Ways to See Patagonia: Self Drive Trip
Patagonia is a magic distant dream for a lot of travelers, and we’ve been among them for what seems like forever. We’ve decided that the first step to making this dream come true would be research – how exactly to organize a trip there? So we talked to two friends, one of whom went to Patagonia with a tour and another organized the car trip herself. In this second installment, we take a close look at what it means to organize your own trip to Patagonia, and our guide will be Olya’s friend Tatiana, an avid traveler, game designer, and mountain lover.
Why did you pick Patagonia as your next holiday destination?
I love the mountains and I love using their photos as desktop backgrounds on my computer. Once during my photo research, I came across a photo of Torres del Paine, a national park in Patagonia, and I fell in love with this view. However, I was only at the university and it was not a kind of trip that I could do easily.
So when last year we were brainstorming on our next holiday destination, I remembered about this desktop photo and thought “It’s high time to see this view with my own eyes!”
Did you travel alone?
No, we were four people and we have planned the whole trip on our own. This allowed us to cover all the places that we were really interested in and also do tailored trekking routes that were suitable for all of us – not too challenging, but also not too easy.
Did you use any special planning tools for the organization of the trip?
Nothing unusual – we used the standard websites, like Tripadvisor and Skyscanner. We spent a lot of time reading on the Internet about the main sightseeing points and tracking routes, then mapped them out on Google maps and planned the trip accordingly.
How is the weather in Patagonia in December?
Perfect! December in Patagonia is like the end of May or the beginning of June in northern Europe. Everything is blooming, you get to see endless flower fields, it’s mesmerizing!
However, you should be attentive – even if the sun is shining and the weather seems warm, it is still very windy! So make sure you wrap yourself in some warm stuff. I’ve found these clothes very useful: thermal shirt and leggings, jeans, shorts, windbreaker, and a hoody. In terms of shoes, I had leather boots, sneakers and proper trekking shoes with me.
Where did you look for the accommodation?
Originally we thought to use both Booking and Airbnb. However, we ended up using only Booking.com, as Airbnb flats were either very expensive or not very comfortable.
Can you please describe your route?
It all started with a series of flights. We flew from Saint Petersburg to Frankfurt and from there to Rio De Janeiro. We arrived at 6 am to Rio and stayed in the airport hotel to rest and then at 10 pm we flew to Santiago, the capital of Chile. Our final destination though was not Santiago, but El Tepual airport that serves as a start of many touristic routes.
We rented a car there and then we moved through Patagonia, doing stops in different towns and parks. We flew back a month later, this time departing from the airport of Rio.
How did you choose the right car for this trip?
A lot of roads in Patagonia are gravel roads, so when you rent a car, make sure you get one with high ground clearance, otherwise, 4-5 hours trips might be difficult to survive. Moreover, some national parks like Torres del Paine allow you to enter only if you are driving 4×4! Make sure you check all the requirements in advance.
Also, book your car in advance if you plan to cross the border between Chile and Argentina. You will need a special pass to cross it and the rental service needs some days to prepare it. I would also advise doing a round trip – if you rent a car in one place and want to drop it in another, then the rental service will charge you an additional fee which is quite substantial.
What are the towns that you managed to visit during your trip?
They were a few. For example, our first stop after the arrival to El Tepual was Puerto Varas. Originally we have decided to stop there to rest after the series of flights, but it turned out to be a very nice place. It’s neat and it sits on the bank of the huge Lake Llanquihue. You also get to see two snow-capped volcanoes from there – Osorno Volcano and Calbuco Volcano. Both of them are still active!
Angostura was also an interesting place to stop at thanks to its location. It’s ideal for exploring the Lake District – a region of forests, snow-capped volcanoes and crystal clear lakes that are hidden in the mountains. From there we made one day trips to explore the lakes and also to see Nahuel Huapi national park. It’s full of hills and lakes and is a great location for short trekking.
What are the three things that you enjoyed the most during your trip?
We saw so much, that it’s really very difficult to limit myself to only three points!
My absolute number one is Perito Moreno Glacier. It is a unique place because of its state of equilibrium – although this ice tongue is melting continuously, it accumulates mass at a rate similar to that of its loss.
We spent four hours at this glacier, just watching how it melts. Every now and then you see how huge chunks of ice fall into the lake under it, and it’s really mesmerizing. I definitely advise choosing a sunny day for the glacier trip, because then you can also enjoy the sun on its surface.
There are a lot of tourists at the glacier, but all the experience is organised in a way that you are not jammed together, as there are three different sightseeing points and plenty of space for everyone.
The second location I enjoyed immensely was Fitz Roy mountain, which was also our most serious trekking experience, as we have walked 25 kilometers on that day! We were very lucky because usually, Fitz Roy is very rainy, but we happened there on a sunny day.
If you want to really conquer it, you will need climbing experiences, suitable gear, and 3 days, but we have opted for more relaxing trekking till one of the major viewpoints. First, you walk through the forest, then you slowly start climbing, do some serpentine road and finally some stairs. The view is worth the walk! You get to see the solemn mountain peaks and eat your lunch with a view.
The third best location on my list is Torres del Paine national park – a place with soaring mountains that I had on my desktop ages ago! The entrance ticket allows you to come back multiple times, so we have rented a place nearby and spent several days in the park. You can either travel by car in it or just walk. The reality turned out to be so much better than my desktop photo! Funny fact – you can only walk around the mountains against the clock because if you walk clockwise, the wind is too strong.
Now, I know you have only asked for three things, but I can’t but mention Isla Martillo, the penguin island, one of the most original experiences we had. You can get there by boat with an organized tour – no pre-booking is needed, you just show up at the departure point and grab your ticket.
On Isla Martillo, you get to see penguins in their natural habitat and it’s incredibly curious to see how they nurse their babies and follow their routine.
Which souvenirs did you bring home from Patagonia?
Chilean wine and beer! Both were very good, by the way. You can also buy llama clothing in Chile if you are looking for some traditional patterns.
Speaking of traditional – what is the local food like?
Very fresh and the portions are huge, so be ready! Locals eat a lot of fish, and salmon was particularly tasty. I enjoyed avocados and of course, Argentinian steaks. However, if you are planning to eat a lot of salads or veggies, it might be challenging, as their variety is not really big.
Are there any other pieces of advice that you can give to future Patagonia explorers?
- If you see on Google maps that it takes 1 hour to get from A to B, plan 3 hours – the views in Patagonia are so stunning, that you will probably get stuck halfway admiring them.
- Keep your eyes peeled for the local flora and fauna – Patagonia is full of wonderful species. I once saw a cingulata on one of the camping grounds where we stopped for recharge.
- Make sure you include in the list of your must-visit destinations national park Puyehue – it is worth checking out not only because of its thermal springs and volcanoes but also because of its dead forest. It is a unique possibility to see a huge territory covered with absolutely dry, white trees that are still standing. Mesmerizing!