Some of my friends are convinced that I spend a significant amount of my time traveling, especially those who live abroad and have limited opportunities to gain a true understanding of my daily life. I would say that nowadays, this is a common side effect when a substantial portion of our communication occurs through the distorted lens of social media.
Several months ago, someone asked me about the most exciting trip I had ever taken. While I could think of a few that I might have considered the best trips, I found myself unable to select a single one as the absolute best on the spot. So, I posed the question to some of my friends. Naturally, I received a wide range of answers, from well-known, classic destinations to exotic and unfamiliar ones. In fact, what became apparent was that the place itself was not the sole or even the most crucial factor. What seemed to matter most was the human experiences that accompanied these trips, which gave them a special place in their memories.
For me, numerous journeys have been unique and have provided a treasure trove of wonderful memories. If I absolutely had to name a place, it would probably be Patagonia. The unexpected and breathtaking locations I discovered and the wonderful people I met undoubtedly played a significant role. However, there was something more to it. This trip was a quirky idea that emerged out of nowhere, entirely my own, and it revolved around a place about which I knew next to nothing. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I had no idea how the entire journey would unfold. It turned out to be an incredible adventure, and that’s what makes it so special to me.
My curiosity about that region developed spontaneously. I remember randomly searching the internet, simply out of curiosity, to see what would come up. I even recall using Google Maps and dropping the little street view man onto random roads and towns. During one of these virtual explorations, the little yellow man landed on an unpaved road somewhere on the Carretera Austral. It was a road leading to the very tip of Chilean territory. An extraordinary place surrounded by a blue lake, snow-covered mountains, and bathed in sunlight beneath an immense blue sky. I never got to visit that place in person, but I spent the following days daydreaming about traveling down that road and wondering if it would truly be as captivating as it appeared from my computer chair.
The following day, I took a small step forward in what could potentially become a plan. I began by searching for motorcycle rental options in the area online. Each of these rental sites prominently featured their guided adventure tours on their main pages, complete with images of sun-drenched roads, mountains, maps, detailed descriptions, and glowing testimonials. These elements fascinated me to such an extent that I began to consider the possibility that such a holiday might be achievable for regular people equipped with some self-organization skills and a modicum of common sense. More than professional survival skills or years of experience, I realized that experience often comes from, well, experiences!
There are so many aspects of this trip I would like to share, but I believe a good place to start might be by providing some practical information, in the hope that it could prove useful to those who aspire to explore the End of the World on their own.
The different faces of Patagonia
When we hear the word “Patagonia,” it may not immediately register how vast and diverse this land truly is. In fact, Patagonia is a region with somewhat imprecise borders. It stretches across the entire southern part of South America, starting from the Chilean Lakes region in the north to the southernmost parks and the far tip of the continent. This is where you’ll find Ushuaia and Puerto William, situated just across from, but not too far from, the Antarctic continent. To put it into perspective, we’re talking about a landmass that spans more than 2000 kilometers. Argentina and Chile are the two countries that share this territory and its natural wonders, roughly in equal measure.
Interestingly, there is no unanimous agreement on where the northern border of Patagonia is situated. However, you could consider the Chilean Araucanía region and Argentina’s Río Negro region as its northernmost extent. My journey began in the Chilean Lakes area, a region of exceptional beauty known as Araucanía, which many travelers choose as their starting point. I also regard it as the gateway to experiencing Patagonia. Another equally renowned lake region and a popular starting point lies just a bit further south on the Argentine side: San Carlos de Bariloche.
The regions south of Bariloche can be divided into three parts: an eastern section (the Argentine pampa), a western region (the lush and humid Chilean Patagonia), and the southernmost tip, where you’ll find famous national parks, along with the well-known Ushuaia and the end of the continent.
What's the best season to visit Patagonia?
Clearly, its climate changes a lot from one area to another. But we can roughly say that almost everywhere the good season goes from November to March: although not very hot, neither spring nor autumn are very cold periods.
