FLYING IN PATAGONIA
Unless you have oodles of time, you’ll find it difficult to travel in Patagonia without flying. International flights arrive at Buenos Aires or Santiago, from where you’ll need to connect to a domestic airport in Patagonia – usually El Calafate and Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile. These flights take around 3.5 hours and use reputable airlines.
To give you a sense of scale, travelling by bus from Buenos Aires to El Calafate would take at least two days, depending on where you stopped along the way. For this reason, tours which cover decent ground usually use a combination of domestic flights and hire cars, public buses or private transfers to keep overland travel times to a minimum. Internal flights are usually included in the cost of a tour.
If you’d prefer to limit flights during your holiday you’ll need to pick one region of Patagonia and stay there. But don’t feel you’re missing out; slowing down is the best way to experience the real power of the Patagonian landscape, A popular – and convenient – option is to focus your trip around El Calafate, Los Glaciares National Park and Torres del Paine, all of which are within a few hours’ drive of each other and include some of Patagonia’s most classic landscapes.
PATAGONIA SELF DRIVE TOURS
Driving in Patagonia is as much about the journey as the destination; the roads you will take across the steppe cut through some of the most spectacular scenery in South America. So, pack your camera and a picnic; while buses ply the same routes, being in charge behind the wheel means you can leave when you want and stop, loiter and soak up those Patagonian vistas as you wish. Our top tip? Allow plenty of extra time if you’re driving within Torres del Paine National Park – the 60km trip between Las Torres and Lago Grey is utterly spellbinding.
For most self drive holidays you’ll pick your hire car up from Punta Arenas – Chile’s main Patagonian hub, or El Calafate – the Argentine equivalent. Both Patagonian towns play host to several quality car rental services and have excellent road links to both Puerto Natales (for Torres del Paine National Park) and Los Glaciares National Park.
If your trip includes the more northern (and ever-so-lovely) Lake District, Patagonia’s answer to Switzerland, then you’ll be picking up a hire car in Bariloche (Argentina) or Temuco (Chile). The drive north from Bariloche to San Martín de los Andes is particularly beautiful. If your trip continues further south, you’ll likely return your hire car to whence it came, hop on a flight, and pick up another at your next airport. While the drive would be visually stunning, it would take around 20 hours – and that’s without stops on the way.
As with most Patagonian holidays, in a car you’ll do your fair share of border-hopping between Argentina and Chile. Luckily, border formalities with a hire car are relatively straightforward and usually hassle-free. Your holiday provider and rental company will ensure you have any necessary paperwork to smooth the process.