Spring has arrived in the Southern Hemisphere. Days are now longer and warmer. Soon forests of multi-colored mushrooms will be cropping up across the landscapes of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay as travelers pitch their tents.
In most of Latin America, carpas (tents) are looked upon with curiosity. Few can understand how rich foreigners can so innocently leave their belongings in something as flimsy as a cloth hut. It opens one up to theft – and possible worse – in the night. Luckily, though, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have a culture of camping. Popular with local people looking for inexpensive vacations, camping is also the shoestring traveler’s best lodging option in these costlier countries and a safe one for solo women travelers. A few sites are open all year. Others begin opening in spring. By summer, the season is in full swing until the end of vacations in February.
Argentina is the best prepared country for camping. Even many small villages have their camping municipal. Local tourism offices keep lists of all public and private sites and their rates. Expect to pay a one-time fee for the tent or vehicle plus a daily per-person charge. Some additionally charge for showers. Solo Campings lists Argentine campgrounds www.solocampings.com.ar). ACA – Automóvil Club Argentino – operates good sites that are open to motorists and non-motorists alike (www.aca.org.ar/servicios/turismo/frame.htm).
Unlike its eastern neighbor, Chilean towns do not have municipal campgrounds. Privately owned facilities are more common in tourist-popular destinations. Many of the national parks have designated sites and allow backcountry camping for trekkers. Some parks also have basic refugios (check with the local Conaf office or ranger station about availability). In general, camping is more expensive in Chile. For more information on campgrounds throughout this country, check:
In many parts of Uruguay are double campgrounds. At one locale is a public or private ground with complete facilities. Not too far away is another (usually free) that has no facilities (or perhaps only latrines). Guía Gambia is the most complete listing of campsites in the country. Many kiosks sell the printed guide, which can also be consulted at: www.guiadeturismo.com.uy/guiaweb/.
In all three countries, a rain-proof tent is needed, and in the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, one resistant high winds is advisable. If you have one without a rain fly, you can use a rain poncho or tarp. If you have left home without a tent, pick it up in a cheaper neighboring place like Bolivia, as they are expensive further south. Another necessary piece of equipment is an insulation pad. The cold, damp ground robs your body of heat. Depending on how rough you’ll be going, you may need a camp stove. Gas canisters are easy to get in most areas. Open fires are prohibited in national parks. If sticking to established campgrounds, you can get by without one, as many places have fire pits or a quincho with kitchen facilities. By camping, you’ll find that polyester mushroom soon pays for itself with what you’ll be saving on hostels or hotels.