Travel Guide - Patagonia Travel Tips
By Matt & Jody Pritchard
Please Note: It's been about 4 years since we wrote this guide. Since then it's been viewed a few thousand times, and we have received a lot of positive feedback. Much of the information is still relevant, but we've made no substantial efforts to keep it updated. At the very least, the prices are probably out of whack. Keep this in mind as you plan your trip. We hope you enjoy Patagonia.
When we began to research our trip to Patagonia in the fall of 2002, we found plenty of sources on the web that helped us get a feel for the place. However, there was a problem with the majority of the information we came across - it was provided by companies that ran tours of the area and was therefore biased toward their itineraries and other agendas. The rest of the information seemed to be sparse and a bit outdated. Even some of the most popular books about the area were out of date and had conflicting information with other sources we checked
Since we have this venue, we decided to put together a brief guide with information that may be useful for other people planning trips similar to ours (i.e. self-supported). Before starting, our goal was to be brief here, but this guide turned out to be a bit longer than anticipated. Our information does not go into great detail but we feel it is both relevant and up-to-date. Patagonia is an enormous region and we visited only a small area (albeit, one of the most popular areas). This is far from being an exhaustive guide, and we encourage you to consult several other sources while planning your trip. We have listed several books, maps, and websites that may help with your planning in the last section of this guide. If you're a savvy traveler and crave a bit of adventure, don't read this guide. You could probably show up in Punta Arenas or El Calafate tomorrow with no clue about what to do and where to stay and be just fine. I don't think we have any "spoilers" in here, but consider that part of the fun of traveling is figuring it out as you go.
Finally, if you find this information helpful, let us know. We do take quite a bit of time to put this stuff together and it is nice to know if it is being used. If you see any gaps, feel free to tell us and we will try to fill them in. If you have specific questions, let us know and we'll do our best to help you find the right answer. Thanks.
Please Note - Throughout this guide, we have provided prices for various goods and services. These are exact prices that we paid during our trip in Nov/Dec of 2003. If we paid in local currency, we have indicated as such with the following notations - (CLP = Chile Pesos, AGP=Argentina Pesos). If we use the local price, we have also listed a conversion to US dollars based on the exchange rate at the time of our trip.
Where is Patagonia?
Patagonia is geographical region at the southern end of South America. Stretching from 41 degrees south latitude to the tip of Cape Horn (around 54 degrees south latitude), the region encompasses portions of both Chile and Argentina. In fact, the region has been a hotbed of dispute over the exact location of the border between Chile and Argentina.
Patagonia can be broken up into several sub-regions that have distinct qualities, and make each of them different. The Lonely Planet Guide to Trekking in the Patagonian Andes has an excellent description of each region. Our guide focuses on areas within the Southern Patagonia or Magellenes region.
Interesting Fact: Patagonia, the clothing company, was named as such after its founder, Yvon Chouinard, visited the area on a climbing trip in the late 60's and was so impressed by the region that he decided to name his fledgling company after it.
The Gateway Cities and Towns of Southern Patagonia
Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas is the largest city in Southern Patagonia (population 110,000) and will likely be the first stop for most trips originating from outside of South America. Punta Arenas is situated on the Straights of Magellan and was a key port of call for ships prior to the construction of the Panama Canal. Punta Arenas has a small city feel, with a good selection of restaurants, hotels, and stores.
How to Get There - Punta Arenas has a small, but very nice, airport that handles regular flights from Santiago, Chile. Lan Chile is the primary airline out of this airport and booking travel is relatively simple. Roundtrip airfare from Santiago to Punta Arenas was a pretty reasonable $165 USD. We booked our travel directly through a travel agent in Santiago (www.gochile.cl) and saved a bundle on this flight when compared to the prices from US travel websites and even the Lan Chile website. The airport is about 19 km outside of town and there are various shuttle and taxi options at the airport. A taxi from the airport to "downtown" Punta Arenas was 6,000 CLP (about $10 USD).
Where to Stay - There is a wide variety of accommodations in Punta Arenas, from low budget "hospedajes" to more standard hotels. We would suggest staying close to the center of town to keep shopping and dining within reasonable walking distance. During the summer months (Dec - Feb), the town books up fast, so we suggest that you either make reservations, or prepare to be flexible. We stayed at two hotels over the course of 3 nights in Punta Arenas. The Hotel Mercurio was clean and comfortable and not much else. It is close to the center of town and offers a restaurant with a limited menu, bar, luggage storage, and internet access. One night at the Mercurio ran us $68 USD. The Hotel Mercurio is located at 525 Fagnano and the phone number is 223-430. The other hotel we stayed at in Punta Arenas was the Hotel Plaza. This is only one block from the Mercurio and right next to the town central plaza. The quality of the room was on par with the Mercurio, but was a bit more expensive at $80 USD per night. The Hotel Plaza is located at Nogeuira 1116 and the phone number is 241-300.
Where to Eat - We can't recommend many places to eat in Punta Arenas, because most of the food we had was pretty unremarkable. That being said, it was also pretty cheap. There are a variety of restaurants along the main street in town - Nogeuira/Bories (the name of the street changes at the plaza). Several more restaurants are hidden along the side streets closer to the water. We did enjoy a fantastic dinner one night at Brocolino Restaurant. The food was Italian by genre and both of our dishes were delicious. The chef was quite a character and gave the place a bit of personality. The restaurant is located on O'Higgins near Pedro Montt. If you're a picky eater and can't find anything on the local menus that really pleases you, it's hard to go wrong with a few empanadas (think Hot Pockets, but better) and some papas fritas (french fries).
Shopping, Etc. - Nogueira/Bories is the main street in town and has a variety of department and specialty stores. You should be able to find just about anything you are looking for, from souvenirs to trekking supplies. The Abu Gosch Hipermercado is a large and very well stocked grocery store that would give the average stateside Safeway a run for its money. Had we to do the trip again, we would have brought almost no food from home and stocked up here before heading to Torres del Paine.
Puerto Natales, Chile
For most trekkers in Southern Patagonia, Puerto Natales turns out to be the de facto hub for most trips bouncing between Torres del Paine and Glaciares National Parks. Located on the Sueño Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope Sound) and surrounded by snowcapped peaks on almost every side, what this town lacks in size it more than makes up for in natural beauty and accessibility to two of the worlds most impressive parklands. The town has a lot of character, despite its windblown and ramshackle appearance. Most of the people you encounter in Puerto Natales are on their way to some place else. As such, most of the services available cater to transient tourists and trekkers on their way to or from the parks.
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