How to Get to Patagonia: A Complete Travelers' Guide [2021] Skip to Content

How to Get to Patagonia: A Complete Travelers’ Guide

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The mythical region of Patagonia has enthralled visitors such as Charles Darwin and Bruce Chatwin and each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists make pilgrimage to its wild and unpredictable corners for an adventure into the unknown.

But working out how to get to Patagonia can be a logistical feat in itself, particularly as the actual limits of the region – and its national identity – can be beyond confusing.

I’m a big fan of drilling down into the nuts and bolts of travel, which is why this bumper article aims to give you the logistical nitty-gritty you need before you go about booking your flight, bus, ferry or car and travel to Patagonia.

Absorbing the views in Tierra del Fuego, Chilean Patagonia

Where is Patagonia located?

The region of Patagonia is located in the south of Chile and Argentina, on the very tip of South America. A common misconception is that Patagonia is a country. It isn’t.

In fact, Patagonia is a geographical region that combines both the Aysén and Magellanes regions of Chile on the west and the Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego regions of Argentina on the east.

The Andes mountains (not the Patagonian mountains!) act as a natural border between the two countries.

It’s because of the fact that Patagonia is located within two different countries that getting to Patagonia can feel quite so complicated. As a result, you can actually reach Patagonia either via Argentina or via Chile. I’ll go into further detail about this below.

What’s more, the actual boundaries of Patagonia are hotly contested between Argentina and Chile (and regions within the two countries themselves).

In Argentina, Bariloche, located 1,600 kilometres southwest of Buenos Aires, is generally considered the top of Argentine Patagonia.

However, in Chile, most don’t consider Patagonia to start until south of Puerto Montt, where the Carretera Austral (the main road through the Aysén region of Patagonia) begins, some 40 kilometres south of Bariloche.

How to get to Patagonia

In a nutshell, you want to either get to Buenos Aires in Argentina or Santiago in Chile; these two capital cities have plenty of onward transportation to get you to Patagonia.

I’ll go through exactly how you can do this below.

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What is the cheapest way to get to Patagonia?

The cheapest way to get to Patagonia depends on a number of factors:

  1. How far in advance you’re booking
  2. How much luggage you have
  3. Whether you value money or your time as more important
  4. The level of comfort you expect from your transport

You can actually travel to Patagonia by flying from Santiago (the Chilean capital) to Puerto Montt (the northern tip of the Carretera Austral in northern Patagonia) for as little as $15,000 CLP ($23 USD) one-way.

It’s even cheaper (from $7,000 CLP ($11 USD)) to fly from Santiago to Balmaceda, around half-way down the Carretera Austral.

However, both the quoted airfares don’t include checked luggage and require you to book months in advance – and travel outside of summer.

In general, if entering the Chilean side of Patagonia, you can expect to pay around $60,000 CLP ($94 USD) for your ticket, plus baggage fees.

Sailing into Patagonia aboard one of the cargo, vehicle and passenger ferries offers a spectacular experience in the Chilean fjords.

Flights to Argentine Patagonia are more expensive. The cheapest flights from Buenos Aires to Patagonia are to Bariloche (from $70 USD), but it’s a long (23 hours) and expensive ($103 USD*) journey from there to reach El Chaltén and southern Patagonia.  

Bus transport rarely works out as cheaper than flying to Patagonia, although if you’re planning on stopping at various points en-route, it can be logistically more efficient and also a beautiful way of appreciating the scenery.

Similarly, renting a car and driving into Patagonia has its charms too, but hire costs can be high.

Ferries are the final way you can get to Patagonia and can work out as some of the most picturesque and least expensive for the distance you’re travelling, but expect them to take a long time and be somewhat uncomfortable – well, the cheapest services at least.

For more tips, read this article about traveling in Patagonia on a budget.

How to get to Patagonia: Flying to Patagonia

In my experience, flying to Patagonia is generally the cheapest way that you can reach the region.

One of the primary reasons for this is that it’s a long way to get to Patagonia from both Santiago and Buenos Aires, both of which are international airports and thus receive regular flights from the US, Europe and elsewhere.

Secondly, low cost airlines (primarily on the Chilean side) have made it very affordable to reach the region – although you’ll definitely want to book in advance, particularly if flying between December and March and the high season for visitors.

Most aeroplanes aren’t quite as small as this in Patagonia (but some are!)

Finally, there are plenty of airports in Patagonia in strategic locations, meaning you can generally fly directly into – or a few hours’ drive from – your main destination.

