During our time in Patagonia we drove almost 4.000 km (2.500 miles) in our trusted Wicked Campervan (read the full review of the van HERE). Before showing you some impressions of driving on the seemingly endless roads, we want to give you a few tipps for driving down there.
Fuel & Gravel Roads
First of all and most importantly ALWAYS watch the fuel in your car. Sometimes the gas stations are quite far away from each other with often over 200 km (120 miles) of pure nothingness in between. So you really don’t want to run out of gas and have to wait for somebody to pass by and help you out. Therefore, every time we were in a bigger city/town we filled our tank completely just to be safe.
You will be faced with quite a lot of gravel roads as well. In order to make the ride on the bumpy roads as convenient as possible, always try to go with at least 50 – 60 km/h (30 – 35 mph). Cruising at that speed makes most bumps magically disappear when going over them and so you get quite a smooth ride. I mean don’t get us wrong, sometimes it’s necessary to reduce speed if the road doesn’t allow it, but don’t ride scared with 10 km/h like some drivers do.
With regards to gravel roads we have one more word of advice for you. When you drive from Puerto Natales in Chile to El Calafaté / El Chaltén in Argentina make sure to pass by the little city of Esperanza. There is also a shortcut you can take and when looking at the map it actually looks like a huge shortcut, but the road is not paved so it will take a considerable amount of time if you don’t have a 4×4 offroad drive. In addition, with the Wicked Campervans you are not allowed to drive on that road and you would lose your insurance in case something happens.
Crossing the border
When crossing the border don’t bring a filled up fuel canister with you when going from Chile to Argentina. They will check your trunk and will take it away. The other way around, when entering Chile, don’t bring any fruit. They rigorously check your car and confiscate any fruit you might have. Actually, it is a good idea to always declare on the form that you have fruits with you (even if you don’t). Your car will get checked anyway and in case they find something prohibited you can avoid a hefty fine that way.
The paperwork itself when crossing the borders is quite straightforward. When you speak Spanish it’s no problem at all and I guess the officers at the border speak English as well. Just think that your car is a passenger you have to do all the paperwork for and bring all the documents, then follow the signs and steps.
Ferry service to Tierra del Fuego
Transferring your car from the Patagonian mainland to Tierra del Fuego is also really easy. Just drive to Punta Delgada and take the ferry. There is no need to reserve a spot in advance as they leave quite frequently. Just remember to bring enough money with you as they only accept cash (at least when we were there in 2016). A one way ticket costs 15.000 Chilean Pesos or the Argentinian equivalent and you can pay in both currencies (again, that was the price at the end of 2016 so price may have changed).
Now the best tip we saved for last. In Patagonia you can camp wherever you please to do so and there is no law prohibiting that. The only exception is in National Parks. Inside the parks you are only allowed to stay overnight in a designated camping areas or in a parking lot. On the parking lots you will find signs that say no camping allowed, but in case you travel around in a campervan like we did that restriction doesn’t include you. Technically you are just parking the car there overnight and you don’t camp. So feel free to sleep at some of the most amazing spots in the middle of nowhere!
Awesome content! It’s a very helpful and thorough article full of great tips. Will definitely fill up the tank whenever I get the chance, wouldn’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Camping in the parking lots is especially very informative I definitely would have read the signs and left.
Hey Heather, we are glad that you like our tips and enjoyed the read. Have a great time down there in Patagonia!
Thank for sharing us the nice tips and real pics. I love your article.
That’s lovely to hear … we are glad you like the article 🙂
Love your shares and love this site. Very insightful! In regards to the car camping throughout Patagonia, do you foresee this as being safe for a solo female traveler? I am planning a 17 day trip from Santiago to Ushuaia with a couple nights backpacking in national parks in between…
thanks for your comment! We are glad that we could help you. We can’t really tell out of experience whether it is completely safe for solo female travelers to camp in Patagonia. All we can say is that we always felt safe and never ever had any shady encounters. All the best for your travels!