Patagonia (Trip Guide to Exploring Chile & Argentina)


Hike Reports, National Parks, Trip Guides/ Itineraries / Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

I spent about 2 weeks exploring Patagonia which is the minimum amount of time recommended to me. I went at the end of the summer season and had amazing, almost perfect, weather! The weather is can be unpredictable there so you want to make sure to leave some extra days in case things don’t go as planned. This has been a dream of mine and took a lot of planning so I wanted to share my full itinerary with you so you can go to!

Perito Moreno Glacier, Big Ice Trek
Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia Argentina
Fitz Roy, Laguna de los tres, Patagonia
Cerro Torres, Laguna de torres
mirador britanico
Torres Del Paine, W trek Patagonia

I planned my trip about 2 months before I went which is very short because most people say you have to do it months ahead and the only thing I needed to pre-book was the bus ticket from the airport to the first city, the bus ticket between the countries, and my nights on the W trek in Torres Del Paine.

If I’m being completely honest, the popular treks in Patagonia (Fitz Roy / Cerro Torre in Argentina and W Circuit to the Towers in Chile) aren’t very strenuous; in fact, they seem easy enough that any of you reading this can go (except the last 1-2km of both treks… that kicked butt! The trail shoots straight up and this is where most of the elevation gain is). I’ve come to a realization that the only reason there aren’t more people going is the resources it takes to get down there. It’s far and it’s not cheap to get there, and while it’s not expensive while you’re there… everything adds up!

Feb 17 – Mar 4, 2018
Trip Itinerary: 16 Day Guide to Patagonia

(click to skip down)

Random Things to Know…

  • 5 hours ahead of Los Angeles, CA
    You can book most of your trip on the whim with the exception of a few things listed above
  • Bring a small lock for your locker if you are staying in hostels!! & shower slippers.
  • Don’t forget an international converter to charge your phone
  • Open bus ticket = you can get on any seat
  • Refugio = lodging/ camp
  • Try Apple flavored gatorade!!
  • Argentina is known for their pastries which are called facturas, and alfajor cookies… but also Malbec wine, dulce de leche, and empanadas!
  • Don’t recall if it’s all or just some, but busses in Argentina have an additional (I think tax fee) +10
  • The water is so clean that you can drink straight from the source when you’re hiking with no filter
  • Brush up on your Spanish!
    • lago = lake
    • mirador = viewpoint

DAY 1 – 3 (Sat-Mon, Feb 17-19):
Travel days: LA > Chile > Argentina

Travel days:
LA > Chile > Argentina

The first three days was a lot of traveling. Sat & Sun, we traveled by plane. Mon, we traveled by bus. We flew into Punta Arenas airport in Chile and headed straight for Argentina. I paid just under 1k for my ticket and booked it about two months out. We arrived at our final airport destination in Chile on Sunday night, slept inside the airport (as did many others) and took the first bus out on Monday morning into the city of Puerto Natales with our pre-booked ticket. While waiting for the bus in a few hours, we walked into the city to explore and grab lunch which was only 20 minutes away by foot.

We chose to visit Argentina’s side of Patagonia first to get all the long travels over with.

The bus to get from Chile to Argentina was roughly 6 hours. We stayed at the America Del Sur hostel which was my favorite from the whole trip and highly recommended. It was not the easiest place to find at first though. It’s about a 15 min walk from the bus station, and another 10 min walk to the city, but the views from the common area looked better than any I’ve ever seen. I like to think of it as the resort of all hostels because the sunrise and sunset views were just incredible through the wall-sized windows!


DAY 4 (Tues, Feb 20)
Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

Did you know the Perito Moreno Glacier is the third largest ice field in the world? The largest is in Antartica and the second largest is in Greenland.

There’s only one company that does treks on the Perito Moreno and you can have to reserve your spot ahead of time.

They offer two treks: a Mini Trek on the glacier for 20 mins and a Big Ice journey to the center of the glacier for 3 hours. This was one of those YOLO moments so we splurged for the 6200 Argentine Pesos ARS (about $313 usd when I went, $164 usd with current exchange rates) for the big ice with shuttle transfer…the price for 2019 has gone up to 7900ARS which is probably still a better deal with the current exchange rate.

