What inspired you to put Patagonia adventure travel on your bucket list? The photos of blue and white glaciers? Those 1950’s movies of South American cowboys (gauchos) galloping across the vast and empty plains? Tales of climbers summiting the granite towers of Torres del Paine?
Whatever sparked your interest, the first thing you need to know about Patagonia is: It’s massive!
Patagonia Adventure Travel – Argentina or Chile?
At 400,000 square kilometers, Patagonia is so large that it extends across two countries, taking up nearly a third of Argentina and half of Chile and fronting two oceans, the southern Atlantic and the Pacific. From the north of Patagonia to the southernmost tip of South America, there are five zones that vary in almost every way, from topography to gastronomy! Even the wildlife is different, leading to vast Patagonia wildlife travel opportunities.
When traveling in Patagonia, most of our travelers have one destination in mind: The Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Trekking trails form a nearly 81-mile circuit through the park, but many areas are also accessible by jeep or van. In the park you’ll see giant mountains formed by glacial ice; wildlife that includes foxes, owls, and wandering herds of guanaco, and more than 250 types of plants.
Of all the information gleaned from our travels to Southern Patagonia by sea, air, van, and on foot, here are five tips we have found to be most helpful to Patagonia travelers:
Be prepared for slow travel.
Yes, you could make the trip from your home in the US to a cozy lodge in the middle of the park as a straight shot, but–trust us–you don’t want to. There are no shortcuts, so take your time. Patagonia adventure travel is truly an instance where enjoying the journey is as important as getting to the destination. Here’s what we recommend:
- Fly to Santiago, enjoy this beautiful city for a day or two.
- Take the 3 ½ hour flight to Punta Arenas.
- Travel by van for 3 hours to Puerto Natales. Enjoy a lovely Chilean meal and a restful night in a charming small hotel by the water.
- Travel by van for 2 ½ hours to the entrance of the Park.
- Continue by van for ½-1 hour to your lodging and a revitalizing Pisco Sour or a fine Chilean Pinot Noir.
Ideally, you’ll want to allow just as long to return home. (If you’re concentrating on this park alone, you’ll need a week total for your Chilean stay.)
Know your travel priorities.
Permits to visit Torres del Paine are restricted so you won’t find mega-hotels, but there are boutique hotels, luxury lodges, and basic, small hotels. If you want to come back to a lodge that offers massages for tired feet, gourmet meals, and guided excursions with drives to various trailheads, Chilean Patagonia has that.
If you prefer long, self-guided hikes in your Patagonia adventure travel and don’t plan on much time in your room, there are simple but cozy accommodations for you. The hotels are well stocked with great local guidebooks and trail signs are easy to follow if you want to do day hikes on your own.
The more expensive all-inclusive hotels offer guided excursions where trained experts take you in small groups to a variety of activities, from jaw-dropping four-wheel drives to more strenuous and challenging day hikes. The adage: don’t pay for what you’re not going to use certainly applies in Patagonia adventure travel.
Summer is the best time for adventure travel in Patagonia, but don’t rule out spring and fall.
January to March is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The sun mostly shines and temperatures are typically pleasant, with highs in the 50’s during the day and lows in the 30’s-40’s at night. Summer is the best time of year for Patagonia adventure travel and trekking, but even then, be prepared for cold, strong winds and rain to occur suddenly. Not surprising, summer is also the most crowded time to visit, so lodging, transportation, and guide services must be planned far ahead.
You might consider the shoulder seasons of summer for two reasons: One, there are far fewer tourists; and two, these months can be less expensive. The shoulder seasons are spring, from September to November, and fall, from late March through May.
Winter shouldn’t be ruled out, if that’s the only time you can go. It doesn’t snow much in Torres del Paine, but it will be cold. Patagonia is famous for its winds, which blow up year round from the Antarctic and can blast the region at 80 miles per hour. So whenever you go, expect to be blown about a bit. Don’t forget a windbreaker, even in summer, for your adventure travel in Patagonia.
Break in your shoes and test your backpack fit before you go.
Having the right gear that is comfortable is an important part of making the most of your Patagonia adventure travel trip. Properly fitting hiking shoes, backpack, and clothing layers will make all the difference in your enjoyment.
Most of the hikes are not technical, so you don’t need Everest-ready hiking boots. Lightweight, waterproof boots or trail runner shoes are perfect. Your main goal, though, is to wear them hiking and walking a lot before you even leave home. Do you need supportive or cushioning inserts? Is any area of the shoe rubbing your skin? Once you’re in Torres del Paine, you can’t go shoe shopping, and you don’t want blisters to spoil your trip.
Give your backpack a trial run, too. Check it out for size and weight. (Your torso length is your best guide to choosing the right pack size. ) As with your shoes, the lighter the backpack, the better. Does it sit nicely on your back without too much tug on your shoulders? Put some weights in it and go for a walk, making various adjustments to maximize comfort. This practice will also help you know how to tweak adjustments when you’re on the trail in Patagonia.
Other items that are a must for Patagonia adventure travel are sunglasses to cut glare, a basic first-aid kit with band-aids and moleskin, and, of course, sun screen and a brimmed hat. Sun protection is often forgotten but essential because you are likely to be in the strong sun all day.
Yes, you can go to both Chile and Argentina.
Most of our travelers are interested in Chile’s Torres del Paine, but quite a few who have the time also cross over to Argentina as well to visit several parks there. Since the distances are so vast, there will be a lot of driving time. So the decision may very well rest on how much time you have and your tolerance for road travel.
It takes about six hours just to get to the Argentine border and cross over from Torres del Paine. The minimum stay we recommend is three to five days in both countries, plus the travel time to get from the US to Patagonia and back for a minimum of 13 days. This trip length will help you make the most of your adventure travel in Patagonia.
And if you haven’t heard already, those expensive visa reciprocity fees for U.S. citizens visiting Chile and Argentina are no longer required.