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A drivers guide to Patagonia: What you should know about driving in Patagonia

Are you planning a road trip through Patagonia prepare yourself for an adventure! But it requires a bit of preparation because Patagonia is one of the most extreme places to drive because of the distances and weather conditions. This is a guide for what you should know about driving in Patagonia, both the Chilean and Argentinean site, what to bring and what to do and not to do to get as safe and secure trip as possible.

 

Which kind of car and how to drive in Patagonia

If you can choose, choose a four-wheel drive. Sure you can drive a regular 4×2 car, but you will be driving on bad roads and gravel roads, so it will be more safe with a 4×4 car. Make sure everything works and the pneumatic wheels are up-to-date. To be honest, with the conditions of the roads mixed with the strong wind I would not go with a city car or anything lightweight. If you are renting a car, I will recommend a Nissan Trail X and Subaru Forester. Especially the Subaru Forester is famous for being super secure. If you rent a truck, you’ll want a tarp, at least 15m of cord, and an understanding that anything in the bed will get wet.

Drive safe, and with precaution, these long roads are not made for speed race and be aware of your surroundings. Especially in high season, you will meet trucks, cyclists, hitchhikers, people on a horseback, and wildlife like the guanaco, the armadillo, hares and even pumas. So be courteous on the road. We saw many dead armadillos on the road 🙁

If you have another car in front of you, keep distance. Loose stones can damage your car, and it’s more difficult to break on a gravel road. I admit, Victor had to tell me many times to keep distance because I like to be right “up in the ass” of all cars. Sorry fellow drivers.. I know its really annoying!

A drivers guide: How to drive in Patagonia. Be prepared for all kind of weather in the mountains!

We drove down south in September, and suddenly we got snow! This is like 15km from Cerro Castillo, Aysen.

 

Plan your route before going

Do some research: ask for peoples experiences and orientate yourself about the condition of the roads you are planning to take. Check where the gas stations are located and calculate the distance to not run out of gas. A good idea is to ask the local people like at the border control or gas stations. If you have to choose between two roads, ask them which one they recommend and if you should be aware of something.

Plan for waiting time: On the Carretera Austral it’s not uncommon in the afternoons to have “cortes,” during which you cannot transit a section of road due to construction. On the Argentine side, “cortes” for labor actions are more common. Schedule flexibility. We had to wait at Lago Puyuhuapi because of stone falls on the road. Furthermore, they are still working on the roads so on some roads there will be waiting time because only one side of the road can pass by.

Fill up the tank in bigger cities: In most small towns you will find gas stations. Not cheap, of course, so make sure to fill up the tank in big cities where it’s more affordable.

Use Maps.me as GPS: Maps.me is a genius app and we use it a lot. Just be aware that Maps.me often takes the shortest route, but if you are driving in Patagonia, you will discover that there are many gravel roads and maps.me don’t know the current condition of these roads. Remember, if you take a less known road and something happens, the chances of somebody passing by to help is lesser. Sometimes you will need to think in worst case scenarios rather than which route is the shortest or looks more adventurous.

Avoid “adventurous roads”: I give you an example of why you should not always trust Maps.me: We were staying close to Cochrane in Chile and to get into Argentina and South; Maps.me suggested us to drive via the Baker Border and not Chile Chico to hit route 40. Nobody really knew about the condition of the road from the Argentinean border to route 40 because most people drive up north to cross Chile Chico and then go down to hit route 40. I can report to you that the condition of the Argentinean road is awful! Full of holes and it took forever to get to route 40, so in retro perspective, we did not save much time, and it’s not good for the car engine to change gear all the time and to drive into holes. Furthermore, we did not meet any car along this route.

A drivers guide: What you should now about driving in Patagonia. Tips and advices!

From our road trip towards Baker Border.

Pay attention to the traffic signs and the roads

“Zona de baches” basically means that you need to be aware of huge holes (!!) on the way and you will experience many of them in Argentina. Be alert, do not drive too fast and if you are not sure what a sign means, drive slowly with attention on the road.

You will realize that maintenance of the roads is not on high priority in Argentina, and even though its a concrete highway it doesn’t mean it is in good shape.

 

Check the wind direction before going out of the car

You will see abandoned vehicles along the road, and it can either be the bad road condition mixed with too much speed, or it can be the wind. The wind here is unbelievable strong. I am from Denmark, and I thought I knew how strong wind could be, but Jesus, the wind can be so strong that it literally freaks me out! The Patagonian wind can reach speeds of about 120 km/hour (74 miles/h)!! If you need to go out of the car, check the wind direction first. If it comes from behind it can break off the door if you do not hold it. It is better to park with the wind coming from the side or the front. If you have loose, lightweight things in the car, make sure to pack it away, so it doesn’t blow away when you open the door. Take off your hat 🙂

A drivers guide: how to drive in Patagonia

Rock-falls were causing delay and waiting time at Lago Puyuhuapi

 

What you should bring with you in the car

A Jerry can: An extra 20 Liter jerry can for gasoline (remember to empty it before the border).

Extra tire: Don’t go anywhere without an extra tire and equipment to replace if you get a flat tire. Two spare tires are even better. A shop that offers tire repair is a “vulcanización” in Chile and a “gomería” in Argentina.

Radio: There is no service in some of the more rural routes, and in case if something happens it is nice to have. Furthermore, you will realize that most SOS places in Argentina do not work: there is no phone where there are supposed to be. In Chile, they are more strict about this.

Music: Download a hell lot of songs on your Spotify because you will need something to keep you focused on the long, boring roads. I am a big fan of playlists with hits from the 90s. Perfect to sing-a-long (or well.. to sing by myself).