Perito Moreno Glacier

It’s a full day activity and they picked me up from my hostel shortly after 7 am, we got to the glacier at 9:15 am (it’s not that far, but you pass the park entrance which you’ll have to pay the park fees – can’t remember how much it was but they’ll tell you when you book it). We were on the boat heading back to land at 4:45 pm and back to my hostel by 7 pm ish.

To be honest, when I first did it, I thought the glacier was beyond amazing but the Big Ice splurge wasn’t quite worth it. We were only on the ice for 2.5 hours and there was a 45-50 min hike to get there. Looking back though, I have zero regrets and am glad I did this. This experience was something I will never get to do again.

The best ribeye & Malbec I’ve ever had!

This night’s dinner was my favorite from the entire trip and if you make it to El Calafate, I’d highly recommend it. We dined at Casimiro Bigua and I had the ojo de bife (ribeye steak), shared appetizers (get the potato chips/fries, not salad) with house malbec (2016 Humberto Canale) all for less than $25 usd per person! Honestly, I don’t know much about wine, but this was one of my favorite wines I’ve ever had. Ok, no more talking about food.


DAY 5 (Wed, Feb 21)
Travel Day in Argentina: El Calafate > El Chalten

Travel Day in Argentina:
El Calafate > El Chalten

We woke up in the morning, walked to the bus station at 8:43 am and bought a ticket to El Chalten as we got ready for our first backpacking trip. There are a lot of bus companies at the station and most of them are constantly running, but for this one, we booked with Chalten Travel (480.00 ARS). At the same time, we pre-booked our bus to go back to Puerto Natales, Chile for 590.00 ARS with Cootra Ltda.

Our bus was for 1 pm and we arrived in El Chalten at 4:30 pm. The bus takes you to the visitor center for Parque Nacional Los Glaciares for a quick tutorial on this adorable mountain town and trails before it drops you off at the bus station just down the street which was 5 pm for us. Please note that some of the busses we took throughout the trip (I specifically recall this for Argentina) require a mandatory (cash) tip to load/unload your luggage on the bus… 

It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end of El Chalten to the other, starting from the bus station to the entrance of the Fitz Roy trailhead. Our hostel (Rancho Grande Hostel) was decent and close to the far end of town (18 min walk from bus station) – it had a restaurant for convenience and community showers. El Chalten is my favorite little mountain town I have ever visited! I remember seeing a lot of laundry mats and bakeries while walking through the town, and of course hostels and restaurants. Because the sun doesn’t set until 9 pm local time, my friend and I wanted to explore and get in a short hike to Mirador de Los Condores y Las Aguilas (1 km & 2 km distance respectively) to get a view of El Chalten and the mountain ranges and Lago Viedma. It only took 15 minutes to get up and it climbs the entire way; and then it took about another 15 minutes to get to the second viewpoint of Lago Viedma.

We grabbed dinner at a pub, Bourbon, which was good but nothing unique – you can get that food back in the states so I’d only recommend it if you want to play it safe or miss American food.


DAY 6 (Thurs, Feb 22)
El Chalten Backpacking Day 1 of 2: Fitz Roy

El Chalten
Backpacking Day 1 of 2:
Fitz Roy

This is the day I have been waiting for. Before starting on our one-night backpacking trip, we swung by a bakery for some dulce de leche pastries and empanadas for the journey. The 29.6 km loop to Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre can be done as a day hike (10.6km one way, 4 hours), but we decided to backpack it in one night instead to
1) take our time through it and enjoy nature more since it took a lot of resources to get out there and
2) we save on one night’s room fees because it’s free camping.

We began the trail at Senda al Fitz Roy at 10:10 am, 8 km later arrived to Poincenot campground at 12:30 pm, set up camp and rested for an hour, and then made it to Fitz Roy and Lago de Los Tres at 2:17 pm. Poincenot campground is free and doesn’t require reservations, so if you’re really on a budget, backpacking the trail is the way to go.

