Straddling over a million square kilometres across Chile and Argentina on the southern tip of South America, Patagonia is a vast and spectacular landscape. But how much does a Patagonia trip cost? The region has an expensive reputation, but is that justified? In this article we break down everything we spent in a month, and share some useful tools for planning a travel budget.
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In this article:
2020 update: latest costs and budgeting tools
The costs broken down in this article are based on our travels to Patagonia in late 2017. Quite a lot has changed since the trip that may affect costs in Patagonia, so I’ve added in this section to keep you up to date.
Currency fluctuations: Argentina is cheaper
In 2018, Argentina suffered a year of economic turbulence that resulted in a massive slide in the value of its currency, the peso. Back when we visited Patagonia towards the end of 2017, you could get 17.5 Argentine pesos to the US dollar; by the beginning of 2019, the rate had shot up to around 40 pesos to the dollar. By January 2020, it reached 60 pesos to the dollar.
Prices in Argentina have been raised to compensate for this, but these changes have been outpaced by the fall of the peso. This means that the cost of travelling in Argentina has become much cheaper. At the time of our visit, Argentine Patagonia was cheaper than Chilean Patagonia anyhow, and now that difference is even more pronounced. The Chilean peso has been relatively stable for the last few years.
The breakdown of our trip costs in this article still gives a good indication to use for your Patagonia budgeting. With the volatile currency situation, however, I would recommend checking up on the latest exchange rates before you travel. You can find them at xe.com.
As a general guiding principle, you should plan to spend more in Patagonia than elsewhere in Argentina and Chile. We spent about 30% more per day in Argentine Patagonia than we did elsewhere in Argentina, and about 30% more in Chilean Patagonia than elsewhere in Chile.
Budgeting tool for planning your trip
We use BudgetYourTrip to plan our travel spending. It gives very accurate estimates of what you can expect to spend each day anywhere in the world. You can search by country or city to find typical costs for budget, mid-range and luxury travel.
As Patagonia is spread across both Chile and Argentina there isn’t an estimate for the region as a whole, but you can use the tool to see estimated costs for destinations within Patagonia. On the display below, you can see an example for Torres Del Paine National Park.
Our trip in brief: where and how we travelled
We spent a total of 26 days in Patagonia over two separate trips between September and November 2017. Our time in the region focused primarily on getting outdoors, in particular hiking. We undertook several single- and multi-day treks.
We are a 30-something couple from the UK, and our visits to Patagonia came midway through a one-year travel career break. While we weren’t on a meagre budget, we were mindful of our spending and always on the lookout for ways to save money (scroll to the bottom of the article for some of our money-saving tips on Patagonia).
When we weren’t camping we stayed in hostels, and we prepared a lot of our own food. This was interspersed with the occasional treat, like going out for a meal in a nice restaurant after completing the W Trek.
Our first visit to Patagonia was a one-week return trip to Bariloche and El Bolsón from Buenos Aires. In the second part, we flew to Ushuaia and travelled north through Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, El Calafate and El Chaltén before returning to Buenos Aires.
The costs detailed in this article are for two people based on our own travels as a couple, but where appropriate I have detailed individual costs (such as transport and activities).
What our Patagonia trip cost: an overview
All costs in this breakdown are shown in US dollars based on the exchange rate at the time of our visit. The average rates were around 630 Chilean pesos / 17.5 Argentine pesos to the US dollar.
In total we spent $3,091 over 26 days and nights in Patagonia. As I mentioned above, that is for both of us, so it was effectively $1,545.50 each.
Patagonia costs by category
This is how our Patagonia spending breaks down into different categories:
As you can see, the lion’s share of our spending in Patagonia was on basic living costs of food, drink and accommodation. Food and drink accounts for 38.1%; a significantly higher proportion than the 26.8% it covered in our overall world travel costs.
This is affected significantly, however, by the $256 we spent on two days’ full board at refugios during the Torres Del Paine W Trek. I go into this in more detail in the food costs section below.
