PATAGONIA ROAD TRIP
Our Patagonia Road Trip experience deserves an introduction. We found a total of three blogs on the entire internet on how to do a road trip through Patagonia. We knew Patagonia was a must for us but we wanted to do it OUR WAY – on our own time, via a road trip. No buses, no tours, no other tourists. And we weren’t willing to compromise that.
Ironically, the most helpful of these three blogs was a photo journal from two dudes.
As we got further and further into our road trip, we began to realize why people do not road trip through Patagonia…the following photos were taken on four different drives. No one tells you that outside of the Andes (which you can’t drive next to, or through), Patagonia is flat, dry, and barren.
I hope this post is far more informative than anything we found on the inter web in our attempts to plan this adventure.
What you can expect:
Welcome to our 22 day road trip through Patagonia.
Here’s the timeline, followed by the breakdown.
2 days in Bariloche (not a part of the road trip)
Fly into Buenos Aires, then Bariloche
Get supplies and pick up car in Bariloche
Car rental – Invernalia rent a car.
Upgraded for free to Toyota Helix. Originally rented a Chevy SUV of some kind. It was super simple to reserve the car online and the staff was professional and informative once we got there.
Accommodation: Hotel Panamericano
1 night in Esquel
Bariloche to Esquel
Google said 4:15, we did it in 3:15 hours (May or may not have been following speed limits…)
Accommodation: El Coiron Hostiria
Like driving through Montana, only slower. Roads were mostly well kept; paved at least. And we saw plenty of other cars along the way.
There was one checkpoint of some kind along the way where we just had to show that we had our passports, and then they waved us along.
Once you take a left on the 40 towards Esquel, the roads are…*paved* but with potholes and you’ll definitely want something with good suspension and 4 wheel drive. Most of what we saw on this road were other trucks. It IS paved – just a rough ride.
The stop in Esquel is simply to break up the drive from Bariloche to Chile Chico.
We were pleasantly surprised by Esquel. It’s a quaint town with breweries and charming houses. Don’t think European cute. But we were expecting a rough location with limited options for ANYTHING. It was comparable to small towns we’ve driven through in the US, but perhaps with more character.
Eat at Amancay Cerveceria. I had a delicious milk stout and we shared a charcuterie board.
2 nights in Chile Chico
Esquel to Chile Chico
7-7.5 hours (Google and real time)
Accommodation: Costanera Apart
The drive was all paved, but boring AF. We did however see flamingos, emus and alpaca or vicuña.
Border crossing #1: Exiting Argentina & Entering Chile
First off, expect it to take 30-60 minutes total. Took us 40 and there were maybe six other vehicles with us.
We crossed the border right before Chile Chico. We had to park in line, get out, and go inside. Once inside, we weren’t called forward. Three people were working on one person’s documents, and there was no one directing anything. We walked forward to an open desk. She spoke Spanish. We said English and she continued speaking Spanish with an annoyed look on her face (helpful). Just give them all of your documents – passports, car papers, and insurance. She wrote some stuff down, gave us a new paper with a stamp and sent us to the next desk. He was more pleasant, smiled, stamped a different paper, signed his signature on the same paper she stamped and we were done. No passport stamps, just car docs. Mind you the border is only only 8am to 8-10pm so you can’t be crossing before or after that.
You’ll then drive less than a mile, enter another line of cars; stop and get out with all your docs AND BAGS.
You’ll fill out an immigration form first, this is step #0 because it’s unmarked. Then get in line #1 where you’ll give them all your car docs, and they’ll give you another immigration form to fill out – it’s a 4×4 square.
Then it’s on to line number 2 – at least they were marked in Chile.
We had so many documents at this point I couldn’t tell you which ones she took and stamped. But they’ll let you know.
She then took our first immigration forms and the paper everyone had been stamping for the car and sent us outside.
Between step two and going outside is step three – we put bags through the customs security check.
Outside you’ll drive the car up and they do a search + confirm you don’t have a lot of money, humans under 18, food, or livestock.
THEN YOU’RE FREE!!! (until we crossed back over a day and a half later…)
In Chile Chico you can kayak on the lake and see marble caves I believe. But our only interest here was to REST and allow me to do some work.
4 nights in El Chalten
Chile Chico to El Chalten
10 hours but actually 7.5
Laguna Torre (Cerro Fitz Roy) 8 hours but took us 6.5 (see full blog post coming soon) + Mirador Maestri Lookout (6 hours) – didn’t do it. Saving our feet for Torres Del Paine.
Corilla de Salta – waterfall, short and easy
Laguna & Glacier Huemul – 30 minutes in, uphill. Prettiest water we saw in El Chalten.
Accommodation: Anita’s House
The drive…can’t start until 8am because that’s when the border opens. You avoid this if you stay in the neighboring Argentinian town of Perito Moreno. But then you’re not on Buenos Aires Lake.
First four hours were paved but definitely rough in spots. There are signs all over that said “precaution, zona de baches”
Which we interpreted as zone of holes but we never looked it up.
Then at 1:30pm we straight up hit a gravel road…and that lasted one 1.5 hours. We were averaging 60kmph but didn’t track distance. Maybe just over 100km
Praise Jesus for our truck. But we did see a few sedans and cars driving on the road.
