Getting around Patagonia may seem daunting, but fear not! This seemingly remote area is home to friendly locals and has been well-traveled by adventurous and outdoorsy types for many years.
Comly and I spent 8 days in Patagonia and it was extraordinary! We sandwiched this into a longer trip in South America, spending time in Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina on either end.
We flew from Santiago to Punta Arenas, about 3.5 hour flight, to get into Patagonia. We opted for an early morning flight, because upon arrival in Punta Arenas we traveled by bus directly to Puerto Natales, the landing pad for Torres Del Paine. More on that below.
Leaving Patagonia, we flew from El Calafate to Buenos Aires, about 3 hours.
PLEASE NOTE: Our flights into and out of Patagonia were within one country (Chilean city to Chilean Patagonia, Argentine Patagonia to Argentine city). This is important to optimize your budget because flying between countries in Patagonia dramatically increases the price.
Instead, to get between Chile to Argentina try taking a bus!
Despite generally being a penny pincher, I really value my time when I’m traveling, so I do tend to opt for more expedient modes of transport even if they are slightly more costly. But not in Patagonia. The buses are by far the best mode of traveling once you’ve arrived in the region.
We found the bus services quite impressive. I’d honestly say they are more spacious, comfortable and easier to navigate than any buses I’ve taken in the states and at a fraction of the price of flying between major hubs in Patagonia. The multi hour journeys went by with ease while watching fields of wild flowers, majestic mountains and guanaco (Patagonian deer) out the window.
We took the following bus routes in Patagonia:
Punta Arenas Airport –> Puerto Natales Bus Terminal
Some people opt to stay a night in Punta Arenas and maximize their time this far south. We heard there were some cool penguin excursions but weren’t able to squeeze it in. When we arrived we headed straight for a bus terminal via uber and got on the first bus to Puerto Natales, about a 3 hour journey. Little did we know, before heading to the final destination, the bus actually stopped at the airport to pick up more passengers. Save yourself this trouble and see if this is an option for you when you book your tickets!
We booked this route on Bus Bud for just $9USD per person.
Puerto Natales Bus Terminal –> Torres Del Paine (and vice versa)
Buses are the most popular way to enter Torres Del Paine. There are 2 companies that go to Torres Del Paine: Bus Fernandez and Bus Sur. Both leave throughout the day. These tickets can be purchased in advance, or if you’re flexible on timing you can book them at the bus station when you arrive in Puerto Natales, but it does seem like they sell out.
Roundtrip cost was about $20USD. Note, if you plan to do the W, you will either begin or end the trip on the Paine Grande side, and in order to reach the bus you will need to take a catamaran across Pehoe Lake. This is about $30USD and can either be booked in some cases with your bus or bought on board. The buses won’t leave until the passengers arrive from the catamaran.
Puerto Natales Bus Terminal –> El Calafate Bus Terminal
This bus ride was about 6 hours, including the stop at a customs house on the Chilean / Argentinian boarder. Again, we booked this in advance on Busbud and took a COOTRA bus for $20.
Upon arriving in Argentina we were worried because we only had Chilean Pesos and USD but the taxi and uber drivers were wiling to accept different currencies, it was helpful to agree on the price up front.
El Calafate Hotel –> Excursions
We stayed at Posada Larsen in El Calafate. A little outside the center of town, this quaint bed and breakfast is managed by a lovely couple.
They helped us arrange multiple excursions during our time staying with them, each which included pickup from Posada Larsen by bus or van. They also helped arrange taxis whenever needed, but are located close enough to walk into town and enjoy all of the restaurants and breweries on the main strip.
Posasa Larsen is also conveniently located just next to Parilla Don Pichon, a famous restaurant with INCREDIBLE lamb and other meats. Make a reservation in advance and enjoy the mouthwatering specialty with a side of Patagonia vino. For more recommendations, read about our 3 days in El Calafate.
Taxis and Ubers are both pretty accessible and very affordable in Patagonia. Accommodations are used to calling taxis in advance for guests and can help you secure a price and a currency in which it is acceptable to pay. In addition, some hostels and bed and breakfasts will arrange bus terminal or airport transfers for you. I tend to stress about the safety and accessibility of car travel in foreign countries but found this very easy and reliable in Patagonia.