Patagonia hills and backcountry roads



By Tim Burke - You can find Tim on  Instagram


Patagonia, South America – a region that straddles the border of the southern portions of Chile and Argentina. By now, you all know it. Likely, because it’s been plastered over social media, photographed, and written about in a variety of magazines, no less than a billion times. For Natalia and I, who met in South Africa in 2019, on our own separate motorcycle journeys, this trip wasn’t about pushing the boundaries of civilization and having a hardcore adventure as much as it was about a mental-return to our “glory days” of carefree moto travel, somewhere…anywhere, far away from home.


Do you remember, in middle and high school, when health and science teachers were educating us against the dangers of drugs and the symptoms of addiction? I remember hearing the phrase “chasing your first high.”It was a notion that once you experience something – something that pushes mental and emotional boundaries – usually in a euphoric manner, you’ll forever crave and chase after that same feeling. Perhaps I’m crazy for comparing motorcycle-travel to drug use, but on a smaller and less intense scale, that’s what years of travel-induced stimulation does to a person. The desire to chase motorcycle-induced endorphins doesn’t ever go away. For us, this short journey was about “getting our fix” again. For those of us in North America, getting down to the other “America” is pretty darn simple. The best part is, as is the case with all north-south travel, jet lag isn’t much of a factor. You can usually get to any major city in South America with just one or two stops and change your watch by no more than a couple hours if any.

Patagonia mountains with motorcycle in the foreground

The other great thing: It’s safe and it’s easy. While we’ve all seen a few of those click-baity, sensationalized, and cringy captions on social media that attempt to suggest that travel through this region is the equivalent to a journey across Mars – a hardcore adventure through rugged wilderness that isn’t for the faint of heart – It is just not true. And that’s the beauty of it: Patagonia’s roads are relatively well maintained, its cities and villages have good food and good lodging, and crime is extremely low.The stunning beauty is just an added bonus! One common question that pops into my inbox frequently is, “Do I rent or do I ship?” For us normal folk, without 7-figures in our bank account to ship motorcycles around the globe, the answer is straightforward. It’s a function of how long you plan to travel versus how much daily rental is. From there, you find the point where the numbers break even. Listen, renting motorcycles usually isn’t cheap – anywhere – but, neither is shipping a motorcycle. If the journey is less than a month long, the break-even point of renting vs shipping almost always favors renting.


Let’s demonstrate with some math. Way back in 2017, when my homeless, aimless, vagrant moto-bum lifestyle first began, I shipped my motorcycle from Vancouver, Canada to London, UK (for six months) for about $3200 round trip. Let’s assume a motorcycle rental in Europe was about $180/day, my break even point to get ROI on my $3200 shipping cost was 16 or 17 days. Since it was a 6-month trip, shipping my own machine was a no brainer, right? Now, fast forward 6 years and a global pandemic later, international shipping prices have become absolutely asinine. Although it’s been awhile since I’ve done serious research on shipping quotes, based on what I’ve been seeing in motorcycle forums lately, people are getting 5, 6, even $7,000 quotes for overseas/international shipping. The break-even point of renting vs shipping has been pushed out even further,favoring the rental industry even more for short-duration motorcycle trips.

Now that you’ve had your arithmetic lesson for the day, you have probably figured out what our decision ended up being for our trip. With an 8-day duration, our travels made renting the obvious quick-easy-solution to getting ourselves in the saddle of a dual-purpose bike.After some quick Google research, and the fact that I had been friends with Daniel Palazzolo on social media for a few years, I was led to MotoPatagonia in Puerto Montt, Chile. Puerto Montt lies right at the northern border to what most consider the Patagonia region. I got in touch with Daniel and hammered down some dates.


We reserved two bikes in his fleet of modern machines. Options vary from about $150-190/day, depending on your taste, and the fleet is always getting upgrades. As of now, you can choose from KLR650s, V-Strom 650s, Tenere 700s, and KTM 790s. Once we arrived, we wasted no time getting our journey started. I don’t know about you, but making the transition from getting off an airplane with a travel suitcase - stuffed full of riding gear and supplies - to being road-worthy on a motorcycle is always a circus production full of swear words and randomized shouting at inanimate objects. Daniel and his wife Paula quietly ignored my disorganization, almost as if they were used to it, while they worked in the background getting all the paperwork ready to make border crossings between Chile and Argentina easy. After about an hour, we had the bikes set up to our liking and were southbound past Volcan Osorno towards the famous Carretera Austral.

train tracks in Patagonia
Patagonian seaside

With ferries to catch and narrow weather windows to take advantage of, timing can be everything in Patagonia and short sections of travel can seem rushed simply out of necessity.Sometimes though, when the rare opportunity presents itself, time doesn’t matter, and you have to pull over to catch up with longtime friends on the side of the road. In a small coastal village called Cochamó, we crossed paths with legends, with what I believe is superhero status within the ADV travel community, Michnus and Elsebie from @pikipiki_overland. These two left their home country of South Africa, over 13 years ago, and have been traveling the world via motorcycle ever since, without any of the sensationalized, influencer bullshit that’s gotten in the way of organic adventure. Michnus and Elsebie are some of the OGs of the ADV scene and their authenticity was just what we needed to kick off our journey.


