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Getting Around Chilean Patagonia

The best ways to get around Chilean Patagonia are by car or plane. You can explore most areas by car, but you'll end up spending most of your vacation on the road. Unless you plan on visiting for a week or longer, you'll have to pick and choose your destinations within Chilean Patagonia. Numerous airlines allow you to easily hop between cities. You can also sail between cities on a ferry, but sea journeys are often attached to a hefty price tag. Conversely, buses are an affordable way to get around, but they're difficult to navigate and don't reach some must-see attractions.

To reach Chilean Patagonia, you'll most likely fly through Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL)—located about 30 minutes west of Santiago, Chile—and then take a hopper flight to your desired destination. Consider booking a flight to Punta Arenas Airport (PUQ) as Punta Arenas serves as an excellent base for the region's top attractions. Alternatively, you could also cross into Chile from El Calafate in Argentine Patagonia, but this will take longer.

Car

Renting your own set of wheels allows you to marvel at dazzling scenery on the open road and saves you from the hassle of depending on the bus. That said, Patagonia's choppy gravel roads stretch on for miles without the opportunity to refuel, which can leave you in some rough situations. You'll want to pack plenty of extras with you: water, food, and maintenance equipment. For the best rates, rent your car in Punta Arenas. You'll find a variety of car rental companies here, including familiar names like Hertz and Budget. You could also opt for getting around town by remis (private car and driver). This option allows you to sit back and enjoy the views without having to worry about navigating. But it will cost you extra.

Bus

Chilean Patagonia offers a wide range of bus services operating within Southern Chilean Patagonia; however, neither Punta Arenas nor Puerto Natales contains a centralized bus terminal, meaning you'll have to depart from the station of your selected bus company. Buses Fernández, a reliable bus company based in Punta Arenas, offers daily service to Puerto Natales. The ride takes about three hours; one-way fares are roughly $4 USD per passenger. During peak tourist months, you'll want to book tickets hours (if not days) in advance.

In Puerto Natales, you can board one of Big Sur's trusted buses, which shuttle passengers to Coyhaique. Buses depart at 10:30 a.m. Mondays and Thursdays; one-way tickets cost approximately $44 USD. From Puerto Natales, you can also hop on one of Ghisoni's buses, which go to Porvenir. If you're planning to visit Torres del Paine National Park, you can hop on Buses JB or Gomez, which offer service to the park at 7:30 a.m. and depart from the park at 2:30 p.m.; a round-trip fare costs about $10 USD.

Airplane

Flying is a convenient way to get around remote Southern Chilean Patagonia. LAN and Sky Airline offer connections between Puntas Arenas and Santiago as well as Puerto Montt in the Lake District and Coyhaique on the Southern Coast. If you're planning to book multiple flights, consider purchasing LAN's South America Air Pass, which offers lower airfare prices for one-way flights around Chile. Purchasing a flight pass is often more affordable than buying numerous individual tickets. Aerovías DAP shuttles passengers between Punta Arenas, Porvenir, and Puerto Williams (on Isla Navarino). It also offers flights throughout the week to destinations in Argentine Patagonia as well as flights over Cape Horn. Prices vary by time of year and distance; there are luggage weight restrictions (35 pounds for first- and business-class passengers and 18 pounds for economy-class passengers) so pack light.

Boat

Ferry services are a hassle-free means of transportation to remote Patagonia destinations and Tierra del Fuego. A variety of boat services operate between Punta Arenas, Porvenir, Puerto Williams (on Isla Navarino), and Ushuaia (Argentina). Cruceros Australis offers three and four-day routes from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Tuesday through Sunday, the Crux Australis Transbordadora Austral Brown ferry sails  from Tres Puentes (a port locatedthree miles from Punta Arenas) to Bahía Chilota (a terminal located about three miles from Porvenir). Passenger fares cost 5,500 CLP (roughly $11 USD); vehicle fares cost 34,900 CLP (about $70 USD). Boats depart at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 9:30 a.m. on Sundays; boats return to Punta Arenas at varying times in the late afternoon and evening depending on weather conditions.

There are also numerous multi-day cruise companies operating between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales. Navimag offers a Patagonian Fjords Route that sails from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. The trip takes four days and three nights. Rates vary from $400 to $2,470 USD depending on the season and your selected cabin size. The Evangelistas, one of Navimag's ferries, features 40 crew members, a spacious upper deck, and ocean views from exterior cabins. You'll want to book reservations far in advance if you're planning to visit during January or February.

Entry & Exit Requirements

A valid passport is required for entry into Chile. U.S. travelers can stay for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Travelers arriving into Santiago's International Airport (SCL) will be issued with a tourist card and are required to pay a $140 USD reciprocity fee upon arrival. For more information on entry and exit requirements, consult the U.S. State Department's website.

You can cross from Chile into Argentina at three different borders: Dorotea Pass, Casas Viejas Pass, and Cancha Carrera. Each border-crossing can be reached from Puerto Natales. Dorotea Pass and Casas Viejas Pass are within 30 miles of Puerto Natales and are open year-round; however, they have varying operation hours throughout the year. Cancha Carrera is open only from December to March and provides travelers with access to El Calafate in Argentina via Route 40.

Next Steps: Chilean Patagonia

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