They say it’s a “once in a lifetime trip” but we disagree. Patagonia is a life-changing adventure into the heart of Mother Nature herself, worth taking many times.
The Argentine side is a vast expanse of arid steppes, grasslands and deserts. Chilean Patagonia is a labyrinth of glacial fjords and temperate rainforest. Together, they make up some 400,000 square miles of untamed wilderness.
If you’re thinking about making this trip soon, you’re not alone. Travelers from all countries visit Patagonia every year for new stories to tell. Thing is, it’s far away and some planning is required.
So without further ado, here is a list of dos and don’ts to help you make the most of your new adventure.
Booking your trip
If you hate crowds, DON’T go in the summer
Virtually every guide out there recommends visiting Patagonia from December to February, when the weather is warmest and driest.
Temperatures range from a maximum of 13 degrees to a minimum of 5 degrees Celsius. Nice, but most South Americans use this window to take vacation so it is very likely you will encounter heavy crowds in many tourist attractions.
If you can’t handle the cold, DON’T visit between June and August
Jon Snow probably thinks of Patagonia whenever he warns “winter is coming”.
It takes a strong constitution to brave the winter in this part of the world. The weather is ice-cold and winds can reach in excess of 100 km/h. As a result, most attractions and walking circuits close and the area is almost empty.
If you take things easy, DO visit in the shoulder season
Remember these two words: shoulder season.
The people who actually live and work there all recommend booking your trip in March, almost in the middle of autumn.
Flights, tours and accommodation are usually cheaper. Once there, you will find the most-walked trails and hiking routes are much quieter, and the temperature is only lower by a few degrees.
Shoulder season in Patagonia –the period between peak and off-peak seasons– is October-November and March-April, so take advantage of lower prices and emptier trails.
Making the most out of Patagonia
But if you think there is nothing else to do here, you are in for a great surprise.
DO mix it up
Patagonia is so much more than just hiking. Laid-back types will love the Patagonia roast lamb with chimichurri sauce. A nice glass of Chilean Carmenere or Argentine Malbec will certainly make great memories for wine connoisseurs.
Adventurous travelers can spend long afternoons horseback riding, cycling and kayaking through breathtaking fjords. Those who appreciate nature can book sailing trips or go fly fishing. You can even take wildlife Safaris and maybe spot a puma (more on that later).
DO be honest with yourself if you plan to hike
Hiking is physically very demanding. It is especially hard on your knees and lower back. This means you need to be totally honest with yourself about your fitness level and hiking experience. If you are lacking in both departments, national park staff can recommend easier trails.
DON’T go hiking without checking the weather first
The thing about Patagonia is that you must be prepared to experience all four seasons in one day. Find out about the weather forecast (ask the locals or tourist guides, they are usually spot-on) and be prepared to change your plans at a moment’s notice.
DO follow park rules
Always register at the park entrance and get your “mountain pass”, which you must keep visible at all times. And always follow the recommendations of park rangers: they are the law.
DO wear proper hiking boots
Waterproof footwear will be your best friend when hiking in Patagonia. Trails are often super muddy, very rocky, or totally wet. New boots will create a lot of friction on your feet, causing blisters, so be sure to “break them in” before your trip.
DON’T disobey safety recommendations
Many a hike has become a fight for survival because of poor decisions. The first thing you must do is plan your walk to get back before nightfall. Never walk off allowed paths and register at every park ranger station. It is strongly recommended you don’t walk alone.
DON’T mess with the puma!
This is one reason why you don’t hike alone. In the very off-chance you run into a puma, stay well back and make yourself look bigger by opening your jacket and moving your arms slowly. Also make noise: yell, shout and bang your walking stick against a tree. Make any loud sound that cannot be confused by the lion as the sound of prey. Don’t let children wander off and leave your pets at home, unless you want to sacrifice them to the puma while you make a run for your life. Here are some recommendations to have in mind should this happen.
Camping out in Patagonia
DO make sure your tent can withstand the wind
A normal tent isn’t going to cut it in Patagonia. Fabric and pole strength are crucial to minimize the risk of tearing or breaking midway through a trek. The Be My Travel Muse blog recommends using MSR tents or similar brands. You want a tent designed for strong winds, yet super light to carry.
DO take care of your trash
Camp only in designated areas and always keep your site clean and tidy. Carry a bag for litter and take it all out of the park, as well as any garbage you might find. Avoid leaving food or leftovers that might attract wild animals (remember the puma?). Batteries are especially toxic for the environment, so you should never throw them away inside the park.
DON’T ever, absolutely never, make a fire
Some national parks like Torres del Paine strictly forbid lighting any fires. More than 16,000 hectares (nearly 40,000 acres) were destroyed by a fire in 2011 that forced closure for a year. Getting caught can get you some jail time and a hefty fine, so be extra careful and use camping kitchens only in authorized areas.
So there you are. We hope these dos and don’ts come in handy when visiting Patagonia. DO let us know if you have any recommendations you’d like to share!