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How to Plan a Trip to Patagonia for 10 Days

by Cecilie
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Planning a trip to patagonia in Chile

I found that planning a 10 day trip to Patagonia was both time consuming and very expensive. I had to do a lot of research to even understand how things worked at the end of the world. That’s why I’ve put this little guide together about how to plan a trip for 10 days in Patagonia.

I remember sitting in Santiago, Chile’s grand capital, spending hours researching how to get from city to city, where to find cheap accommodation, what activities was there to do in Patagonia on a tight budget, and how much will a trip to Patagonia actually cost me?

So I’ve tried to put everything I’ve learned from my trip into this little how-to-guide to Patagonia. I hope it makes sense! If not… feel free to leave a comment at the end of this blog post if you need to know more about planning a trip to Patagonia.


Where is Patagonia?

Patagonia is the region at the southern tip of South America and is shared by both Chile and Argentina. Patagonia is mostly known for mountains, fjords and glaciers in the west, whereas the east is known for deserts and plain steppes.

Because of its most southern placement, its not-so-populated-area, and its out of the world beautiful landscapes, Patagonia is also known as “the end of the world”. In fact, if you travel more south you will reach Antarctica!

I looked up the word “Patagonia” and as I understand it, the name comes from the Spanish “Patagón”, which should refer to the native people who used to live there.


How to get to Patagonia

The first phase in planning a trip to Patagonia, is figuring out how to get there.

The easiest, quickest and most convenient way to enter Patagonia is to fly. It’s not possible to find direct buses from Santiago to Patagonia since we’re literally talking about going to “the end of the world”. It would take days or even weeks to arrive with bus…

So if you (like us) are spending about 10 days in Patagonia, I would recommend you to just hop on a plane.

In Chile, most people fly to Punta Arenas Airport (PUQ) from Santiago. We flew with LATAM Airlines and paid €90/person for return tickets, which is a really good price! Although bags weren’t included, so we had to pay a bit extra… Classic!

The flight takes a little over 3 hours, which means that the distance is actually fairly long. I think around 3000 kilometers! Therefore it’s just not possible to take a bus from Santiago to Patagonia. So either you have to spend a few weeks and work your way down in Chile or take a direct flight like we did.

If you’re planning to explore Patagonia from Argentina, then you can fly from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia – also known as the southernmost city of the world! Or you can fly to El Calafate.

flying to Patagonia
How to get to Patagonia tip 1: just book that flight ticket! Preferably a return ticket so you’re sure not to get stuck at the end of the world…

Patagonia cities in Chile

The two most popular cities in the Chilean Patagonia that people often travel in between are probably Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. Since that’s also what we did on our trip, I thought I wanted to share a little bit about them.

Punta Arenas

Translated into English, Punta Arenas means “Sandy Point”. Punta Arenas is the capital of Chile’s southernmost region, and with its 100.000+ inhabitants it’s considered one of the bigger cities in Patagonia.

We were really impressed with Punta Arenas, I think mostly because we had no clue what to expect from an “end-of-the-world” city. But it was pretty lively, people were friendly and the city center was beautiful and cozy.

We only spend 2 nights here, which was enough in my opinion. I would recommend 2-3 nights in Punta Arenas depending on how many types of penguins you want to see. Yep you heard that right! Punta Arenas is the best place to find Penguin Tours in Patagonia.

rush hour in Punta Arenas
This is rush hour in Punta Arenas

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is much smaller than Punta Arenas with nearly 20.000 inhabitants. Yet it’s still one of the most popular cities to visit in Patagonia because it’s the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park.

We absolutely loved Puerto Natales! It’s such a quiet city, yet it has so many cool spots. We found that it has a lot of small hip coffee shops, eateries, and bars compared to its little size.

The Señoret channel is leading into Puerto Natales, which means the town is placed next to the ocean. If you go down to the channel and it’s a clear day, you can see the snow cap mountains in Torres del Paine National Park from afar. Puerto Natales is a small and cute city that I totally recommend visiting while in Patagonia.

