The vast land at the extreme south of the Americas is packed with breathtaking landscapes. This quick guide to backpacking in Patagonia will help you explore it.
Patagonia is like a world unto its own. The vast region that covers Chile and Argentina at the southernmost tip of South America is endowed with some of the most breathtaking scenery and unique wildlife on the planet. In this guide to backpacking in Patagonia, we pull together the highlights and top tips on how you can get the most out of your trip. For a choice travel routes, see also our suggested Patagonia itineraries.
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Patagonia travel: the basics
Currency: Chilean and Argentine pesos. Find out the latest exchange rates at xe.com.
Safety: Patagonia is considered the safest region to travel in South America, with crime levels very low. The greatest hazards are environmental, as the climate can be extreme and unpredictable. Take care when hiking (don’t go alone) and invest in travel insurance. We recommend World Nomads, which has tailored packages for hikers.
Language: Spanish is the common spoken language in Patagonia as the national language of both Chile and Argentina. A fun fact is that the region is also home to a community of about 5,000 Welsh speakers.
Best time to visit: Patagonia’s hiking season is the most popular time to visit, from September/October to March/April, with the summer peak in December to February. To find optimal timings for a range of activities in the region, read our guide to the best times to visit Patagonia.
Top experiences and attractions in Patagonia
Best tours in Patagonia
We recommend G Adventures for small group tours in Patagonia. They have been operating in South America for three decades, and only work with the most knowledgeable and experienced local guides. We have had some of our greatest travel experiences on their tours.
G Adventures run a range of Patagonia tours, including the classic Torres Del Paine W Trek. The team even has its own top-secret campsite inside the park with stunning, exclusive views that you can only access via their tour! Here are some more top tours they organise in the region:
Patagonia hiking (regular), combining some of the most popular trails around El Chaltén and El Calafate.
Patagonia features a vast network of national parks which incorporate some of the most outstanding trekking locations anywhere in the world. Our Patagonia trekking guide details 25 of the best trails around the region, and tips on how to prepare. You can also read our specific trek guides:
After hiking the Torres Del Paine W Trek we compiled a guide for newcomers, including logistics, routes and latest prices.
Torres Del Paine also has a huge choice of shorter trails. Here are our recommendations on day hikes in the park.
Chiloé Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site off the western coast of Chilean Patagonia. Discover it on a Chiloé Island tour.
Discovering the towns and cities of Patagonia
Most people visit Patagonia primarily for the nature, but the region also has some interesting urban centres to explore. These are some of Patagonia’s most alluring towns and cities, each with its own special charm:
Ushuaia is the world’s southernmost city, under the mountains of Tierra Del Fuego. Check out our things to do in Ushuaia.
Bariloche, known affectionately as the ‘Switzerland of South America’, is an outdoors hotspot. Here are some things to do in Bariloche.
Patagonian cuisine is reflective of the rurality of the region, with ingredients sourced from its abundance of farmland and vast surrounding waters. Lamb and seafood are thus an integral part of the cuisine. These are some of the region’s specialities:
What to eat in Patagonia
Cordero el palo – barbecued lamb, stretched out on an iron cross and slowly spit-roasted over an open wood fire.
Asado – a national favourite in Argentina, comprising various cuts of meat slow-cooked for several hours over an open grill.
Lamb empanadas – lamb stew encased in pastry, a regional variation of the snack that is popular throughout South America.
Patagonian stew – a hearty and warming pot of lamb (or sometimes beef) with root vegetables, tomatoes and onions.
Patagonian king crab pie – popular along the pacific coast, king crab stewed in breadcrumbs and topped with cheese.
Guanaco fillet – the lean and tender meat of the native Patagonian guanaco, similar to alpaca in the Andes.
Empanada making class – learn to make the classic snack in a Puerto Montt beach house, at the top of the Carretera Austral.
Festivals, celebrations and other dates for your calendar
Coinciding a trip with some local or regional festivities can make the experience that extra bit memorable. Celebrations and events in Patagonia are often specific to the local area. Here are some of the most notable dates to consider in your plans:
Chile Independence Day, 18 September – celebrations lasting up to a week on the Chilean side of Patagonia.
Chiloé Folk Festival, February – concurrent events held on the island in February, with local food, crafts, music and comedy.
National Festival of the Long Night, June – a mid-winter celebration in Ushuaia with free events all over the city.
Bariloche A La Carta, October – a week-long food festival with pop-up stalls, street shows and in-restaurant events.
National Hops Festival, February – music, activities, food and lots of beer to celebrate the key ingredient in El Bolsón.
Punta Arenas Winter Carnival, July – street parties with bright colours and music (but in the bitter cold of winter!).
Getting around Patagonia
The distances between tourist destinations in Patagonia are long, and transport links can be infrequent, so navigating the region can be a challenge, and advance planning is vital. We prefer to travel by bus in the region as the services are comfortable, reliable and reasonably priced.
Our guide to getting around Patagonia by bus gives tips and the latest information on booking, prices and the popular routes. We use Busbud to find the best services and prices, and to make advance bookings.
Flying can be a reasonable alternative for travel between the main hubs like Ushuaia and El Calafate. Skyscanner can help you find the cheapest flights. Car hire is an expensive option, but the best for seeing the region’s incredible scenery. Check RentalCars to find the best car hire prices.
Accommodation in Patagonia
Accommodation options in Patagonia vary from wild camping for the most adventurous souls to some of the world’s most stunning hotels for luxury travellers. The budget options are pricier than most regions of South America, but we have found the quality to be generally very good.
When packing for Patagonia you need to be prepared for the elements. Even in the height of summer, the weather is unpredictable, and wind and rain are still common. If you are planning any outdoor activities then hiking boots, a good jacket and backpack are essential.
Patagonia is one of the most expensive regions to travel in South America. However, like anywhere, costs vary a lot depending on the location within the region. For example, we found prices to generally be higher on the Chilean side of the region.
With a little savviness there are ways to keep costs down. Our guide to Patagonia trip costs details what we spent on our trip, along with some budgeting tools and tips. The examples below are very rough costs for different budgets based on averages for the region.
Budget: camping free/cheap, hostels from $10
Mid-range: B&Bs from $25
Luxury: upmarket hotels from $75
Mid-range: regular restaurant meal from $10
Luxury: fancy restaurant meal from $20
Budget: bus, intercity from $35
Mid-range: flights, intercity from $50
Expensive: Car hire
Great books about Patagonia
Beautiful lands are often the subject of great literature, and this is true of Patagonia. These are some of the top books to read to bring some inspiration for your trip:
In Patagoniaby Bruce Chatwin (the story of his journey through the region in the 1970s, my personal favourite)
Idle Days in Patagonia by William Henry Hudson (an 1893 account of a year of adventure in Patagonia, for a glimpse of history)
Get our free brief guide to Patagonia
Our destination brief guide series brings together quick information to help you get on top of the basics before a trip. Our Patagonia edition features condensed information from this page plus extra tips, handy to keep on your tablet. Get your downloadable version by signing up below.