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From Pucon to Ushuaia: Our route through Patagonia

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South America is massive and we get a lot of practical travel questions about our trip across the continent. Patagonia is one of the most breathtaking places to visit in all of South America, but the huge distances, high prices and endless options make it hard to plan a trip. Dani put together our entire route from Chile’s Lake District down through Patagonia to Tierra Del Fuego, including buses, hotels, sightseeing options and destination options from each of our stops.  We took public buses all along, except for the (unexpected!) hitchhiking adventure on Tierra Del Fuego.

You can find links to all the in-depth posts we wrote about each place and other relevant information below each place.

Let’s start with a map of our route:

Pucón

Our first stop in the Lake District was Pucón, a popular resort town at the foot of the Villarica volcano, the main attraction in the area. There are plenty of things to do for active travelers here, from kayaking to volcano climbing and trekking. If you are not into any of these, we’d recommend heading straight to Puerto Varas instead.

Where we stayed: We stayed at One Way Hostel (which was very basic – there are better options in Pucón) and paid CLP17,000 for a private room with shared bathroom.

How we got to Pucón: We went with Turbus from Valparaiso.

We actually found Turbus the best bus company in Chile. Book tickets in advance for cheaper tickets than on travel day. 

Recommended number of days: 2 to 3 days. Most people come here to climb Villarica volcano, but we would suggest at least another day for some rafting, kayaking or a visit to Huerquehe National Park. Also, if your heart is set on the volcano hike, plan in a extra days in case of bad weather. It rained here the entire three days of our visit and we couldn’t have climbed it unless we stayed at least another two, when the weather was supposedly going to clear up.

Read more: Thank Goodness for Silver Linings…Rained Out in Pucón, Chile
rain clouds pucon

Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas is a small town on the shores of Lake Llanquihue and still heavily influenced by the German settlers who developed the area in the late 19th century. From here you can take a day trip to Frutillar, an even more German village (think wooden houses and lots of cake), or hike in the National Park with beautiful views of Volcano Osorno. You can take a bus to Bariloche (in the Argentine Lake District) straight from here. While we weren’t particularly lucky with the weather during our time in the Lake District, it still made it into our Top Five Places To Visit In Chile and shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Patagonia! Since it is relatively close to Bariloche, it is easy to incorporate it into your itinerary.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Margouya 2 in Puerto Varas, Chile which we really liked! It was CLP20,000 for a double room with shared bathroom. Breakfast was included. 

How we got to Puerto Varas: We took a JAC bus from Pucón to Puerto Montt (five hours, CLP10,000) and changed into a mini-bus to Puerto Varas there (they leave at the same terminal, are CLP800 and it takes about 20 minutes).

Puerto Varas ChileNote: If you are planning to head straight down to Puerto Natales (Torres del Paine), you have to take a bus from Puerto Montt (15 min from Puerto Varas) all the way south to Punta Arenas first (35 hours) and then back up three hours to Puerto Natales. Check out timetables at Cruz Del Sur (CLP42,000). If you plan to skip Argentina (see below) then a flight would seriously cut down your travel time from Puerto Varas/Montt to Torres del Paine. Both Sky Airline and LAN offer flights on this route and have good prices if you book in advance.

Recommended number of days: 2 to 3. You can trek to Osorno volcano, go on a rafting or kayaking trip, or go on a 1-day cycle trip along the lake to the quaint town of Frutillar (60km round-trip). You can also take a day trip to Chiloe from here, if you rent a car (see below).

Read more: Home sweet home in southern Chile: Following the trail of German immigrants

Chiloe (detour)

We took a detour to the island of Chiloe, located about two hours southwest of Puerto Varas. In hindsight, we should have rented a car in Puerto Varas to be more flexible on the island and returned it to Puerto Varas to take a bus to Bariloche (Argentina) from here. The detour was well worth it though and we discovered some of the most scenic regions of Chile.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Hotel Ancud Petit (we shared a quadruple room at CLP10,000 per person) and used Ancud as our base for exploring Chiloe.