The high season typically spans from mid-December to mid-February. During this latter period, you’ll find a large influx of tourists, particularly in the lake area between Pucon and San Carlos de Bariloche, as well as in the region of parks further south. Even Ushuaia can seem remarkably crowded between Christmas and New Year’s. Personally, I’m not fond of the company of noisy tourist crowds when it comes to enjoying a vacation. I much prefer opting for the “shoulder” seasons—those times just before the high season kicks off or after it winds down. If I were to offer some advice, I would recommend considering mid-November, early December, or early March: in November, it’s spring, one of the most glorious seasons, with plenty of sunshine, blue skies, and landscapes adorned in greenery and blossoms.
In March, the climate tends to be moderate (as I’ve heard), with fewer winds compared to the summer season, and the magnificent autumn hues start to make their appearance, particularly in Chilean Patagonia.
It’s worth noting that the climate in the northern and western regions of Chilean Patagonia is more humid, while the eastern and southern areas, which have a predominantly pampas-like appearance, are much drier. These latter regions are consistently buffeted by strong and persistent westerly winds from November to March. This can be quite bothersome and should be taken into account if you’re planning a motorcycle journey towards the very southern reaches.
Motorcycle, a few ideas on how to get it done
For my fellow motorcycle enthusiasts, the first thing that naturally comes to mind is finding a means to acquire your trusty two-wheeled companion. While these suggestions are applicable to almost all destinations, I’d like to delve into the specifics of three possible methods to obtain a motorcycle.
In brief, shipping your bike from Europe to South America has its pros and cons. Among the advantages, you can count the comfort and familiarity of having your own vehicle, especially for longer journeys. Renting a motorcycle in Patagonia can be quite expensive. However, be aware that once you’ve found a shipping company, you’ll need to personally take your motorcycle to the boarding pier, pack it in a crate (which you must provide), and empty it of all fluids (fuel and oils). The bike will take 30-40 days for the voyage. If you don’t intend to embark with it, you should plan a flight for thirty to forty days later. The best port for this operation is probably Buenos Aires. However, be cautious; some experiences, like a man spending 40 days on a freighter traveling from England to Argentina via Senegal, can be quite unusual and challenging. Think twice before attempting such a journey.
Once your motorcycle is delivered, you’ll need to complete all the necessary procedures to clear it through local customs. This process shouldn’t be overly complicated as long as you have all the required documents and everything goes smoothly with customs. Afterward, it’s just a matter of heading to your destination—the starting point of your Patagonia adventure. While I can’t provide an exact figure for the total cost of this operation, my mechanic told me about a guy who did something similar, and it certainly wasn’t a budget-friendly endeavor!
I met a guy around my age during the trip who was riding an older model of a Honda bike, probably a thirty-year-old CB-something model. He had purchased the motorcycle in Chile at a reasonable price just a few weeks earlier. Buying a bike is a viable option but comes with some inevitable hassles. It can take time to locate the right model for sale because the number of motorcycles available in Chile and Argentina is not as abundant as what we might be accustomed to, and they may be in modest condition. Once you’ve found the bike, you’ll likely need to navigate the process of transferring ownership and obtaining the necessary documents for border crossings. While I might be mistaken, I got the impression that if you buy a bike in Argentina, it might not be straightforward to acquire those documents due to export limitations. Additionally, unless you plan to bring it back home with you, you’ll eventually need to sell it. In the end, it requires time, patience, and a bit of luck.
The most popular solution, and certainly the most convenient, is to opt for a motorcycle rental agency. There are several of these agencies scattered across Chile and Argentina. They offer guided tours for various preferences, although I must add that they may not suit every budget. Some of these agencies rent out a range of motorcycle models for individual trips. From my perspective, this is the most comfortable option but also the costliest one. Renting motorcycles is generally expensive, and in Patagonia, it typically ranges from about 110-120 EUR per day for some of the more affordable models from brands like Honda, Yamaha, or BMW, all the way up to around 250 EUR for high-end models like the new BMW R1200. Usually, this isn’t the full extent of your expenses, as you’ll likely need to factor in the cost of insurance for the motorcycle and third-party damage. While not mandatory, it’s highly recommended. Typically, the insurance policy includes a deductible, meaning it only kicks in for damages exceeding a certain amount. In other words, you’ll need to cover the first few hundred euros of any damages yourself before the insurance takes over. Fortunately, having an accident with someone is not an easy feat.
