Patagonia is an exquisite natural paradise. Characterized by the Andes mountain range – it offers impressive, jagged peaks, vibrant rain forests, cascading glacial fjords and thousands of miles of untouched coastline. Its landscape and biodiversity are totally unique, leaving no doubt that it is a haven for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
The incredibly diverse area is shared by both Chile and Argentina and lies at the southernmost tip of the unfrozen world, offering some of the most awe-inspiring trails you can lay foot on.
So, is hiking in Patagonia safe? Hiking in Patagonia is certainly safe, as long as you are fully prepared for your chosen trail, pay attention to weather conditions and follow local recommendations. The biggest danger to hikers are the sudden downpours and famously fierce winds that regularly sweep the landscape, catching trailblazers off-guard. The puma is the only predator of which to be cautious and it has an abundance of prey – so don’t give it a reason to bother you and it should leave you well alone!
Traveling to Patagonia Safely
Travel to Patagonia is relatively straightforward, despite the distance. Flying to the capital cities of Argentina (Buenos Aires) or Chile (Santiago) is the most common way to enter the country. From there, most people will then fly or take a long-haul bus to Patagonia.
Local flights will take you to a number of airports in Patagonia. Most people fly to Puerto Montt and Bariloche in the north of the region, or Punta Arenas and Ushuaia in the south.
Due to the long, thin geography of the region: most people will fly into one city and out of another, experiencing all of the best places in-between. It is worth noting that crossing the international borders via plane is be much more expensive than taking a domestic flight – something to be aware of when booking your trip.
A cheaper option for those with time to spare is to travel south from the capital via bus. Both countries are serviced by incredibly efficient long-distance bus services, and one can arrive in northern Patagonia in as little as 12 hours.
Travelers be warned: Buses can be a hot-spot for thieves. Large luggage is secure in the hold, but be wary of your carry-on. Although most travelers do not encounter issues; it is always advised to keep your most valuable possessions on your lap throughout the journey and not in overhead storage or under your seat, in case you fall asleep.
Patagonia’s altitude and weather considerations
Patagonia is relatively low-altitude compared to the rest of the Andes. Its highest peak is Mount Fitz Roy at just over 11,000ft – but only the most experienced alpinists will reach that height. The most popular trails around el Chalten and the Torres del Paine will not reach over 3,000 ft, so altitude sickness is not a concern.
There is, however, a need to pay special attention to the season in which you plan to hike. Winter and spring span June through November, and trails can be icy and buried under snow or sheets of rain. Proper gear and experience is recommended before attempting this area in winter, and even then there is no guarantee that even the more well-serviced trails will be open.
December through May brings summer shine followed by glorious fall colors, and most will choose these months in which to hike. No matter which time of year you choose: Always be prepared for seriously strong winds!
Solo hiking in Patagonia
If you plan to hike alone, there are extra considerations you need to weigh-in whilst planning your trip.
I traveled in Patagonia for six months as a solo female. I hiked all of the major trails and some lesser known routes, and generally felt completely safe – except at times where I hadn’t been best prepared myself…
The most important thing to remember is to always give somebody a break-down of the hike you are planning to do. Include location, estimated duration and a time by which you’ll be back. This can be a fellow traveler, hostel or hotel worker, or even someone back home. They are the ones who will contact emergency services if you don’t check back in – this could save your life!
Knowing basic first aid for cuts, sprains and minor breaks is also paramount. If you do have an accident alone on the trail, you are totally reliant on yourself to make it back to civilization. Lastly, make sure that you have emergency rations and keep your water bottle filled at every opportunity.
Traveling alone is not uncommon in these parts, and it can be a hugely rewarding experience. I met many solo travelers in Patagonia, and all said the same thing: the local people are friendly and welcoming, and eager to share in their beautiful surroundings. However, as with anywhere in the world, you should always exercise caution and use your best judgment.
A basic level of Spanish wouldn’t go amiss, either!
