Travelling in Patagonia is not cheap, especially compared to other places in South America, such as Bolivia and Colombia. We suddenly went from having our own rooms in hostels and eating three course meals to camping, eating pasta and salami on a daily basis and drinking boxed wine (which is actually very nice in Chile and Argentina…)
It is possible to travel in Patagonia on a budget but you need to be prepared for western prices, similar to backpacking in the States or Australia. We had a budget for £250 a week and here are some handy ways to stick to this.
Camping is a great way to experience Patagonia and it is also much cheaper than staying in hostels or budget hotels. On average it costs £5 per person per night and we also found a lot of campsites in Patagonia had really good facilities such as a kitchen, living room style area and showers with hot water. Most also have relatively good wifi.
An essential app for happy campers in Patagonia (and anywhere else really) is iOverlander. It is an offline, open source map listing all of the established campsites, wild camping spots and also some restaurants and other bits and bobs. It has reviews written by travellers on the road and is usually very up-to-date. We pretty much found all of the campsites we stayed in via this app.
Getting hold of good reasonably priced camping equipment in Chile and Argentina is a different story. If you are intending to camp on your trip we would recommend bringing all of your equipment with you from home. However, if like us, this isn’t possible as it is part of a wider trip there are few good places you can purchase your gear. We would suggest either doing your shopping in big cities such as Santiago or Buenos Aires before you head down into Patagonia or if you are flying in to Punta Arenas there is an excellent duty-free shopping zone called Zona Franca. Doite is South America’s biggest and probably best outdoor store and it is fairly reasonably priced. We also purchased some of our camping gear such as sleeping bags and pots and pans from Jumbo in Santiago, a big supermarket chain.
Patagonia is famous for its changeable weather, it’s like England weather but on steroids. One minute you will be basking in the hot sun, the next minute you will be huddled for shelter from a snow storm. For Brits it’s wonderful, you can talk about the weather all the time! When the heavy rain starts to fall, we found it an excellent excuse to have a little break from camping and find somewhere cheap and cheerful to stay and recharge for a couple of nights. A dorm room on average costs around £15 per person per night and private rooms around £20 per person per night.
In the more touristy parts of Patagonia, there are lots of good hostels to choose from. However, when you get a little bit off the beaten track, there are not so many conventional hostels but more budget guest houses. We would recommend just turning up in town and walking around to try and find the best bargains. Normally the cheaper places won’t appear on Booking.com or HostelWorld. We have never turned up somewhere and not been able to find somewhere to stay, even in peak-season, there are always options. Then, if the place isn’t that nice or good-value, you can always move on the next day.
Unfortunately eating out in Patagonia while on a budget is very hard and cooking on a nightly basis soon becomes the norm. However, it is difficult to get hold of much variety of food (especially fruit and veg) in the smaller towns, and so it is always worth stocking up in the larger towns with some bits and pieces to keep you going. Rice (including flavoured rice), cuppa soup, pasta, tomato sauce, salami, cheese, bread, cereal, powdered milk, juice, raisins, and nuts were a few of our staples in our food bag.
If you’re camping, it is worth purchasing a gas burner and cooking equipment. Otherwise, you will find you will end up spending more money on eating out all the time than you would staying in a hostel with a kitchen.
Although cooking and making packed-lunches is necessary, it is also important to treat yourself and experience local cuisine. Portion sizes are often huge and it is often possible to share main meals to keep the cost down. Also tap water is drinkable in Patagonia which helps to keep costs down in restaurants. A couple of great restaurants we loved were Alto El Fuego in Bariloche for amazing steak and Mamma Gaucha in Coyhaique for great pizza and yummy desserts.
WWOOFing / Work away
Doing some volunteering work whilst in Patagonia in either hostels or on farms, is a fantastic way to experience the region while on a budget. It enables you to really get a feel for the destination and spend some more time exploring whilst not having to worry about the cost of accommodation or food. We volunteered at Fundo Panguilemu; a holistically managed farm just outside of Coyhaique. We spent two enjoyable weeks helping care of the 800 chickens, working in the greenhouses, helping with their small yurt business for tourists, assisting with the annual sheep shearing as well as cooking and general household chores.
Hitch hiking is definitely the preferred mode of transport for backpackers in Patagonia. It is very safe and as well as saving us rather a lot of money, we also met some interesting people on the road. Some days were better than others but generally we managed to pick up lifts in both Chile and Argentina. The buses on the Carretera Austral in Chile are fairly infrequent and hitch hiking is a great alternative. You can read more about our hitch hiking experiences and our top tips here.