I’ve always found flights in Chile to be significantly cheaper than those in Argentina, so I recommend to my travel planning clients that they fly into Santiago if they want to head south to Patagonia. However, I’ve outlined information for reaching both Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia below.

To buy flights to get to Patagonia, I recommend Skyscanner, where you can find the latest prices and also compare those being offered by different airlines. I would then suggest booking directly with the airlines.

Where to fly into Chilean Patagonia

All of the locations described below have good travel connections into Chilean Patagonia and, in some cases, across the border into Argentine Patagonia.

Note that prices reflect booking at least a few weeks in advance.

To travel to Chilean Patagonia, you will need to fly from Santiago. In some cases, there are also flights from Puerto Montt (northern Chilean Patagonia) to Punta Arenas (southern Chilean Patagonia).

Airports in Northern Chilean Patagonia: to reach the Carretera Austral in the Aysén Region

  • Puerto Montt (PMC)

Aeropuerto Internacional El Tepual (also known as Aeropuerto de Puerto Montt) is located a one-hour 40-minute flight from Santiago; flights depart at more or less hourly.

This airport is situated at the very top of the Carretera Austral. Flights here generally start from $15,000 CLP ($23 USD) one-way.

Onward transport from Puerto Montt airport

It’s easy enough to get into Puerto Montt from the airport thanks to Andrés Tour. They offer mostly hourly buses ($2,500 CLP ($3.5 USD)), which match up with flight arrival times.

They also offer private transfers between the airport and hotels in Puerto Montt ($5,000 CLP ($7 USD)) and Puerto Varas ($10,000 CLP ($14 USD)).

Buses for destinations south down the Carretera Austral, including El Chaitén and Coyhaique, depart from the Terminal de Buses in Puerto Montt.

  • Balmaceda (BBA)

Aerodromo Balmaceda, located a 2.5-hour flight from Santiago; it has two direct flights daily from Santiago and two direct from Puerto Montt.

Situated an hour’s drive south of Coyhaique, a city around half way down the Carretera Austral.

Jet Smart has offered flights here for as low as $7,000 CLP ($11 USD)) but only fly here November through February; prices normally cost anywhere between $22,000 CLP ($35 USD) and $66,000 CLP ($104 USD) one-way.  

Onward transport from Balmaceda airport

Transfer T&T (Cruz 63, tel. 67/2256 000) and Transfer Velasquez (Lautaro 145, tel. 67/2250 413) offer direct hotel transfers ($5,000 CLP ($7 USD)) from outside the arrivals hall of the airport.

The minivans take one hour to get into town. To get back to the airport, book your transfer a day in advance and confirm that they will collect you from your hotel.

Buses Suray (Arturo Prat 265, tel. 67/2238 387) have twice-daily departures to and from the airport Tuesday through Sunday, costing $2,500 CLP ($3.5 USD).

On Tuesdays, Aeriovías DAP has flights from Balmaceda to Punta Arenas, which take one hour 15 minutes. 

Airports in Southern Chilean Patagonia: to reach Torres del Paine National Park in the Magallanes Region

  • Puerto Natales (PNT)

Aeropuerto Teniente Julio Gallardo is a three-hour flight from Santiago. It’s the closest airport to Torres del Paine National Park, however, they only have flights from Santiago between two and four times weekly in the months of November through March.

They start from around $80,000 CLP ($126 USD) one-way.

Views of the Patagonian mountains from the air

Onward transport from Puerto Natales’ airport

A taxi from the airport into town costs around $7,000 CLP ($10 USD).

The Terminal de Buses in Puerto Natales has twice-daily departures for Torres del Paine National Park, hourly departures for Punta Arenas three hours south and a handful of daily departures crossing the border to El Calafate in Argentina.

  • Punta Arenas (PUQ)

Aeropuerto Presidente Carlos Ibáñez is a 3.5-hour flight from Santiago; there are normally four flights daily in summer.

It’s located a three-hour drive from Puerto Natales, the gateway town to Torres del Paine National Park. Flights can cost as little as $12,000 CLP ($19 USD) and up to $60,000 CLP ($94 USD) one way.

Onward transport from Punta Arenas’ airport

From the airport, you can take a direct bus to Puerto Natales with Bus Sur, who have seven services that pass by the airport ($8,000 CLP ($11.5 USD), three hours 15 mins).

Note: you must book these in advance as you cannot buy a ticket for this bus in the airport.

Alternatively, you can take a transfer service into Punta Arenas (located a 30-minute-drive away). These cost $5,000 CLP ($8 USD) per person with minivans waiting outside the arrivals hall for passengers.