We spend 7 days here, which was more than enough. I would recommend spending no more than 5 days in Puerto Natales just to go on a lot of day hikes in Torres del Paine, and then I would jump the border to Argentina’s El Calafate for 2-3 days. The bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate should take 5-6 hours from what I’ve heard.

I really wish I had done more research before I booked a whole week in Puerto Natales. After talking with other travelers, I’ve learned that it’s really easy to go back and forward between Chile and Argentina.

There are of course other cities to go to in the Chilean Patagonia such as big Puerto Montt or small Quellón. However, if you have the time you could also see some of Argentina’s Patagonia cities such as El Calafate or Ushuaia.

Puerto natales in Patagonia
This is summer in Puerto Natales! I’m enjoying the sun, behind me is the mountains and a happy dog playing in the Señoret channel. I couldn’t ask for more! Except for maybe one more empanada…

How to get around in Patagonia

The most popular ways to get around in Patagonia is either by bus or by rental car. Glenn and I took the bus around in our 10 days in Patagonia and it was really easy and convenient.

I’m not sure whether you can bike around since the distances between cities/villages are quite far. There is literally nothing on the road from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales… I definitely do not recommend hitchhiking as you would probably wait around for days to see a car… Remember, we are at the end of the world.

By bus

It’s super easy to take the bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales in Patagonia. You can either buy the bus ticket directly from the bus station or buy it online on BusBud.com. A bus trip from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales cost us $10 per person.

You don’t have to plan your whole trip to Patagonia and buy all the bus tickets ahead of time. But it’s always a good idea to buy the important bus tickets ahead of time, like when we bought our direct bus tickets from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas Airport. We wanted to make sure we got to the airport on time to catch our flight, so planning ahead was a good idea in this case.

The buses in Patagonia are neat, comfortable and they leave on time, so we had no problems taking the bus around in Patagonia. We also took the bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park. You can buy the bus tickets directly at Puerto Natales bus station. There are several companies operating the Torres del Paine route and the staff is very helpful.

If you want to travel between Patagonia’s cities across the borders, then you have these 2 classic gateway routes.

  • Punta Arenas to Ushuaia
  • Puerto Natales to El Calafate

Like I mentioned before, I wish we had taken the bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate, but that must be for our next adventure in Patagonia!

How to get around in Patagonia, bus to Torres del Paine
The bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine

By rental car

Another popular way to get around Patagonia is by rental car. You can rent a car in Punta Arenas.

We didn’t do this option, so I cannot share our experience. But sometimes I wish we had a rental car when we were visiting Torres del Paine National Park. It was annoying to be dependent on the bus schedule and not have the freedom to stop whenever we wanted.


Accommodation in Patagonia

I’m not gonna lie, accommodation in Patagonia is expensive. Glenn and I are big budget-travelers and our money have to stretch far, so we tried to book the cheapest places we could find.

We used Booking.com to find our accommodation in Patagonia. We paid around 25.000 CLP per night for two persons staying in a hostel, which equals to $17 per hostel bed.

Prepare yourself to be outright scammed out of extra money. In Chile you have to pay an additional 19% IVA fee on your accommodation unless you’re a tourist and you pay with US Dollars. However, these places we stayed at didn’t allow us to do this and we had to pay extra money on our arrival. So eventually our accommodation in Patagonia actually cost more like 30.000 CLP on average per night for two people…

It’s better to just include the 19% fee in your budget, so you don’t get a bad surprise on your arrival and have to cut cost on activities. We didn’t have to pay this fee in our Airbnb in Santiago or our hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, it was only added to our accommodation in Patagonia. Talking to other travelers, they had the same experience in Patagonia.

