Are you dreaming about Patagonia? For starters , if you are reading this – you are at the right place . Just like you , 2 years back we started dreaming about Patagonia. It took us a lot of planning , preparation , day dreaming , reading what to expect and most of all to decide our perfect itinerary. Finally , we took the plunge this year and it was in every sense a “Dream come True”. Ok , enough of dream and fantasy , lets get going and help you plan your next adventure. You will see that planning Patagonia vacation is quite daunting. Why? Well, for starters this huge area in the far south of South America is a region spanning across two countries. If not planned carefully not only it can be expensive but also might leave you unsatisfied. So it can be tricky to find the information covering every aspect of Patagonia. So here is a starter guide – Patagonia – Things to know before you go.
Size Does Matter , Patagonia is huge :
I cannot say it enough but yes Patagonia is big. You really need a lot of time to see it all. Often people think that it a state in Chile or Argentina . But no , it is actually a region. It is walled with glaciers and is a picturesque land of mountain ranges and fjords that sweeps across thousands of miles. Now for most part , the roads are good but you will be largely dependent on public transport ( in case you are not renting the car), which means only one thing – it will take quite a lot of time from reaching point B to point A. So keep an extra buffer in your transportation time. There are five main towns in Patagonia that serve as entry points to the various parks that make up this region: El Chalten , El Calafate , Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas and Ushuaia. It is absolutely impossible to see them all at once , so you will have to plan carefully.
Which means , having itinerary is an absolute must :
I know many of us like to go with the flow and make the plans on the go , but Patagonia is really not the place to try so. It is so vast that it’s essential you have at least some idea of where you plan to go and which area do you plan to explore. Not only it will make the bookings part easy but also will save you time on transportation. While planning my 8 days in Patagonia , I really wanted to see everything but while making my itinerary , I realized that things were pretty scattered geographically . And if I would have tried making it to all the places , I would have spent more time in buses than on actual places . Once you know what activities or what areas you want to see , get full on to the planning mode . This brings to my point 3.
Book in advance as budgeting is the key :
So you know where you are going and you have decided on whether you need all – inclusive package with some travel company or if you want to travel independently ; either way, it’s crucial that you make reservations in advance, particularly if you’re traveling in peak season (between December and March). Not only Patagonia is an expensive destination , but if you do not plan and make bookings in advance , it will dig a hole in your pocket.
If you plan to book in advance , you might get cheap local flights that will save you a lot on transportation time. Else you will be pretty much dependent on buses and trust me even getting last minute tickets for buses is not that easy. Being the most affordable way to travel in otherwise expensive continent , bus tickets get sold pretty fast. Also the buses do not run everyday so if you do not have surplus time and you do mind being stuck - book in advance.
For those wanting to hike the 'W' or one of the other treks in Torres del Paine National Park, there are only specific number of people allowed in the park on any given day. Once all the campsites and Refugios get full , you cannot enter the national park. It is mandatory to have bookings before you enter the park and in peak season all the campsites and refugios get booked 4 – 5 months in advance .
Be prepared for all seasons and pack wisely:
No matter which season you go to Patagonia , be prepared for the worst. Even in summer season , you will get to see all moods of mother nature. The weather changes so fast , that you need to bring every kind of clothing suitable for cold , rain and shine. Patagonia is truly an adventurer’s playground and with such a huge selection of places to go hiking and astoundingly beautiful scenery to take in, you’ll want to spend every moment of your Patagonia vacation outside. So that being said - hiking pants, sturdy walking boots and plenty of layers to keep you cool or warm depending on the weather are absolute essentials to carry with you. Do not forget to bring the sunscreen as the UV index is quite high in Patagonia.
Beware of Border crossings:
Border crossings are painful and you cannot avoid them , unless you decide to visit Patagonian region in one country only .And does not matter which mode of transportation you take – bus , car , catamaran , cruise – you will go through the border security and all that comes with it. So when you know you will cross the border , do not bring in the fruits , dry fruits or any milk products. They will scan your luggage every-time and you cannot escape it. Chilean government is very strict about bringing in any kinds of seeds or dry fruits in the country and they do impose a hefty fine if you get caught.
A special note to all my Indian readers , if you plan to travel to both Chile and Argentina , you will need visas before arrival. Neither of the two countries give tourist visa on arrival to Indians.
Extra Tips ( and yes some of them are money saving tips ;) ) :
1) If you do not mind sharing rooms , try for hostels over hotels as they are cheaper.
2) If you plan to do hiking , campsites are cheaper than refugios.
3) Bring your own camping gear . Even renting in Chile or Argentina is expensive.
4) If you plan to do road trip , beware that gas is very expensive .Not many car renting companies will allow you to rent car from Chile and return it in Argentina. If they do allow , it is super expensive.
5) Most of the restaurants close by 8 or 9 pm in Chile , so it is advisable to keep a local schedule of restaurants with you.
6) Chile is relatively cheaper than Argentina. So if you are visiting Argentina from Chile , stock up your essentials in Chile and avoid buying stuff in Argentina.
7) Wine and coffee are the two things to die for in Chile and Argentina. Buy it from local stores than duty free.
8) Flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas get booked pretty fast and last moment tickets end up being very very expensive. There is no way you can avoid it , unless you book sooner than later.
I know a lot of people have this perception about Patagonia being an expensive travel destination. But believe me if you research your things well , have a solid plan and make bookings in advance , you can make it affordable. Patagonia is all about how close do you want to get to nature. It is spectacular , it is big and it is everything you will ever dream of. I’ve never seen a place packed with so many glaciers, waterfalls, fjords and rainbows all in one . It’s rugged and tough landscape will test your limits but will make you fall in love at the same time. More on my Patagonia adventures to follow soon. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Have you been to Patagonia Yet? Did you find these things to know useful?