Finally, a taxi should cost between $7,000 CLP ($11 USD) and $10,000 CLP ($16 USD).

If you’re hoping to visit both northern and southern Chilean Patagonia, you can get flights with Aerovías DAP, who operate much smaller aircraft than the other companies.

They fly between Punta Arenas and Aérodromo Balmaceda (near Coyhaique) with weekly flights that normally depart on Tuesdays and cost around $70,000 CLP ($100 USD)

You can also fly from here to Puerto Williams via Aerovías DAP, who have one flight daily between Monday and Saturday.

Chile has three main airlines that serve Patagonia:

  • Jet Smart is the most affordable, but expect to pay for hand baggage and checked luggage. They also have the least regular flights of the three and their aircraft generally depart at more inconvenient times.
  • Sky Airline is generally marginally more expensive than Jet Smart but have more regular departures. Again, you can expect to pay for cabin and hold luggage.
  • LATAM generally has most flights to Patagonia from Santiago, but are the most expensive of the three. Your cabin and hold luggage are generally included in the up-front fair. They are the only airline to fly from Santiago to Puerto Natales. Note that their prices are generally significantly cheaper if you buy them via their Chilean (.cl) website rather than their US (.com) site.
  • Aerovías DAP operate smaller aircraft and only connect a handful of destinations in Patagonia, including Balmaceda and Punta Arenas and Punta Arenas and Ushuaia.

Before buying flights to Patagonia, I always recommend starting with Skyscanner. This means you can compares the flights being offered by different airlines and find the latest prices.

Where to fly into Argentine Patagonia

To get to Argentine Patagonia, you will generally need to fly from the domestic airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbury, in Buenos Aires.

From here, it’s possible to fly into the Patagonia airports of Bariloche (northern Argentine Patagonia), El Calafate (southern Argentine Patagonia) and Ushuaia (the very tip of Argentine Patagonia).

This should save you hours on bus journeys; however flights can be expensive.

Flights from Buenos Aires to Argentine Patagonia:

  • Bariloche (BRC)

Aeropuerto Internacional Teniente Luis Candelaria is a two-hour flight from Buenos Aires; there are around a dozen flights daily. It’s situated on the very northern tip of Argentine Patagonia.

The cheapest are with Fly Bondi, who have two daily flights starting from $70 USD or with Norwegian Air, which start from $70 USD and have daily flights.

Onward transport from Bariloche

While local buses do operate between Bariloche airport and the town centre, you need a Subte card to be able to travel on them (they do not accept cash) and these are not for sale in the airport (eye roll for Argentine organisational skills!).

You can try and ask a local boarding the bus to use their card for you (and you give them the cash).

Alternatively, you can organise a transfer from one of the companies located in the arrivals hall for around $16 USD* or a taxi for around $20 USD*.

  • El Calafate (FTE)

Aeropuerto Internacional de El Calafate Comandante Armando Tola is a three-hour flight from Buenos Aires with three daily. The airport is located a 20-minute drive east of El Calafate and flights start from $170 USD one-way.

Onward transport from El Calafate

Transporte La Lengas offers shuttle services directly to El Chaltén (3 hours, US$20), roughly timed to coincide with flight arrivals (this could mean waiting up to two hours for the bus to leave).

VES Patagonia has a shuttle ($6 USD) to hotels in El Calafate. You can buy tickets just outside the arrivals hall.

From the airport, it’s possible to continue further into Patagonia. There are two daily direct flights south to Ushuaia operated by Aerolineas Argentinas, which take one hour and twenty minutes.  

  • Ushuaia (USH)

Aeropuerto Internacional Malvinas Argentinas is a 3.5-hour flight from Buenos Aires, with five flights daily. It’s located a 15-minute drive south of Ushuaia.

Only LATAM operated flights here, starting from $120 USD one-way.

Onward transport from Ushuaia

There’s a taxi rank outside the airport where you can get a taxi into the city centre for $6-10 USD*.

From the offices of the bus companies in the city, buses depart for Punta Arenas: Buses Pacheco offers thrice-weekly service (departs Ushuaia 6am Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), which take 12 hours and cost $60 USD*; you transfer onto a new bus in Río Grande.

Bus Sur has a direct thrice-weekly service that departs Ushuaia at 8am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It takes 12 hours and costs $56 USD*.

There are also two daily direct flights north to El Calafate operated by Aerolineas Argentinas, which take one hour 20 minutes.