Stop just after Tres Lagos for gas. The gas station in El Chalten is a joke – see full El Chalten blog post (coming soon!). The line for gas when we entered was at least 10 vehicles long. And at least 20 cars long when we left. Fill up outside of El Chalten, and hopefully you’ll have enough to get to your next location (El Calafate).
3 nights in El Calafate
El Chalten to El Calafate
3 hours 45 minutes – took 2.5 hours
Activity: Perito Glacier
This was a WINDY drive. Paved, but not always flat. No dirt roads.
3 nights in Lake Pehoe
El Calafate to Lake Pehoe
Most of 40 was gravel, but you can take the 7 around it I believe. Once we hit Chile the road was paved…for like, a mile. Then we were on gravel again but that was only because they were repaving a VERY smooth looking route 9 next to us.
Argentina was easy. Two windows, and few stamps and we were on our way.
Entering Chile was same as last time – fill out form, three windows, baggage through the customs/security machine, car search, and through the gates we went.
$2,500 pesos to enter.
Need your passport.
They gave us an extensive little booklet with hike and park info.
Dirt road begins again from Route 9 to Y150.
Activities/hikes: Mirador Las Torres (THE HIKE). This is what people come to Patagonia for. And it’s no joke.
Accommodation: Hosteria Pehoe (make sure to read review in our TDP blog- coming soon!)
Lake Pehoe to Rio Gallegos
4 hours – we planned to drive down to Puerto Natales but since we’d been so unimpressed with the landscape thus far, we chose to take the quickest route to Rio Gallaegos.
Road was mostly paved.
At this point you could stay in Punta Arenas or opt to go WAY south to Uyshia – the southern most city in the world. This is where you’d board a two day ship across the Drake Passage to Antarctica. We plan to do another trip someday, specific to Antarctica and the (Falkland island?). If I’m going to the seventh continent, I’m going big – sea kayaking, helicopter rides, multiple locations and so on.
So we headed east to Rio Gallegos.
You could also go straight back up the way you came, but we wanted to see the east coast of Argentina as well.
Rio Gallegos to Comodoro Rivadavia
8-9 hours, but took 8 hours with stops along the way.
No photos because we def accidentally stayed in a sex hotel, stayed for one night and had long drives the day before and after our stay.
Comodoro Rivadavia to Puerto Madryn
Drive: 6 hours
Had to take a detour from the paved route 3 to the dirt and gravel route 1 for a full hour due to protesters blocking the highway…
Accommodation: Territorio Hotel.
I highly recommend this hotel. There wasn’t a restaurant but the bar food was better than most the food we had in all of Patagonia. The staff was incredibly helpful, there’s a full spa and a small gym. That was the first barbell I’d touched in over a month.
This hotel was one of the reasons we didn’t make it to the peninsula. In one of the three original blog posts I’d read, they made it sound like the east coast was a Mecca of marine wildlife. Like you could just stop off anywhere and see whales, penguins and sea lions. This is true once you drive north to the peninsula. But it’s a 2.5 hour drive one way from Puerto Madryn, and it’s dirt roads. Nate and I had one full day in Puerto Madryn and it was meant to be a rest day from driving…so as you can imagine, driving 5+ hours on our day off did not sound appealing. My desire to see the wildlife simply didn’t out weigh my desire to sit in the hotel library, drink a latte, work, get a lift in, and take a bath.
We do think Puerto Madryn and the wild life reserve is worth it, but we clearly hadn’t done enough research and needed another day here in order to drive to the multiple wildlife locations.
Puerto Madryn to Esquel
Turned into Puerto Madryn to Bariloche because we were just done and wanted to get it over with.
Done with shitty roads, dirt roads, gravel roads, detours, ungodly pot holes, and the most uninteresting scenery known to man…
We started at 10am because we wanted more time in our hotel vs more time in Esquel. But as we set out on route 3, the protesters that caused our detour two days earlier, were back. This time we were only 40 cars back or so, which meant we got through fairly quickly. This is when we said screw it, let’s drive all the way to Bariloche. Nate suggested it, and I said, praise the Jesus let’s do this.
The car navigation said 16 hours but we knew it would be more like 10-12.
Route 25 was a betch. Terrible roads. Including gravel and dirt, and “paved” sections peppered with gaping potholes. But at least there was a change in scenery.
It’s hilarious – there are a multitude of signs that say various renditions of “CAUTION – MUY DEFORMATION” for a given number of km ahead…like the entire road ain’t awful. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but the signs make you think it’s about to get worse. Really, it just continues being the same less than optimal condition.
Once we reached Esquel and headed to Bolson, the mountains and greenery reappeared. As did legit paved roads.
Overall, we started at 10:15 and arrived back at our start point in Bariloche at 7:30pm. So worth it.
1 full day turned 2 full days in Bariloche
This was a MUCH NEEDED rest in Bariloche before our flight to Buenos Aires.
We spent five full days in Buenos Aires as well. It was worth the extra add on, and we needed a break before heading to Australia and Japan.
You could of course do this trip faster or slower. We got most of this itinerary from a 15 day road trip. But we obviously wanted to take it a bit slower because, well, we could.
Go to Patagonia – it’s worth it.
Here’s how we’d suggest doing it differently.
Pick up the car in Bariloche and drive around.
Drive to Esquel, then drive to Chile Chico – do the Marble Caves if you want.
Stay in Torres Del Paine at the Grey
Drop off the car at an airport and fly out.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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