How to Travel to Patagonia

Despite the number of guidebooks and travel articles that have been written about Patagonia, some travelers continue to fail to take into account important hints before travelling to the region and thus enjoying this fabulous but distant place.


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    If you are visiting areas in both Chile and Argentina, flying into one and out the other will save you a day of backtracking. There shouldn't be a penalty in airfares for doing this but double check to make sure. For example, you can take American Airlines from New York to Buenos Aries (there are two airports in Buenos Aries, EZE and AEP, one typically for domestic flights and one for international flights), Aerolineas Argentinas from Buenos Aries to El Calafate, and Lan Chile from Punta Arenas to Santiago, Chile and from Santiago to New York.
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    Learn a little bit of Spanish before arriving in the region. Speaking at least a few phrases will increase your experience with local people. Patagonians are friendly people but many of them don´t speak English at all. Do not expect to be able to find someone who can translate for you. Welsh is also useful in Chubut river low valley[or 'Gwladfa'].
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    Bring clothes for warmth and even for heat if you are traveling during summer. Temperatures can really get over 20 °C (68 °F) even in the furthest latitudes, in particular in the coastal region. Be also equipped for sudden temperature drops and rainfall while traveling in the mountains.
    • Patagonia is well known for its wind!
    • The sun can be very strong and there is less ozone above in this part of the world to protect you from the sun here so liberal use of sunscreen (with a high SPF) is recommended.
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    Take into account a “fauna calendar” and choose months to travel according to your needs. E.g. December is not the best month to watch whales although can be ideal to enjoy Andean flowers or take the best mountain trails.
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    Be informed about the real distances between main attractions. This is an immense region twice the size of Italy and England, together!
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    Don´t rent a small car if you decide to go through inner landscape. Gravel roads are pretty rough in several places and there are not so many villages in between some routes. A 4-wheel drive vehicle (i.e. a Jeep Cherokee) will not be as punishing.
    • Some towns only have one gas station and there could be well over a 100 miles (160 km) between towns (i.e. El Calafate to El Chalten) so plan ahead. Also, not all gas stations are open 24 hours a day. Alternatively, take the bus. Many areas in Patagonia are linked by regular bus service. Most trekkers use this form of transportation and given the low quality of the roads in this area, leaving the driving to someone else might be a good idea. It is also a reasonably priced option.
    • You will need special paperwork to cross the border in a rental car. Crossing at Cancha Carrera is fairly painless and probably much faster than crossing near Puerto Natales.
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    Don´t expect to find mobile signal everywhere. Even some famous tourist destinations, like El Chaltén in The Glaciers National Park, don´t have one. There can be very little infrastructure between towns and that may be a reason to carry a satellite phone, as there is no cell coverage outside of larger towns and very few services available to help you if you break down. If you rent a satellite phone before you leave, try it out before leaving for Patagonia to make sure you understand how to use it (it is different from a cell phone) and that the unit works.
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    Take cash with you. If you are traveling around by car, in some areas it's hard to find an ATM.
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    For some accommodations it is necessary to book in advance. E.g. Some ranches or “estancias” within Santa Cruz province don´t have many rooms and are located far away from food supplier chains. They´ll be grateful if you do so.
    • Hotels in the Torres del Paine have their own electrical generators and use satellite phones as there seems to be no alternative. Hotels in Torres del Paine book up early!
    • If you stay at the Costa Australis hotel in Puerto Natales, don't open the windows at night for fresh air or a large number of insects will enter your room!
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    Be cautious if you follow a special diet and decide to visit areas off the main circuits. It could be hard to find a variety of vegetables or fruit. In general it can be hard to be a vegetarian in this part of the world. You probably won't have any problems within the tourist villages or most populated regions set mainly in the north, however. In El Calafate, El Chalten, Puerto Natales, and Punta Arenas there are a multiple of restaurants and/or food markets.


  • A traditional (legacy technology) compass will only work in Patagonia if it has a southern hemisphere or a "global" needle. Most compasses sold in the US have a northern hemisphere needle and therefore do not. Compasses with a "global needle" cost much more than do non "global needle" compasses. Electronic compasses (i.e. Sunnto's Vector watch) can be simply recalibrated in the normal way upon arrival. Navigation should be easy for experienced hikers.
  • Bring lots of film and/or memory cards. If you are in a windy area then a tripod with sturdy legs that can be spread quite wide can be an advantage as winds can be very very strong. Polarizer filters are a must and graduated neutral density filters are also recommended.

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