If I can recommend one place to stay in Patagonia, I think it should be the hotel in Torres del Paine National Park. We never stayed there, so I actually have no clue whether it’s even good – I know it’s expensive though…

But staying in that hotel means that you can wake up early to go explore the Torres del Paine National Park. Then you wouldn’t have to take the buses back and forward from Puerto Natales with a million other tourists. So if your budget has room for it, consider booking a place in the national park for a few days.

accommodation in Patagonia
The cheapest form of accommodation in Patagonia is hostels.

Top Activities in Patagonia

There are so many things to do at the end of the world, it’s just the best place for nature lovers!

Before planning your trip to Patagonia, ask yourself what you want to see. Are you there for the hiking trails in Torres del Paine? Do you want to see the penguins nest on Isla Magdalena? Or maybe you’re there for the extraordinary glaciers?

There is plenty of activities and things to do in Patagonia, we only explored a handful of the possibilities. So just make sure to ask yourself, “what do I want to see in my 10 days in Patagonia?”

Hiking

Many people book hiking tours for the popular W trek or the O trek in Torres del Paine. These hiking tours should be amazing, but they are also very expensive and sell out super quickly during high season. Also, maybe you don’t want to spend your whole vacation hiking? That’s completely up to you.

We opted for day hikes around Torres del Paine National Park. After doing some research, I learned that it was actually easy to go to Torres del Paine by ourselves, so we didn’t spend a dime on hiking tours.

We went on the most popular day hike in Patagonia, Mirador las Torres, which is the iconic viewpoint of the granite towers. This was an amazing day hike, and it was pretty easy to go there without booking a tour. You cannot miss it if you go to Patagonia!

However, the trail was completely overrun by tour groups, big families with small children and the many fellow hikers, so follow my steps to avoid the crowds at Mirador las Torres in my blog post >>> Mirador las Torres base hike

The other day hike we went on, Mirador los Cuernos, was much more quiet. It’s probably the best short day hike in Patagonia and it’s just beautiful. We really enjoyed this little day hike that had so much to offer including a waterfall and snowcapped mountains.

Another possible day hike that should be incredible is the Grey Glacier hike. Unfortunately we never made it to this hike, but it should be one of the best day hikes in Torres del Paine.

Torres del paine national park popular hike in Patagonia - Mirador las Torres
Mirador las Torres is the most popular day hike in Patagonia
Mirador los cuernos the best day hike in Patagonia
Mirador los Cuernos was my favorite hiking experience in Patagonia

Wildlife

There is literally nothing on the roads in Patagonia, which means that the wildlife is really thriving at the end of the world. Just taking the bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales was an experience! We saw a lot of rheas (ostrich-looking bird) and guanacos (llama-looking creature).

Patagonia is also popular for its penguin tours. We booked a penguin tour to see the Magallanic penguins nest on Isla Magdalena. It was a half-day tour from Punta Arenas and it cost us 55.000 CLP or $80 per person.

Read more about the day tour in my blog post >>> Penguins in Punta Arenas

If you have a bigger budget, you can opt for the full-day King Penguin tour from Punta Arenas, which cost 71.000+ CLP.

I honestly wish we could have done both penguin tours! Because during our penguin tour on Isla Magdalena, I completely fell head over heels in love with this funny bird!

If you have an even BIGGER budget and you want to really splurge on a crazy wildlife experience in Patagonia, then I would recommend you to look into whale watching tours. I heard that this should be amazing!

Penguins in Patagonia Chile Isla Magdalena
Penguins on Isla Magdalena in Patagonia
wildlife in Patagonia, this is a bird
It’s also possible to spot condors in Patagonia, although this is a picture of a southern crested caracara… Sorry, all I had!

Glaciers

Another popular thing you should look into while planning a trip to Patagonia is the glaciers.

If you’re in the Chilean Patagonia, the easiest way to see glaciers is by booking a Grey Glacier tour or going on the Grey Glacier hike.

We didn’t have the budget for the glacier tour and never made it to the day hike, so we never saw any glaciers. Hopefully next time!

