If you love hiking, trekking, or just getting out into nature, chances are Patagonia has a place on your travel list. But due to its isolation and how spread out everything is, it can also be a pretty expensive undertaking. Between flights, hotels, food, and activities, a trip to Patagonia can set you back a fair amount. We’re talking thousands of dollars.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to scrape and save both before and during your trip, putting South America’s final frontier at your fingertips.
1. Skip high season.
The Patagonian summer months of December through February mark high season in the region, and it is when popular destinations like Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile will be at their most crowded and most expensive. Opt instead to visit in spring (September through November) or autumn (March through May) for fewer crowds, better rates, equally good weather as summer, and the chance to see Patagonia either in spring bloom or fall foliage!
2. Cook on your own.
Granted, a trip to Patagonia is a once-in-a-lifetime treat, so budget for an authentic asado and a few nice meals, but hitting up the local supermarket before hitting the trails gives you the freedom to budget shop, pick your favorite trail foods, and not have to pay for overpriced meals at refugios or hotels while trekking. Go for simple, portable foods with easy preparation like pastas, instant soups, and granola, and try to avoid ingredients that require refrigeration (it’s not like you can stick those eggs into a glacier during the day!) Doing your own cooking at hostels while you’re in town is also a great way to save money for either more traveling or a fun night out after completing a trek!
3. Go camping.
You are in the heart of one of Mother Nature’s cathedrals to the great outdoors, so experience it as it was meant to be experienced: camping style! At parks like Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares, campsites inside the park are nicely equipped and set up with bathrooms, designated sites, grills, and more, although some lesser-known areas may have slightly rougher accommodations. But most parks or areas of interest have at least rudimentary campsites (with varying rates depending on high or low season), so roughing it in a tent is a great way to save some smackeroos, in addition to being closer to nature.
4. Hostels vs. hospedajes
Sadly, many hostels these days are no longer the ultimate budget travel option, where you’re paying more for the ambience, experience, and comfort than a cheap place to crash. During high season, most rooms will have to be booked well in advance and will come at higher rates, which is why an alternative can be hospedajes or residenciales. These local versions of B&Bs or short term rentals are usually rooms in locals’ homes, where for a nightly fee you can have access to a room and basic amenities like a bathroom and kitchen. Speaking a bit of Spanish may come in handy here for chatting with your temporary landlords, and you get the added benefits of practicing your Spanish and getting to know some of the locals!
5. Take advantage of local transport.
Using buses and national airlines can be a huge pennysaver, as Patagonia’s isolation means that just getting there is a pricey endeavor. But that’s changing quickly as the region gains popularity. Long distances buses in Chile and Argentina are actually quite comfortable and a great economic choice (if you don’t mind a long ride with pretty views; just stock up on podcasts for the drive!), and recently the market in low cost flight operators has boomed, with airlines like SKY, JetSMART, and even LATAM offering flights from major cities like Santiago and Buenos Aires to high traffic Patagonia airports for as low as $30 USD a leg. Once again, traveling in low season will have lower rates, and booking flights or buses using the Spanish version of the sites can have lower rates that don’t include the “tourist tax.”
6. Gear rentals
To avoid extra baggage fees and lugging around a bulky, awkward bag on long trips (also to be less conspicuous to potential pickpockets), use gear rental stores. Most towns near top destinations like Torres del Paine or Los Glaciares will have places where you can rent gear by the night like tents, camping stoves, hiking poles, and more. If there isn’t a designated store, sometimes tour operators or hostels have their own stash of supplies to rent out to guests.
That being said, there are a few items you should definitely bring from home like good, sturdy hiking boots, and your own sleeping bag.
7. Do research beforehand and forego a guide or tour.
There are plenty of resources out there about popular hiking trails and activities in Patagonia, and most treks (such as the W Trek in Torres del Paine) can be done on your own, without paying out the nose for a guide or tour company. The trails are well-marked and safe, and there are generally other hikers or park officials around to offer a helpful point in the right direction if needed. Of course, ditching a tour or guide can require a bit more logistic finagling on your end (pre-booking campsites, reserving tickets, figuring out transportation, etc.) but you will save more money in the long run and can walk away with the satisfaction that you planned your Patagonian adventure all on your own.
8. Hitchhiking or cycling
If you want to be the ultimate budget traveler, it doesn’t get more bare bones than hitchhiking or cycling your way around Patagonia! The region’s wide open spaces, beautiful views, and friendly locals make for a safe and comfortable hitchhiking environment, which is the norm for many budgeting students or young people visiting the area. This may be easier to do during high season when there are more frequent cars, and once again, knowing some Spanish will be helpfuñ. If you’re not comfortable hitch-hiking, cycling is also a great option but it can be tiring and strenuous due to the distance between towns and destinations. But if you enjoy going at your own pace and don’t mind taking your time, cycling is a wonderful way to appreciate the landscapes and wildlife.