The trail has markers along the whole hike to tell you how far you’ve been. Most of the trail is very gradual/ flat, but the last 2 km really kicks butt!! The altitude gain for the last 2 km is 400 meters/ 1 km (that’s 1312 ft / 0.62 miles) – it’s no joke! The sign says it’ll take 1 hour to get up the last part; it took me 45 mins, but I powered through because I was so excited to get there.

We headed down at 4:38 pm and got to camp at 5:45 pm.


DAY 7 (Fri, Feb 23)
El Chalten Backpacking Day 2 of 2: Cerro Torre

El Chalten
Backpacking Day 2 of 2:
Cerro Torre

Today’s itinerary was to hike to Laguna Torre for a biew of Cerro Torre, then off the trails and back to El Chalten for a total of 18.6 km. From El Chalten to Laguna Torre, it’s 9 km

Our day started at 8:22 am as we packed up camp and started hiking, arrived at the junction towards Cerro Torre at 8:34 am (which is where the “bridge” is and you get an incredible view of Fitz Roy and Poincenot). The trail connecting the two is 8 km, starts very flat and woodsy hiking through a lot of trees, then along Laguna Madre and Laguna Hija, and finally descending and eventually connecting to the trail to Laguna Torre. We were on this trail from 8:37 – 10:19 am.

We arrived at Camp Agostini at 11:14 am just to drop off our packs so we can hike the last 1 km to the lake + 2 km to the viewpoint with a daypack. There are restrooms here and it’s right next to a stream if you need water. Because of the unpredictable weather in Patagonia and the cloudy day, we decided to cover our packs with the rain cover just in case it rained while we were gone so we could come back to dry packs.

The final stretch to get to Laguna Torre only took about 5 mins and we arrived at 11:30 am. After hanging out for awhile, we decided to hike to Mirador Maestri which is 2 km and took us about a half hour. My fear of heights started to get the better of me near the end and I decided to just wait on the narrow ridge for my friend – I could see the end and it was only less than 5 mins away, but I started to freak out and was scared of slipping. My friend was so sweet and came back for me and went slow and assisted me so I could get to the official viewpoint (I figured I was close enough to stop and too scared to move on which sucked, so I’m glad he came back). The viewpoint was very wide and open once we got past the narrow, rocky sections so we hungout for about 20 mins before making our way back. The weather was very cloudy today and chilly so we didn’t spend much time here, and although the glacier is quite impressive up close, the view from the previous day was much better.

At 1:53 pm, we took off with our packs from the campground and had 8 km to get back to El Chalten. Within ten mins of leaving, the clouds were blowing away and the beautiful blue skies lit up Cerro Torre! At 3:20 pm, we arrived at Mirador Cerro Torre (2.5 km from trailhead). A half-hour later was Mirador Margarita across the canyon, and by 4 pm we finished at the trailhead!

From this end, it’s still about a 15-20 min into the city and we had only booked two hotel rooms for the entire trip (hostels for the rest), which were for the two nights we come off our backpacking trips – this being one at Hotel Poincenot.


DAY 8 (Sat, Feb 24)
Travel/Explore Day in Argentina: El Chalten to El Calafate

Travel/ Explore Day in Argentina:
El Chalten to El Calafate
Bird Sanctuary

We walked to the bus station to get a ticket to El Calafate at 8:21 am (through Chalten Travel again for 480.00 ARS), and hung out in town until our 1 pm bus. After arriving and checking back into the America Del Sur Hostel at 4:30 pm, we walked to the nearby bird sanctuary, Sendero Laguna Nimez: El Humedal Sostiene Diversidad De Vida, had dinner at Pura Vida (chicken pot pie was way too salty), went souvenior shopping, then back to the hostel to get rest before another travel day.


DAY 9 (Sun, Feb 25)
Travel: El Calafate, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile

Travel:
El Calafate, Argentina >
Puerto Natales, Chile

The bus that we booked at the station a few days ago was for 7:30 am. You’ll pass through the immigration (around 12:50 pm) again which can take some time as everybody gets off-board and every bag gets checked, but we were back in Puerto Natales at 2:15 pm and booked our bus for the next morning with Bus Gomez (15.000 Chilean Pesos CLP). We stayed at the We Are Patagonia Hostel which is a short walk from the bus station. The hostel was very clean, the bed’s were much bigger, but our packs didn’t fit in the small lockers so I kept it on my bed when I slept.