There are no vaccinations required for the region of Patagonia itself; but there are several recommendations for Chile and Argentina which are common travel vaccinations. Hepatitis A & B, Polio, MMR and Typhoid are all necessary, and Rabies is often recommended due to the countries’ abundance of stray animals.
Yellow Fever isn’t required, but if you plan to visit the northern jungle regions of Argentina alongside Patagonia, then it is advised.
The water in Patagonia is safe to drink and many travelers feel comfortable filling their bottles from the faucet. In the mountainous areas there is an abundance of fresh drinking water out on trail. If filling up directly from a stream, it is always advised to bring a filtering bottle or purification device – like a SteriPen – as an added precaution.
Cell phone service
There is cell service in the region but it can be a little temperamental, as you’d expect from such a vast, wild area. I once had service halfway up a volcano, then zero when I was in sight of the town. Chilean or Argentine SIM cards can be purchased relatively cheaply, both offering options to pay-as-you go.
It is not an essential for traveling to the area, and cell service should not be relied upon for safety, but it can be a useful tool for getting around and to pass the time on those long bus journeys.
Carrying a satellite device or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) such as a Garmin or Spot is well worth the investment, especially if you plan to hike solo. Cell signal should not be relied upon for emergencies.
Appropriate Hiking Gear and Clothing
Layers, layers and waterproof gear! Every traveler comes back from Patagonia with stories of strong winds and highly changeable weather. Quality gear is therefore a must, and lots of layers will mean that you can remain comfortable come the inevitable rain, wind and shine.
If you’re new to hiking, do a few routes at home to work out your ideal base layer configuration, and pack at least two sets of these for your trip. Always have a good down or insulating jacket and set of waterproofs at the top of your pack in Patagonia – you will surely need them.
Readily accessible gloves, hat and neck protection are also strongly advised, and sturdy hiking boots or shoes are essential to keep you steady on the often loose, rocky terrain.
Related article: Hiking In The Rain | 27 Tips From An Outdoor Adventure Guide
If you’re planning on multi-day hikes then quality camping gear is also necessary. I’ve heard one too many tales from the Torres del Paine that saw campers’ tent poles snapped in two by fearsome gusts! A minimum three-season tent and sleeping bag are strongly recommended. Make sure to always pitch in the most sheltered spot you can find; you never know when those winds will come knocking.
In popular hiking towns such as Puerto Natales and El Chalten, it is possible to rent camping and hiking gear of reasonable quality; but most people much prefer to bring their own.
Dangerous Animals of Patagonia
There are no bears in Patagonia. The only predatory species to be aware of is the puma and, fortunately, their prey is abundant so incidents with humans are exceptionally rare.
Pumas are found in every part of Patagonia: from the low-lying steppe to the high mountains, and everywhere in-between. It is always worth asking locals about their experience with pumas and if there are any specific recommendations or locations to avoid. Often, pumas will nurse their cubs in caves – don’t go looking for them!
Mothers are exceptionally protective of their young. Local advice is that they primarily hunt at dusk and dawn, so aim to be off the trails by then. If hiking or moving about the campsite at night, always carry a flashlight to mark yourself very clearly as “not prey”.
That being said, if you do find yourself in an encounter with a puma, the advice is the same as for a North American mountain lion: Never run and make yourself look bigger by waving your arms and making loud noises. (What To Do If You See A Cougar While Hiking?)
Patagonia is a positive wonderland of wilderness to explore. It attracts thousands of tourists every year and is gaining popularity as one of the world’s leading outdoor destinations. Be smart, well-prepared and attentive, and you are guaranteed some of the most exhilarating hikes of a lifetime. Happy trails!
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Suzie Hall has a passion for all things wild and is a scuba diver and Orcalab researcher based in Hanson Island off the north coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She spends most of her time exploring this great wide earth and her travels have taken her to some remarkable locations including Patagonia, Kyrgyzstan and the wild British Columbia coast. Fueled by a drive to protect our wild spaces and their inhabitants, Suzie works in conservation projects around the globe and lives to write about the amazing people, places and wildlife she encounters.