Patagonia On A Budget: The Ultimate Tips For Cheap Travel [2021] Skip to Content
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Patagonia On A Budget: How to Explore the Region For Less

With its trademark dramatic mountainous landscapes, national parks that make hikers drool and a wealth of undiscovered corners that remain tantalizingly wild, it should come as no surprise that Patagonia is one of South America’s most popular travel destinations.

Unfortunately, the cost of a trip to Patagonia can be enough to halt many visitors in their tracks.

Find out how to visit Patagonia on a budget

But it doesn’t have to be this way: there are plenty of tips and tricks for travel and backpacking in Patagonia that will help you slim down your budget.

Why is Patagonia expensive?

The question on most travelers’ lips: why is Patagonia so damn expensive?

It’s one I’ve asked myself a few times on my three trips there. Unfortunately, the region’s remote location is to blame for elevated prices, particularly when it comes to food costs.

High accommodation prices in Patagonia are a result of increasing tourism there – and this is something that is only set to get worse.

Add into the mix Argentina’s struggling economy (the reason for why most prices are either in Chilean pesos or US dollars in this guide: these are both far more stable currencies) and high costs for withdrawing cash in the region and there you have it: Patagonia is expensive.

The cost of a trip to Patagonia

However, the cost of traveling to Patagonia varies significantly and it’s hard to define an average trip cost.

A cheapest daily budget for Patagonia can come in at around $50 USD per day. This includes staying in cheap, dorm-style accommodation, self-catering and taking public transport.

It is also possible to visit Patagonia on an even smaller budget if you plan to hitchhike, camp and self-cater.

You’ll need to budget in a bit more money for any tours you plan to take and other trips such as to Torres del Paine National Park.

Longer bus trips, particularly in Argentina, cost a lot too: you can expect to pay around $4.5 USD per hour (i.e. $75 USD for the 16-hour journey from Ushuaia to El Calafate) in Argentina and around $2 USD per hour (i.e. $45,000 CLP ($70 USD) for the 32-hour journey from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas) in Chile.

The harbour in Puerto Natales, Patagonia.
Patagonia never disappoints with her dramatic landscapes.

National park entrance fees vary, too: the entrance fee for Torres del Paine National Park is $21,000 CLP ($32 USD) for foreigners in the 2018/2019 season, while the northern section of Los Glaciares in Argentina costs nothing.

Visiting the Perito Moreno glacier in the south of the national park now costs around $12 USD – a huge reduction in price since the Argentine peso collapsed against the dollar in 2019. 

How much does it cost to go to Patagonia for one person?

Here’s a breakdown of an average Patagonia trip cost per day for one person on a budget:

ExpenseCost (daily)
Accommodation$20 USD dorm*
Food$10 USD
Transportation$15-$20 USD
Total$45-$50 USD per person
 

*You can reduce this to $10 USD if you swap to camping rather than dorms.

This adds up to $630-$700 USD plus flights and tours for the cost of two weeks in Patagonia on a serious budget.

This works out at $1,350-$1,500 USD per month in Patagonia.

If you plan to camp in Patagonia, rather than staying in dorms, you can cut this down to $560-$630 USD plus flights and tours for two weeks or $1,200 USD-$1,350 USD per month.

How much does it cost to go to Patagonia for two people?

If you’re traveling as a couple and want to stay in double bedrooms, but still plan to self-cater and take public transport, you can expect to pay a little more:

ExpenseCost (daily)
Accommodation$45-$55 USD
Food$20 USD
Transportation$35 USD
Total$100-$110 USD = $50-$55 USD per person

This adds up to $1,400-$1,540 USD plus flights and tours for the cost of two weeks in Patagonia, for two people traveling on a budget.

This works out as $3,000-$3,300 USD per month for two people.

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How to travel to Patagonia on a budget

Traveling to Patagonia cheaply is possible, but takes some advance planning and organization to ensure you get the best flight deals, cheap accommodation and can make the most of the tax discounts available for paying in dollars.

I’ve split the following sections into the different ways of traveling to Patagonia on a budget.

