Patagonia is as close to the Wild West as anything in the world. Vast expanses of wild mountains, prairies, lakes and rivers just waiting to be explored. It’s a place where broken down cars can leave you truly abandoned and in serious danger. But that’s what makes it so perfect for an epic road trip.
There are plenty of companies willing you rent you the wheels you need to dominate the roads of Patagonia, from beefy Land Rovers to dual-sport motorcycles. In most cases, these extreme vehicles are unnecessary and a simple 2WD car will do. However, when road tripping outside of summer or as the seasons change, you may consider something a little more stout than a Volkswagen Gol. For the best deals, look for rentals with “libre” kilometers, or unlimited mileage, full insurance and roadside assistance.
Border crossings between Chile and Argentina are frequent when road tripping in Patagonia. Most crossings are low-key and quick to get through. Before you leave the rental agency, ensure you have the proper paperwork that allows you to cross the border in a rental car. It’s also easy to forget to have your car empty of any illegal substances. In this case: fruits, vegetables and other food products that you cannot take over the border. Never stock up before a border crossing or you’ll wind up tossing most of your pantry.
The two main roads in Patagonia are Chile’s Carretera Austral and Argentina’s Ruta 40. Most road trips will start in the north where larger towns mean cheaper car rentals. Puerto Montt in Chile and San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina are the usual suspects for cheap rentals. From there, wind your way down either side of the Andes and use passes, like the one at Coyhaique to jump into the other country.
Patagonia is rapidly becoming more populated and tourism is booming. As a result, many of the unpaved sections of road are getting paved and previously single lane jaunts are turning into multi-lane highways. However, there is still plenty of gravel and dirt to pass through. Get a good, updated map that displays whether roads are gravel or pavement. Expect distances to take twice as long to travel when on an gravel road and plan accordingly.
You could write volumes on the myriad of destinations in Patagonia, but if you can only see a few make sure these are the places. Hit the lakeside town of El Calafate and take a day trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier. Explore Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Meander along the windy river valley outside Coyhaique and grab a beer in the hippy loving hamlet of Argentina’s El Bolson.