How we got to Chiloe: We took a Cruz del Sur bus from Puerto Montt to Ancud (CLP6,300), which loads onto a ferry for the last 30 minutes you can get out and walk around. A car rental would have allowed us to see much more of the island, and we’d recommend a two-day rental.

Recommended number of days: You can see a lot of Chiloe in a day trip from Puerto Varas if you rent a car, but we’d recommend allowing at least two full days, so that you are able to see the main towns on the island, visit Chiloe National Park and maybe take a tour to a penguin colony.

Read more: A blind date with Chile’s romantic Chiloé island
Chiloe Chile

Bariloche

Bariloche is an easy 6-8 hour bus ride over the Andes – depending how long the border crossing takes. It is possible to take buses from Puerto Varas, Puerto Montt and Osorno.  Bariloche is set in a stunning location on lake Nahuel Huapi and should definitely not be missed. There are plenty of hikes around the area, the nearby Nahuel Huapi National Park with its famous Black Glacier, and activities like kayaking on the lake or hiking up to the viewpoints around town. It reminded us very much of Colorado, in the US.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Kospi Boutique Guesthouse (ARS410 for a double room incl. breakfast)

How we got to Bariloche: We took a bus (Tas Choapa) from Puerto Montt to Bariloche (6 hours) and paid CLP14,000 per person.

Recommended number of days: We’d suggest at least 2 full days (3 would be even better) in Bariloche to explore the town, head out to the Circuito Chico (a 60km cycle route) or hike up to the viewpoints (Cerro Otto or Campanario), take a boat ride out onto the lake to the islands or visit Nahuel Huapi National Park.

Read more: Mighty Mount Tronador and the Black Glacier | Bariloche, Argentina

Tip: Make sure to exchange Chilean pesos for US Dollars before heading to Argentina. The Blue Dollar exchange rate that you get when changing US Dollars in cash for Argentine Pesos is almost twice as good as the official rate. We wrote about the Blue Dollar and travel costs in Argentina here.

Bariloche Argentina

El Chalten

Getting to El Chalten from Bariloche proved more difficult than expected. Luckily there is one bus operator, Taqsa, that offers the 27-hour ride straight down along mostly gravel road to El Chalten a few times a week during the summer months (December to April). Taking the bus was much cheaper than taking a plane (via Buenos Aires), and El Chalten was absolutely worth it. You can easily spend a week here hiking some of the numerous treks in the National Park or going ice trekking on Glacier Viedma.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Lo De Trevi Hostel, which we didn’t like at all and wouldn’t recommend. Rooms were overpriced, and there were no lockers in the dorms, which isn’t great in a place where people are out hiking all day (and the hostel was unlocked and unmanned at times). There are better hostels in El Chalten on Booking.com. For such a small town, this is a major stop for hikers from around the world as well as Argentine backpackers, so make sure to book early, since hostels fill up quickly in the high season (December – March).

chalten mountain peaksHow we got to El Chalten: We took the Taqsa Bus from Bariloche to El Chalten (27 hours, around ARS900 per person). Check their website for departure dates and times, since they don’t go seven days a week. There is one other company, ChaltenTravel, that offers the ride, too, including the first night in El Chalten for free. However, we heard that the accommodation they provide is subpar and their micro-buses are not very comfortable for such a long ride.

Recommended number of days: There are so many hiking trails around El Chalten, you can easily spend 5 days hiking several trails. We spent only two full days here which was far from enough. Four – five days would be ideal if you are into hiking at all.

Read more: The day I became a solo hiker in Patagonia

Polaroid of the week: The imposing Fitz Roy mountain in Patagonia, Argentina
el chalten dani

El Calafate

It was easy to get from El Chalten to El Calafate, 220 km south of El Chalten, which was a scenic 3-hour bus ride on newly paved roads. We came solely to see Perito Moreno Glacier, which turned out to be one of our South America highlights.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Del Glaciar Libertador Hostel & Suites, which was good. (ARS310 per double room, including breakfast).

How we got to El Calafate: We took a bus from El Chalten (3 hours, ARS150 per person) – there are several buses per day.