Argentina has three main airlines that serve Patagonia:

  • Aerolineas Argentinas: The national airline is fairly unreliable and has a nasty habit of delaying or cancelling flights. They’re marginally cheaper than LATAM, however, and offer more routes.
  • LATAM: The most expensive option in Argentine Patagonia and the most reliable.
  • Fly Bondi: The budget airline of the region, unfortunately Fly Bondi only operates between Buenos Aires and Bariloche at present.
  • Argentina’s second budget airline is Norwegian Air. Again, they only fly between Buenos Aires and Bariloche at present.

Before buying flights to Patagonia, I always recommend starting with Skyscanner.

This means you can compares the flights being offered by different airlines and find the latest prices.

Flights between Argentine and Chilean Patagonia

None of the major airlines as yet offer flights between the Chilean and Argentine sides of Patagonia.

Instead, Chilean company Aerovías DAP have Wednesday and Saturday flights at 4pm for Punta Arenas ($199 USD), but only between November and March.

How to score cheap flights to Patagonia

Although Patagonia is notorious for being an expensive destination to visit, cheap flights aren’t completely impossible here (and neither is budget travel).

There are a couple of rules that should help before you travel to Patagonia:

  • Use Skyscanner: This is my go-to website for checking flight times and also booking flights, although I only tend to book directly with the company offering the flights, not through any of the third parties listed.
  • Book plane tickets in advance: Ok, this is pretty much common sense, but bears repeating. You will get cheaper flight deals if you book at least a couple of months in advance. If you’re on a short, one or two-week trip and have a clear itinerary for your time, this probably makes sense to do. If you’re backpacking for longer and want to leave yourself flexibility in your plans (something I strongly recommend), it’s unlikely you’ll want to do this.
  • Hopper: Another good option is to use Hopper, a free app that helps you decide when to book flights to get the best deals. By using historic flight data, it evaluates the dates you input for your planned trip and tells you when it expects airfares for Patagonia to rise or fall – and sends out alerts telling you when you should book. I used it to score inexpensive flights on a budget trip to Easter Island.
  • Sign up to get deals with the airlines: Although LATAM might be the most expensive airline serving Patagonia, they often have incredible deals – and inform subscribers of this fact. Although it’s unlikely you’ll find a stonking good deal for flights to Patagonia during the high season, you may well find good deals for September-November or March and April. All of the airlines have sales, so if you’re really keen on snagging an excellent deal, sign up to their newsletters and keep an eye on offers.
  • Bring less luggage: As is happening in Europe, most of the budget carriers flying to South America are now charging you for hold luggage and cabin baggage, something that can set you back an additional $30 USD or more for a one-way trip. If you want to avoid these additional fees, consider slimming down your luggage to hand-luggage only (although bear in mind that you won’t be able to bring a tent or other camping equipment like this on board).

How to get to Patagonia: Getting to Patagonia by bus

Gone are the days where travelling by bus was the best way of saving a cheeky dollar or two.

In fact, getting to Patagonia by bus can wind up more expensive than taking one of the low-cost airlines mentioned previously – well, in Chilean Patagonia at least.

However, if you’ve got more time on your hands to sit back and enjoy the journey (and believe me, it is quite the journey), then getting to Patagonia on four wheels is a reasonable possibility.

The Carretera Austral or Ruta 7: Northern Chilean Patagonia’s only road

And while you can embark on a bus marathon covering 1,800 kilometres in 32 hours, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. Seriously, just get out and see some of the sights every now and then!

Reaching Chilean Patagonia by bus

Getting from Santiago to Patagonia by bus

The main bus transport hubs in Chilean Patagonia is Puerto Montt (also one of the flight hubs for Northern Patagonia).

Its location on the very tip of the Carretera Austral makes it the ideal departure point from which to head south, while it’s also the embarkation dock for ferries heading to both the Carretera Austral (Northern Patagonia) and to Puerto Natales (Southern Patagonia); I’ll cover this below.

What’s more, Puerto Montt is just an 11 to 13-hour bus journey from Santiago. I would recommend taking this overnight with a salón-cama (160˚ recline) or even a more comfortable premium (180˚) recline.

You can expect to pay from $12,000 CLP ($17 USD) (at least $30,000 CLP ($43 USD) for premium)

Alternatively, Puerto Montt is just 5.5. hours south of Pucón, a popular hiking destination in the Lakes District. Buses cost from $9,800 CLP ($14 USD).

Traveling by bus from Puerto Montt south

From Puerto Montt, it’s easy to get into Patagonia by bus.

The most frequent departures are for Chaitén with Kemelbus, who leave daily at 7am. It’s a 10-hour journey and costs $20,000 CLP ($29 USD).

