There is a space of sacred silence in Argentina’s southern frontier that is begging to be discovered. The untouched backwater oases and rugged hills among the Andes Mountain chain offer a tranquil traverse unscathed by tourists. Nature awaits you in its wild and unadorned form in Patagonia.
Hike among what has been called the finest mountain scenery in the world, characterized by magnificent glaciers, fields of icebergs, and barren fields. Trek amongst the granitic spires of Mount Fitzroy, and marvel at the marine life as you kayak along Patagonia’s unique coastal beauty. Catch a glimps of penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, and southern right whales as you glide along, or look for armadillos, llama-like guanacos, and ostrich-like rheas as they ramble through Patagonia's jagged land punctuated by peaks and little else.
With Adventures Unbound, you get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of intimate wildlife encounters as you hike and kayak. The awe-inspiring landscape of Patagonia makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from a painting. With glacier climbs, mountain hikes, and paddling excursions, Adventures Unbound’s Patagonia itineraries ensure a lifetime of photographs and memories.
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Nomadic hunters and gatherers were the earliest known people to migrate to Patagonia over 8 thousands years ago. They were able to adapt to the harsh conditions due to their resilient nature.
Ferdinand Magellan discovered Patagonia in 1520 during an expedition, when discovering a passage linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which today bears his name "the Straight od Magellan". Patagonia is named after this expedition, the name "patagon" being used to describe the reportedly tall people of the region.
European Exploration and Economic Expansion
The Decline of the Indigenous People
The native people struggled to survive the diseases brought by Europeans in the 19th century. The region being sparsly populated over a large region, the native people gradually integrated into one culture with Europeans. The last known native belonged to the Selknam people and died aged 89 in 1966.
The main economic activities of Patagonia have been mining, whaling, agriculture (mainly fruit and wheat), sheep farming, oil since 1907, energy production, and wood lodging in the forest region of the Patagonian Andes and the archipelagoes. Sheep farming provides jobs to many in the rural areas.
Becoming the End of the World
For centuries Patagonia has been considered the end of the world due to the distance and difficulty in getting there. This inspired strange myth of mysterious gigantic beings with peculiar habits.
Animals of Patagonia
Patagonia counts a widespread range of bird species, amongst which the White-Throated Hawk in the southern forests and in the Andes, Hummingbirds, the Andean Condor with a lifespan of up to 70 years found in the Andes and along the Pacific coast, the Chilean Flamingo which lives in large flocks, the Upland Goose, the Steamer Ducks, the Red-Backed Hawk and Rufous-Tailed Hawk, the Magellanic Penguin found on the southern coasts of both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Austral Pygmy Owl, to name just a few.
Whales live around the coasts of Patagonia, including the Southern Right Whale which is often seen on the water surface and is curious of human boats, and the Orca, also known as the Killer Whale, which actually belongs to the dolphin family, being its largest member. Also found in the Valdes Peninsula off the coast of Argentina, is the fourth largest colony of Elephant Seals in the world.
The guanaco is one of Patagonia’s most iconic animals. They live in herds with one dominant male, and can be found exclusively in Argentina and Chile. Their soft wool is highly valued. Their natural predator is the Andean Puma, its largest population being found in Torres del Paine in Chile. Two types of foxs can be found in Patagonia: the Culpeo (Andean Fox) and the Gray Fox. The South Andean Deer lives in small groups and mostly in the Andean-Patagonian forests of both Argentina and Chile.
The climate of Patagonia varies vastly from region to region. This means that the vegetation is just as varied, going from mountain vegetation, to coastal, to plains and forests. In some of the National Parks, visitors will be able to enjoy preserved fauna and flora as these areas have been kept virgin.
As the popularity of Patagonia grows, tourism poses a real challenge to the area which isn't equipped for such large numbers. Please be mindful to take away your garbage with you in order to protect this beautiful place.
Some of the wildlife being endangered or threatened, breeding programs have been put in place for the survival of the Andean Condor, and conservation programs for the Orcas, Southern Right Whales and Southern Elephant Seals.