Recommended number of days: We spent two nights in El Calafate, and had half a day to explore town and book our tour to Perito Moreno Glacier, and spent the next day at the glacier. If you only want to visit the glacier from here, 2 nights are enough. You could, however, spend another day here exploring the Laguna Nimez wetlands sanctuary or the Glaciarium (a high-tech glacier museum 6km out of town).

Read more: Ice, Ice Baby: The amazing Perito Moreno Glacier | Patagonia, Argentina

El Calafate Perito Moreno Glacier

Puerto Natales

From El Calafate, we took a bus (Cootra) back across the Andes and the border to Puerto Natales in Chile to visit Torres Del Paine. The bus ride took around six hours, including the easy border crossing (don’t have any fresh fruit or vegetables with you on the bus, or declare it immediately if you do – Chile is very strict about this to the tune of $250 dollar fines for an apple).

Had we known how far out of town the bus station in Puerto Natales would be, we probably would have booked a hostel in advance instead of ‘shopping around’ for a nice place to stay when we got there. Puerto Natales turned out to be a pleasant little town with some fabulous restaurants, and we are glad that we went, even though we didn’t hike the W Trek.

Torres Del Paine ChileWhere we stayed: We stayed at Hospedaje Mwono, a simple hostel that we found walking around town looking at several options. We paid CLP15,000 for a double room with shared bathroom (the cheapest option we found in Puerto Natales).

How we got to Puerto Natales: We took a bus from El Calafate with Cootra from El Calafate for ARS150 per person (five hours).

Get to Ushuaia from Puerto Natales: If you don’t want to visit Punta Arenas or Chilean Tierra del Fuego afterward,  you can go straight to Rio Gallegos from Puerto Natales (4.5 hours) and catch a bus from here to Ushuaia (another 12 hours). If you’re planning to do this trip in one go, it’s going to be a very long day. See direct connections from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia below.

Recommended number of days: This depends on if you’re planning to hike the W-Trek. If so, you’ll need 4 nights in Torres Del Paine National Park, and we would recommend a night before (to prepare for your trek and make final arrangements) and a night after the trek (to wash your clothes, take a hot shower, enjoy some good food) in Puerto Natales. Keep in mind that the weather in Torres Del Paine is extremely unpredictable – it can rain for days here and you might end up canceling your W-Trek and opt for one or two day trips into the park instead.

Tip: Our fellow blogger Arienwen wrote a great guide to the W-Trek, including a detailed break-down of each day,costs for food and accommodation along the way, equipment you need, and more!

If you are not doing the W trek, you can spend a couple of days relaxing in Puerto Natales – there is surprisingly good food catering to an international crowd and the waterfront is a nice way to watch the sunset at least once.

Read more: Torres del Paine: Patagonia’s essence in a day

Polaroid of the week: An homage to the wind in Puerto Natales, Chile
puerto natales lake

Punta Arenas

Our next stop was Punta Arenas, the southernmost city on mainland Chile. The city is well connected via bus and there are two bus companies that run several times a day from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas and the other way around. Punta Arenas also turned out to be a great little city and we enjoyed our time there. The feeling of how far south you have made it really hits home in this chilly, clean antarctic city. Accommodation was more expensive than expected in the hospedajes around town. The cheapest double room we could find was US$40, and it was not nice.

Once you land here, it is essential to plan your further travels from here in advance since buses to Ushuaia only run on certain days. The ferry to Porvenir only leaves once a day, and sometimes it leaves in the morning others in the afternoon.

Our main reason to spend a few days here was the Magellan Penguin colony, but if you plan to visit them, you also need to plan your visit properly, as the tours out there only leave on some days of the week (at least during low season), and we missed the one day when they went while we were in town.

Penguins in ChiloeThe travel agency that offers tours to the penguins sits on the south east corner of the main square, or you can visit Hospedaje Magallanes which runs the Aeonikenk travel agency that offers several different day trips from Punta Arenas. Visiting the King Penguin colony in Tierra Del Fuego is about CLP55,000 per person, visiting the penguin colony at Seno Otway is CLP10,000 per person. Pali Aike (Navarro 1125) was another travel agency we found that offers trips to the penguins. They offer private tours for CLP39,000 per couple (not including CLP7,500 National Park entrance fee).