How to get to Patagonia cheaply

The cheapest way to get to Patagonia is by airplane, although this does vary depending upon the country you plan on starting in.

Generally, flights are cheapest in Chile, with a growing number of budget airlines offering excellent deals.

Nomad plane in Patagonia.
Some flights in Patagonia are on small, light aircraft.

In Argentina, you can expect to pay at least double what you would pay to fly into Chilean Patagonia.

Flying across borders isn’t possible since the Chilean airline DAP stopped operating flights between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia.

Cheap flights to Patagonia

Cost: $$

Your initial travel into Patagonia can result in your wallet already wincing from the expense.

However, it doesn’t have to be like this, as there are several tricks for getting budget flights in Patagonia.

Firstly, budget airline carriers are paving the way for inexpensive flights. I tend to compare prices on Skyscanner and then book directly with the airlines themselves. These include:

  • Jetsmart: Chile’s answer to Easyjet, they started in 2017 and offer flights as cheap as $12,000 CLP ($19 USD) from Santiago to Punta Arenas. However, they have fewer flights than other carriers and you have to pay an additional fee (normally only around $10,000 CLP ($15.5 USD)) to add hold luggage.
  • Sky Airline: Chile’s second cheapest airline, they have more regular departures than Jetsmart but are slightly more expensive. You can choose fares with hold luggage included, for a fee. Flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas cost from $25,000 CLP ($39 USD).
  • Fly Bondi: One of Argentina’s two low-cost airline, they started in early 2018 and currently only offer flights between Buenos Aires and Bariloche, from $70 USD.
  • Norwegian: The other of Argentina’s two low-cost airline, they started in 2018 and have flights between Buenos Aires and Bariloche from $65 USD.

Secondly, plan in advance. As is often the case with flights, finding that sweet spot when prices are lowest is the best way to grab a budget flight. A mobile app that I’ve been increasingly using to achieve just this is Hopper.

I recently raved about it for getting me $210,000 CLP ($326 USD) return flights for to Easter Island (find out more about my tips for getting cheap flights to Easter Island and other essential information).

What it does is follow historic flight price data for dates that you wish to fly (you can enter lots if you’re not entirely sure of your exact date yet) and tracks prices.

When it thinks that you’re unlikely to get a better deal, it’ll send you a notification and tell you to buy.

It’s really simple but I’ve found it to be a failproof and effective in getting me budget flights to Patagonia.

Best way to travel around Patagonia cheaply

Once you’re in Patagonia, traveling around cheaply can be difficult, particularly as a lack of competition on some routes means that bus prices can be sky-high.

However, there are some tricks for reducing your Patagonia transport costs.

Hitchhiking

Cost: $

Traveling a dedo along the Carretera Austral has become the stuff of budget backpacker legend of late.

Backpacking Patagonia on a budget lends itself to hitchhiking. More and more travellers have realised that this method of getting around Patagonia not only allows you to save a tonne of money on transportation costs but it’s also a tried and tested way of meeting local people.

After all, Patagonians on both sides of the border known for their friendliness and welcoming nature.

Hitchhiking along the Carretera Austral: a good way of traveling through Patagonia on a budget.
Hitchhiking: the cheapest way of getting around Patagonia.

Patagonia is as safe as it gets as a region but obviously hitchhiking always has its own risks. I’ve done it a number of times in groups and alone.

If you’re more than two people, it can get problematic to find a lift big enough to accommodate you.

You’ll also notice that competition for rides, particularly along the Carretera Austral between December and March can be fierce – so you might find yourself waiting for hours for a lift.

Cycling

Cost: $

I’ll admit this isn’t something I’ve personally tried but cycling is one of the most popular ways of seeing Patagonia among the more athletically-inclined.

I can’t count how many cyclists that I’ve met who are peddling from Ushuaia north or Puerto Montt south and enjoying the fierce independence this way of travel grants you – and the fact that it’s considerably cheaper than most other forms of transport.

Cycling in Patagonia.
Cycling is an affordable, but physically strenuous, way of getting around Patagonia on a budget.

