Hitchhiking Chile & Argentina: Our First Experience and What We Learned
July 9, 2018
Hitchhiking in Chile was my first time ever hitchhiking and i must admit I was hesitant to try it, but in this case, I didn’t really have a choice! Keep reading to find out my entire story and what happened, what we learned, as well as some tips for hitchhiking Chile and Argentina.
Hitchhiking Chile & Argentina
Hitchhiking Chile is a common plan for many backpackers. Those on a tight budget can’t afford the expensive buses in Patagonia (the southern mountainous region of Argentina and Chile) therefore resort to hitchhiking.
While hitchhiking Chile and Argentina is a “normal” thing to do, I saw the risk involved and to me, the risk wasn’t worth taking. Besides, we were at the beginning of our trip and still had lots of money! Dan and I were in Patagonia for more than three weeks before we ever hitchhiked, buses were our chosen mode of transportation.
So how come I ended up having to hitchhike?
It’s a funny story actually.
We started in the most southern area of Patagonia and were making our way north. Once leaving El Chalten, Argentina we decided we just had to go to the Marble Caves. They looked beautiful (and they were) but they were located in a remote destination in Chile.
What we did find out by speaking to a saleswoman at the bus station was that we could catch an overnight bus directly to the city of Los Antigos in Argentina. From there, we could get a minibus/shuttle across the border to a town called in Chile called Chile Chico. From Chile Chico, there was another minibus to go to the town where the Marble Caves are! Yes, it is all very confusing, but the point is that we thought that would be able to get there no problem at all!
Determined, and confident with the knowledge of the saleslady, we booked the overnight bus to Los Antigos which was the first step in our journey.
Little did we know, that the buses are very unreliable.
We arrived around 5 am in Los Antigos. The bus terminal was closed, all of the shops were closed, everything was closed. Along with several other backpackers, we all waited tired from not sleeping on the bus in the cold for the bus terminal to open so that we could buy bus tickets to continue our journey.
7 am rolled around and the ticket counters started opening. We bought the minibus ticket to get us across the border to Chile Chico. The minibus was scheduled to arrive at 8 am, and when it still hadn’t arrived at 8:30 we asked the salesperson at the ticket counter about it. She said that the bus was late, the border just sometimes created delays.
So we waited, and waited, and waited.
[/caption]10 am rolled around and the bus still hadn’t arrived. Frustrated, we talked with some other travelers who were going the same direction as us. Luckily, one spoke fluent Spanish and could communicate properly with the saleslady. She admitted that sometimes the bus just doesn’t show up.
We got our money back for the bus tickets and reluctantly got in a taxi with the Spanish-speaking traveler. We knew a taxi all the way to Chile Chico would be very expensive, but we had no choice!
The taxi drove to the first immigration building where we would get our Argentina exit stamp and then told us to get out. What!? We needed to get to Chile Chico, staying at the immigration building in the middle of nowhere was not going to help us.
The girl we were with communicated in Spanish with the taxi driver and learned that it is really expensive for taxi’s to cross the border.
This was terrible news.
What you need to understand about this border crossing is that the first immigration building is the Argentina exit building, then many kilometers down the road, there is the entrance building to Chile. The several kilometer gap between the immigration buildings is nobody’s land essentially and no taxis go there. We had all of our bags with us and it would be way too far to walk.
There we were, at the border, hitchhiking.
I found it strange that hitchhiking right outside the immigration building was allowed. The immigration officers all watched us and didn’t care at all.
Luckily, we were still with the traveler who spoke Spanish. While we stood on the side of the road with our thumbs out, she approached the people walking into the immigration building. She communicated with them in Spanish asking for a lift. Many said “no” and after about an hour I was starting to think that we would be there all day long.
As soon as I started to lose hope, a nice older lady agreed.
She only had room for two more people. The Spanish-speaking traveler we were with knew how nervous I was about hitchhiking in the first place and told us to take the ride, she would keep asking and find another one. It was so nice of her to do this! With our poor Spanish skills at that point in time, we may never have been able to get a lift without her!
The lady who drove us had two teenagers with her. None of them spoke a word of English. Using google translate we communicated with them a little and half an hour later we were in Chile Chico. We thanked them profusely and they were on there way.
I couldn’t believe it! What nice people! First, the other traveler who let us take the first ride, and then with the nice lady who drove us all the way to Chile Chico, we had a very lucky day! What was a terrible morning with no food, no transport, and a lack of information turned out to be just fine in the end.
We were too exhausted from our journey to continue on so we found a nice place to stay the night and enjoyed Chile Chico for the next two days.
What We Learned
We learned that hitchhiking doesn’t have to be a scary experience, and in fact is a fun way to get around Patagonia. Not only is it a great way to save some money, but it is useful when busses are limited, which is the case for many places in Patagonia and allowed us to check out some other remote locations that we wouldn’t have be able to go to by bus.
Tips for Hitchhiking in Patagonia
-Get up early. This way you can get the best spot for people to stop before anybody else gets there and you will have more daylight hours to wait for a ride.
-Location is key. You need to position yourself on the road that makes the most sense for where you want to go. You also need to pick a spot where drivers can see you from a fair distance away and that there is a safe place for the car to pull off the road.
-Use a sign to say where you want to go. This way people where you are going.
-Be presentable. Smile and wear clean looking clothes. Nobody wants to pick-up somebody who looks like they will track mud all over their car.
-Hitchhike with one other person. You will likely feel safer with a friend, but if there is too many of you the chances of getting picked up decrease.
The Truth About Hitchhiking Chile and Argentina
What we learned about hitchhiking Chile and Argentina is that it is actually pretty safe, especially in the region of Patagonia. The people in Patagonia are generally quite wealthy and therefore the risk of robbery is low. They are also proud of how beautiful their home is and want to show it off to the world! But just to be safe, I would only recommend hitchhiking during daylight hours and there is safety in numbers, so go with a friend! And, always trust your instincts before getting into a vehicle with a stranger.
But besides, it being quite safe, we learned that hitchhiking is a great way to experience the culture better and get inside local advice. We hitchhiked in Chile again another time and the guy driving actually showed us around the town before dropping us off and stopped at a couple places along the drive that were good viewpoints so we could take pictures! We have met some really friendly people while hitchhiking Chile and made more memories and stories!