As you well know, Patagonia is a remote geographical area joining Chile and Argentina in the southernmost part of Latin America.
Back in the day, the only way people could reach Patagonia was by voyaging through the Pacific Ocean. Before the Panama Channel was built, people coming through the Atlantic sailed all the way down and circle around Cape Horn, which is the southernmost point of land north of Antarctica, and then dock in the port of Punta Arenas.
Today, the region is a reachable destination thanks to the wonders of aviation and improved land and sea connections.
For those living outside the Southern Cone, the fastest way to get to these countries is flying to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, or Santiago, the capital of Chile. Check Skyscanner.com for all the airlines that fly to either or both destinations.
Most international airlines fly to these cities, mainly Latam.com, American Airlines, Delta, KLM, and Air France.
From these cities, travelers can fly or ride to a different destination depending on where you want to go to in Patagonia; common destinations are Puerto Montt, Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia, and Ushuaia and El Calafate on the Argentinean side.
Get there first!
The fastest way to get to these cities is by airplane.
If you travel from Santiago:
To Puerto Montt: There are several daily flights from Santiago chartered by Latam Airlines and Sky Airlines to El Tepual Airport (PMC). Flights take approximately two hours. Flight schedules to Patagonia differ between the Winter and Summer seasons, so make sure to check prices and routes before booking.
To Punta Arenas: There are several daily flights from Santiago chartered by Latam Airlines and Sky Airlines to Carlos Ibáñez Del Campo Airport. You can always get there by car or bus but always check scheduled departures and local bus companies.
Getting to Patagonia on two wheels
Getting to Patagonia through Chile is pretty straightforward, despite the distance. There are frequent bus connections.
In case you chose to take the bus, you can check bus lines and itineraries here. Bare in mind schedules change from high season to low season, so always check beforehand you travel.
However, many people travel to Patagonia to wander off, for who renting a car allows them to be free from schedules and fixed itineraries.
In case travelers decide to rent a car and drive from Santiago or Buenos Aires down south through main highways Ruta 5 Sur in Chile to Puerto Montt or Ruta 40 in Argentina to Ushuaia, they should take into account rests stops and toll payments along the way.
For that check the following online applications:
RutasChile. Chilean tourism service Sernatur came up with an app that allows travelers to calculate how much money in gas, kilometers, and hours can take any car ride within Chile.
While driving in Chile and Argentina, travelers should keep documents and licenses with them at all times, especially if they decide to cross the border.
La carretera. This smartphone app allows travelers to estimate the costs of any given trip. It features a GPS that allows pinpointing the required location.
Planificador Copec. Chilean chain of gas stations Copec also has an online trip planning service that allows drivers to calculate the costs of traveling through Chile.
Traveling to Patagonia on 4-wheels
Motorcycle and biking journeys are a special way to know the region. It is always best if travelers bring their own bikes to the ride, but if they decide to rent them on location, they should check rental companies months in advance, and review travel forums to learn about the experiences of other travelers.
Trip to Patagonia
Once you are there...
Where to go from Puerto Montt
Once in Puerto Montt, there’s freedom of choice to reach several Patagonian destinations. You can either rent a 4x4, a bicycle, or a motorcycle, ride the bus or take a ferry down the Patagonian fjords.
Chiloé island: from the city, drive a car or take a bus crossing the Straits of Chacao on board one of the ferries connecting the mainland to the Large Island of Chiloé. Ferry companies Cruz del Sur and Transmarchilay cross the strait every day of the year.
Carretera Austral: you can begin driving, biking or riding from Puerto Montt, or leap-frog part of the road and take a Navimag Ferry to Puerto Chacabuco on a 24-hour trip at night.
If you’re traveling down to Carretera Austral by your own means, this ferry ride is a safe and easy bet, allowing drivers to rest during the voyage, thus avoiding long driving hours until they reach Carretera Austral.
- Departures on Navimag from Montt to Puerto Chacabuco are on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the year (the company only provides transport on the routes mentioned above and does not provide a transport service between these ports and Carretera Austral).
Where to go from Puerto Natales
Bernardo O’Higgins National Park: It is considered one of the most beautiful reserves in the Southern Cone. You can get there from Puerto Natales, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas through local tour agencies.
Torres del Paines: From Puerto Natales you can drive or ride a bus to the Torres del Paine National Park (1 hour approximately).
For those travelers on their way from Patagonia, another alternative is voyaging oldstyle...
- This is a safe and easy bet for travellers who wish to rest part of their journey looking at a beautiful view, sail through the fjords channels and enjoy the perks of slow travel.
Where to go from Punta Arenas
Torres del Paine: from Punta Arenas, ride a car or bus to Puerto Natales, which is 3 hours away, and then to the Torres del Paine National Park (another 1 hour).
Bulnes Fort: this colonial building it’s located 56 km south of Punta Arenas on the shore of the Strait of Magellan. Travellers today see a historical reconstruction of the fort where colonies in Patagonia first established in 1843. Buses leave to and from Punta Arenas’ Central Station all year long.
Los Pingüinos Natural Monument on Magdalena Island: is home to more than 100,000 Magellan penguins. If the weather allows it, visitors literally “hang out” with them for an hour or so. Also, if they don’t get too wrapped up taking selfies with their new feathered friends, they should visit the historic Isla Magdalena lighthouse. Many local tour agencies organise boat visits to the island.
Puerto Williams and Porvenir in Chile, and Ushuaia in Argentina: local charter airline DAP provides daily flights to these very remote cities in Tierra del Fuego area.
By land, it’s a 247 km journey northwards from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales along Route 9. There are regular bus lines traveling every day from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales like Buses Fernández, Bus-Sur, and Buses Pacheco. You can check out and compare prices, schedules and route alternatives in VoyHoy.
Tips to make the most of your trips in Chile or Argentina
- Given distances are quite large in Chile and Argentina, travel magazine Travel & Leisure recommends to purchase tickets as far in advance as possible, suggesting six months for high season travel and three months for low-season.
- Also, travel forums for Patagonia recommend leaving enough layover between connecting flights and pick up arrangements when flying from Santiago or Buenos Aires to airports in Patagonia. Flight delays, especially in airports in Patagonia due to bad climate, strong winds or fog, long immigration lines, and luggage loss normally get people to miss their connections and bus rides.
- Travelers are also recommended to arrive at least two days before their trip plans to visit Patagonia in case of delays or cancellations.
- In case travelers decide to rent a small car and drive from Santiago or Buenos Aires down south through main Chilean highway Ruta 5 Sur to Puerto Montt or Ruta 40 in Argentina, they should stick to paved roads. Not all roads in Patagonia are paved, so another alternative is to change cars in a major city for a 4x4 jeep or truck, as dirt roads in Patagonia can get rough.
- Bus services connect much of the Patagonia mainland cities across Chile and Argentina. For backpackers and trekkers, this is the cheapest form to make a trip to Patagonia.
- Always keep your identification documents at hand and ask for the special paperwork you need to fill in to cross from Chile to Argentina, and vice versa.