You’ll obviously need excellent equipment (buy at home: cycling gear is expensive in Chile and Argentina) and a strong constitution.

The going is beyond tough but I’ve heard that the rewards are completely worth it.

Hire a rental car

Cost: $$$

Car rental in Patagonia is only economically viable for those on a budget if you’re traveling in a group of two people or more.

Car hire is cheapest in Puerto Montt (from $17,000 CLP ($27 USD) per day), although you’ll want to check that the insurance covers driving on the gravel roads of the Carretera Austral, as not all do.

Further south, Punta Arenas (from $41,000 CLP ($65 USD) per day) is cheaper for car rental than Puerto Natales (from $51,000 CLP ($81 USD) per day). Car hire is generally far cheaper in Chile than Argentina.

Bear in mind that if you plan on crossing into Argentina, you’ll need to ask the rental company to organise the correct legal documents before you pick up the vehicle. Find out more about car rental in Patagonia.

Car rental in Patagonia.
Car rental in Patagonia is great for extra flexibility – but only affordable for those traveling in a group.

Fuel is expensive once you get to remote parts of Patagonia; I noticed prices of almost $1,000 CLP ($1.5 USD) per litre along the Carretera Austral for example.

All in all, car rental between a group of you often works out as cheaper than getting buses and allows you to go beyond-the-beaten-trail and visit parts of Patagonia that few others explore.

If you plan to hire a rental car in Patagonia, I recommend you go through booking service Rentalcars.com, who find you the cheapest deal from the local companies available and also provide insurance details in English – something very difficult to get if you go directly through a company.

Buy your own car

Cost: $$$$+

A very popular way of getting around Patagonia is with your own car. This is partly due to the fact that rules for foreigners buying vehicles in Chile are far more relaxed than in other parts of the country.

You can expect to spend anything over $4,000 USD plus petrol costs (from 820 CLP ($1.28 USD)/30 ARS ($1.10 USD) per litre) but, at the end of using the vehicle, it’s easy enough to sell it on to another set of tourists and reclaim the majority of your initial outlay.

You will need a Chilean RUT, a reasonable grasp of Spanish and a local person on the ground in Chile who can help you out.

You’ll also need a reasonable amount of time at the beginning and the end of your trip to organise the buying, insurance and final selling processes.

I’ve never done this myself, so for more information, I recommend you check out this guide to the process of hiring a car that was updated in 2020.

Budget Patagonia accommodation

Accommodation in Patagonia can take a big slice of your budget and can be significantly more expensive than other parts of Chile and Argentina.

However, there are certain ways that you can keep costs down.

Camping in Patagonia

Cost: $

Camping is very popular among young people in Argentina and Chile, meaning there are a growing number of campsites throughout Patagonia.

You’ll find most include showers (most often hot, but not always), toilets, running water and barbecue areas. Prices vary but start from upwards of $5,000 CLP ($8 USD). Be sure to bring cash as few places accept card.

Camping in Patagonia is a good way of travelling in Patagonia cheaply.
Camping is the cheapest type of Patagonia accommodation – and often affords spectacular views!

Most national parks in Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia also have campgrounds for similar prices.

Wild camping is another possibility, particularly in Chile. Your problem with camping in Argentina is that on the pampas (the exposed grasslands), there’s very little cover for your tent and it’s not hard for the wind to blow it over at night.

You’ll want a sturdy tent and one that doubles up as a lightweight option for multi-day hiking trips. I recommend the Big Agnes Copper Spur (read my honest review of the Big Agnes).

Hostales and Residenciales

Cost: $

Two of the most common types of lodgings in Patagonia are hostales and residenciales. Don’t get confused: hostal isn’t the same as what we would call a hostel.

Instead, it’s a set of private bedrooms within a building, sometimes with access to a shared kitchen (but not always) and other communal areas. Breakfast is generally included.

Moon Chile guidebook next to a cup of tea

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A residencial is similar, but normally within the house of the owner.

Both are good budget options as you can expect to find a single bedroom for from $15,000 CLP ($23 USD) and a double from $30,000 CLP ($47 USD) and prices can drop outside of summer.