The primary concern is more about the risk of accidents on the numerous dirt roads in Patagonia. Personally, I never had a fall, but I came dangerously close at least three times. On the day I rented my bike, I recall a group of Spaniards who were returning BMWs, and one of them had fallen, causing significant damage to the tank of an R1200. I can’t say exactly how much it cost him, but I saw the price list for spare parts, and it must have been a substantial amount. I must mention that all the motorcycles I encountered were new, in excellent condition, equipped with top boxes, and meticulously maintained. When you rent, they’ll also provide you with maps, helpful tips, and the necessary documentation for crossing the Argentina/Chile border. So, while renting undoubtedly offers the advantage of convenience, the most obvious drawback is certainly the cost.
My personal experience with it has been positive. The dealer is a large American company, but I highly recommend the rental agency in Villarrica, managed by Ulli. He provided me with a new bike in perfect condition, equipped with appropriate trim and off-road tires that made a significant difference. Ulli was extremely friendly and always ready to assist in any situation.
How to get there
Arriving in Patagonia from Europe might be more affordable than you’d expect. Flights from Europe during the non-high season periods could be priced at just a few hundred euros. Based on my experiences during flights with Latam Airlines, it’s a good idea to consider luggage insurance since they lost my luggage twice. Additionally, it’s wise not to plan your trip with a tight schedule, as delays can occur.
Flights within Chile, such as to Temuco, Osorno, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, or wherever you choose to go, generally have very reasonable prices. However, the same cannot be said for flights between Chile and Argentina, so choose your arrival airport wisely if you need to fly within Patagonia.
Two words about Chile and Argentina
Chile is generally more expensive than Argentina, and it’s often considered the wealthiest and most European country in South America. The facilities and services in Chile are generally good. While I personally didn’t encounter any significant problems, Argentina, due to its political and economic instability, can present challenges during your trip. In some areas, especially in the southern pampas region, finding gas stations can be difficult. It’s advisable not to rely too heavily on your credit card; in Argentina, it’s often necessary to carry cash since not all places accept credit cards.
The border crossings between Chile and Argentina open at 8 am and close at 8 pm, so make sure not to arrive late. However, the border guards on both sides are typically friendly. If your motorcycle has all the required documents, you should encounter no issues. Keep in mind that there are regulations regarding the transport of fruits and vegetables across the border to protect the local flora and fauna.
In most rural areas, crime is nearly non-existent, and you can safely leave your bike on the street. However, in some places like Bariloche, which is a popular tourist destination, there may be minor issues with petty crime. The same goes for Puerto Montt and some other towns in northern Chile. Generally, towns and villages south of Bariloche are very quiet in terms of crime.
If you haven’t been warned before, you will quickly notice how many roads are unpaved while traveling through Patagonia. Even on main roads such as Routa 9, Routa 40 or the road that goes around General Carrera lake it’s easy to find large traits of gravel or sectors that are still under construction.
It’s worth noting that it’s a common rule that border crossings between Chile and Argentina, as well as routes passing through reserves and national parks like Lanin, Alerces, Torres del Paine, and others, are mostly unpaved.
Even when traveling through the Argentine pampas, you might encounter instances where the national road (Route 40) unexpectedly becomes an unpaved track without apparent reason. These dirt roads can come in various forms, and some can be particularly bothersome, featuring an irregular, grooved surface covered with crushed stone.
I encountered discomfort on many sections of these dirt roads, with the rear wheel frequently skidding or the bike tending to go straight on curves due to the road’s irregular, convex profile – meaning it tilts toward the edge. To navigate these roads safely in Patagonia, you need wisdom, caution, and plenty of practice.
Lastly, the wind is a significant factor, especially in the southern regions and plains. During the summer season, you’ll contend with a persistent western wind that can push your bike off course continuously. Regardless of your efforts, this can make certain parts of your journey strenuous and perilous.
An idea for a journey
If you’re planning a motorcycle trip, you have several options to consider. However, as a first step, I would recommend calculating how many days you have available, including those needed for returning your bike. Whether you’ve rented, shipped, or purchased a motorcycle, there are logistics involved in the return process.
If you’re renting a bike, many dealers offer the option to return it to a different location and can handle shipping it back to the original rental place for a reasonable fee.
Popular places to rent motorcycles in the north of Patagonia include Santiago, Osorno, Puerto Montt, Villarrica, and others. Renting your bike in one of these locations has two advantages: you can start your journey with a visit to the stunning lakes region, and you’ll have the option of using a convenient domestic flight from Santiago to reach these rental locations.
