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:
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.
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).
Note: 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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
How 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
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).
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.
Where 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.
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.
The 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.Recommended 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.
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.
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.