5 things to know when driving in Patagonia

standing on the road in Patagonia Argentina

When driving through Patagonia, there are a few tips you might need to help your vacation run smoothly.

I learnt the hard way… distances are long. The weather was cold. Sometimes, I wasn’t paying attention to these two details, and there was nowhere to stay overnight.

This resulted in many sleepless freezing nights sleeping in the car in the middle of Patagonia. We had to keep an emergency stash of empanadas in the back of the car too, for unexpected stretches of road with nothing on them. The hunger was real.

But, I’ll save you from those mistakes, read on.

The sights of Patagonia are stunning!

Driving through Patagonia is going to be a breeze with these 5 tips

A local coming to the rescue after break down number 2

1. Always carry a spare jerry can of petrol.

Argentina has a severe petrol shortage in the Patagonia region. Something the guidebooks don’t tell you and car hire companies don’t think to tell you. Why? Because most people are not crazy enough to drive the entire length of Patagonia in a Chevrolet Classic.

The petrol shortages mean you will only be able to fill up your car with 100pesos of petrol at a time. The distance petrol stations are spaced out means that if your car is not very fuel-efficient, you will barely make it to the next station before running out of gas. If you plan your trip incorrectly, you will run out completely. Then you will spend the next 2 hours waiting for a passerby to stop and help.

I learned this the hard way.

Two times. I am not smart.

Get that camera out quick to capture wildlife while driving through Patagonia

2. Do NOT forget your camera, the scenery is magnificent

The flat plains stretching out in front of your car means you will see the most amazing sunsets, sunrises and packs of animals. The first time you spot a herd of Guanaco leaping over fences you will be reaching for the camera quickly. These little buggers move fast, so have it handy to get the shot.  

You might be lucky enough to spot an armadillo, the only ones I saw were already roadkill, unfortunately.

There are patches of Patagonia with snow-capped mountains and hills, driving along these for hours on end are amazing. You will have the scenery all to yourself, some days I was lucky to not see another car between breakfast and lunch. 

3. Make time to have a sleepover with a penguin colony.

Pull up your car to the point just below Rio Gallegos and camp in a penguin nature reserve for the night.

Wake to their squawking, and rest easy knowing no other traveller will be getting the same experience. We found this spot semi-accidentally, after reading about a day trip to the penguins. Having a hire car, we put two and two together and thought “why not drive down ourselves?”

With a bottle of Malbec and a few snacks in hand, we headed down a dusty gravel road to the lighthouse and penguin sanctuary at the end. If we had not had our own wheels, this would never have happened, but it was the most amazing night in Patagonia, until…

4. We learnt you could sleepover with humpback whales!!

No, Seriously!

We found this spot after picking up two French hitchhikers in Puerto Madryn. They had heard of a free camping site on a French travel website. Note to self, always pick up hitchhikers!!  

We drove past several roadblocks with police guards to a gravel driveway. The hire car was hurling rocks left, right and centre while we gained control down the windy roads.

What presented us at the end was a plateau of rock, dropping off sharply to the ocean. The waves billowed right up over the rocks several meters in the air with a big swell. During the night while camping there were heard several other French-speaking cars and vans pulling up. All in, there were about 4 groups of us free camping on the spot.

We awoke to the most amazing sounds of nature- humpback hales were bringing their calves into the bay to surface and play. Water sprouts and flipper waves galore. Magic

driving through Patagonia

5. You don’t need a 4×4 to be driving through Patagonia

We drove all of Patagonia and I don’t think we missed any of the off the beaten track destinations in those 2 weeks. Even with the mini-sized Chevrolet. It was the smallest cheapest hire car we could book from Hertz Mendoza.

You really don’t need a bigger set of wheels regardless of what people say. The roads are well maintained and a huge petrol guzzler won’t help you any more than our smaller 1600CC card did….But don’t forget the jerry can! 

You can drive Patagonia on two wheels or four. Petrol or human powered. What’s important is that you’re living the dream, exploring, living in the moment! 

RELATED: Driving in Cuba

Are you planning on continuing your Patagonian adventure further south? Check out things to do in Ushuaia. Or for the Ultimate 28 day Patagonia Itinerary, read on.

Round The World Rachel
Round The World Rachel

Rachel Cunningham is a Superyacht Chef and World Adventurer.
With over 110 countries visited in the past 15 years, Rachel wants to you to come along for the ride! Bring a bottle of rum, and a bikini, oh yeah, and your passport. You could end up losing all three items by the end of this journey!
Round the world Rachel takes you off the beaten track to beaches, bars and restaurants of the unknown!

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