Your personal itinerary started in Villarrica, one of the villages around the lakes of Araucania in Chile. You were able to get there with a flight from Santiago to Temuco airport, followed by a short bus trip. However, the same could be easily done if you choose a different starting point.
You might want to spend at least a couple of days visiting the wonderful valley dotted with lakes and surrounded by breathtaking snow-capped volcanoes, something you regret not being able to do. From Villarrica, you can easily cross the mountains and the Lanin Park to get to Argentina (purple itinerary) and travel down to Bariloche through the amazing 7-lakes trail of Routa 40. The village of Bariloche, the area with its blue lakes, and the Llao Llao ring with its breweries are worth a stop.
Further south, after the Parco de los Alerces, it’s highly recommended to head towards Futaleufù to cross the border with Chile. The homonymous river is a spectacle you don’t want to miss and a unique opportunity for rafting enthusiasts. From there, you can intercept Routa 9 and continue your journey south along the Carretera Austral through Coyhaique and the green and wild region of Aysen. Not far from Coyhaique, you’ll reach the wonderful lake : its famous grottos and the road around it are amazing and will give you the opportunity to return to Argentina to continue your journey south (blue itinerary). However, if you have time, you might want to delay the border crossing and explore the wild Chilean land to its end in O’Higgins. Note that there’s no way to cross the border there, so you’ll have to return to the lake to continue your trip.
Beyond Lake Argentino, you returned to Routa 40 and journeyed through the desert and uninhabited Argentine pampas up to Perito Moreno (the glacier, not to be confused with the northernmost country). Then, you traveled further south to El Chalten and the Fitz Roy, followed by the Torres del Paine park. From there, you can continue to Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, and, if you wish, Puerto Williams, truly reaching the bottom of the world.
A suggestion for departure
As a starting point for your journey, I recommend the Villarrica area. It is the heart of the Chilean region of lakes and a popular holiday destination for locals. The region features numerous lakes, parks, and snow-covered volcanoes, with plenty of bike paths and valleys within a few kilometers. You can easily reach this area from Temuco Airport by taking a comfortable minibus or shuttle directly from the airport.
Alternatively, Osorno is another popular starting point. From Osorno, you can head directly to Villa La Angostura in Argentina. Keep in mind that this route may skip the Pucón area and part of the Route of the Seven Lakes (Ruta de los Siete Lagos), unless you plan to backtrack.
And for the arrival
If you’re considering reaching the southernmost point of the continent and don’t want to ride all the way back, the most convenient solution, in my opinion, is to leave the bike there and return by plane. Many rental agencies offer this option, allowing you to leave the bike in one of the larger inhabited centers for a fee, typically ranging from 100 to 300 euros. While it is an additional cost, retracing your route for 3,000 km can be more costly in terms of time, money, and effort.
In this case, I recommend returning and leaving the bike in Punta Arenas, the largest town in the region, or in Puerto Natales, which is very close to Torres del Paine National Park. Both countries have airports, and leaving the motorcycle behind is usually cheaper than transporting it to Ushuaia.
Not everyone may be aware, but Ushuaia is not the southernmost point on the continent. In fact, the title of the southernmost town in the world goes to Puerto Williams in Chile. However, due to tradition and perhaps a bit of Argentine pride, Ushuaia has long been celebrated as the “end of the world” destination.
I really enjoyed this itinerary because it allowed me to visit all the places I wanted to see, even though I didn’t make it all the way to Ushuaia as I had initially planned. However, it may not be suitable for everyone. There are plenty of alternatives and other destinations to explore, such as the northern regions, the Chilean Patagonia (like the stunning area from Cochrane to O’Higgins), or the eastern coast of Argentina. I know of people who landed in Punta Arenas, rented a motorcycle there, and then embarked on a round trip, going from the parks to the east coast, then down to Ushuaia and back to Punta Arenas. Personally, I don’t consider it the best route, as the landscape in the extreme south can be somewhat monotonous, especially from the Argentine side, where the pampa is very windy and not particularly attractive.
After providing these tips and ideas, I hope to write something more detailed and personal about my journey, with the hope that it will add some color to your travel plans.