DAY 10 (Mon, Feb 26)
W Trek Backpacking Day 1 of 4: Camp at Refugio Paine Grande

W Trek
Backpacking Day 1 of 4:
Camp at Refugio Paine Grande

The bus ticket was an open ticke and there were two time options, 7:20 am and 2:30 pm, so we checked out at 6:30 am and jumped on the first bus.

The bus first takes you to the park office at Lake Amarga (1:30 hr drive) where you have to fill out a form, pay a fee (21.000), and watch a short video about the park rules to enter Torres Del Paine National Park. The second stop is where you jump on a boat (for about 1 hr) that goes through Lake Pehoe to arrive at Refugio Paine Grande, the first night’s camp. We got there at 11:40 am.

A lot of people hike the W trek in 5 days and 4 nights, but the miles weren’t too long that we did it in 3 nights and doubled up day one and two.

We booked all 3 campsites only two months ahead (12/14/17) here:
Camp/ Refugio Paine Grande $10 usd/person
Camp/ Refugio Cuernos – platform + full board (meals) 140000 CLP for 2 people (about $100 usd/person)
Camp/ Refugio Chileno – platform + full board (meals) 140000 CLP for 2 people

When we were checking in to the first camp, I heard some people say they didn’t have reservations yet the camp was able to accommodate them and it looked very packed as is… so if you plan to wing it, there may be hope *fingers crossed*

There’s a market at most refugios and water throughout the trail so you never need to carry much water at a time or pack any food, just carry snacks!

After checking in and setting up camp, we set out for the first leg of the W trek at 12:45 pm which is 11 km straight to to Glacier Grey… and then back.

I was very excited because I hadn’t hiked in a few days and had waited months for this! This was the first time I experienced the infamous strong Patagonia wind everyone talks about, especially as we approached Mirador Lago Grey! We got to this view point at 2 pm and made it to Refugio Grey only an hour later, and Mirador/ Lago de Grey about 15-20 mins later. The trail was mildly flat with some ups and downs but nothing too bad. We got back to camp at 6:40 pm and by 7:15 pm, I was eating my cup of noodle 😛 


DAY 11 (Tues, Feb 27)
W Trek Backpacking Day 2 of 4: Camp at Refugio Cuernos

W Trek
Backpacking Day 2 of 4:
Camp at Refugio Cuernos

We started hiking at 8:50 am, arrived at Camp Italiano 7.6 km later at 10:54 am to drop off our packs, enjoyed a 30 min break and then took a day pack 5.5 km up pass Mirador Glaciar del Frances and arrived at Mirador Britanico at 1:12 pm (780 m elevation gain = 2559 ft in 3.4 miles). The trail coming up required a little bit of scrambling and steep stretches, some incline and trail findings, but it was pretty easy to follow. This detour from the ‘O’ trek is worth it if you have time and you’re in shape, because the rest of the W trail is fairly flat in comparison to this section.

We enjoyed the view for an hour and headed back down to our packs as this wasn’t the end of today’s trail. By the way, make sure to pay attention to your surroundings! We heard and saw a lot of glaciers break apart and fall down… it sounds just like thunder. By 3:50 pm, we were back on the trail and on our way to Refugio Cuernos which was another 5 km away. The trail will incline a little bit more before it starts to go all the way down to the lake and when you reach it, continue hiking along the lake and you’ll see the trail connect.

I am not a fan of going downhill and there are lots of loose little rocks so please be extra careful – I slipped and fell flat on my back. Luckily, my backpack acted as a body pillow and broke my fall! I didn’t feel a thing on my body, but I can’t say the same for my arms and hands… I was scratched up and bruised.

My friend that came on this trip with me was slower than usual because he had a lot more gear and camera equipment, so I actually hiked most of day 2 and 3 solo while regrouping with him at break points.

By 5:50 pm, we finally arrived at Refugio Cuernos. This one took me by surprise – there’s a full bar and you can purchase wifi (8 hrs = $10 usd)! Because we booked this campsite only a couple months out, we had to get an upgraded camp accommodations so our tent was set up on a wooden platform and they served us dinner, breakfast, and packed us lunch to go! There are bathrooms and showers at this campsite too.