Part of the fun of this trip is that you actually spend four hours of that time on the ferry boat that connects Caleta Gonzalo (just north of Chaitén) with Hornopirén, 70 kilometers north.

The ferry is included in the cost of your bus ticket. From Chaitén, there are weekly buses all the way to Coyhaique through Buses Becker and more regular buses to Puyuhuapi (from where you can pick up services to Coyhaique) with Terraustral.

Volcán Chaitén in Parque Nacional Pumalin, just north of Chaitén

It’s also possible to take a bus directly to Futaleufú, a town famed for its rafting, located on the very border with Argentina.

To get there, it’s a 12-hour journey ($25,000 CLP ($36 USD)) that actually heads north from Puerto Montt to Osorno where it crosses into Argentina, before crossing back into Chile just east of Futaleufú. This route is actually faster than if you were to travel to Chaitén and catch a bus to Futaleufu from there.

Note: you can’t get off the bus in Argentina on this journey.

Finally, perhaps the least attractive option is a bus directly from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas with Pullman Austral.

Taking 32 hours, and costing $45,000 CLP ($65 USD), I have no idea why you would want to put yourself through that torture, as you can likely get a flight for a similar – if not cheaper – price.

A huemul, one of the world’s rarest deer species, and sometimes visible along the Carretera Austral
BEST TOOLS FOR CHECKING BUS TIMETABLES AND BOOKING TICKETS IN CHILEAN PATAGONIA

Many of the bus companies have their own websites where you can find bus timetables and book your tickets online. Note that many don’t have bus times for departures more than a month in advance.

Other useful websites include:

Reaching Argentine Patagonia by bus

Getting from Buenos Aires to Patagonia

The northernmost city in Argentine Patagonia is Bariloche, located 1,600 kilometres southwest of Buenos Aires. Yup, it’s another epic bus journey: you can expect to spend around 24 hours on the bus as you head south.

Apparently it’s not completely dreadful, and it will save you a lot of money on flights; expect to pay from ARS$1890 ($42 USD*) for semi-cama and ARS $3625 ($82 USD*) for cama.

There are generally around ten departures daily and they are operated by El Valle and Via Bariloche.   

Traveling by bus from Bariloche south

Bariloche is only on the very tip of Argentine Patagonia (and the Chileans would argue, not at all – but that’s a different matter!). From here, there’s still a significant distance to get to any other cities.

Most travellers trying to get to Patagonia head due south to El Chaltén, 1,391 kilometres away.

The road to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and Mont Fitzroy

There are daily buses leaving from Bariloche: Chaltén Travel departs at 7:45am for El Chaltén (23 hours, $104 USD* semi-cama) and goes all the way to El Calafate (26 hours, $104 USD*).

MARGA TAQSA also operates along this route, departing. Bariloche at 6.30am. They have a cama service for $122 USD*, which includes all meals.

You can also find three daily departures shuttling from El Chaltén to El Calafate with the above companies and with Cal-Tur (3 hours, $25 USD* semi-cama).

Another destination in Patagonia that can be reached from Bariloche by bus is Puerto Madryn. There are around six daily departures; the journey takes between 14 and 17 hours and costs from AR$2175 ($50 USD*) for semi-cama and AR$3045 ($70 USD*) for cama.

Your main issue with going into Patagonia via Puerto Madryn, is that to reach El Calafate or El Chaltén, your only option is to take a bus to Río Gallegos (17-20 hours, AR$2741 ($62 USD*) semi-cama AR$3044 ($68 USD*) cama).

From there, hop onto another one for El Calafate operated by MARGA TAQSA (three daily), which takes four hours and costs AR$840 ($19 USD*) for a semi-cama service and AR$980 ($22 USD*) for cama.

From Río Gallegos, you can also continue on to Ushuaia, again with MARGA TAQSA, which leaves the former at 9.30am daily and takes 12.5 hours. It costs from AR$1980 ($45 USD*) for semi-cama.

BEST TOOLS FOR CHECKING BUS TIMETABLES AND BOOKING TICKETS IN ARGENTINE PATAGONIA

Many of the bus companies have their own websites where you can find bus timetables and book your tickets online. Note that many don’t have bus times for departures more than a month in advance.

Other useful websites include:

Getting to Patagonia by ferry

Another way to get to Patagonia – and one of my personal favourites – is by ferry.

The Patagonian fjords along the western coast of the region have gained an almost mythic status for their remote wildernesses, many of which are only accessible by boat, and rich diversity of wildlife.

If you’re in no rush to reach the south and are happy to spend a few days just watching the scenery go by, ferry is definitely your style of transport.

