Patagonia, Chile, Travellers information
Trip to Patagonia
Southern Argentina, Chile and Tierra del Fuego
Experiences of general interest for bikers
This page is to inform interested bikers about touring in this area, giving answers to those questions I had when I planned our trip. I do not want to explain the trip in detail, there is a lot to tell, but that is not of general interest.
Two bikes (BMW GS Paris - Dakar and Triumph Tiger) on a 5 week trip in February 2001 from Buenos Aires to the end of the world (Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego) and back to Buenos Aires. Southbound we choose Ruta 3 (Atlantic coast) to Ushuaia, northbound we took the Pacific region, crisscrossing from Argentina to Chile and back, including the famous Ruta 40. This trip meant 10.200 km, which did not leave much time for a quiet reflection of all the wonderful impressions. That's what I'm doing now at home.
Back at Buenos Aires we stored the bikes for one year at a friend's place in order to continue travelling through the northern parts of Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Paraguay in March 2002.
Pics, route, road-book, timetable (in German) to be found at my website.
Cruising from Buenos Aires south to Ushuaia you cover a stretch of about 3000 km from the 28th to the 55th latitude of the southern hemisphere with all variations of climatic zones. It was summertime, hot and humid in the Buenos Aires area, becoming moderately warm at Valdez Peninsula. Getting colder at Commodoro Rivadavia. Here for days the ghastly Patagonian winds (force 6 - 9 Bf.) produced a piercing cold, 5 - 8 degrees C. Further south in Ushuaia the winds were less strong, but it was still bitterly cold. During the whole trip we only had one day of rain except some additional hours of drizzle here and there.
Your garment should cover these challenges. And do not forget the most necessary equipment of your bike; heated handles. If your hands (and your feet - BMW) are warm the many hours on your bike will be much easier. And keep in mind that you can protect yourself against the cold (be nice to your granny and ask her to knit some additional underpants). But beware of the humid heat in the north. This really makes biking a challenge.
Considering a breakdown somewhere "in the Pampas" I recommend you carry some food, water, a tent and cooking equipment. And do not forget appropriate tools and repair kits for punctured tires (incl. air pump). It might be more than 200 km until you find the next "gommista". (Tire repair shop)
Shipping the bikes by sea
Transportation cost is reasonable, US$500 per bike (from Switzerland via Hamburg to Buenos Aires). But in Buenos Aires a heavy load of fees is waiting: To get hold of our two bikes we had to pay:
US$ 320 harbour fees for customs, handling etc. Additional US$ 330 were charged for the customs agents, which seems to be unavoidable (so you will not waste your time dealing with de-motivated officials who do not care for your trip and timetable. There is an old saying: you have to pay if you are in a hurry.). Anyway, those guys we paid for dearly were very engaging and helpful. They invested about 10 hours of their time in order to find the bikes in some remote warehouse, persuade the patrons to make them available the same day, doing all the (senseless) checking and finally getting rid of the wooden crates in which the bikes were stored during their ride in some container ship.
I also checked air transport. Cost will more than double, but it's much easier and less time consuming to deal with the customs authorities at an airport.
Flight to Argentina
Our bikes were shipped by sea freight to Buenos Aires. We followed 6 weeks later in a 14 hour economy flight, about US$ 800 (round trip).
For Argentina you get a custom's permit for up to 8 months. Every time you and your bike have left the country this permit will be renewed at re-entry. Similar solution applies for Chile. But I do not recall the terms. Anyway there is no way to sell the bike, neither in Argentina nor in Chile. Nobody will touch it since a heavy load of custom fees is waiting for the seller or the buyer (who will be caught first).
Further south the network of petrol stations is becoming rather thin. With a range of 400 km we never had any difficulties (370 km was the longest passage to the next station). We were told that even if you were stuck, locals or passing drivers would be helpful. Luckily we never had to check this, but it's conceivable information which fits with the overall impression of a generally helpful character of Patagonians.
Cost of petrol is skyrocketing in the middle and northern parts of Argentina, US$ 1.10 / litre on average, up to US$ 1,38 per litre (unleaded 97 octane) close to San Martin de los Andes. South of a virtual line between Puerto Madryn and Bariloche the price is drastically reduced to about 50 % of the "official" price due to subsidies for the economically underdeveloped regions. In Chile the cost of petrol averages at 80 - 85 cents / litre.
Both bikes were equipped with Continental "Twinduro" tires. They performed excellently whether on paved or unpaved roads or on gravel tracks. Due to high average speed along the boring and windy east coast the tires were rather worn when we came to Ushuaia. But during the following 6000 km through the Andes we still stuck to the same tires, even on long passages with heavy gravel. Ending up in Buenos Aires there was not much left of the rear tires after more than 10.000 km. I'll take them again.
Except replacing a leaking seal at one of the BMW's cylinders and two punctures we didn't have much technical trouble. Anyway in all major places we saw motorcycle dealers. Most of them are selling quads, the favourite vehicle for teens and twens? in these remote and otherwise boring places. So the coverage isn't bad, except the fact that the supply of spare parts will take time due to short stocks held by the dealers. We therefore prepared a help-line with our dealer in Switzerland (but never used it). Spare parts were to be sent by courier (FedEx, or others) to the nearest airport - if necessary. (And I never considered any trouble at customs. Cross that bridge when you come to it.)
For security reasons we were equipped with some camping gear incl. tents. But we preferred to choose hotels or similar accommodations whenever possible. It's more expensive, of course, but after a daily ride of 5 to 9 hours we choose the more comfortable solution (incl. shower, heating or a/c. Cost is varying in a wide range, US$ 10 - 60 p. person / night. More often than not we only found "simple accommodation" (bed and breakfast) at an average price of US$ 20. Do not hesitate to ask for discounts. Paying cash instead of plastic we got up to 50 % (without a receipt ;-).
Eating and drinking
Except in Buenos Aires, we only found a few really good restaurants. Mostly we found bad cooking at a relatively high price. Value for money can be considered less than in most Central European countries. But there is no alternative.
Major credit cards are accepted. In Argentina the Peso is connected to the US $ (1 Peso = 1 US$). Be careful, dollar bills are frequently tested for falsifications. Especially watch for forged $100 bills.
Total cost of the trip sums up to about US$ 5.000 / person, incl. air and sea freight, not covering cost of preparing the bikes and the necessary depreciation (which biker ever considered depreciating his bike? It's fun, forget the money).
It's a fairly high budget, but our tight timetable did not allow us to really follow the economy trail. We simply wanted to enjoy the trip, outside some remote camping grounds, which might have helped us to save a few bucks.
For further questions don't hesitate to contact me:
Dieter Zerndt, e-mail: dzer...@aol.com
St. Gallen / Switzerland
website (in German)