Give me sharp mountains and frozen landscapes, demanding hikes and wild adventures! Patagonia fits the description and I’ve been willing to explore it since our backpacking trip in 2018/19. Now 2022 opens up traveling possibilities again so the time has come to reach the tip of the continent. Planning my trip to Patagonia wasn’t easy though, due to the multitude of contrasting and ever-changing regulations in 2022. So in this post, I list the steps I’ve taken, the things to know before traveling to Patagonia in 2022 and the entry requirements for both Chile and Argentina.
Planning a trip in the shadow of the coronavirus
The COVID-19 pandemic –especially its Omicron variant– brought a new twist to the travel world. I expected a great deal of difficulty in organising this trip and I wasn’t mistaken. Planning any trip abroad has become more tiresome, requires more considerations and guesswork.
Am I going to be let into the country with my current vaccination status? Will I be able to move freely within the country? Will COVID restrictions allow me to do the activities I want to?
Why travel to Patagonia in 2022?
Like me, you patiently endured being locked at home for several months. You carried on dreaming about wild landscapes while being restricted to your neighbourhood. When the time has come, you enjoyed (re)discovering your local nature spots. But truth be told, some need for foreignness and adventure is still pulsing, right?
Counting 9 National Parks, Patagonia is an absolute hikers’ paradise. It boasts the most extreme landscapes: snow-capped mountains, colourful highland lagunas, dramatic glaciers (that we might not be able to enjoy for long because of climate change) and overall a vast and constant remoteness, sprinkled here and there with adorable penguins.
But it also offers other outdoor activities such as sea kayaking, glacier walks and sailing amid the Patagonian fjords.
Orientation in Patagonia
Patagonia is the very southern region of South America, shared between Argentina and Chile. In both countries, there’s an iconic road leading through the region. That road in Argentina is the RN 40; in Chile it’s called “Carretera Austral”.
Patagonia’s gigantic size means it takes several weeks to travel from north to south. Therefore the region in both countries is usually split into northern and southern Patagonia.
Northern Patagonia in Argentina is called “Lake District” and stretches from San Martin de los Andes to El Bolsón. The main landmarks include also the town of Bariloche, Volcan Lanín and the Seven-Lakes Road. We visited this magical area in 2019, so check out our Patagonia trekking tips for the Lake District.
Chile’s northern Patagonia corresponds to the “Los Lagos” region, stretching along the Carretera Austral from Puerto Montt to Vila O’Higgins. The main landmarks are Cochamo, Hornopiren National Park, Queulat National Park, the Marble Caves (Catedral de Marmol) and Patagonia National Park.
The Carretera Austral ends in Villa O’Higgins; to go further south, you’ll have to take a ferry boat or a flight. For more info and links, check out the travel in Patagonia section below.
Southern Patagonia in Argentina stretches from Esquel until the very southern tip, Tierra del Fuego, the “land of fire”. (Expensive) boat trips also reach the mysterious Antarctica.
The main landmarks in Argentina’s Southern Patagonia are: Perito Moreno glacier, Mount Fitz Roy, the small town of El Chaltén and Tierra del Fuego, with Ushuaia as its biggest town.
Chile’s Southern Patagonia is marked by Torres del Paine National Park, the single biggest hiking attraction in the Chilean South. You can reach it from the towns of Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas. Chile also has a share of Tierra del Fuego, but it’s a very remote place with little to no infrastructure.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is part of our collection of best treks in South America.
Most important things to know when planning a trip to Patagonia
1. Patagonia travel restrictions: entry requirements for Chile and/or Argentina?
Current entry requirements to Chile (as of Feb 2022):
- Register your vaccines well in advance (1 month before your trip) on Chile’s official vaccination page.
- Book a travel insurance with COVID-19 cover for minimum 30,000 USD.
- PCR test maximum 72 hours before flight
- Fill out the traveler’s form maximum 48 hours before your flight
- Upon arriving in Chile, you must do one more free antigen or PCR test (it’s really free, paid by Chile) and wait for the results in isolation (max 12 hours). With a negative result, you’ll receive your Pase de Movilidad (“Mobility Pass”), allowing you to travel freely within the country
- During 10 days, report on your health status daily online.