What’s more, minke and blue whales and even orca sightings are a possibility in the Golfo Corcovado and Canal Moraleda between November and March.

Sightings of Commerson’s and bottlenose dolphins, albatross, South American sea lions, and fur seals are even more likely.

Aboard the Navimag Ferry travelling between Puerto Montt and Puerto natales

A quick note about the weather: Patagonia is also legendary for its unpredictable climate. Four seasons in a day isn’t particularly unusual and the fjords often take the full brunt of the wettest weather.

As a result, it’s worth bearing in mind that you will need to bring plenty of warm and waterproof clothing with you if you plan on appreciating the views from on deck – but you’ll need that pack that for any trip to Patagonia anyway!

Most of the routes ply the narrow channels of the fjords where the water is calm, however you can also expect periods of time spent on the open sea – which can be less than pleasant if it’s brewing a gale.

Sea sickness tablets are a wise investment before you sail.

Ferry departures for Patagonia from Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt in Chile is the departure point for ferries heading south into Patagonia. From here, there are two different companies who operate ferries and a handful of different routes to choose from.

Ferries from Puerto Montt to Chaitén

The ferry journey from Puerto Montt to Chaitén is similar in duration to the long bus trip mentioned above, but has the benefit of allowing you to stretch your legs.

It’s a nine-hour journey on Naviera Austral’s passenger and vehicle ferry, with boats leaving three times weekly, at 11pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from Puerto Montt.

The return journey out of Chaitén departs on Thursdays (11am), Fridays (10am) and Sundays 11.50pm).

Sailing into the Chilean fjords is a breathtaking experience

Tickets cost $17,300 CLP ($25 USD) for foot passengers, $10,200 CLP ($15 USD) for bicycles and $114,000 CLP ($164 USD) for vehicles; I believe those travelling with vehicles or bicycles also have to pay for a foot passenger ticket.

The latter includes a semi-cama (partially reclining) seat in a large, open area on deck, where there’s also a cafeteria (but I recommend bringing your own because the food is both poor quality and overpriced).

Note that there is only space for 55 cars on board, so you’ll want to make vehicle reservations at least two months in advance if you’re traveling to Patagonia between December and February.

Foot passengers should book a week in advance.

You can find up-to-date itineraries, prices and book tickets here.

Ferries from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco

To reach Puerto Chacabuco, around half-way down the Carretera Austral and a 1.5-hour drive northwest of regional hub Coyhaique, Navimag operate a twice-weekly ferry, which takes 24 hours to sail south along the eastern shores of Chiloé and though the Canal Moraleda.

Views north along the Chilean fjords

It leaves Puerto Montt Thursdays and Sundays at 6am and costs $51,000 CLP ($73 USD) for a bed in a four-person cabin, $65,000 CLP ($493 USD) for a bed in a two-person cabin.

You can expect a no-frills passenger and cargo ferry that’s mostly used by locals but also offers a fast, cheap and picturesque way of getting to Puerto Chacabuco for tourists.

Prices include three meals and no snacks are sold on board, so bring anything else you might need. Showers are available but often cold.

Tickets should be bought online at least three months in advance for boats between December and February.

Ferries from Puerto Chacabuco to Puerto Montt, particularly in March, often have plenty of space and can be booked more last-minute. Check-in takes places at Navimag’s Puerto Montt office.

For the return route, check-in is at the dock in Puerto Chacabuco. Navimag also has an office in Coyhaique (Lillo 91, tel. 2/2869 9908) where you can buy tickets or get further information.

You can read all about my experiences on the boat – and whether I think it’s worth the price compared with the more affordable Naviera Austral service discussed below – on my article about the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco.

You can find up-to-date itineraries, prices and book tickets here.

Ferries from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales

The most popular means of getting to Puerto Natales from Puerto Montt is via the Navimag three-day, four-night ferry.

Ferries headed for Puerto Natales leave Puerto Montt Fridays at 4pm; these are generally booked up a few months in advance.

The ferry back to Puerto Montt from Puerto Natales leaves Tuesdays at 6am (boarding occurs the night before); it’s sometimes possible to get a last-minute spot.

Note that the ferry only leaves once a week between October and March and the timing of the tides and poor weather often result in delayed departures from Puerto Montt.

Views of the narrow channels that comprise the Chilean fjords from the deck of the Navimag Ferry

The ships are not luxurious (although they have a brand-new ship plying the route for 2020) but the experience of sailing through the Chilean fjords where few ships go and keeping your eyes peeled for everything from orca to blue whales and rare seabirds, is quite something.

