Patagonia. The apex of the trekking world. The scenery is unrivalled, and no other wilderness destination is highlighted on so many travellers to do lists like Patagonia. However, the problem for some may be that it can be VERY expensive. Let me tell you that it IS POSSIBLE to pull off budget backpacking in Patagonia.
We spent a solid three weeks hiking the many trailheads and soaking in the sights of Patagonia during our grand South American adventure.
Let me tell you right now I wish we had more time there! It’s full of secluded towns and side roads that will take you to nature at its wildest. To ensure you can make the most of your time in Patagonia, or so you can extend your stay in wonderland, follow some of these budget backpacking tips to save big in Patagonia.
But first, here is a quick summary of what our time in Patagonia looked like.
- 1 Itinerary
- 2 Quick Facts
- 3 1. No Tours….
- 4 2. Consider the Time of Year
- 5 3. Bring Your Own Gear
- 6 4. Practice Your Hostel Cooking Skills
- 7 5. Take Your Time
- 8 6. Patagonia – Hitchhiking Capital of the World
- 9 7. Argentina vs. Chile
- 10 8. Consider a Workaway
- 11 Go start your Patagonian adventure!
Length of Time: 2 1/2 Weeks
- Ushuaia, (5 Days) the tippy south of Tierra Del Fuego
- El Calafate, (2 Days) ft. the Perito Moreno Glacier
- El Chalten, (5 Days) Argentina’s hiking mecca
- Esquel*, (2 Days) under-appreciated national park
- Puerto Madryn, (2-3 Days) wildlife wonderland
Our personal trip only included the Argentinian side of Patagonia, but all of the tips included below are applicable all throughout, including in Chile.
* Further north from Esquel are more popular destinations like Bariloche or El Bolson, also great options! “Out of Season” conditions and services meant we weren’t there long.
Patagonia is a very large region of the continent. People typically only think about Southern Patagonia where some of the bigger name national parks are found.
Northern regions around Bariloche in Argentina or through remote stretches of Chile’s Carretera Austral are well worth your time while also being a cheaper destination.
Careful preparation and research can go a long way to being cost effective. There are some large distances you will need to cover, and the generally inflated prices of the region mean that it will be more expensive than other parts of Chile or Argentina.
The quick tips to save big in Patagonia are general pieces of advice that will help you manage your funds while travelling this beautiful part of the world.
1. No Tours….
Forget about it. A tour into Torres Del Paine National Park will cost you over $1000 for something you can easily do yourself. That’s not how you do budget backpacking in Patagonia.
2. Consider the Time of Year
High season throughout all of Patagonia runs from December to February/March. With the flood of travellers comes the astronomic increase in prices. Hotels, rentals, park fees, everything!
The weather conditions are surely the best during this time, but you can do some quality hiking in the shoulder seasons.
We came to Patagonia in November during the spring thaw. Some days saw a little bit of rain, but the hillsides were in bloom and overall it was a beautiful time for some trekking.
Once April rolls around you will be blessed with spectacular fall colours. The prices will drop as the temperature does too. I know the next time I visit Patagonia it has to be in the fall!
That said, sometimes there can be limited services in some of the lesser visited destinations. For example, we arrived in Esquel, famed for it’s Parque Nacional Los Alerces that many travellers pass by, just as the town was gearing up for high season. The shuttle buses into the park were not yet running every day (it’s a ways out of town) and the weather was not exactly cooperating. We, unfortunately, saw little of what Esquel had to offer because of this.
Make sure you do your research so you can get the experience you are looking for, and be prepared for what to expect!
3. Bring Your Own Gear
Especially if you are travelling to South America strictly to visit Patagonia, bring as much camping gear and equipment as you can.
If you have a tent you’re saving easy money. Camping out on the trails or in national parks is cheap, and will probably end up being your favourite adventures anyways.
Renting is possible in many of the towns throughout Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, but the cost will add up if you need to rent items long term or multiple times.
You also don’t want to get caught buying things like jackets or boots while your down there. Even where there is civilization it’s still remote and all goods will be more expensive. Lindsay learned that the hard way with her new purple jacket!
4. Practice Your Hostel Cooking Skills
The same goes for food. Restaurants will have you paying out the nose, and eating out in Argentina or Chile is already expensive enough. And may I say I’m not the biggest fan of Chilean cuisine anyways!
Try out some backpacker favourites, such as the scrumptious tuna pasta a la vegetables! It might not be the best, but if you hang around the hostel kitchen long enough you may just find some new recipes and new travel buddies!
Items such as travel cutlery, small tupperware, and cooking staples like salt and oil will really help. Cooking for yourself is not so bad once you get into the habit of it.
By the way, it doesn’t hurt to make some leftovers for the next day’s adventures!
5. Take Your Time
Not just for budget backpacking in Patagonia, this goes for all types of travel!
Your biggest expense will be your bus rides. Slow down your travels and enjoy each stop because trust me, it will be hard to leave every single one of them.
You will also probably want to take a flight at least once. A lot of travellers we met took flights out of Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, and make there way up. If not, that is a painful amount of time on buses (our average bus ride between destinations was maybe 12 hours?).
Take your time to make it all worthwhile.
6. Patagonia – Hitchhiking Capital of the World
Budget backpacking in Patagonia at its finest.
For long hauls that cross half the continent or even a short trip to the park gates, there is no better place to hitchhike than Patagonia.
It’s almost a cultural experience to stand at the side of the Carretera Austral with your thumb out. You find plenty of kind drivers willing to give you a ride.
I met some people who put aside months to hitchhike to the farthest corners of Patagonia. If you have the time, it’s a must do.
All you have to pay is a little bit of conversation – English, Spanish, whatever, just be friendly.
7. Argentina vs. Chile
Let’s get the record straight. If you have enough time you should totally explore Argentinian AND Chilean Patagonia. However, if you can only spare one Argentina offers just as much, if not more, for sometimes a fraction of the cost.
For example, the cost of hiking the famous W trek in Chile’s Torres Del Paine is steep when you consider the entrance fee, the cost of camping ($20 per person to camp… really?), renting gear, etc. In general Chile is the most expensive country out of all of South America, period.
However, the hiking capital of El Chalten in Argentina has trailheads that begin right outside of town! Find a cheap hostel, and you can explore the stunning expanse outside of El Chalten with easy day trips. The same goes for places like Ushuaia, Esquel, El Bolson, Bariloche, and more.
This is the decision we ended up making based on advice from fellow travellers. And to be honest, I have no regrets.
I know I’ll be back to explore the rest someday.
8. Consider a Workaway
Patagonia offers some unique workaway jobs that would offer an incredible and different way to get to know this region.
Want to work on a giant estancia sheering sheep and herding cows? Sounds like fun to me!
We actually met someone who stayed on a ranch INSIDE Torres Del Paine park gardening for the host and had free access to the park.
Not only would a workaway offer a much more authentic and in-depth experience of Patagonia, but it will help you save money too.
Go start your Patagonian adventure!
I loved my time budget backpacking in Patagonia and there is no reason you too can’t strike it off your bucket list. Always remember that with a little preparedness and attention you can make any adventure a budget one.
Be sure to check out our other written posts for more ideas on how to travel on a budget for your own backpacking adventures.
Also be sure to check out our instagram @brightintheworld for more travel inspiration!
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Thank you for sticking around and reading our post. If you have any other tips for fellow travellers we would love to hear from you in the comments below! For more stories and photos from our adventures make sure you check out our Instagram and Facebook pages @brightintheworld