How To Hike Patagonia On The Cheap

If you read So You Want to Hike Patagonia… you might have started planning your trip to Patagonia and noticed that it is expensive.  Like, Disney World on crack, expensive.  I have good news and bad news.

Bad News: Patagonia is never cheap.  You’re traveling to the bottom of the world, it costs a bit of money.

Good News: You can do it waaaay cheaper than you think, if you do it right.

We did the W Circuit of Torres Del Paine in 4 days/3 nights.  Most blogs say that you need 5 days/4 nights is to do the hike.  We completely disagree.  We didn’t feel rushed at all, but you do have a do a two days of longer hikes (10-12 miles).

We stayed in refugios (similar to a hostel) while in the park and paid for meals as well.  That got us two bunk beds, lockers, hot breakfast/dinner and a bag lunch for the trail.  The breakfast and dinners were all much better than expected.  The bag lunch was meh, but it was better than trying to pack food and carry it around for several days.

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Our bunks in Torres Central Refugio

So, how cheap can you really do Patagonia?  We spent four days in TDP and two days getting to/leaving Patagonia.  Those six days cost us a total of $1,300 for two people.  That doesn’t include dinner/lunch in Puerto Natales or beers at the airport, but that is the majority of our expenses.  Here is how we did it:

  • Flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas: ~$100 RT each (Sky Airline)
  • Hostels in Puerto Natales: ~$40/night (two nights)
  • Refugios in TDP: $800 for three nights of room and board – by far the most expensive part of the trip (we booked them individually and did not do guided hikes)
  • Buses: ~$40
  • Park Fees: ~$140 for two people

Now compare that to the guided five day/four night guided hike and refugios which costs around $1,200 per person!  That doesn’t include flights, hostels, or buses!  Moral of the story: book refugios individually and do not get a guide.  The trail is very well-marked and a guide isn’t needed.

Five Tips for Keeping it Cheap:

1) Go to Patagonia during the slow time of year!  Patagonia is the busiest (and most expensive) between December and February during their summer.  We went at the end of March into early April which is the last few weeks that the park is open before winter.  We had beautiful 50-60 degree days which were perfect for hiking.  There were less people, cheaper accommodations, and end-of-season specials on beer and gear!

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Dining Room in Torres Central Refugio.

2) Take a risk and fly Sky Airlines.  There are two airlines that fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas.  LATAM is the second airline and it is usually twice as expensive as Sky.  Sky is similar to Spirit where you pay for all of your extras (however, the prices for drinks/snacks were very reasonable).  I was a little hesitant to book the cheapest flights, but after reading reviews it sounds like the risk is if your flight gets canceled, Sky Airlines’ customer service is not the greatest.  We didn’t have any problems and it saved us $200.  Also, when booking on Sky’s website, choose the lowest priced “class.”  You don’t get anything extra with the higher priced classes.  All classes get one free bag, we carried on our hiking packs without any issues.  If you’re camping and carrying extra gear or a huge bag, you might need to check your bags.

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Headed to Patagonia!

2.5) Use Google Flights to check flight costs based on days.  It’s an awesome tool for booking any flight!

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$91 flights to Punta Arenas next March.

3) Stay in cheap hostels in Puerto Natales.  You just need a bed before going to the park.  Read the reviews before booking but we had pretty low expectations for our hostels.  We paid about $40 each night for the two nights in PN.  That included breakfast each day.  We probably could have found some even cheaper.  We used Hostel World for booking in Patagonia.

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Breakfast room at our hostel in Puerto Natales

4) Find flight deals to get to Chile/Argentina.  We used Thrifty Traveler (follow them on Facebook!) for our $220 RT flights from Washington D.C. to Santiago.  That was our biggest cost-saver since getting to Chile is the biggest expensive for most people.  Keep Thrifty Traveler and The Flight Deal on your radar for great deals!

5) Use Airbnb‘s on your way to Patagonia.  Hotels are expensive.  Whenever we travel internationally we always use Airbnb to find places to stay.  You can almost always find an apartment in a great location for cheap.  We had a great apartment in downtown Santiago near the metro for $30/night (and it came with a bottle of wine).  Hotels in Santiago are around $100-200 per night.  Why pay $300 for two nights when you could pay $60 for an apartment where you have more space (and a pool if it’s warm enough).  If you’ve never used Airbnb, it is super easy, even in a foreign country.  Just make sure to choose “English speaking host” when you’re filtering and look for reviews in English.  The best part about Airbnb is that hosts will almost always give you recommendations for great restaurants and things to do.

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View from our $30/night Airbnb balcony in Santiago

Note: If you’re tent camping you can do TDP much cheaper than we did.  However, you’ll be carrying all your gear/food and sleeping outside in the cold/rain.  We heard that there are a lot of hungry mice looking for food in the camping area.  We would do the refugios again if we ever go back!

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