(Again, you can read about my experiences of taking this ferry in my write up of taking the Navimag ferry to Puerto Natales.)

The cheapest option is a four-bed, shared cabin, which starts at US$400 per person; private cabins start from US$600 USD.

It’s sometimes possible to get an upgrade upon arrival if you ask nicely, particularly in shoulder seasons (October-November and March).

Three decent meals per day are included, while there are yoga classes and lectures (in English) about the flora, fauna and geography of the fjords.

You can find up-to-date itineraries, prices and book tickets here.

Ferry departures for Patagonia from Chiloé

Ferries from Quellón to Chaitén

If you’re starting from Quellón, the southernmost town in Chiloé, you can also take the Naviera Austral ferry that crossed the Golfo Corcovado to reach Chaitén that departs every Thursday at 3am and every Sunday at 7pm.

The crossing takes four hours and costs $15,000 CLP ($22 USD) for foot passengers, $79,000 CLP ($113 USD for vehicles and $9,900 CLP ($14 USD) for bicycles; again, I believe those travelling with vehicles or bicycles also have to pay for a foot passenger ticket.

You can find up-to-date itineraries, prices and book tickets here.

Ferries from Quellón to Puerto Cisnes

The Naviera Austral also operate a passenger and car ferry that departs from Quellón for Puerto Cisnes (three hours north of Coyhaique and 2.5 hours south of Puyuhuapi and Parque Nacional Queulat) Tuesdays at 7pm and Saturdays at 5pm.

It takes 11 hours to get to the latter destination. As with all Naviera Austral services, your ticket price includes a semi-cama seat in their seating area, with access to cafeteria (it’s recommendable to bring your own food).

For foot passengers, the journey costs $23,080 CLP ($33 USD) and $135,800 CLP ($195 USD) for vehicles. You can find up-to-date itineraries, prices and book tickets here.

Ferries from Quellón to Puerto Chacabuco

The final destination you can reach from Quellón in Chiloé is Puerto Chacabuco, again operated by Naviera Austral. The ferry departs from Quellón at 11pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays, reaching its destination around 30 hours later.

You can buy tickets online or in their Quellón or Puerto Montt office (Angelmó 1673, tel. 65/2270 430 or tel. 65/2270 431).

For the return journey out of Puerto Chacabuco, buy tickets at their office in Coyhaique (Paseo Horn 40, tel. 67/2210 638).

Patagonian landscapes – could it get more picturesque?

As with all Naviera Austral ferries, there are no cabins; instead, you buy a seat on the main inside deck. There’s a small cafeteria, but it’s worth bringing all food and drink, a sleeping bag, and warm and waterproof clothing for time spent out on deck.

Although it’s far less comfortable than the Navimag, this boat stops at several ports en-route along the fjords of the Carretera Austral, including Melinka, Raúl Marín Balmaceda and Puerto Cisnes.

Because the boat approaches the shore more frequently, it’s likely that you’ll see colonies of Magellanic penguins and sea lions.

You can find up-to-date itineraries, prices and book tickets here.

BEST TOOLS FOR CHECKING FERRY TIMETABLES FOR PATAGONIA

All timetables are featured directly on the websites of the ferry companies themselves:

How to get to Patagonia: By car

Renting or even buying a vehicle for a Patagonian road trip is an increasingly popular means of exploring the region, granting you increased freedom to travel at will and not be restricted by a sometimes inadequate bus schedule.

If you rent a campervan or bring camping gear, it can also be a truly unique introduction to the Patagonia, permitting you to stop and pitch up practically whenever and wherever you please.

If you choose to do this, make sure you read my tips on driving in Patagonia before you hire a car.

Driving to Chilean Patagonia

If renting a vehicle for a Patagonia road trip, I’d strongly recommend doing so from these three main places.

This is because either a) prices are cheaper than the alternatives or b) they are the only places you can actually find rental cars, as most towns in Patagonia don’t have companies offering these services.

A road trip in Patagonia is one of the most adventurous ways for exploring the region

I always recommend booking through Rental Cars, a comparison site where they find the best deals for car rental in the region and one that I have used throughout Chile on numerous occasions.

Not only do they help you find the best deal, but they also send you your insurance documents in English!

Note that I’ve had a reader report that they’ve struggled to organise insurance to cross the border into Argentina when booking via Rental Cars, but didn’t find out exactly what happened – so if you’re planning taking the car across the border, be sure to check that you can organise this before you book.

In my experience, international rental companies are a lot more reliable and offer a similar service to what you would expect if renting from them in a different country.

Local rental companies, on the contrary, I have found to be unreliable and varied in terms of what insurance is actually included in the rental.