Another way to see an amazing glacier is to take the bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. By El Calafate there is a massive incredible glacier called Perito Moreno. But since we… (That sounded wrong. I can’t blame this on Glenn) But since I didn’t do enough research I had no idea how easy it would have been to go to the Argentinean Patagonia and see Perito Moreno.

From the pictures I see online, the Perito Moreno glacier looks so impressive! Sadly, I don’t have any pictures to show you.


How much does a 10 day trip to Patagonia cost?

One of the hardest parts about planning a trip is not knowing how much it cost, therefore I want to include our travel budget from 10 days in Patagonia. Technically we only spend 9 days there, but with flying out late, it came down to around 10 full days. Let’s be honest, 10 days also just sounds better!

So beneath is a complete breakdown of all our trip cost from our 10 days in Patagonia.

  • Accommodation = 209798 CLP (without 19% IVA tax)
  • Food & Drinks = 228854 CLP
  • Activities = 179000 CLP
  • Transport = 122800 CLP
  • Other Stuff = 10600 CLP

Total Budget for two people = 751052 CLP or $975,52

Daily Budget for two people = 75105,2 CLP or $97,5

So how much does a trip to Patagonia cost? That all depends on what you want to see and how big your budget is.

Glenn and I are hardcore budget travelers, so we tried to travel Patagonia on a budget and this was the best we could do. So if you’re traveling to Patagonia on a budget like we did, expect to spend around $50 per day for one person. I think this budget is pretty good considering that we are at the end of the world where the prices are highly inflated.

Within this budget we managed to see penguins nesting in the wild, go hiking in Torres del Paine, and spend casual days discovering the cities in Patagonia. The only thing not included in our Patagonia budget is our plane tickets and 19% IVA extra tax on accommodations.

me at mirador los cuernos in Patagonia
Planning a trip to Patagonia wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but the trip itself was magical. Put Patagonia on your bucket list today! This is me looking at mountains in Torres del Paine.

When planning our 10 day trip to Patagonia, I found it really hard to wrap my head around the basics of how to get around, where to stay, what to see and how much money will it cost me. The difficulty of planning inspired me to make this small guide.

So I really hope you found this, “how to plan a trip to Patagonia”-post a helpful resource for your trip to the end of the world. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have any questions about planning a trip to Patagonia. Thanks for reading!

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10 comments

Joanna September 19, 2020 - 6:56 pm

I have been in the North of Patagonia and loved it so much. The life there has such a different pace, so slow, and the legends and myths still thrive. I liked that so much, I would love to return and explore some more.

Cecilie October 20, 2020 - 7:50 pm

How exciting! I still have the North of Patagonia to explore.

Karen September 19, 2020 - 8:37 pm

Patagonia is definitely a place I want to go so this post is very helpful in planning. Your photos are gorgeous and I can’t believe you found such good weather. How fortunate. The budget breakdown is very useful.

Cecilie October 20, 2020 - 7:51 pm

Thanks Karen! We visited in the peak tourist season (February) when the weather is amazing.

Rhonda Albom September 20, 2020 - 7:46 am

Love this. We spent 9 weeks in South America last year, but only touched on the northern end of Patagonia. This is a brilliant reminder as to why we need to go back. Great tips too.

Cecilie October 20, 2020 - 7:52 pm

South America is so huge! We still have so much to explore as well.

Krista September 20, 2020 - 3:06 pm

This looks like an amazing area to visit – saving this for future trip planning!

Cecilie October 20, 2020 - 7:52 pm

Great Krista! Happy planning.

Nina Clapperton September 20, 2020 - 10:50 pm

Hiking in Patagonia is really high on my bucket list so I’m super excited to have stumbled on your post. This guide will be so useful post-pandemic when I can finally visit this gorgeous country!

Cecilie October 20, 2020 - 7:54 pm

It was high on my bucket list too! I was so happy to finally be there. Hope you’ll make it there!

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