Patagonia includes the southern part of the Andes mountains, to the East of which are deserts, steppes and grasslands. The south has a colder climate and ice fields.
The steppes, on the Argentinian side, rise 330 ft in 13 terraces. Their vegetation and animal life becomes more abundant towards the Andes.
The ice fields, a very unique feature of the region, feed all the glaciers of the region which in turn feed the fjords.
Volcanoes stretch over a distance of 600 miles and form the Austral Volcanic Zone. They are active, though full blown eruptions are rare. The volcanoes of Lautaro and Viedma are under the ice field, and amongst the least researched due to how inaccessible they are.
The economy of Patagonia relies vastly on tourism, and many towns encourage tourists to join in their traditional celebrations and festivals, the main one being in El Calafate in July and August. Visiting the parks of Patagonia is a must, but visitors should be aware that in case of trouble, there are no rescue teams.
As a visitor, you will need to respect a few rules: shorts are acceptable for sport and trekking, but should not be worn in restaurants, cafes or public places. Shoes should not be taken off in public, and shirts should be worn. Nudity is not accepted in Patagonia.
Money in Patagonia
In the Chilean part, the currency is the Chilean Peso, while on the Argentinean part it is the Argentinean Peso. We recommend carrying both currencies as well as USD.
Credit Cards & ATMS
In the cities ATMs can easily be found and Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, some places also accepting American Express and Diners Club. In more remote areas, you will need to carry cash as many places don't accept credit cards.
The usual tip at restaurants is around 10 to 15% of the cost of your meal.
Health & Safety
Inoculations are not required to enter Argentina or Chile, but the CDC recommends to be inoculated against rabies, typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis A and B, and to be up to date with routine vaccinations.
There are Zika outbreaks in Argentina. It is recommended to check the CDC website for updates on travel.
It is recommended to check that your travel insurance also covers sporting activities such as trekking, whitewater rafting and kayaking, Many will require that an additional premium is paid to cover these. Ensure you keep all receipts for medical treatment and medicines, and that you request a statement from the local police, should you later need to make a claim.
Visas are not required for citizens of most European countries, the USA, Canada, Australia and New-Zealand, for stays of 90 days per calendar year or less.
You will need to complete an arrival card when arriving in Chile, these are handed out on the plane.
Bringing unprocessed foods such as meat, ham, salami, or dairy products into Chile is forbidden.
Internet & Phone Service
Both Argentina and Chile have modern and inexpensive photo systems. All towns have public telephone offices and call-phones, which accept cards, coins, and some accept credit cards. Rates are about 50 cents (USD) per minute to the USA and Europe.
Mobile Phones & Satellite Phones
Mobile phones are widely used in Argentina and Chile. The coverage is very good in all cities and large towns, but it is not advised to rely on mobile phones as a way of communication in the National Parks.
Satellite phones allow you to call from anywhere, but they are expensive and heavy, and you also pay for incoming calls.
Internet access is widely available, except in more remote places such as National Parks. Internet cafés are plentiful, and many public telephone offices also offer broadband internet connection for 1 to 2 USD per hour.
A RJ45 plus is needed to connect your laptop in Argentina and Chile, and you will need an Ethernet cable for broadband.
Throughout Patagonia, electricity is supplied at 230/240 volts, 50 herts. A converter is needed if your items don't have multi-voltage option.
In Argentina, power outlets accept rounded 2-pin and diagonal 2-pin plugs.
In Chile, power outlets accept 3 or 2-pin plugs, depending on whether there is an earth connection fitted.
Getting to Patagonia
Most flights transfer travelers from Santiago and Buenos Aires to Patagonia.
In Chile, Punta Arenas serves as the primary gateway into Chilean Patagonia.
In Argentina, El Calafate serves as the primary gateway into Argentinian Patagonia.
Travelling by land from Santiago, Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Mendoze to Patagonia is possible, but not a very efficient way to travel.
The Navimag ferry runs between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt, with some routes stopping over at Laguna San Rafael, Puerto Chacabuco and Chiloé Island.