I’ve found places as cheap as $10,000 CLP ($15.5 USD) per person in small towns along the Carretera Austral.

What I love about staying in these types of accommodation is the proximity it brings you to local people who are literally welcoming you into their homes.

Although they’re increasingly appearing on websites such as Booking.com, you’ll often find these by looking at accommodation marked on Google Maps and contacting the owners directly by telephone.

Again, be sure to bring cash with you to pay as few places accept card.

Hostels in Patagonia

Cost: $$

Hostels in Patagonia are those aimed at an international crowd and fit the normal description of a hostel, e.g. dormitory-style accommodation with normally a kitchen available for guest use.

Hostel in Patagonia.
Hostels are a good budget option for Patagonian travel, although you often need to book in advance.

You can find hostels costing anywhere from between $8,000 CLP ($12 USD) to $17,000 CLP ($26 USD) per person. You’ll generally only find this style of accommodation in the cities; outside of these, hostales are far more common, where’s you’ll often find a private, single room for the price of a dorm bed.

These types of accommodation generally appear on both Booking.com and Hostelworld.com.

If traveling between December and the start of March, these are the types of accommodations that are normally booked out by other international travellers, so you’ll want to make reservations in advance.

Cabañas

Cost: $$

Another option for those on a budget in Patagonia is renting a cabaña. These are normally basic wooden two- or three-bedroom cabins, generally with bathrooms, living rooms and equipped kitchens.

You find these a lot in Chilean Patagonia and they make for a very cheap place to stay when you’re in a group, although you can often get a deal if you’re a couple traveling outside of December-March.

Expect to pay $40,000 CLP ($63 USD) and $80,000 CLP ($126 USD) for a four-person cabin.

Cabins in Patagonia are great for backpacking on a budget.
Cabins are a great budget-conscious Patagonian accommodation.

As with hostales and residenciales above, more and more cabañas are appearing on booking sites, but you can often get cheaper deals and find more options by using Google Maps and booking directly with the owners.

Bring cash, as it’s unlikely they’ll have a card machine.

Budget dining in Patagonia

One of your biggest expenses in Patagonia will be food. This is largely because it all has to be shipped in from further north in Chile and Argentina and, as a result, prices can be pushed up by up to 30% of what you’d pay in northern cities.

Lamb roasted over an open fire in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia.
Lamb is the regional speciality in Patagonia and something you must try, even if you’re traveling on a budget!

Restaurants can also be expensive and it’s not unusual to spend over $15,000 CLP ($23 USD) for a main and a drink in a medium-priced restaurant in cities across Patagonia.

Given that the region is famed for its lamb, make sure you do – at least once – treat yourself to a typical Patagonian asado or parrilla.

Self-catering

Cost: $

Obviously, the cheapest way of eating in Patagonia is by self-catering. Your biggest problem will come with hotels or other accommodation types not have cooking facilities – something that you shouldn’t take for granted and should check before booking.

Secondly, be aware that supermarkets aren’t common outside of the main cities.

You’ll find large, well-stocked shops in Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, El Calafate, Coyhaique and Bariloche, but outside of these urban areas, shops are poorly-stocked and prices elevated, so you’ll want to buy food in big cities in anticipation of this.

Supermarkets in cities normally take debit and credit cards and open daily until 9pm or 10pm, with shortened hours on Sundays.

Self-catering in Patagonia: a good budget strategy.
A stove and cooking pots so that you can self-cater are a good way of cutting food costs in Patagonia.

Remember that you can’t cross into Argentina with fresh fruit, vegetables or animal products so avoid doing a big shop in Argentina and trying to bring it across the border.

Hiking in Torres del Paine on a budget

The ever-popular W hike in Torres del Paine National Park costs more than ever and can make a serious dent in your Patagonia budget.

Camping in Torres del Paine

The easiest way to visit Torres del Paine National Park on a budget is by camping.

