Although one of the most expensive regions to explore in South America, discount travel in Patagonia is possible for those hoping to encounter this land of fire, ice and water.
That said, making your money go further can be achieved with a little upfront planning, as the inaccessibility of some parts of Patagonia can make prices far higher than in other regions of Argentina and Chile.
Discount Travel Tip #1: Source easy tour discounts
You’ll often find in Patagonia that hostels and hotels will have links with local tour agencies, and optimizing these pre-established partnerships can significantly aid you to travel cheaply in Patagonia. Booking with the recommended partner can give you an immediate discount on your tour, but be sure to check online reviews to ensure that you’ll be getting a quality service. You might find that paying in cash for tours is cheaper – just ask the price first and see if they offer a discount for effectivo.
Self-guided tours in Patagonia are another way of discount travel here. The most famous Patagonian hiking routes, the ‘W’ and the Circuit in Torres del Paine, are walkable without a guide. For other activities, speaking to knowledgeable staff in your accommodation about using public transport to get to tourist destinations can often come up trumps – and save dollars.
Discount Travel Tip #2: Withdraw money beforehand
ATMs are becoming more readily available in Patagonia, but beware that in smaller towns you might be lucky to find a cash machine, and even luckier to find one that actually accepts your card.
Taking out money in bigger cities and investigating a credit or debit card that doesn’t charge for withdrawals before you leave your home country can keep your travel in Patagonia at a lower cost and save the stress of finding ways of paying in rural locations.
Discount Travel Tip #3: Investigate your transport options
This is the most affordable method of travelling in Patagonia. Overnight buses are a good way of crossing vast distances without wasting valuable vacation days, just make sure you opt for the cama – a 160 degree reclining seat and which regularly includes a meal and snacks in the price.
With the region stretching over an enormous 260,000-sq. miles (673,000-sq. km), flights can be a sensible choice for affordable travel in Patagonia, particularly for those travelling within short time frames.
Santiago International Airport has daily flights to Punta Arenas in the far south with Sky Airline and LATAM, while flights from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, Trelew and El Calafate are run by Aerolíneas Argentinas, LATAM and Líneas Aéreas del Estado.
Another very convenient form of transport, vehicle hire is best organized in Santiago or Buenos Aires. Although companies are located in numerous towns across Patagonia, discount car hire options are limited outside of the capital cities. Be aware that it’s far cheaper to return the vehicle to the pickup point.
Affordable Patagonian travel is made vastly easier with a rental car. You can disregard expensive tours by driving to tourist destinations yourself and even camp in the wild practically anywhere in Patagonia’s uninhabited and enchanting landscapes. Bear in mind that not all roads are paved, and it’s best to fill up before you leave each town or city as there are miles of roads without gas stations.
Discount Travel Tip #4: Plan your food upfront
Food prices increase significantly as you enter the more rural extremes of Patagonia. Therefore, it makes discount travel sense to stock up in the larger cities, such as Puerto Montt, Coyhaique, Puerto Arenas, Bariloche and Ushuaia.
Self-catering is another way of reducing travel costs when travelling in Patagonia, as most accommodations (unless you’re booked into a hotel) will include access to cooking facilities. Fresh water – a daily expense in many South American countries – can often be safely obtained from the tap; just double check with hostel staff to ensure that it is potable.