South America is all about the freedom of the great outdoors. That’s what we have been embracing during a 1,500-day, 44,000-mile campervan trip that’s taken my husband Jeremy and I to hundreds of camping spots – from Colombia’s Caribbean coast through deserts and plains, around volcanoes and over the Andes down to the continent’s most southerly tip: wind-whipped Tierra del Fuego.
We’ve woken up on tranquil beaches, beside sparkling highland lakes, at the foot of snowy mountains and in plenty of petrol stations. In four years we’ve learned a thing or two about camping and living with the elements, from hot and bug-infested to downright freezing … and we have never felt more free.
South America may not be as well-known for camping as Europe or North America, but the continent is rich with opportunities for a camping holiday of any duration. Whether you’re backpacking with a tent, or hiring a car or motorhome, here are a few tips and our favourite discoveries for unforgettable nights under the stars.
With locals enjoying the country’s natural beauty as much as visitors, campsites are not difficult to find in Chile, especially in national parks. Wild camping is common in many areas, too. Websites solocampings.com/chile and campingchile.cl have comprehensive listings. For motorhome rental contact holidayrent.cl and wickedsouthamerica.com/v3. Vehicles can be taken into Argentina.
14 Pan De Azúcar Lodge, Chañaral
This campsite in the Pan de Azúcar National Park looks directly on to the island home of about 2,000 Humboldt penguins, plus marine otters, sea lions and pelicans. It’s located in an area of wild coastal desert – so don’t expect hot water, Wi-Fi or supermarkets; expect immense sunsets, inquisitive desert foxes and boat trips to the island to see the penguins.
• Pitches from £7pp, pandeazucarlodge.cl
15 Camping La Junta, Los Lagos
Another campsite with an enviable location, this time at the foot of giant granite domes of the Cochamó Valley – the Chilean Yosemite – just north of Patagonia. A haven for trekking and rock-climbing, it’s only accessible by foot or horse. Hikers get the added buzz of a river crossing via pulley.
• Pitches from £4pp, Oct-March, reservations
16 Refugio y Camping Las Torres, Torres del Paine National Park
This huge, clean site is at the start of the hike to the trio of peaks from which the park takes its name. There are excellent showers, drinkable tap water and road access, but bring a campstove – open fires are banned. The owners rent camping equipment, as do shops in Puerto Natales, 70 miles to the south. The site is at one end of the five- to seven-day ‘W’ trek, which has a network of free and fee-paying refuges.
• Pitches from £8pp, Laguna Amarga park entrance, 12 Sept-30 Apr, fantasticosur.com/en
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