After saying goodbye to our longtime friends, Hornopirén, Chile was next on our agenda where we’d catch a 3.5 hour ferry south through glacial fjords. Two synchronized ferry rides eventually dropped us into misty roads through the Valdivian rainforest. The amount of moisture this area sees is impressive and there are epic roadside waterfalls around every bend to prove it. The biggest leaves you’ll ever see line the gravel road to Chaitén, located on the north end of the Carretera Austral and is a pretty common overnight stop for most north/south travelers through Patagonia. This was my second time staying in this cool little coastal town that has a massive volcano looming over the top of it! The same volcano that washed the entire town into the sea in 2008 by blowing its top and causing lahar flows and floods down the mountain. The town, as it sits now, is rebuilt and relocated from its original spot.

With just a few exceptions, the sheer remoteness, terrain, and protected wilderness make your options for off-the-beaten-path travel in this area pretty limited to just north-south travel along the Austral. That’s something you won’t find anybody complaining about though. The journey south gets more epic as you pass underneath glacial capped peaks, massive lakes, and raging rivers. As you approach the waters of Lago Yelcho, it appears deep blue.As the sun changes angles throughout the day, however, the glacial lake waters can become turquoise and emerald colored. We’d eventually descend on our rental bikes, into the town of Villa Santa Lucia which, in 2018, was almost completely destroyed by a mudslide just weeks before I had passed through. Revisiting years later introduced an incredible feeling to see this town rebuilt and recovered.


From Villa Santa Lucia, the trek turned inland and eastward, down around the southern shore of Lago Yelcho and towards one of the fly fishing and white water rafting capitals of the entire world, Futaleufú, Chile. Futa, as most locals call it, is an incredible village smack dab in the middle of the Patagonian Andes. Raging rivers and lush green pastures surround the area. One night turned into two here just because we couldn’t drag ourselves away. To be honest, I might still be there if I didn’t have to get Daniel and Paula their motorcycles back! It’s a perfect spot for a one-day motorcycle loop, out into Corcovado, Argentina, Carrenleafu, and Palena too.Futa represented the southern “turn back” point for our journey and eventually we had to head north. We crossed into Argentina and took one of the most scenic roads that Argentina has to offer through Parque Nacional Los Alerces. It’s a perfect mix of gravel, dirt, dust, and pavement with massive mountain views around each twist. You get spit out in Cholila, Argentina where, if you’re a old-western cops and robbers history buff, you’ll want to pin this town on your maps. It was here that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid made a “home” after escaping the USA as fugitives of justice. Their old ranch home is in good condition and easily accessible off the side of the road. The journey north takes you through Argentina’s drier side of Patagonia to El Bolson and Bariloche. I can only best describe Bariloche as South America’s Aspen, Colorado. It’s a ritzy town that’s a ski resort by winter and lake oasis by summer. German architecture dominates the city and you’ll want to do a quick Google search if you’re curious about the slightly ugly reason why! With the days flying by and a deadline to return the rentals lingering, we continued north through the tourist hotspot of Villa La Angostura. Ruta 231 would take us westbound across the Andes, back towards the Chilean border and through Parque Nacional Puyehue. It’s certainly not South America’s highest or most epic pass, but the footpeg-scraping twists and turns and dramatic scenery will have you drooling.

lakeside motorcycle riding in Patagonia

All said and done, the 8-day loop covered about 1,000 miles (1600 km) of Patagonian countryside in both Argentina and Chile. It was a perfect mix of adventure and vacation. Very few times did it feel like we were “pushing it.” I’d be lying to you if I suggested that the trip was conducted in the same hardcore, dirtbag, penny-pinching, homeless-adventurer style that some of my previous travels were. It wasn’t. Good restaurants were visited, fine wine was sipped, zero side-of-the-road camping occurred, and very little discomfort was tolerated. Hey, don’t judge us! We now have jobs that produce actual paychecks and we contribute to the economic health of society! This trip, for me at least, was closure to the fact that my days as a stinky, broke motorcycle hobo are in the rear view. Travels just look and feel different now that I’m pretending to be an adult, okay?


Jokes aside, it’s important to be realistic in recognizing quitting a job for world travel (or if you’re Michnus and Elsebie, 13 years of full-time beer drinking with a tiny bit of part-time motorcycling) isn’t for everybody. For those that do have obligations and commitments back at home, motorcycle rental for short periods of time is a great way to slowly put bucket list notches in your belt. Every single one of us has an hourglass that’s emptying right now. The funny thing is that we don’t know how much sand is left before it runs out for good. And we don’t get to flip it over again, so get out and do that one trip you’ve always wanted to go on! Whether it’s with the boys at RentaMotorcycle in Scotland, CelticRider in Ireland, or with Daniel, Paula and MotoPatagonia in Puerto Montt, figure out a way to pursue your travel dreams. If Patagonia is part of your bucket list, be sure to give a gander. It doesn’t get much easier than showing up and throwing a leg over something in their fleet.



For our Patagonia article featured in Issue 34: CLICK HERE


For Scott Lee's article, 4 Things You Won't Need in Patagonia: CLICK HERE




This story was originally published in Issue 82

Issue 82 cover of Upshift Online