Where we stayed: We didn’t find anything online that sounded great, so we just showed up and looked for a place when we arrived. Most B&Bs and guest houses started at CLP25,000 for a double room. We stayed Hostal Art Nouveau (CLP35,000 for an ensuite double room incl. breakfast).

How we got to Punta Arenas: We took Buses Fernandez, for CLP5,000 per person. They have five or six buses daily from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas.

How to get from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia: Bus-Sur (CLP35,000) Taqsa and Tecni-Austral both have several buses a week (not daily though, so check their schedules) that go directly from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia and vice versa.Punta Arenas ChileRecommended number of days: If you are planning to see the penguin colonies, plan at least two nights here. We didn’t book our penguin tour right on the first day and lost out on it because there weren’t any other tours while we were in town and we weren’t able to extend our stay.

Porvenir

We went to Porvenir to experience some of Chile’s part of Tierra Del Fuego, and because we thought we could hop on a more direct bus to Ushuaia from here. It was only when we arrived in Porvenir that we found out that there were no buses at all across Tierra del Fuego. Oops. Encouraged by our friendly hostel owner Vicente, we decided to hitchhike from Porvenir which luckily worked out. If you are not into bird watching (the main draw for people to visit Tierra Del Fuego), you can easily skip Porvenir and head straight to Ushuaia from Punta Arenas (see above).

Where we stayed: We stayed at Hosteria Yendegaia | Porvenir, Chile

How we got to Porvenir: We took the ferry from Punta Arenas for CLP5,500 per person. Check the ferry timetable beforehand though – we were told that our ferry would leave at 9am, but when we got to the ferry terminal it turned out the ferry left 4pm on Thursdays.

ferry timetable punta arenas to porvenirRecommended number of days: Depends on what you are planning to do while you are here. We found two nights (1 full day) to be enough, but we didn’t go on any bird watching trips / hikes.

Read more: The day we hitchhiked to the end of the worldporvenir houses

Ushuaia

Ushuaia, officially the southernmost city of the world and the southernmost tip of South America, was our final stop. We made it here after hitchhiking from Porvenir to Rio Gallegos, where we caught a bus to Ushuaia.

Where we stayed: We stayed at the El Refugio Mochilero Backpackers, which was not our first choice (we found it way overpriced for what you get). Double rooms are ARS300. We wanted to stay at Antarctica Hostel which looked great but was fully booked for the next two weeks.

How we got to Ushuaia: We hitchhiked from Porvenir to Rio Grande and took a bus from there. The bus from Rio Grande was ARS140 and took two hours.

How to get from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia: Bus-Sur (CLP35,000) Taqsa and Tecni-Austral both have several buses a week (not daily though, so check their schedules) that go directly from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia and vice versa.

How to get out of Ushuaia: The best way to get back north is actually by plane – we found that plane tickets to Buenos Aires didn’t cost us much more as a 3-day bus ride would have cost us.

Recommended number of days: Depends on what you are planning to do in Ushuaia. If you’d like to head out on tour of the Beagle Channel, visit Tierra Del Fuego National Park, see a couple of the museums in town, and see the Martial Glacier, you can easily fill four days in Ushuaia.

Read more: Arriving to the end of the world | Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia Argentina

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Tags : patagonia

36 Comments

  1. This is an amazingly in-depth overview of the region. I wish I’d had it to read last year when I was there. I had to do a lot of research on how to get places and ended up missing out on a lot of Chile. Not going to Pucon is one of my regrets.

    I agree that Patagonia is expensive and the long distances are off putting, but isn’t it the most beautiful place you’ve ever been? Hiking will never be the same again!
    Arianwen recently posted..How to Stay Safe While Backpacking

  2. How you planned this trip to Patagonia being vegetarians? I mean… was it difficult to find veggie food in those places? Because I`m vegan and I want to do a trip like this in Patagonia next year. I really want to do this, so it`d be interesting if there were veggie options at least in the “checkpoint” places through the route. (:

    thanks

  3. Hey there! I’ve been enjoying reading through your blog. I’m headed to chile and argentin in a few weeks. I thought I had everything planned but a flight time chNge to Ushuaia has really put a wrench in my plans. I’m looking at taking a bus from puerto natales/punta arenas to Ushuaia. Did you find it necessary to book this trip in advance? The earliest I could book it would be about 4 days prior. Would that be enough time? Or do some companies allow you to make reservations online? I’d appreciate any insight you can offer!