Although supporting local companies is very important to me in general, in this instance, I would personally always opt to rent from an international company, even though they are sometimes more expensive.

Puerto Montt

A car rental from the airport in Puerto Montt is guaranteed to be the cheapest you will find in Patagonia (trust me, I’ve done it multiple times).

They also have plenty of choice, including 4WD (which aren’t actually necessary for the Carretera Austral or most of Patagonia unless you plan to take some tiny back roads or do some of the barely-taken border crossings).

Soaking up the scenery in Patagonia

It’s important to note that you will need additional insurance if you plan on taking the vehicle across the border into Argentina.

This should cost around $80,000 CLP ($117 USD) and must be organised at least ten days prior to your trip; the car rental company can organise all of this for you.

You can expect to pay from $20,000 CLP ($30 USD) per day.

To get to Patagonia from here, you have a couple of options:

  • Drive to Chaitén: this is the most obvious overland route that travels from Puerto Montt along Ruta 7 (aka the Carretera Austral) to reach Caleta Arena, where Transportes del Estuario operate the 45-minute ferry crossing in their 20-vehicle car and passenger ferry that cross (roughly every 45 minutes) to the ferry landing at Caleta Puelche ($10,000 CLP ($14 USD) per vehicle, including passengers). The service operates on a first-come first-served basis, so you can expect delays in high season. From Caleta Puelche, it’s an hour’s drive to Hornopirén, where you need to take the SOMARCO ferry across to Leptepu (3.5 hours), drive for around 10 minutes and then take the second ferry from Fiordo Largo to Caleta Gonzalo (45 minutes), from where it’s a further 1.5 hours to reach Chaitén. Both ferries are included in your ticket; this costs $33,600 CLP ($47 USD) per vehicle (including passengers). The boat departs thrice-daily in summer; check out their website for up-to-date prices, itineraries and to buy tickets. During peak season, vehicle bookings need to be made at least two weeks in advance. You’ll need to be at the terminal between two and three hours before departure. The first ferry (Hornopirén to Leptepu) has a cafeteria and seating area on board.
  • Drive to Quellón: This second route sees you heading south from Puerto Montt, crossing the Canal Chacao to reach the Chiloé archipelago (boats leave every 15 minutes and cost and it costs $12,600 for a vehicle with passengers (cash only). Check prices here. From the top of the island, it’s a further three-hour drive to reach Quellón, from where you can catch the passenger and vehicle ferry, the Naviera Austral south (see the “Ferry departures for Patagonia from Chiloé” above).

Balmaceda

Another place where you can book a rental car with relative ease is from Balmaceda Airport, an hour’s drive south of Coyhaique (about half way down the Carretera Austral). There are plenty of international companies that rent cars and campervans from the airport.

From here, you can drive north up or south down the Carretera Austral and can even arrange to drop off the vehicle back in Puerto Montt at the very northern tip of the Carretera Austral – although one-way fees for doing this will be high.

At the end of the road: the terminus of the Carretera Austral

Prices for a rental car from Balmaceda Airport are considerably higher than those from Puerto Montt, although if you plan to see destinations in the vicinity of Coyhaique and don’t want the hassle of driving back north again – or transporting the vehicle back north via ferry – it can work out cost- and time-efficient.

Again, I recommend booking through Rental Cars. You can expect to pay from $55,000 CLP ($80 USD) per day.

Punta Arenas

A final destination in Chile that is good for car rental is Punta Arenas. At the airport, you can find various international rental companies, whose prices are moderately cheaper than those in neighbouring Puerto Natales, the latter of which has fewer companies anyway.

Again, I recommend booking through Rental Cars. You can expect to pay from $41,000 CLP ($60 USD) per day.

Driving to Argentine Patagonia

I have less experience of driving in Argentina than in Chile for one main reason: rental prices are generally considerably higher in Argentina than in Chile.

Given the current state of the economy, with the peso at an all-time low against the dollar (April 2020), this may no longer be the case.

The main destinations for renting a car are:

  • Bariloche
  • El Calafate
  • Ushuaia

All have international rental companies offering vehicles and you can opt to pick up and drop off the car in different cities, although expect to pay a hefty one-way fee.

You also need to organise insurance to cover the vehicle if you choose to cross the border into Chile.

The rental company should be able to organise this for you; it needs to be organised at least ten days in advance of your trip and should cost around $120 USD.

*Prices for Argentine services were correct at the time of publishing. However, given the volatile nature of the Argentine economy at the moment, the listed prices could well have changed dramatically.

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