Before You Go:
- Chile or Argentina? Patagonia stretches across both Chile and Argentina. I went to the Chilean side, Torres del Paine National Park, specifically. If you’re more interested in Argentina or a different part of the region, this isn’t the post for you.
- Plan your trip. First, you need to decide if you’ll take the trek with a tour guide/company or on own your own. I personally went with a guided group and it made for a very relaxed experience. The guides did everything from reserving transportation and lodging, picking up our bagged lunch, checking into the refugio, etc. However, I think this trek can be done on your own with enough research and planning in advance. The trails are very well-marked and populated.
- How to get there: You’ll fly into Punta Arenas and from there, drive to Puerto Natales. From Puerto Natales, it’s another couple hours to the park entrance. Stock up on any snacks or last minute supplies and use the last bit of Wi-Fi and cell in one of these cities.
- Plan an extra day in Punta Arenas to take the ferry to Magdalena Island the see the Penguins! Then, enjoy a night cap at the Hotel Dreams for a wonderful view of the city and ocean.
- Let’s talk money! You’ll need Chilean pesos, possibly, or a credit card you can use internationally. Everywhere in town, and even the refugios, all accepted credit card. However, it’s always a good idea to bring cash when traveling in case you need it. I always exchange cash with my bank prior to my trip to avoid any exchange fees. I brought about 500 Chilean pesos that I used for restaurants, bars, souvenirs and tips. I put the other tours I did on my credit card. Prices are comparable if not more, than the U.S.
While You’re There:
- Prepare for weather: It almost goes without saying. Prepare by dressing in layers and bringing the right gear (Gortex is your friend!). We experienced sunshine, snow, rain and plenty of wind.
- The days are long. I went late December to early January which is summer in South America. You’re on the “bottom” of the world so the sun rose at 5 a.m. and set at 10 p.m. I was never up early enough or late enough to see the dark… excluding New Year’s Eve!
- Live off the grid. You won’t have TV, Wi-Fi or cell service once you leave Puerto Natales and it is awesome! Some refugios offered eight hours of Wi-Fi for ten pesos (pay online with credit card). But I say, embrace being off the grid!
- Brush up on your Spanish. Having bilingual guides made this optional, but I enjoy the opportunity to practice my Spanish. It seemed that most of the refugio staff knew English, but it helps to at least know some basics!
- Try a Pisco Sour. Apparently it’s THE drink: Pisco (brandy), sour and egg whites! They also make them in the Calafate variety, which was my favorite! Calafate is a berry that only grows in the Patagonia region.
- Like beer? I loved trying local beers! Austral Calafate was great slightly fruity beer that let me further enjoy the Calafate berry. Puerto Natales had the most variety of craft beers in restaurants and had a great blonde beer that I don’t remember the name of.
- Explore a glacier. Glaciar Grey will be at either the end or beginning of the W Trek depending on where you start. We ended there, which I thought was perfect. There are two options to get intimate with the glacier: kayak in Lago Grey among the glacial cliffs or climb on top with an ice hike! You can reserve either with Big Foot Patagonia.
OK, so now you want to go to Patagonia!