    1. Hi Rosemarie, it depends on when you are looking to go – in the high season (December) buses can fill up, but we were always able to go to the bus station the day before we wanted to go and were able to still get tickets. That said, we traveled in February / March, when it wasn’t as busy anymore. Four days prior should still be plenty though. I would refrain from booking tickets online, but that’s just me being a bit paranoid about getting ripped off. Enjoy your trip!

  4. Hi! Two friends and I are planning a trip for early February. We’re flying in from BA (not driving) so we planned on doing one location. Do you have a strong recommendation in terms of must see from the Argentina side?

    Really appreciate any advice!

    1. Hi Carrie, I’d probably recommend El Chalten because there are so many free hikes in the area and the scenery is stunning (Fitzroy). You might even be able to combine it with a visit to El Calafate because I believe that’s where the closest airport to El Chalten is, and Perito Moreno Glacier only needs one day. It’s easy to get to El Chalten from the airport, I think there were buses that went directly there. Enjoy Patagonia 🙂

  5. Hi there! First, thank you SO much for this! I am currently planning my trip to Patagonia in February of next year! I am currently planning on traveling alone though. As females did you guys feel comfortable and safe during your travels in Patagonia? Would you recommend it for a lone female traveler?

    1. I felt definitely safe everywhere in Patagonia, also when I hiked solo near El Chalten. I think it’s one of the safest areas in all of South America, and you’ll bump into other solo travelers everywhere FOR SURE, Kerry. Have a great trip!

    1. Hi Scott, I am so happy to hear that! I was looking for a post like this when I planned our route, and when I couldn’t find one, I knew I had to write one 🙂 So happy to see Chiloe included in your route!! And that you’re doing the entire W trek – the one thing I regret not doing in Patagonia! Enjoy your trip!

  6. I am so glad I stumbled across this blog! I am planning a 2-month trip to South America at the end of this year, and about a month of it will be spent south of Pucon. This is so helpful. I can’t wait to check out the rest of your write ups!

  7. Thank you so much for posting this! I’m living in Buenos Aires now, and starting to plan a solo hiking trip to Patagonia for 2016. There are so many options, and the distances between many of the sites are large, that it’s overwhelming. Your post is so helpful for cutting through all of that!

    1. Stephanie – that’s awesome! I definitely recommend El Chalten, and that’s easy to combine with El Calafate 🙂 Enjoy the hiking next year!

  8. Thanks guys! Great detail…I’ve used this as a starting point as I had very little plan and it’s going to be high season! Do you think it’s possible to head further south on the Chilean side before crossing over to the Argentinean side and then going from Ushuaia backwards from there to see the Argentinian side? Not sure if it works logistically?

    Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much, Gemma! We did actually go as far south in Chile as we could, taking the ferry to Porvenir which is already on Tierra Del Fuego. We assumed there were buses from Porvenir to Usuhaia but learned that there weren’t any – only trucks go down that route! We had to hitchhike because we didn’t want to return to Punta Arenas from where we’d taken the ferry (and from where buses go to Ushuaia, but not daily, if I remember it correctly). Here’s our hitchking post: http://globetrottergirls.com/2013/06/the-day-we-hitchhiked-to-the-end-of-the-world/ If you’re adventurous, then go for it 😀

      1. Hey guys! Thanks so much for your post…I used your post as inspiration! Currently in Ushuaia! Hitchhiked here from Punta Arenas and had the best experience! Thanks for all the information, tips and tricks for all the areas!