Blanket: In case you will need to sleep in the car.

Reflective jacket: In Chile, the driver is obligated to have a reflective jacket in the car. Furthermore, in Chile, its necessary to have 2 reflective triangles, an automotive fire extinguisher, and the spare tire.

 

 

Argentina: What to be aware of at the border control

Each country has its restrictions and to avoid misunderstandings or to spend too much time at the border control; you need to be updated on what to bring and not to bring. You can be sure that if they find one forbidden thing they will search each inch in your car! More waiting time!

Argentinean holidays: check the holidays in Argentina. Argentineans like to go shopping in Chile if they have an extended weekend so try to avoid these days if you are not a big fan of waiting time at the border.

Non-processed food and gasoline: This kind of depends on the border control and the mood of the people working there, but we experienced at the Baker Border that we could not bring gasoline and non-processed food into Argentina. From Chile and into Argentina via Cerro Castillo, we haven’t had any issues with non-processed food.

Professional equipment: You need to declare if you bring in an expensive and/or professional equipment, e.g., cameras from Chile. When you fill out the exit document from Chile, there is a space for writing this. Ask if in doubt.

Car insurance: You need to have car insurance to drive in Argentina. This can be provided in most cities in Chile and online (I heard positive things about Falabella). If you are not the owner of the car, you need to have permission from the owner to enter Argentina. If the vehicle is rented, you need to get special permission from the rental car agency plus the third party insurance for Argentina. If you do not have your permission, you will be sent back to Chile to fix it.

 

A drivers guide to Patagonia: What you should know about driving in Patagonia: how to prepare the journey, what to do and not to do and what to bring with you

Gravel road! Lots and lots of gravel roads when driving in Patagonia

Chile: What to be aware of at the border control

Chile has even more restrictions on food than Argentina.

Food restrictions: You cannot bring any meat, eggs, honey, jam, nuts, milk, vegetables or fruit into the country. Not even cheese. But again, it depends on how you bring it into the country, because sometimes they may allow it – you just need to declare it.

Animal products: See this list of food of animal origin you may bring: http://english.sag.gob.cl/ambitos-de-accion/products-animal-origin

Plants, fruit, and vegetable: See the list of food of plant origin you may bring: http://english.sag.gob.cl/ambitos-de-accion/plant-or-vegetable-products

Mate? No worries, yerba mate should not be a problem, but always ask in the case because each border may have their own restrictions.

Traveling kids: Children traveling with their parents must present their ID card and original birth certificate (or certified photocopy). If the children travel alone, or with only one of their parents, they must have DNI and travel judicial authorization.

 

 

Any experiences and tips you want to share? Anything you think that I am missing in the article? Please leave a comment and let’s help each other!

Did you like the article? Please share it 🙂

 

 

17 Comments

  • Christina November 18, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    I’ve ALWAYS dreamt of hiking in Patagonia but never even considered a road trip. This looks epic! Sometimes I forget that the region is split between Chile and Argentina, so reading those border crossing tips was especially helpful. So saving this for the future – ahh!

    Reply
  • Karin November 18, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Wow, this is really thorough! I am surprised by how much wind there is. I’d love to go to Patagonia – I heard it is quite possible to hitchhike there too so who knows, maybe one day when I’m back in South America! 🙂

    Reply
  • Jacky November 18, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Such great tips and certainly things I would have never thought about! Looks like an incredible adventure. Hope I get the chance to go some day 🙂

    Reply
  • Cory Varga November 19, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    This is really good as we actually want to drive in Patagonia. Ok, truth be told Patagonia has been on our list for the past 3 years and we are still to get there. But once we do, we will want to rent and drive! <3

    Reply
    • nanaregalah November 19, 2017 at 6:25 pm

      You need to come before it gets too expensive! and the glaciers disappear (ok, not sure how many years you have planned to live, but still!) 🙂

      Reply
  • Jean November 19, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Such a great guide! We didn’t hire a car this time as we didn’t know what to do and ended up on all the buses. Next time we’ll be more prepared and think about hiring a car

    Reply
    • nanaregalah November 19, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      It gives you some freedom with the car, but also extra concerns 🙂

      Reply
  • Carmelatte November 19, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    One of my fav destinations!

    Reply
  • Agness of a Tuk Tuk November 20, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    Patagonia seems like an awesome travel destination which I wonder why isn’t already on my bucket list. Would you recommend it as a good destination for a road trip?

    Reply
  • sivylla November 21, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Beautiful pictures and such great tips!!! Your blog is so well written and i love your story. Well done!
    Will you check my latest post and let me know what you think?
    thisissivylla.com/2017/11/exploring-papigo/

    Reply
    • nanaregalah November 21, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      Thank you Sivylla 🙂 I will take a look,

      Reply
  • MG November 21, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    What an adventure! I’ve never been to Patagonia before, but it looks like an amazing place to visit! I would love to visit one day, and can’t wait to read some of your other articles about visiting.

    Reply
    • nanaregalah November 21, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      You have to come one day, you will absolutely love it :)) Thanks for your sweet comment

      Reply
  • Used Honda HRV Cars October 9, 2018 at 6:43 am

    Usually I never comment on blogs but your blog is so convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it.You’re doing a great job

    Reply
  • Sitara December 15, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Where did you hire the rental car? We are having problems with finding a rental car company that has decent reviews and allows the car to go from Chile into Argentina and back 🙂

    Reply
    • nanaregalah December 17, 2019 at 6:49 pm

      Hi Sitara,
      uh, that is a good question! I drow in my own car and I cannot really recommend any companies. I hear both bad and good reviews of those here in Patagonia and I have no personal experiences. I will try to ask around if anybody knows!

      Reply

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