Apart from the above entry requirements, there are no other travel restrictions in Patagonia. To make sure, check the current requirements on Chile’s official health website.
Current entry requirements to Argentina (as of Feb 2022):
- Book a travel insurance covering COVID-19
- If you were spending the last 14 days prior to entering Argentina in neighbouring countries: show proof of full vaccination; no need to test or quarantine
- If you were not spending the last 14 days in neighbouring countries: show proof of full vaccination and PCR test 72 hours before the flight; or an antigen test 48 hours before the flight
- You must carry those documents with you at all times for 14 days after entering the country; no need to report your health status
Check the current requirements on Argentina’s official health website.
2. How long should my trip in Patagonia last?
Rather than staying within one country and travel lengthwise, it usually makes more sense to visit either the northern or the southern part of Patagonia and cross the border. At least it was so before crossing border became such a pain.
I recommend a minimum of 2 weeks to see the landmarks in the North. But Southern Patagonia in both countries is wilder and travels might prove lengthy; you want about 3 weeks to make the most of it.
If your goal is to see and hike both northern and southern Patagonia, you should count with 4 weeks minimum.
3. Do I want to/Can I see Patagonia both in Argentina and Chile?
My answer would normally be a definite yes; but in COVID times, border-crossing has become a lot of hassle, with several compulsory tests and regular health checks required.
Also, many border points are closed; so crisscrossing from Chile to Argentina can be time-consuming and tiresome and require too much planning.
Since February 2022 though, Argentina has loosened the entry requirements for those of us coming from neighbouring countries. It’s now easier to travel to Chile for at least 14 days and then cross over to Argentina. Check the border crossing section below before visiting Patagonia.
Check out some of the best national parks in Chile.
4. Is flying between northern and southern Patagonia an option?
In Chile, there’s no road between north and south Patagonia; so you can only choose between flight or ferry. About this and for links to the relevant companies, see the traveling through Patagonia section.
While in Argentina, you can stick to sustainable transportation as the RN 40 road runs through the entire Patagonia.
5. Should I see a lot of places or rather take more time hiking at each place?
Count with amazing multiday hikes, such as the 4-day W-trek or the 9-day O-circuit in Torres del Paine; but also in other, lesser-known national parks such as Cerro Castillo with a circuit of 4 days.
Take a look at the 16 best multi-day hikes in Patagonia, both Chile and Argentina
Also, traveling between destinations either in a car or on the bus often takes long hours or even a day. Given the vastness of Patagonia, it’s easy to spend too much time on the road instead of enjoying its nature. Having said that, the road is the goal and views during a Patagonia roadtrip are not the less stunning.
How to get to Patagonia
There are no/few international flights to Patagonia; so your entry will likely be from either capital city: Buenos Aires in Argentina or Santiago in Chile.
Patagonia airports in Argentina
- Bariloche (north)
- El Calafate (south)
- Ushuaia (south)
Patagonia airports in Chile
- Puerto Montt (north)
- Balmaceda (north)
- Punta Arenas (south)
Budgeting your transportation
If you are on a budget, an important consideration will be the price of flights to Patagonia. In Argentina there are no budget airlines, only the main Aerolineas Argentinas. If you are arriving from outside Argentina, your Patagonia trip is probably going to start from Buenos Aires flying with this national carrier.
If you give yourself time, road travel is an affordable solution, probably the best sustainable way to travel within Patagonia. The RN 40 road stretches all the way to southern Patagonia. You can then take a short ferry journey to Isla del Fuego and finish to Ushuaia on the RN 3.
Chile does have budget airlines –JetSmart and Sky Airline– which offer cheap fares from Santiago to Puerto Montt, Balmaceda and Punta Arenas. Your entry to Patagonia Chile will likely be from Santiago as there are virtually no international flights directly to Puerto Montt or Punta Arenas.