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There are no required vaccinations for visiting either Chile or Argentina. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should be up-to-date on their routine vaccinations, including tetanus and hepatitis A. You should also check that your diptheria, hepatitis B, and typhoid inoculations are current, as well as considering vaccination against rabies if you will be in close contact with animals. If you do get bitten or scratched by an animal during your time in Patagonia, it’s important that you seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Yes, it is safe to drink tap water in Patagonia and bottled mineral water can readily be found in stores. Most restaurants in Chile and Argentina have high hygiene standards when it comes to food preparation, so eating raw vegetables and/or salads is considered safe.
In Chilean Patagonia, the currency is the Chilean Peso ($ or CLP), with $1 USD equaling around $720 CLP at the time of writing. Banknotes come in 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000 pesos while coins are available in 500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1 pesos.
In Argentinian Patagonia, the currency is the Argentine Peso (ARG$), with $1 USD equaling around $85 ARG at the time of writing. Banknotes come in 1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50, and 20 pesos while the frequently used coins are in denominations of 10, 5, 2, and 1 pesos.
US Dollars are more readily accepted in Argentina than in Chile where you will need to exchange your cash into Chilean Pesos. If you do bring US Dollars, make sure they are clean and crisp or they may not be accepted. Exchange bureaus are found in most of the region’s major tourist towns and cities and tend to offer better rates than the banks.
In both Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, banks are generally open from 9.00 am to 2.00 pm Monday to Friday, with most having ATMs that can be accessed at all hours of the day and night. Credit cards are readily accepted throughout Patagonia, except in Torres del Paine National Park where limited phone connectivity makes cash the preferred method of payment. Mastercard and Visa are the most accepted credit cards, although American Express and Diners Club can be used in some establishments.
Patagonia operates under two different time zones. The northern part of Chilean Patagonia is in GMT-4 (which is one hour ahead of New York City) while the southern part of Chilean Patagonia and all of Argentinian Patagonia are in GMT-3 (two hours ahead of New York City). The latter regions don’t observe daylight savings time but Chile’s northern Patagonia region does.
Spanish is the official language of both Chile and Argentina, with most people in Patagonia conversing in the language. That being said, there are distinct pronunciation differences in the Spanish that’s spoken in the two countries and other Spanish speakers might find it particularly difficult to understand Chilean Spanish, which uses a lot of local phrases and slang.
Patagonia’s indigenous peoples speak Mapudungun and you may also hear German and Welsh spoken due to the historic settlements in Patagonia. With a thriving tourism industry, many people in Patagonia speak some English, although having a few phrases of Spanish or a translation guide is a good idea if you’re traveling independently.
A passport with at least six months validity is required for entry into Patagonia and you should have at least two free pages for entry and exit stamps. Provided you don’t plan on staying more than 90 days, visas are not required to enter either Chile or Argentina for citizens of most European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Reciprocity fees are required, however, for some nationalities, so check the current situation prior to travel with your local Argentinian and Chilean embassies.
It’s not compulsory to have travel insurance when visiting Patagonia, although we do highly recommend that you take it out to protect against injury, illness, loss, and/or theft. Look for a policy that will cover the costs of any transport cancellations or delays, as well as medical expenses and repatriation in case the unexpected happens. Before purchasing a policy, always double-check what is covered and what’s not, such as any “known events” or “dangerous sports”.
Buses are one of the easiest and most affordable ways of getting around Patagonia, with efficient and reliable services. There are modern coaches that are well-equipped for long-distance travel and overnight journeys, with reclining seats and hot meals served on most. Generally speaking, you can purchase bus tickets on the day of travel, except during the high season or holiday periods when you should secure them a few days in advance. You can either purchase tickets directly from the kiosks at the main bus terminal in the town or city you are staying or utilize the services of a tourist agency who will book them for you (for a small fee).