Let’s look a little closer at each of the categories for some clearer context.
Travel insurance costs for Patagonia
We haven’t included our own travel insurance costs in this breakdown, because our trip to Patagonia was during a one-year career break, for which we had an overall insurance policy.
If you’re planning a trip to Patagonia, whether or not it’s part of a bigger trip, you should strongly consider investing in some travel insurance. It’s especially important if you want to get outdoors, hike, and generally get stuck in with adventure activities. It certainly gave us peace of mind knowing we’d be covered if anything went wrong.
We recommend World Nomads for insuring your trip to Patagonia. They offer comprehensive packages for ‘standard’ or ‘explorer’ levels, and also have dedicated hiking insurance that is tailored towards experiences like the Torres Del Paine W Trek. We’ve been impressed by their quality of customer service, and the prices are very reasonable.
Read our page on travel insurance for more information. You can use the quote tool below to get started:
Accommodation costs in Patagonia
Our accommodation in Patagonia was mainly split between hostels and camping, with a couple of exceptions. On our first night in Ushuaia we rented an apartment, which was actually no more expensive than staying in a hostel. In both Ushuaia and Bariloche we spent two nights with a Couchsurfing host for free.
In total we spent $601 on accommodation in Patagonia. That works out at just $23.10 per night for the two of us, but – as I have mentioned – several of our nights were free of accommodation costs.
Our average cost per night for hostels was $30.76, ($15.38 each). Let’s take a look at how this compares with hostel costs during the rest of our South America travels:
As you can see, hostels were more expensive in Patagonia than anywhere else we visited across the continent.
Our experience shows that while accommodation costs in Patagonia are generally quite high, you can offset it by looking for free overnight options where possible.
Food and drink costs in Patagonia
As shown in the breakdown of spending categories above, food and drink was our highest outlay in Patagonia. Our daily average was $42.30 for two people.
However, this is skewed by two days of full board while we were undertaking the W Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park.
If we remove those two days from our spending calculations, our daily outlay on food and drink was actually $34.71. This is pretty similar to our $33.29 daily spending on food in Peru, for example (see our full Peru cost breakdown here).
Living costs in Patagonia are generally higher than Peru. But we kept our food costs down by preparing a lot of our own meals, and taking our own food on treks.
Cost of eating out in Patagonia
While preparing food ourselves was the norm, we still allowed ourselves the occasional meal out in Patagonia. Here are some examples of restaurant costs from our trip:
- In Bariloche, we had a huge plate of milanesa de pollo (chicken) with egg, chips and a soft drink each. Our total bill was $31.20
- In El Bolsón we had a very nice pizza lunch at Los Lúpulos. The bill with a soft drink each was $15.60
- On our wedding anniversary in Puerto Natales we went out for a posh pizza lunch at Mesita Grande. Our bill with a couple of craft beers each was $45.50
- After completing the W Trek, we treated ourselves to a Chilean lamb BBQ meal at Asador Patagonico in Puerto Natales. We had starters, the house classic lamb and some beers each, which came to $74.10
- In El Calafate, we had a hearty Patagonian stew with bread and chips at La Zorra. The bill was a very reasonable $22.75
- After completing a three-day, two-night trek in El Chaltén, we treated ourselves at the aptly named Burgers and Beer. The bill for a burger and beer each came to $27.30
Transport costs in Patagonia
Unless you’re driving, the only way to travel between most towns and cities in Patagonia is by bus (here’s our guide to getting around Patagonia by bus). That’s how we travelled for the vast majority of our time in the region, with the odd exception for a ferry.
We spent $595 on transport in Patagonia, which comes to $22.90 per day.
Many bus routes operated daily, but that wasn’t always the case. Between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas, for example, buses only went on certain days of the week. They also get booked up in advance, so you need to be well organised to avoid getting stuck.