This night was definitely the windiesttttttttt night of my life! My friend had to get out of the tent in the middle of the night (or early morning, who knows) to re-strap all the tent ropes securely and I heard other people outside doing it too. The winds were so strong that the entire tent would be blown down on top of us and pop right back up… the tent poles would lean all the way down and touch me too!! Being up on a platform didn’t help as there was little wind blockage


DAY 12 (Wed, Feb 28)
W Trek Backpacking Day 3 of 4: Camp at Refugio Chileno & Hiking to the Towers

W Trek
Backpacking Day 3 of 4:
Camp at Refugio Chileno
& Hiking to the Towers

During breakfast at 7:17 am, we were blessed with the most incredible sunrise I’ve ever seen. After eating breakfast and getting our lunch to go, we packed up camp and were off by 8:45 am to the most anticipated day of the trip – the day we visit the towers of blue, better known as Torres del Paine!

The trail is pretty flat and there’s actually a “shortcut trail” which we arrived to at 10:44 am. On the map, it really doesn’t look like much – you save a little distance by going more direct, but that’s all the map shows.

Well, we took the shortcut trail and I don’t know how much km it saves, but bearing in mind that I hustle on the trails, we arrived at the junction that meets the normal W circuit at 11:51 am and Camp Chileno at 12:17 pm, for a total of 3.5 hours instead of the 6+ hours estimated on the map. I don’t know that I would particularly recommend it… the trail is very exposed with little to no shade or wind coverage, climbs up the entire way after the initial flat section which is muddy and swampy and my foot literally sank down when I tried stepping on branches to cross the mud – maybe it was just rainy before I went but I also went in late summer… good news is, if you take the shortcut trail, you’re already halfway up the incline from the original route by the time the trails meet back together.

After the trails reconnected, it soon starts to descend for about 15 mins along a ridge with the Rio Ascencio beneath you. This section is very windy and my fear of heights kicked in a little. I was scared when there was no one around me because the path is narrow, it’s a steep drop to the side, I had a 20 lb pack on my back and the winds were not blowing in my favor. Honestly, I think the average person would be ok and think this is one of my most beautiful parts of the trail…. because it really was, but my poor little legs couldn’t stop trembling. I went super slow, stopped a lot, held onto trees when I passed, and waited for the next hiker to approach to continue with them.

It was too early to check in to our camp platform, so we had our lunch in the dining area, left our packs stored in the back, and headed out to the base of the towers with a day pack at 1:13 pm. From camp, it is only 4 km (map estimates 2:15 hr; real/my time is 1:17 hr) to the Mirador Base de Las Torres. The trail inclines just a bit for the first 3 km and my friend took off ahead without me because he was able to move much faster with just his day pack. The trail was very crowded so I was never alone for too long though. The last 1 km, however, had an elevation gain of 295 m (that’s 967 ft in 0.6 mi) and took me 40 mins. There are a bunch of rocks along this part of the trail and although the bottom half is in the wilderness, it’s narrow so you have to be patient in letting each other pass. The trail does open up a lot to a wider trail that’s all rocks, so this section can get slippery and steep too. The last section right before arriving at the viewpoint reminds me a lot of the last mile of Mt. Whitney trail – it’s flat with large boulders and climbing up and down and all around. 

At 2:30 pm, I stood in front of the largest towers I’ve ever seen… there it was… Torres Del Paine. It was very crowded, cloudy and windy at the top so we didn’t get to stay long. The winds can change the setting in just seconds. Within half hour, the light rain started to come (first time on the whole trip) so we headed back down by 4:20 pm. 

We were finally able to check in to our camp and the rain was pouring now and for the remainder of the night. They gave us a platform that already had their tents pitched and we had to use ropes to climb up a steep hill to get to it which is not fun in the rain or in the dark. It was good because I knew they would secure the tent well for the windy night, but terrible because there were a ton of bugs hovering in the top of the tent and there was no getting them out.