  9. Hey!
    I want to go to the glacier and do the w-hike over the holidays but am looking for accompany! Someone? 🙂 I’m a 24 year old easygoing Swedish girl who has some hiking experience from Scandinavia but will need to hire all equipment here. Get in touch! 🙂

    1. Hi Ronja, great to hear that you’re going to do the W Trek! Have you tried Travbuddy.com yet? That might be a good way to find a travel buddy for the trek 🙂

  10. Hi Dani, You have done a great job by writing your travel to Ushuaia. It was really helpful for me. I have been checking the best routes on google map and possible stays in other sites and at the end of the day I landed here. You have given a very comprehensive detail of the trip and it gives me confidence to travel by bus/ferry from Santiago to Ushuaia. Was wondering if the bus trip back to BA will be worth but it could be a strenuous journey. I am planning to go on SA tour in Oct – Nov. Hope it will be good season to visit. Will follow your travels and am also a solo traveler :). I have been to Kenya Fec 2014 and am going to New Zealand this September. I realized how addcited am to traveling and glad to see many like you. Cheers 🙂

    1. Yes, travel is definitely addictive 🙂 Kenya is one of my dream destinations! And I’ll have to make it to NZ one day… Sigh, too many places!! As for your question: the bus takes about 48 hours from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires – it’s definitely a long time to spend in a bus, two full days.. I was already going stir-crazy on the 27-hour ride from Bariloche to El Chalten… So for me it’d be worth it to fly, but flights are expensive (at least $200, but you might be lucky and get a good deal). Enjoy Patagonia… it’s truly magical!

      1. Thanks Dani. I am planning to take a boat from Quellon to Puerto Chacabaco. From there by bus to Villa O’Higgins with sptover at Cochrane. There is a way to cross the border by hiking, boat, bus to El Chalten. From then on I will be going the same way as you did except the Porvenis :). Hope I make it a reality.

  11. Hey, I took quite a few flights in Argentina! With everything that was going on with the peso recently flying was the same cost as the buses! The only thing you need to consider is do you want to fly, have a good nights sleep in a hostel, or save money on the accommodation and do buses. I flew from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. I don’t remember the exact price but when I checked at the time it was on par with the bus prices! This was in December just gone!

  12. Hi,

    Thank you so much for your post! I am planning a similar trip with my boyfriend but I feel we might have to fly somewhere due to time constraints, it’s so hard to decide what to cut out though! Just wondering how long your trip took start to finish and if you know how much you spent all up including food etc?

    Thanks,

    Chelsie

    1. Hi Chelsie, I think we spent about three weeks in Patagonia and it was pretty pricey. We averaged around $50 per day per person, but that included private rooms and we ate out at least once a day. Argentina and Chile are both not cheap, but you can do it cheaper if you stay in dorms instead of private rooms and if you prepare more meals yourselves.. Luckily the hostels all have kitchens 🙂 How much time do you think you’ll have? Enjoy Patagonia!

  13. This is an excellent post, so much info and I love the map! We are heading there late Jan 2017 but starting in the opposite direction with Ushuaia because we have a cruise booked to Antarctica 🙂 then we will make our way up slowly to Bariloche pretty much following the route you have done and now I have seen your post on Pucon we will add that to the list too. We will bus it all the way but we will stop in Perito Merino to see the Marble Caves its a good half way point between El Chalten and Bariloche. All the info on the buses is great because it took me a couple of days to research buses out of Ushuaia! I am reading all your Argentina, Chile and Uruguay blogs and I love your recommendations on places to visit, transportation and places to stay.

  14. This was amazing to read, exactly everything I’ve been trying to google in the one post! I love the route you did and might customise a bit to fit my entry point which will be in Argentina. It sounds a lot more doable than I thought reaching what sounds like unreachable places. Now I just need to hope that all the buses are still running in winter which is when I will be there.
    Nicole recently posted..Learning Brazilian Portugese

    1. Thanks so much, Nicole!! for the buses I recommend checking your destinations on Wikitravel – I find that to be the most up-to-date and accurate source for public transportation.

  15. hi

    can you advise if we can driv from bariloche to ushauai ?

    we are planning a trip ther in November.
    thanks
    debby

    1. Hi Debby, yes you can. Roads aren’t paved all the way through and there’s a long stretch of nothing in between (it took us around 24 hours on the bus to pass through this nomansland) but it’s totally doable 🙂

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