Private Journeys

Self-drive Patagonia: The open road to Torres del Paine

20 days from £5,190pp

Argentina / Chile / Patagonia

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Essentials

Transport

3 domestic flights (longest 4hrs); self-drive in the lake district and southern Patagonia in Argentina and Chile.

Accommodation

This holiday offers economical mid-range accommodation in Buenos Aires, Santiago and in or close to towns. In the countryside, we’ve selected accommodation in Argentina at an unusual variety of rustic estancia-style properties. Whilst not luxurious, what they lack in contemporary comfort is repaid with regional flavour. In Torres del Paine, Chile, you will be based at comfortable, good quality lodges at 2 different locations so you get the most out of your visit.

Meals

Breakfast daily.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Summary Of Nights

20 days, 19 nights: Buenos Aires 2; Bariloche 2; San Martín de los Andes 2; Villa La Angostura 2; Viedma 1; El Chaltén area 2; El Calafate area 2; Puerto Natales 1; Torres del Paine National Park 4; Santiago 1.

Budget

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$80 per person per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks, national park entrance fees and the odd souvenir. In addition you should budget a total of US$300 to cover the cost of fuel.

Currency

The unit of currency in Argentina is the Argentine peso; in Chile it is the Chilean peso.

How To Take It

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

There are few ATMs or main places to exchange cash outside the towns in Patagonia so stock up in advance. Some rural lodges accept credit cards as payment for meals and excursions but cash is always more convenient and it is best to bring cash to buy petrol.

For our latest currency advice for Argentina please see our FAQs section.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 – 12% in restaurants.

Insurance And Documents

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Car insurance:
Argentina (your trip is based on a medium category 2WD vehicle): Limited collision damage waiver and vehicle theft protection (CDW/TP) cover is included, with an excess payable. Additional CDW/TP cover with zero excess can usually be purchased at additional cost. Please check the level of your coverage with us when making your booking. We strongly recommend you consider buying your own car hire excess waiver insurance policy before you travel: these are widely available from insurance companies in the UK.  All incidents involving collision, robbery and theft must be reported to the police and a report obtained.

Chile (based on a 4×4 vehicle): your vehicle hire includes limited CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance with an excess payable of approx. US$1,000 in the event of loss or damage. Limits and certain exclusions do apply. Please contact us for further details.

Let us know if the transmission (automatic or manual) is important to you, or if you prefer a different type of vehicle: although we cannot guarantee availability we will do our best to help.

An international driving permit (IDP) is officially required for Argentina. Since 2015 new regulations have applied concerning the paper counterpart of UK driving licences. Please check https://www.gov.uk/government/news/driving-licence-changes for further details.

You will need to return the car to the specified office at the end of the rental period. If you are leaving on a morning flight we advise you to do this the day before you depart.

Airport Taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey Grade

This predominantly self-driving holiday is for independent-minded clients seeking the freedom to explore without the support of local guides and drivers but with the security of pre-booked accommodation. You should be confident to navigate along roads outside the UK, driving on the right. Some Spanish as well as mechanical knowledge, for example the ability to change a tyre is highly recommended. We advise you to let us know if you have a strong preference for automatic or manual transmission as vehicles supplied can vary. GPS equipment is not normally available but you will receive basic written directions and we will send you our Rules of the Road document with helpful tips specific to driving in Argentina and Chile.

Driving is along a mixture of paved and ripio (gravel) roads.
A 2-wheel drive vehicle is sufficient to complete the Argentine routes but a 4X4 will be more comfortable (and is recommended) if you would like the flexibility to go off the beaten track or deeper into the national parks. Please speak to us if you wish to upgrade to a 4×4 in Argentina. We have already included a 4X4 for the Torres del Paine (Chile) section of this holiday.

Petrol is usually easy to come by in the main towns but be sure to keep an eye on your fuel tank as, this being remote Patagonia, distances can be deceptive and petrol stations few and far between. You’ll want to take it slowly anyway as the scenery unfolds before you. In the Chilean section there is no reliable fuel supply after Puerto Natales: be sure to fill up with petrol in town as you head north in order to have sufficient to get you back.
During your down time in the national parks we think it’s a good idea to park the car and explore on foot: there’s no better way to save fuel and appreciate this primeval wilderness at the end of the Earth. In Torres del Paine, we recommend you book any organised activities as soon as possible after your arrival at the hotels, especially in high season (Dec-Feb).

Climate

Owing to the extremities of the weather in Patagonia in winter, this holiday is only available between October and the end of March, the southern summer.

In Buenos Aires and Santiago, October to November and March to April see temperatures between 15 and 25°C and a good deal of sunshine. January to February is hot, with temperatures over 30°C.

In the summer in the lake district (Dec-Mar), and in the two capital cities during the shoulder seasons, the weather should be similar to a good British summer. The shoulder seasons in the lakes are more unpredictable, with possible cool periods and rain in April and October.

Southern Patagonia’s summer (Dec-Feb) has long, usually mild days, although you can be subjected to 4 seasons in one day and occasional snow flurries are not uncommon. Mar/April or Sep/Oct can be sunny and clear, but it can be windy.

Clothing And Special Equipment

In the southern hemisphere summer it will be hot in Buenos Aires so take loose-fitting light clothing for maximum comfort. An umbrella offers good protection from tropical showers. You will need sunglasses and head protection.

The further south you travel into Patagonia, the more unpredictable the weather, so you will need layered clothing including wind and waterproof outer shells.

If you plan to go to good restaurants or out on evening entertainment trips, you might bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required).

