South America is a huge continent with so many incredible sights to see and experiences to have. Getting to the southern area of South America has been a longtime goal of mine, so I was excited to begin planning a trip to Patagonia.
Quite frankly, though, it was trickier than I had expected. This was mostly because of the distances between places and how to get to each one without using too much time or spending too much money.
Traveling in South America from one place to another is not always straightforward and often takes logistical planning, time, and money, especially if you have a set amount of travel time.
You can see from the map below, I started out by flying to Santiago, Chile and then made my way down to El Calafate, Argentina, making just a quick connection in Buenos Aires. From there, I continued my route through Patagonia by bus.
El Calafate, Argentina is the middle pin in the cluster of 3 pins on the southern portion of the map. To the north is El Chalten, Argentina. To the south is Puerto Natales, Chile. The furthest pin is Ushuaia, Argentina, a.k.a. “the end of the world.” Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
To maximize a 2-week itinerary, I chose to fly on Aerolineas Argentinas from Santiago, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina.
Airlines like Aerolineas Argentinas, LAN, and Sky Airline offer inter-South America flights. These flights come in a range of prices, but I had saved by booking an award ticket to Santiago from New York and was able to fly to El Calafate, Argentina to save time.
Travel Hack: Aerolineas Argentinas is a SkyTeam member. You can use Delta SkyMiles to book with Aerolineas Argentinas. LAN is a OneWorld Alliance member and availability can be searched through the British Airways website. You can use British Airways Avios to book short haul inter-South America flights.
If you don’t have miles to book flights and want to save money, traveling through South America overland on buses is the cheapest way to get from place to place. I met travelers in Santiago with more time who were planning to take buses south, to towns in Chile’s Lake District, points in Argentina, and Patagonia.
From El Calafate, Argentina, I also used a series of buses to get from place to place, until eventually flying home from Ushuaia, Argentina. Flights between the Chilean and the Argentinian sides of Patagonia, generally, don’t exist. Instead, you’d have to fly back north to Santiago or Buenos Aires to connect with a flight heading back down south to a different part of Patagonia.
Here’s my itinerary after arriving in Patagonia.
El Calafate, Argentina
Situated about 45 minutes from Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, El Calafate is the perfect jumping off point for a glacier excursion. There are a few restaurants, shops, and tour agencies on the main street and the blue waters of Lago Argentina brush along the outskirts of town.
Where to Stay: I stayed at B&B Hostal Schilling Patagonico and really enjoyed my stay here. If you’re looking for comfortable and friendly budget accommodations, I would highly recommend Schilling. The family who runs the B&B helped to book bus tickets and a Perito Moreno Glacier excursion. The atmosphere was friendly and laid-back. Breakfast was included in the rate and, best of all, the bus terminal was 2 blocks away.
How to Get There: You can fly on Aerolineas Argentinas from Santiago, Chile to El Calafate. After landing, it was easy to get a seat on a shuttle into the town of El Calafate. The cost was $10US or $100AR and payable with cash only. There wasn’t an ATM at the airport, so plan accordingly.
Number of Days: I stayed in El Calafate 2 separate nights. I spent 1 night, did the glacier excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier, and then took the 6:30 bus to El Chalten, Argentina. On my return from El Chalten, I stayed 1 more night at Schilling, before departing the following morning for Puerto Natales, Chile. If you plan to just see Perito Moreno Glacier, you’ll be fine with 2 nights in El Calafate.
El Chalten, Argentina
El Chalten is a tiny town dubbed the trekking capital of Argentina. It’s roughly 3 hours by bus from El Calafate. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Fitz Roy perched just beyond the town. Different from Torres Del Paine in Chile, El Chalten lends itself to day hikes. The trails are accessible from town and well-marked.
Where to Stay: I stayed at the Nothofagus Bed and Breakfast and would recommend it to solo travelers, as well as couples. The rate includes breakfast, but note payment must be made in U.S. dollars.
How to Get There: ChaltenTravel runs buses several times a day between El Calafate and El Chalten. I paid $550AR ($62.50US) for a round trip ticket between these 2 towns.
Number of Days: This depends on the amount of trekking you are interested in doing, but 2-3 days would be plenty of time to do a few of the hikes and see the landscape of Los Glaciares National Park. I stayed 2 nights, before heading back to El Calafate on the 6:00 p.m. bus.
Puerto Natales, Chile
Puerto Natales is a port town nestled among the fjords of southern Chile. You can take a cruise through the waterways to see the surrounding glaciers and mountains. The city is also near to Torres del Paine National Park, making it a popular place to stay or prepare for a park visit.
Where to Stay: I stayed in Kaluve Patagonia Hostal. My room was comfortable and clean, had a luxury shower, and strong wifi. The family who owns Kaluve is dedicated to a high level of hospitality and go above and beyond to accommodate guests. It felt more like a homestay feel than that of a hostel or guesthouse. It was about a 10-15 minute walk from Kaluve to most restaurants and food markets.
How to Get There: Different companies run buses directly from El Calafate to Puerto Natales. The bus ride is about 5 hours, which includes time at a border crossing between Argentina and Chile. I purchased a one-way ticket for $480AR ($55US) from Always Glaciers, which also does Patagonia tours. The bus picked me up directly from my hostel in El Calafate and dropped me off just a couple blocks from Kaluve Hostal in Puerto Natales.
Number of Days: You can use Puerto Natales as a stop before camping or staying at accommodations within Torres del Paine National Park. Or you can stay several nights in Puerto Natales, making day trips to Torres del Paine. I stayed 2 nights to explore Puerto Natales and do a full day tour of Torres del Paine, largely because I am not much of a camper (understatement!) and the park accommodations can be quite pricey. In hindsight, I wish I’d had more time in Torres del Paine, but having a reason to return is never a bad thing. 🙂
Ushuaia, nicknamed “el Fin del Mundo,” Ushuaia, is on the very southern tip of Argentina. It’s part of the Tierra del Fuego. It’s also the gateway to Antarctica, with many Antarctic cruises leaving from the port of Ushuaia. The city clings to a small swath of land between the ocean and snow-capped mountains behind.
Where to Stay: Ushuaia is expensive compared to other towns in Patagonia. I stayed at the Hotel Austral and would highly recommend it for budget-minded travelers. There are cheaper hostel options in town but I found Hotel Austral to be a step up from the nearby hostels and guesthouses and not much more per night. In fact, I switched my booking last minute from a hostel to Hotel Austral and ended up paying only $4US more per night.
How to Get There: I used Buses Pacheco for the 12-hour “trek” from Puerto Natales to Ushuaia. This time included a border crossing, pit stops, and a couple of rather seamless bus transfers. A one-way ticket cost roughly 43,000CLP ($70US)
Number of Days: To explore Tierra del Fuego National Park and cruise the Beagle Channel, you will need 2-3 days. The town has a main street with shops and restaurants that are also worth exploring. I spent 3 nights/2 days before flying out of Ushuaia’s airport.
What do you think of the itinerary? Planning a trip to Patagonia? Share your thoughts and suggestions below in the comments!
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