We live in Santiago and we really wanted to spend a good amount of time camping and exploring Patagonia with our three children. We looked at many different options for the best way to do it, and as crazy as it sounds we figured out the fastest, cheapest and most convenient option was to ship our car on the back of a transport trailer to Patagonia!
Here’s how we figured it, if we drove from Santiago with all our camping gear it would be 34 hours of driving time and over 2,800 km. Plus needing to find places to sleep along the way and use up valuable holiday leave. If we flew and stayed in cabins we would still have to rent a car and we wouldn’t be able to camp and we would spend hours in a car to access hikes. Yes, most parks are located 25-50 km off the main road, but if the grader hasn’t been by that can add an extra hour or hour and a half travel time. Plus, we love to camp!
Then last year when we were camping in Northern Patagonia we met a Chilean family who said every year they do the full Carretera Austral in two weeks from Santiago to O’Higgins and back. Impossible! We said. Then they told us it’s possible because they ship their car full of camping gear on a transport trailer and then they fly down. Genius!
So this year we did the same! We are a family of five and as it turns out it’s actually cheaper than renting a vehicle and paying extra baggage to ship your camping equipment down. And it’s definitely cheaper than flying, renting a car and staying in cabins. And for us, the camping is more fun!
The company recommended to us by the Chilean family never answered their WhatsApp messages so I searched “transporte para autos” and found Transportes Retornos Chile Ltda. — a company that ships cars over the south of Chile. We wanted to ship our car from Santiago to Puerto Natales (their depot was Punta Arenas) and we wanted to drop it off three weeks later at Balmaceda Airport (their depot is Coyhaique). If you went to their depots it would be even cheaper but we were confined by airports, timing and we were traveling for part of it with extended family. And we didn’t want to waste time driving to cities we didn’t need to be in.
We have a Toyota 4Runner and we put our Thule roof box inside the car full of camping gear, our cooler and a box of camping kitchen stuff. We had two tents, 5 sleeping mats, 7 sleeping bags, all our winter and rain clothes, 5 pillows, hiking poles, stoves, fuel, and plates etc. The only thing we took on the plane carry-on was electronics and summer clothes.
We dropped the car off at their depot outside the airport 10 days before we needed it in Patagonia. We had to drop it off earlier because we were picking it up January 4 and they needed to drive it down over Christmas/New years. Coming back it only took a week without the car. My husband takes the bus to work and we live across from a grocery store so actually we really didn’t miss the car.
While we wanted to camp as it allows you to see parts of Patagonia more easily than staying in a cabin, it also ended up being cheaper to ship our car and camp. I’m not going to include fuel, park entrance fees or flights, as we would have spent all of that regardless of if we rented a car and stayed in cabins or shipped ours and camped.
Here is the breakdown of the costs
Transport fees to ship our car $1,600,000 CLP
Misc uber fees around town and getting our car to/from the transport company $80,000 CLP
Car rental for same period/drop off points/size of car (we are a family of five) $2,887,000 CLP
(and we wouldn’t have had camping gear)
My in-laws rented a Suzuki Swift 4×4 for the same time period as us and their total was $1,600,000 CLP (same as our transport fee) but it only fit two adults, one child and all their gear. We shipped extra sleeping bags for them in our car and they ate with us so they checked one bag with the airline with their tent and sleeping mats.
Cost to camp versus cabins (all prices for family of five and in CLP)
El Chalten, Argentina was $27,000 CLP /night, their basic cabins were $120,000 CLP (slept five)
Jeinimeni was $6,000 CLP/night. Nearest cabins are 1.5 hrs away in Chile Chico $100,000+/night
Parque Patagonia was $16,000CLP/night. Nearest cabins are an hour away in Cochrane $100,000+/night
We didn’t really camp for the cost, it was more for the experience of camping in Patagonia and accessing the trails and nature without long drives every day. But I do estimate if we had stayed in cabins instead of camping it would have cost an extra $1,000,000 CLP minimum for our family of five, more money in fuel to drive in and out of the parks and also eating costs.
Speaking of eating… every time we ate out it cost our family about $50,000 CLP. We ate out once every couple of days, but for the most part we bought groceries and cooked in the campsite as there was no other option. We spent about $450,000 CLP on groceries for seven people for 17 days so $3,800 CLP/per person/day for meals we made ourselves.
In the end we on our trip we logged almost 2,000 km, 12 hikes, 11 nights camping, 2 swims in glacial lakes, 2 boat rides, 1 hot tub and multiple animal sightings along the way! We camped with my in-laws and how special it is to be able to share such a place as a whole family.
Here is our itinerary:
4 nights Torres del Paine (we were also with my sister-in-law and her family for this portion and we all stayed in the park at Hosteria Pehoe — a generous gift from my in-laws)
1 night Puerto Natales at Arte Brisas hotel
3 nights camping in El Chalten, Argentina at El Relincho
2 nights in Argentina at Estancia Santa Thelma
3 nights camping at Reserva Jeinimeni
5 nights camping at Parque Patagonia
3 nights at cabins in Puerto Tranquilo at Chelenko Lodge