Since there’s no road all the way down in Chile, you’ll either fly or take a scenic ferry boat. Compare the prices well at the time of your Patagonia trip. The ferry can be cheaper than a low-cost airline, especially if you must pay an additional fee for hold luggage.
In general, both in Argentina and in Chile, bus transportation is much cheaper than renting a car.
How to get around Patagonia
Land travel on the Carretera Austral is a good option, either with a rented car, public buses or by hitchhiking. According to a local friend, hitchhiking still works in Patagonia as of January 2022. Unfortunately, information on public buses is not available online so that part of the trip remains open to improvisation.
Since that road doesn’t go all the way south, the more scenic and sustainable option is to take a ferry boat. It goes from Caleta Torel (north) to Puerto Natales (south) and lasts 1.5 days. Ferries travel only once a week, so good planning is of the essence.
Check out the local ferry company on their website (Spanish only). Alternatively, a company called Navimag offers a more luxurious ferry boat between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales lasting 4 days; check it out here.
In Argentina, the RN 40 travels throughout Patagonia, so a Patagonia road trip all the way is perfectly possible. Buses also cover the route, check out bus timetables here. And a few useful tips for bus travel in South America (from our travels in 2019).
Be inspired by our selections of the most beautiful National Parks in Argentina.
Border-crossing between Chile and Argentina
There are several borders between the 2 countries in Patagonia:
In the north
- Paso Fronterizo Pérez Rosales near Puerto Montt (currently open 8am-8pm; number of people who can pass is capped at 180 – as of Feb 2022).
In the south
- Paso Fronterizo Los Antiguos – Chile Chico, near Torres del Paine and El Calafate (currently open 8am-4pm; number of people capped at 100)
- Paso Fronterizo Río Turbio – Torres del Paine (no restrictions mentioned)
- Paso Fronterizo Río Turbio – Puerto Natales near Torres del Paine / Punta Natales (no restrictions on opening hours or number of people reported)
- Paso Fronterizo Río Gallegos – Punta Arenas, at Tierra del Fuego (currently open 10am-4pm; number of people capped at 200)
The state of the borders is as of Feb 2022, and remember that they may open or close any time. So please always check them on Argentina’s official site (in Spanish).
Best time to travel to Patagonia
This wild region offers a different landscape in almost every season. Snow lovers might choose the Southern winter months, from June to September. But keep in mind the drastic temperatures (3°C / 37°F on average) and many things can be closed, including roads.
Summer months (December-February) are of course much milder, with an average of 12°C / 54°F. But it’s also the busiest season, when prices go up and you’ll need to book campsites and tours in advance.
With this in mind, we advise the shoulder seasons, as for most places: Fall (March-May) or Spring (October-December). Thinking of all the beautiful autumn colours, I’m so excited to travel there in March this year!
Average Patagonia trip cost
To give you a bit of an idea of what costs to expect, here’s the breakdown of the budget I actually spent for my 3-week Patagonia trip in Chile, in March 2022 (updated upon return from the trip):
- Flight return ticket Lisbon (Portugal) – Santiago (Chile): 800 USD
- Flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas (south Patagonia, Chile): 70 USD
- Bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales (gateway to Torres del Paine): 9 USD
- Torres del Paine entrance + campsites booked for the O-circuit (9 days): 120 USD
- Ferry from Puerto Natales to Caleta Torel: 128 USD
- Flight from Balmaceda (north Patagonia, Chile) to Santiago: 70 USD
- Other Patagonia national park entrance fees + camping: 54 USD
- Travel insurance: 140 USD
- Bus travel in north Patagonia: depending on the distance – on the Carretera Austral between towns it was 10 USD for a 4-hr journey
- Hostal accommodation (room for 2 people with shared bathroom): 42 USD
In total with 8 days in Torres del Paine, bus on Carretera Austral, and hostel for 13 days: 1768 USD
Are you planning a trip to Patagonia? Or have you been there recently? Tell us about your planning or traveling experiences in the comments!