DAY 13 (Thurs, Mar 1)
W Trek Backpacking Day 4 of 4: Leaving Torres Del Paine

W Trek
Backpacking Day 4 of 4:
Leaving Torres Del Paine

My only regret on the entire trip was not waking up early this morning to hike back up to the towers for sunrise. I had a been there, done that moment and I regret not going back up.

I did wake up before 8 am to catch the morning light shining on the mountains though and it was still very cloudy (or foggy) that I wonder if there was much of a sunrise view at all. By 9:30 am, we started to hike up and out, again on the windy ridge but I stayed close to my friend this time. The sun came out and we got to Hotel Las Torres by 10:40 am (I heard you have to book this one much in advance).

There’s a little kiosk-looking market here where you can pick up the shuttle to Lake Amarga for your bus pick up back to the city, but if you walk about 10 mins down the road, you’ll arrive at the welcome center where the shuttle picks up also. It’s 3.000 CLP ($5usd) and there’s an open cafe seating here so you can wait in the warmth. Tickets are all open tickets.

The shuttle arrived after two hours at 1:30 pm and I was checking in to our room at the Aqua Terra Lodge in Puerto Natales at 3:30 pm. We’d been excited to eat at Mesita Grande Pizzeria and I’d highly recommend this to anyone who comes – they have one in Punta Arenas also, but it’s one of the best pizzas I’ve had!


DAY 14 (Fri, Mar 2)
Travel Day in Chile: Puerto Natales > Punta Arenas

Travel Day in Chile:
Puerto Natales > Punta Arenas

We left an extra day to travel because we didn’t want to rush our schedule and with Patagonia’s crazy and unpredictable wind, you should always leave some cushion days in case you need to adjust your plans.

We took the 11 am Bus Fernandez (8000.00 CLP). It takes a couple hours to get from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas. We took a taxi twice on this whole trip – once from the bus station to our hostel today, and one from the hostel to the airport the next morning – everything else had been walking distance.

We stayed at Entre Viento Hostel for our last night simply because we booked this super last minute during our trip and everything was full – it was about a 20-30 min walk into the city and to be honest, I didn’t do much this day and I wish I planned better use of the free time.


DAY 15-16 (Sat/Sun, Mar 3-4)
Travel Day in Chile: Puerto Natales > Punta Arenas

Going home…
with a big bruise.
Do you see it? 😛

Our flight was Sat at 2:55 pm, with a connecting flight in Lima, Peru, then arriving back at LAX Sun morning at 7 am. I went straight from the airport to a local hike in Angeles National Forest 😛

Trip Costs:
Airfare $950
Glacier Trek $315
Everything else $1335
Total = $2600

Thank You for Reading!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me below as well 🙂
Torres Del Paine, Patagonia Chile
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5 Replies to “Patagonia (Trip Guide to Exploring Chile & Argentina)”

  1. Enjoyed reading your write up. I’ve been down to South America, but before 2010 only and I wasn’t as into hiking and backpacking as I am now. This made me want to go back there so bad. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us Tiffany!

    1. Thank you for reading, Annette! I totally understand the feeling of wanting to revisit a place after you’ve developed a passion for hiking and the outdoors. My parents took me to national parks as a kid and I just didn’t care for it, and now I never want to leave them! xD it hasn’t even been a full year but I look forward to going back to Patagonia already as well! Hope you get to explore it by boots soon 🙂

  2. Hi Tiffany,

    Thanks for the nice writeup on your experience trekking Patagonia with your partner. I’ve been planning a trip to South America and found value in reading about your adventure there. I have been following you and Alice-in-wonderland for a while because you’re both very descriptive in your blogs about the trails, logistics, and gear.

    My question/comment/suggestion is, can you please detail what gear you and your partner brought? Since you did some camping, I feel it would be helpful to know what gear you brought, what you “wish” you brought, what you brought but didn’t need, what YOU carried & what your partner carried, etc. You can either edit this blog and add it, or perhaps create an entirely new blog just on that subject alone.

    Thanks again for taking my question and for writing about your adventures. Keep it up =)

    cheers…

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for sharing, I know my posts can get quite lengthy and most people don’t like that so it’s nice to hear that some people do. 🙂
      You’ve inspired me to write a separate (shorter) post on my packing list for Patagonia! I’ll get this up and running within the next month.

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