In the park, campgrounds range from $5,000 CLP ($7.50 USD) to $13,000 CLP ($20 USD) per person, while dorm-style accommodation costs from $33.000 CLP ($55 USD) to $70,000 CLP ($110 USD) per person, depending on the location.

Camping in Torres del Paine costs significantly less than staying in dorm acccommodation and, even if you factor in the price of hiring camping equipment in Puerto Natales (the town closest to the national park), you should only be adding an extra $7,500 CLP ($11.5 USD) to your accommodation costs per day.

The towers in Torres del Paine National Park.
Hiking up to the towers in Torres del Paine National Park doesn’t need to cost the earth.

If you plan on hiking in Torres del Paine, the least you can expect to spend is $95,000 CLP ($145 USD): find out how to hike the W Trek without a tour and on a budget.

Don’t forget to take cash (Chilean pesos) with you to pay the Torres del Paine entrance fee, which is set at $21,000 CLP ($32 USD) for foreigners in the 2018/2019 season.

You’ll also need Chilean pesos for the ferry from Puedeto de Paine Grande Ranger Station, which costs $18,000 CLP ($27.50 USD) one-way.

General budget travel tips for Patagonia

Aside from the above tips, there are a couple of other ways that you can keep costs down in Patagonia:

Bring US dollars with you

The days of the “blue dollar” are over (when you could exchange US dollars for up to 40% higher on the black market in Argentina than the official rate), but Patagonia is still a good place for bringing dollars.

The region is very safe, so you don’t need to worry about carrying cash. Additionally, you’ll find that many hotels and even tour agencies on both sides of the border offer discounts for those paying in dollars.

You’ll find this more often in Chilean Patagonia and Chile in general: foreigners theoretically get a tax break of 19% – although in practice, smaller lodgings will only give you this discount if you pay in dollars.

Withdrawing cash in Argentina is also a huge pain in the arse. I spent an afternoon in Ushuaia when all of the ATMs in the city stopped functioning for a few hours – not ideal when you’ve recently crossed over from Chile and have no money.

ATMs in Argentina regularly run out of cash on weekends and bank holidays and it’s not uncommon for them to refuse foreign cards.

Dollars are necessary for travelling in Patagonia on a budget
Bring dollars for tax breaks and ease of money exchange in Patagonia.

You’ll also find that there’s a charge of $220 ARS ($8 USD) to withdraw money from cash machines and you can only take out cash in batches of $2,400 ARS ($86 USD) – which soon becomes very expensive. Often, hotels and tour agencies doesn’t accept credit cards.

Dollars can be exchanged for good rates in exchange houses around Patagonia, although I found that you generally don’t get a good rate exchanging Chilean pesos to Argentinean pesos.

Book in advance where possible

This isn’t really a tip for lowering prices but one that will avoid you facing huge price hikes. As the popularity of the region has grown, demand for accommodation has increased dramatically and there’s now not enough supply to meet it.

As a result, if you book accommodation early in places like Puerto Natales, El Chaltén and Torres del Paine, you’ll have a choice of the budget accommodation.

If you leave it until the last minute, you may well find that it’s all sold out and the only option is something more expensive.

That said, there are generally hostales and residenciales that aren’t on any booking sites that you might be able to hunt down, but if you’re on a shorter vacation or trip, save yourself the stress and book in advance.

Avoid unnecessary tours

A final way of avoiding spending over the odds traveling in Patagonia is by avoiding booking unnecessary tours.

For Torres del Paine National Park, and the majority of Patagonia’s best hiking trails, for example, you don’t need a tour. As I’ve explained, it’s easy to hike the W without a tour.

Yes, you do need to make reservations for accommodation in the park months in advance, but you don’t need someone to show you around the park’s well-worn paths.

Hiking independently in Torres del Paine National Park without a tour.
You don’t need to take a tour to hike in the region’s most beautiful national parks.

For the vast majority of national parks in Patagonia, you’d better off bringing your own equipment if you plan on doing lots of hiking: see my recommended Patagonia packing list here.

If not, there are places you can rent gear for short periods of time in both Puerto Natales and El Chaltén.