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: polio; tetanus, hepatitis A. For specific requirements you must consult your GP.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

If flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your online ESTA application.

Country info

When is the best time to visit Argentina?

Argentina is so large it’s always a good time to go somewhere. The southern hemisphere summer is the reverse of our own, with Dec-Feb being high summer in Patagonia. Spring (Oct-Nov) and Autumn (Mar-Apr) can still be very pleasant and are quieter. While summers in the lake district are reliably warm and sunny, the further south in Patagonia you go the more unpredictable the weather. In Winter (June-Sept) some hotels in Patagonia close, while others stay open for skiers. Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Córdoba enjoy a Mediterranean-type climate, with cool winters and very warm summers. North-west Argentina (Salta and Jujuy) enjoy sunshine and warm temperatures year-round but are influenced by altitude and the high Andes, with occasional cold snaps (June-Sept) and a rainy season (Jan-Feb). Iguazú Falls and Misiones has a subtropical climate, although it can be chilly July-Sept.

What is the official language of Argentina?

Spanish.

What is Argentina's official currency?

Argentine Peso (updated Oct 2019)

Argentina is cash-orientated, although in Buenos Aires and main tourist centres cards are widely used. In remote areas you may find only cash is accepted. It’s best to take US Dollars cash and change these into Pesos within Argentina. This can be done at a Casa de Cambio (passport needed) and at some hotels. Many (mid-range and up) restaurants will also accept US Dollars for payment and give you change in Pesos. Tips are always paid in cash, even if you pay for a meal using a card.
Although ATMs are available in Argentina some clients have reported difficulties withdrawing cash so it’s best not to rely on them. Local ATM fees can be high and the amount you can withdraw is usually much lower than in the UK. When using an ATM with a debit card you may be offered a choice of account type from which to make your withdrawal. Select ‘credit card’ (not ‘checking account’ or ‘savings account’ options).
Check your insurance limit for carrying cash and avoid having lots of Pesos left over: these are accepted at the duty-free shop in Buenos Aires airport but outside of Argentina it’s hard to exchange unwanted Pesos.

What's the time difference between Argentina and UK?

GMT -3 hrs. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, from Sep/Oct to early Mar, but not every year.

Which other countries combine well with Argentina?

Chile, accessing the country by crossing the Andes over one of several scenic passes: from Salta in the northwest to the Atacama Desert, from Mendoza to Santiago, via the lakes crossing from Bariloche to Puerto Varas in the lake district and from El Calafate to Torres del Paine in Patagonia; Brazil, via the land crossing at Iguazú.

What are the festivals and other cultural or sporting events in Argentina?

Tango Festival: Buenos Aires, August.
Polo Open: Buenos Aires province, weekends in November.
Gaucho Festivals: The pampas, early November.

How do I adapt to the altitude in Argentina?

Whilst a typical holiday in Patagonia presents no challenges with altitude, Argentina’s north-western provinces offer a taste of the high Andes with some spectacular road trips on offer. Travel to high altitude can cause mountain sickness and even if you feel fighting fit it’s important to take things easy and stay hydrated (drink plenty of water, avoiding alcohol and caffeine) as you get used to the thin, dry air. You may initially notice a headache, dizziness or breathlessness and this usually improves with acclimatisation. If you are pregnant or taking the contraceptive pill, have a medical condition such as heart or lung condition, anaemia, asthma, high blood pressure you should seek the advice of your GP before booking.  We also recommend you check your travel insurance covers travel to high altitude.  If you’re taking the family, remember small children may be less capable of communicating altitude-related symptoms effectively: keep an eye on them too. Rest assured we will plan your itinerary carefully, taking into account any time spent at altitude. If you have any questions or concerns about altitude please speak to your travel expert.

Further advice on travel to altitude is available on www.travelhealthpro.org.uk

What's included in the price

  • Services of our team of experts in our London office
  • Services of Journey Latin America local representatives
  • All land and air transport within Latin America
  • Accommodation as specified
  • Vehicle hire with limited insurance as specified
  • Meals as specified
  • Excursions as specified

Included Excursions

  • Buenos Aires: Guided walking tour along the Avenida de Mayo

What's not included in the price

  • International flights to Latin America
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Meals other than specified
  • Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
  • Entrance fees to national parks
  • Optional excursions

What's included in the price

  • Services of our team of experts in our London office
  • Services of Journey Latin America local representatives
  • All land and air transport within Latin America
  • Accommodation as specified
  • Vehicle hire with limited insurance as specified
  • Meals as specified
  • Excursions as specified

Included Excursions

  • Buenos Aires: Guided walking tour along the Avenida de Mayo

What's not included in the price

  • International flights to Latin America
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Meals other than specified
  • Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
  • Entrance fees to national parks
  • Optional excursions

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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Real Latin America Experts

  • Ben Line
    Ben Line - Travel Consultant

    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.

  • Kathryn Rhodes
    Kathryn Rhodes - Travel Consultant

    Kathryn backpacked across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru before joining us. She has a degree in Philosophy and French and is a keen netball player.

  • JimAshworth
    Jim Ashworth - Product & Marketing

    Jim first caught the Latin American travel bug in 2001 when he decided at the last minute to join a friend travelling around Central America – he hasn't looked back since.

  • Hannah Donaldson
    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.

  • Jamie Swan
    Jamie Swan - Product & Marketing

    Jamie backpacked across Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil before joining us; he has a degree in politics and is also a keen sportsman..

  • Carrie Gallagher
    Carrie Gallagher - Travel Consultant

    A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Escorted Groups team.

Meet the team