In Patagonia, you don’t need a campground; here, rough camping is a way of life. The region is safe, and Argentineans and Chileans are campers themselves. They are not surprised to see you pitch your tent in some lonesome spot.
These five camping spots are among our favorites. You’ll have to bring your own camping equipment, food and drinking water, and they can be reached only by private vehicle.
1. Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the End of the World
Preparations: The archipelago ‘Land of Fire’ is the southernmost tip of the Americas. Ushuaia, located on the main island of Isla Grande Tierra del Fuego, is considered the world’s southernmost city and a springboard to Antarctica. It is a good place to stock up on supplies and – if need be – to rent a vehicle.
Directions and campsite: A two-hour scenic drive southeast from Ushuaia, via Tolhuin on RN 3, through Andean waterlogged foothills brought us to Estancia Haberton. At this oldest farm on the Argentinean side of Tierra del Fuego (1886), we obtained permission to camp on their 20,000 hectares of sheep farming terrain. Ripio – gravel road – meandered along the Beagle Channel through undulating hills with pasture, alternating with lenga forests and narrow waterways.
Activities: We filled our days with hiking, watching dolphins, beavers and wild horses, and collecting dead wood for campfires. In the silent, windless nights we roasted meat over smoldering fires. It is easy to stay here longer than intended.
Read More: Campsites and Wild Camping in Argentina
2. Tierra del Fuego, Chile – Beaver Spotting
Preparations: Radman is the only overland border crossing from the Argentinean to the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego (the others include a ferry crossing). It requires a river crossing, so check with the customs officers if this is doable in view of the weather conditions.
Stock up in Ushuaia or, coming from the mainland, buy your supplies in Rio Grande (Argentina) or Punta Arenas (Chile). Note that you can’t bring any fresh fruit, vegetables, meat or dairy products into Chile.
Directions and campsite: West from Radman, paths led to Lago Blanco and Lago Ofhidro, which gave us good options for camping (and fishing). Our favorite was a dead-end track southwest of Radman that led through sheltered valleys with Fuegian forests draped in ‘old man’s beard’.
Activities: In the natural soundscape of our camp along Lago Deseado we watched how a beaver left its lodge and splashed around in the water. Owls sat on the car roof and condors soared majestically above our heads. Although there were no signposted hiking trails, we enjoyed clambering to the top of some hills to take in the views.
Read More: Accommodation & Camping in Chile
3. Lago Roca, Argentina – Glacier Trekking
Preparation and directions: El Calafate is a good place to stock up on supplies and – if need be – to rent a vehicle to explore this region of the Andes. The still-growing Perito Moreno Glacier is Patagonia’s most accessible glacier and the region’s largest tourist attraction. Instead of joining the tourist circuit of glacier trekking or taking boat trips on Lago Argentino – travel agencies in El Calafate offer these tours – we drove thirty kilometers west along RP 15 to Lago Roca.
Campsite: This little-known sweeping, rolling countryside forms the southern part of Los Glaciares National Park. During the weekends Argentineans arrived here with barbecues and radios, but otherwise we found the surroundings a haven of tranquillity.
Activities: There were various hiking trails, among which a 3,5-hour hike to the Cerro Cristal that started right behind the camping libre. I enjoyed solitary walks along the waterfront, walking through the grass that had exploded into a garden of wildflowers, where I sighted foxes and rabbits. Campfires were permitted but you had to bring your own firewood.
Read More: Why Drive the Pan-American Highway
4. The Carretera Austral, Chile – Rodeos & Dolphins
The Carretera Austral is the 1200 kilometers, mainly unpaved road that connects north with south Chile (from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgings). Due to limited ferry services, the entire stretch can only be driven in the southern hemisphere summer, from mid-December through February.
Preparations: When driving from north to south, stock up in Puerto Montt or farther down in Chaitén; when driving the other way around, Los Antiguos in Argentina would be your best option. To rent a vehicle, however, you depend on a bigger city such as El Calafate (Argentina) or Puerto Montt (Chile). Check with the rental agency about crossing borders with the vehicle. In general this is no problem, but it has to be mentioned specifically in the agreement.
Activities: In January and February there are rodeos all along the Carretera Austral. In Puerto Rio Tranquilo we came upon a one-day rodeo where huascos, cowboys, had to corner a young bull against a particular spot of the fence. During other rodeos, such as the three-day rodeo in Coihaique, huascos have to show their skills in catching wild horses. There is no proper calendar listing these events; check with local people or count yourself lucky when stumbling upon them.
Near the village of Puerto Rio Tranquilo a dirt track led into the Valle Explorados. It was a dead-end track but offered our most splendid camping spot along the Carretera Austral with views of hanging glaciers while we camped next to humongous rhubarb called nalca, which locals eat raw with a bit of salt. No five-star hotel could beat the comfort of a roaring campfire after having bathed in glacial waters.
Another favorite spot was Santa Barbara, ten kilometers north of Chaitén, where we camped on a beach that was frequented daily by dolphins. We found it a good base from which to explore the adjacent Pumalin Park.
Read More: Travel Information on Chile
5. Península Valdes, Argentina – Whale Watching
Preparation and directions: Along the northern edge of Patagonia lies Puerto Madryn, which is the best place to stock up on supplies (and to rent a vehicle). Wildlife Reserve of Peninsula Valdes lies 100 kilometers northeast of the town. RN 3 and 2 take you to Puerto Piramides, the gateway to the peninsula.
Campsite: Don’t bother trying to camp anywhere near the viewpoints along the coast. The peninsula is flat with hardly any trees, and hiding your car or tent is impossible. The rangers have learned where visitors try to hide for the night and will most likely find you.
It is within the Latin American way of laws and logic, however, that there is a place to camp. This is Punta Pardelas, southwest of Puerto Piramides, which borders the sheltered Golfo Nuevo and is indicated by a road sign. Take note where you pitch your tent (read here).
The tides fluctuate enormously, so keep away from the vertical mountain wall that surrounds the bay; it is best to stay near the grassy area. Note that, contrary to the previous campsites, there is no sweet water source here for washing or rinsing, so you’ll need to bring more than just drinking water.
Activities: Golfo Nuevo is a popular spot with Southern Right whales to mate and give birth (high season is June-December) and they are especially visible during high tide. During day trips we explored the other viewpoints on the peninsula to watch orcas, sea lions, penguins, and elephant seals.
Do you have tips for beautiful rough camps in Patagonia? I would love to hear about them in the comment section below.
This article was previously published on Matador Network.
Support Landcruising Adventure
Do you love what we share in stories, photographs, and videos, and you’d like to support us?
Check out our Support Page and see what contribution suits you best. There are free and paid options and all help to keep this website going.