These were the costs per person for the main bus journeys we took:
- Bariloche to El Bolsón and vice versa with Via Bariloche: $5.20 each way
- Ushuaia to Punta Arenas with Bus Sur: $43.50
- Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales with Bus Sur: $12.50
- Return shuttle bus from Puerto Natales into Torres Del Paine National Park for the W Trek: $23.50
- Puerto Natales to El Calafate with Bus Sur: $16.50
- El Calafate return to Perito Moreno Glacier with Chaltén Travel: $26
- Bus from El Calafate to El Chaltén with Chaltén Travel: $34
- Bus from El Chaltén to El Calafate International Airport with Chaltén Travel: $34
We found that Busbud is a really useful online service to find bus journeys for your route and buy tickets.
If you do want to rent a car, check out RentalCars to find the best prices. Be warned though – car hire is not cheap in Patagonia!
Activity costs in Patagonia
Whenever we weren’t on a bus in Patagonia we were active. We filled our days with a mixture of outdoor and historical exploration, with a mixture of free and paid activities.
In total we spent $536 on activities during our 26 days in the region. This accounted for 16.2% of our total spend.
These were the costs per person for our most significant activities in Patagonia:
- Beagle Channel day cruise in Ushuaia: $125
- Perito Moreno Glacier entrance fee: $28
- Circuito Chico half-day tour in Bariloche: $18
- Maritime and Prison Museum in Ushuaia: $17
- Historic walking tour in Bariloche: $13
- National park entrance fees:
- Torres Del Paine: $32.50
- Tierra Del Fuego: $19.50
The Torres Del Paine W Trek was, by some distance, our biggest expenditure of all in Patagonia. However, the costs for this were distributed across food, drink and accommodation as well as activity fees. You can read our complete guide to the W Trek, which includes cost information, here. Also check out our Patagonia trekking guide, which details 25 of the best hikes in the region.
We stayed in low-cost campsite and refugios on the W Trek. If you would prefer to stay in premium accommodation in the park, our post on places to stay in Torres Del Paine gives an indication of the cost of hotels and estancias.
Additional costs in Patagonia (sundries)
Any costs that don’t fit naturally into the main categories we class as sundries. In total we spent $260 on sundries in Patagonia between us ($10 per day), which included:
- $104 on clothing, gear and gadgets for trekking
- $53.50 on ATM charges
- $43 on laundry
- $25 on cigarettes
- $8 on toiletries and medications
- $6.50 on souvenirs
Our spending in Patagonia by town/city
The costs in Patagonia did fluctuate a little between the various towns and cities we visited. Here’s how the food, drink and accommodation costs compared:
In Puerto Natales the higher prices were very noticeable. As the nearest town to Torres Del Paine, it caters heavily towards the many international hikers and sightseers that visit, and so there’s somewhat of a tourist premium.
In Ushuaia, Bariloche and Punta Arenas, the cities we visited, there were many more supermarkets around, which made it easier to prepare our own food at low cost.
Quick tips for Patagonia travel on a budget
While you’ll need a slightly bigger budget for Patagonia than elsewhere in South America, there are still ways to make savings. Here are some of our best tips:
- Book hostels in advance, especially in Puerto Natales for the W Trek. The best ones get booked up ahead of time
- Use free campsites for trekking where possible. If you’re doing the W Trek, you will need to book the free campsites well in advance to secure a pitch
- If you pass through the Chilean city of Punta Arenas, take a trip to Zona Franca. This is a large tax-free shopping zone, which is great for stocking up on food and equipment for treks
- Drink water from natural sources (streams and rivers) in national parks
- Try Couchsurfing – it’s a great way to find free accommodation and meet awesome local people
- If you’re taking organised tours, shop around for the best deals
- Cook your own food as much as you can. Bring some tupperware containers so you can make batches for use over a couple of days
- If you visit Patagonia during the shoulder seasons (September/October or March/April), you will be able to benefit from cheaper rates or special deals on activities. Read more on the best times to visit Patagonia here
Have you travelled in Patagonia? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.
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