Want to visit Patagonia without breaking the bank? It is possible: read on for essential tips for budget travel in Patagonia, including budget accommodation, transportation, dining and more. #southamerica #budgettravel #Patagonia #chile #Argenting #Patagoniatravel #spendless #worldlyadventurer

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Jessa Mae Silmaro

Saturday 18th of January 2020

Amazing!!! Will be using this guide on November!

Steph Dyson

Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

Thanks Jessa! Enjoy your trip!

Monika

Friday 4th of October 2019

I'm doing a lot of research ahead of my first trip to Chile. This is one of the more informative sites I've come across in a long time. I no longer see Patagonia as this overwhelming landscape on my itinerary. Thank you a million!

Steph Dyson

Thursday 10th of October 2019

I'm glad you've found everything so useful Monika! Steph

Tinie Muller

Tuesday 20th of August 2019

Hi Steph! Thanks for the great blog and especially the tips on the money matters! We have booked our campsites on the W trek, but have immense trouble trying to make contact with Camping Pehoe in the Torres del Paine park. We want to spend two nights in November there before we start our W hike. We have tried numerous times to book on their website, but no luck. We even sent emails and whatsapps to a guy who is supposed to do the bookings. Could you maybe shed light on this problem or direct us elsewhere? If Camping Pehoe is not a possibility, do you know of any other affordable campsites in Torres? Hoping to hear from you! Tinie from South Africa.

Steph Dyson

Monday 2nd of September 2019

Hi Tinie, they were dreadful at responding to people last year but as far as I'm aware, generally have space anyway. Have you seen that you can now book online via their website? I also have these numbers for them if you want to try them: tel. 2/1962 0387 or tel 9/7499 1958. Unfortunately there are no other campgrounds in the national park, as far as I'm aware. Sorry! Steph

Ankur

Friday 26th of July 2019

Hi Steph, a very useful blog indeed. Thanks again! With regards to avoiding unnecessary tours, do you have a local recommendation for Perito Moreno glacier tour? I have seen a few tour operators online like Hielo & Aventura; but was wondering if there are any better options? Thanks, Ankur

Steph Dyson

Sunday 4th of August 2019

Hi Akur, Hielo Aventura are the only company that do the glacier tours (as far as I'm aware) so you will have to go with them! Steph

Hilary Freeman

Wednesday 29th of May 2019

Hi Steph, strange one this! My partner and I were looking forward to a trip to Patagonia in November only he left and is now going with his son. I’m gutted but still would like to plan a trip on my own for 2-3 weeks. Is this wise or are there any other interested people you know who would like to do the trip with me?

Les Rubin

Friday 23rd of August 2019

I might be interested in doing the trip with another solo female traveler. I'm already booked on a tour of Argentina/Chile, which ends in Punta Arenas on Nov 20. I'd like to do 2-3 wks in both countries, then fly out of Santiago. Since I haven't got much time to plan this, and car rentals for one person seem ridiculously expensive (plus all the additional fees for border crossings, one-way rentals, additional insurance, and the vast distances to cover), I'm thinking of paring down my itinerary. I thought of maybe taking an overnight bus from Punta Arenas to El Calafate, then spending 2-3 days at Las Glaciares, then flying to Bariloche, visiting Nahuel Huapi and taking the Cruce Andino, then renting a car at Puerto Varas and driving up to Santiago, seeing volcanoes, doing some birding and visiting wineries en route.

Steph Dyson

Wednesday 29th of May 2019

Hi Hilary, Patagonia is definitely a destination that you can do by yourself as it's very safe and there are lots of other visitors so communication isn't a huge issue as there's an increasing amount of English spoken. You also meet other people doing similar trips as you, particularly if you stay in guesthouses or in hostels. In terms of finding people to go with you, have you considered looking for other travellers via Facebook groups? (e.g. Girls Love Travel or The Solo Female Traveler Network). You might find other solo travellers looking to find people! Finally, you can also get group tours with companies like Dragoman as well, where you'll be with other travellers, but these can be quite expensive compared with going independently. I hope you manage to find someone else to travel with or are inspired to still go it alone - you'll have a great time!