle and car.
Traveling by plane can save time
Main flight routes
Along Chile’s Carretera Austral, AerocordThe small planes Cessnas and Piper Navajo, dependent on weather conditions, connect Coyhaique to Villa O’Higgins, and Chile Chico and Puerto Montt to ChaitÃ©n.
Cycling is serious business but extremely fun
Pedaling around Patagonia is serious business – one that only seems to inspire two-wheeled warriors determined to take on Chile’s iconic Carretera Austral or Argentina’s Ruta 40. Any cyclist should be prepared for difficult climatic conditions: strong winds (especially in the south of Patagonia and in the Argentinian Pampas), and rains at any time of the year (especially in the humid AysÃ©n, in northern Chilean Patagonia). The good news is, since Patagonia’s car traffic is very light outside of the cities, you will often have the roads largely to yourself. If you take your bike on boats and ferries, you have to pay a small fee. Buses usually store bicycles in the luggage compartment.
A touring bike with good tires and a repair kit is a must, as is a sturdy all-season tent, as the distances between towns are often considerable and you will end up wild camping. Punctures are not uncommon on unpaved roads, and while there are bicycle repair shops in most towns along the Carretera Austral, where you will probably need them most, they are not to be found. than in Coyhaique.
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Southern Chile offers epic opportunities for boat travel
With its long, convoluted coastline and vast glacial lakes, southern Chile offers epic opportunities for boat travel, although ferry travel is limited outside of peak season and dependent on weather conditions year round. Book your tickets (including for ferries along the Carretera Austral) well in advance for travel during peak months from December to February, or show up at least an hour before departure for journeys that cannot not be reserved in advance.
Boat trips in Argentinian Patagonia are very limited, unless you plan to take a boat across Lago del Desierto near El ChaltÃ©n in order to walk to the Chilean border post of Candelario Mancilla, then another boat to cross the Lago San MartÃn / O’Higgins to Chile. Villa O’Higgins.
If you take a bus from El Calafate to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, it automatically involves crossing the Chilean border and a car ferry through the Strait of Magellan before the bus returns to Argentine territory.
Try one of these unique boat experiences
If you have a few days to spare, a must-do travel experience is to take the four days Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt in the Lake District of Chile to Puerto Natales in southern Patagonia – a journey that takes you through a maze of tiny islands, fjords and glaciers, with sightings of dolphins and whales in road if you’re lucky … seas if you’re not. Since Navimag is first and foremost a freighter, think of it as a cruise ship but with backpacker bunks, tiny basic cabins, and cows.
In Ushuaia, it is possible to cross the Beagle Channel to Isla Navarino in Chile (to reach Puerto Williams) in a Zodiac inflatable boat. This 30 minute crossing is weather dependent and is often delayed by high winds. At times, you might be lulled into a false sense of security by the calm waters of Ushuaia Bay, only to discover the Zodiac bounces and gets beaten by house-sized waves further down the channel. So get ready for greater excitement than the one you signed up for!
Take the bus for affordable long-distance trips
Long-distance buses in Chile and Argentina are punctual, are among the most comfortable in the world, and are relatively inexpensive. Most cities in Chile and Argentina have a single, large, well-organized bus station with toilets, luggage storage, food kiosks, and prominently displayed destinations and fares – although there may be exceptions. In Punta Arenas (Chile) and Ushuaia (Argentina), buses stop at the offices of their respective companies, so it takes a bit of work to determine which bus company you will need to get to your destination. Coyhaique (Chile) has a central bus terminal, although a number of smaller bus companies nonetheless operate from individual bus offices around the city.
In Chile, the biggest bus companies are TurBus and Pullman, both of which operate in southern Patagonia; you can buy tickets on their respective websites. AysÃ©n, in northern Chilean Patagonia, is covered by small minibus companies with limited services and tickets can only be purchased at the bus offices. Argentinian sites selling long-distance bus tickets include Omnilineas and Platform 10.
Note that long-distance buses traveling from southern Patagonia to Chilean destinations in the Lake District and further north invariably cross the border into Argentina and vice versa, but do not stop at Argentinian destinations. Likewise, buses from El Calafate and other Argentinian Patagonian destinations to Ushuaia must cross Chilean territory to do so.
Make bus reservations in advance and consider seasonal services
Buy your ticket well in advance for travel during the holidays (Christmas, Easter, the months of January and February), and for Fridays and Sundays; otherwise, a few hours in advance are usually sufficient.
There are good bus connections between towns during peak and shoulder seasons (November to March), but far fewer services the rest of the year. This particularly affects travel along Ruta 40 in Argentina, where the bus company Taqsa / Marga and private company Chaiten trip operate services between Bariloche in the Lakes Region and various Patagonian destinations, and along Chile’s Carretera Austral, where minibuses to remote towns operate on a limited basis, even during peak season.
Renting a car gives you the greatest flexibility
The roads of Patagonia are very lightly traveled and incredibly scenic. Renting a car gives you the most flexibility and you’ll need your own wheels to get to remote national parks and attractions, especially off Chile’s Carretera Austral. Renting a 4×4 is not necessary, but a car with high clearance is desirable for main roads and essential for exploring unpaved back roads.
You’ll find large international rental companies at and around the city’s airports in Punta Arenas and Coyhaique in Chile, and El Calafate and Ushuaia in Argentina. Compare the prices; local businesses often charge less per day. To rent a car, a driver’s license from your home country is usually sufficient. One-way rentals can be difficult to organize, and when they’re one-way, the deposit fees can be brutally high. You must buy seguro obligatorio (minimum insurance); additional liability insurance is a good idea, as damage to tires and windshields on unpaved roads is likely. To cross the border between Chile and Argentina, you will need special insurance.
Tips for driving distant routes
Driving on Patagonia’s most remote roads – the legendary Ruta 40 and Carretera Austral – is less difficult than before, but precautions should always be taken:
- There is no phone coverage outside of cities, so be sure to travel with a spare tire or other basic repair gear – and know how to use it. Other drivers will stop to help in the event of a breakdown.
- Refuel at every available opportunity.
- Bring food and water supplies and a good sleeping bag.
- If you are exploring Tierra del Fuego you may need to pack spare fuel cans as gas stations are very rare.