Renting a car is also a feasible way of exploring Patagonia, with several of the major international rental companies operating in the region. You can hire a car from Santiago International Airport in Santiago de Chile or Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires. A permit is required if you want to cross between Chile and Argentina with your rental car and most companies will arrange this for you if you let them know in advance.
While a 4WD is not essential, it may come in handy if you’re venturing to Patagonia’s more rural destinations where the roads aren’t paved or into the mountainous areas where snow is likely. An international driver’s license can help to speed up any dealings with the police but a driver’s license from your home country will suffice.
Another way of getting around Patagonia is by ferry or cruise ship, which is a particularly popular way of exploring the inlets and channels of the Chilean fjords. Several cruises start from Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina and access the spectacular wilderness of southern Patagonia.
As Patagonia is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. The best time to visit is generally considered to be in the summer months from November to early March when it’s warm and sunny. This makes it ideal for trekking in Torres del Paine National Park and exploring Tierra del Fuego, although you will have to compete with heavier crowds.
Both spring (September to November) and fall (March to May) are good alternatives, thanks to the mild temperatures, blooming flowers, and changing leaves. It’s best to avoid visiting Patagonia in winter (June to August) when the freezing temperatures and short daylight hours result in many attractions being closed. It’s a good idea to bring plenty of layers with you and a windbreaker to respond to Patagonia’s notoriously changeable (and windy) weather.
Throughout Patagonia, electricity is supplied at 230/240 volts and an adapter or converter will be necessary if your device doesn’t have a multi-voltage option. In Chile, power outlets accept round 2 or 3-pin plugs while in Argentina, they accept round 2-pin and diagonal 2-pin plugs.
Tipping in Patagonia is not mandatory but is welcome as a reward for good service. In restaurants, 10% is generally considered acceptable and for taxi drivers, it’s usual to let them keep the change. If you do want to leave a tip for cleaning staff or porters, it’s best to do so in the local currency. For the full day service of a guide, anywhere between $10 to $20 USD will be welcome.
Due to its remote setting away from densely populated urban areas, Patagonia is one of the safest parts of South America for travel. That being said, you should always remain vigilant when traveling on local buses and in unlicensed taxis, and don’t flash expensive jewelry or electronics around. If you are concerned about safety, we recommend traveling with a reputable tour company and check any current travel warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State prior to leaving home.
Catholicism is the main religion in both Chile and Argentina, so modesty is generally expected when you are out in public. It’s best to avoid wearing particularly revealing clothing in the region’s towns and cities.
Most people in Patagonia will kiss once on the cheek in greeting (even with strangers), although this is often more of a “graze” of the cheeks than an actual kiss. To help break down barriers, it’s always a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Spanish, which will be welcomed by the locals.
Patagonian cuisine draws on influences from both Chile and Argentina, which in turn have been influenced by waves of European immigration to the region. The main culinary differences throughout Patagonia are based on geography, with seafood predominant along the coast. Lamb, deer, and wild boar are eaten in the central region while in high-altitude regions, you can expect deer, as well as river trout and salmon on the menu.
Meat-eaters shouldn’t miss the opportunity to try asado (barbecued beef, pork, or lamb), which is the national dish of Argentina. Spit roast lamb (known as cordero al palo) is a particular specialty of the Patagonia region and is often accompanied by tangy chimichurri salsa. Empanadas are another go-to dish, with the Patagonian variety often filled with a thick lamb stew. When it comes to seafood, look out for chupe de centolla, a chowder-style king crab pie that’s often topped with cheese.
Yerba mate is the most popular hot beverage throughout the region and drinking this herbal concoction as it’s passed around a group is a cultural experience in itself. If you ask any Chilean what their national drink is, they’ll say pisco sour, an alcoholic cocktail made from lime juice, syrup, egg white, and Angostura bitters.
Considering it’s only a few hours drive between the attractions on either side of the border, there’s no reason why you can’t explore both. You can easily fly into Comandante Armando Tola International Airport near El Calafate in Argentina and fly out of Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport near Punta Arenas in Chile, or visa versa. However, if you have hired a car as your means of transportation, you will need to return it to the country you rented it in before departure.