This 15-day tour in Argentine Patagonia hits the highlights between Puerto Madryn in the north to Ushuaia in the south for a range of outdoor activities and wildlife. On the itinerary are two national parks: Tierra del Fuego (rivers and ancient settlements) and Los Glaciares (glaciers and iconic hikes). There's also whale watching, snorkeling with sea lions, and a visit to South America's largest Magellanic Penguin colony.

Highlights

  • Start off visiting a UNESCO-listed peninsula for orcas, guanacos, and sea lions
  • Have afternoon tea in a charming small town with Welsh history
  • Pick from a range of hikes with stunning views of Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre
  • Take a coastal hike and canoe ride in Tierra del Fuego National Park
  • Dine on steak, king crab, and other Argentinian delicacies

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn Puerto Madryn
Day 3 Penguin Colony at Punta Tombo Puerto Madryn
Day 4 Península Valdés & Whale Watching Puerto Madryn
Day 5 Snorkeling with Sea Lions in Puerto Madryn Puerto Madryn
Day 6 Fly to Ushuaia - Explore the City Ushuaia
Day 7 Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego Ushuaia
Day 8 Beagle Channel Cruise Ushuaia
Day 9 Ushuaia to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 10 Punta Bandera Harbor - Glacier Boat Tour El Calafate
Day 11 Free Day in El Calafate El Calafate
Day 12 El Calafate to El Chaltén El Chalten
Day 13 Hike to Mt. Fitz Roy El Chalten
Day 14 Hiking in El Chaltén El Chalten
Day 15 El Chaltén to El Calafate - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City

The Obelisco, a central monument in Buenos Aires
The Obelisco, a central monument in Buenos Aires

Welcome to Argentina! Renowned as the "Paris of South America," and the "Queen of El Plata," the capital city of Buenos Aires is defined by passion. This is exemplified in the rich tango heritage and its citizens' limitless enthusiasm for fútbol (soccer), which is far and away the country's most popular sport. 

When you arrive at the airport, your driver will be waiting to take you in a private car to your hotel where you can relax after a long flight. But make no mistake: the city will beckon you. So after a quick recharge, be sure to venture out into the welcoming arms of Buenos Aires and explore. The best starting point would be the city center.

Suggested activities include:

  • Visit the Obelisco, which might be the most famous icon of the city. This obelisk (which even Argentines admit is a little too reminiscent of the Washington Monument) is worth a visit for its location alone. It sits right in the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio, which boasts a whopping 16 lanes, making it the widest city street in the world.

  • Stop by the Teatro Colon, one of South America's premier opera houses. The horseshoe-shaped gallery features 2,487 seats and incredible acoustics. Even if you plan on taking a tour or catching a show here on another day, it's always breathtaking to pass by its exterior. The Colon's neoclassical facade has been the face of one of the most handsome buildings in Buenos Aires since its opening in 1908.

  • Stroll Puerto Madero, an upscale waterfront neighborhood adjacent to downtown. Puerto Madero may be the "new money" finance center of Buenos Aires, but it's also one of the most pleasant walking areas in a city famous for its walking areas. A romantic stroll involves walking over the canal on the Puente de Mujer ("Woman's Bridge") at sunset. 

  • Dine at an Argentine steakhouse or parilla. When night falls and dinnertime arrives, do like the locals and enjoy a thick, juicy steak (Argentina has some of the best beef in the world) drizzled with the nation's famous chimichurri (a garlic, herb, and vinegar sauce). Know that Buenos Aires is a culture that thrives after dark, and it's not uncommon for locals to have dinner well past nine in the evening, especially on weekends. 

Day 2: Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn

Sealife in and around Puerto Madryn
Sealife in and around Puerto Madryn

After breakfast in the capital, you'll be picked up and transferred to Aeroparque Airport, located near the city center, for your flight to Puerto Madryn—gateway to Argentine Patagonia.  

Puerto Madryn sits along the Golfo Nuevo (New Gulf) of northern Patagonia's Atlantic shore. Off the coast, there is an abundance of marine mammals including the southern right whale, which typically breeds from May to December. 

For more sea life, Puerto Madryn is most famous for being the jumping on/off point for nearby Península Valdés, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best place to view a variety of animals in their natural habitat, including sea lions, penguins, guanacos, whales, and orcas. Also near Puerto Madryn is Gaiman—a small historic town founded by Welsh settlers in 1875. Gaiman has preserved many of its Welsh traditions with tea shops, chapels, and gardens sprinkled throughout town.

Upon arrival at Puerto Madryn, a driver will meet you for a transfer to the hotel. If you have any energy after your flight, feel free to stretch your legs with a stroll around this tranquil city. It's a safe, walkable community and the charming waterfront promenade is lined with cafes and restaurants, some with patio seating and ocean views. You can also make the short trip to Gaiman for a spot of tea.

Day 3: Penguin Colony at Punta Tombo

Magellanic penguins sharing a moment
Magellanic penguins sharing a moment

Today involves a boat tour down the Atlantic coast that culminates at one of the most incredible destinations in Patagonia: Punta Tombo. This tiny protected area (less than a square mile), is home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in Latina America.

First, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to Puerto Rawson, a fishing village located about 31 miles (50 km) south of Puerto Madryn. From here, you will board a ship and start the tour. As you head down the Patagonian coast, be sure to keep an eye out for black-and-white Commerson dolphins, regarded as the smallest dolphin species in the world. 

The tour continues down to Punta Tombo for the aforementioned penguin colony. Exact estimates of how many Magellanic penguins habitat the area vary, but at one point it was home to over a million. The population might hover near that figure even today, evidenced by thousands of penguins in every direction. You'll even be able to explore the area on foot amongst these cute, waddling critters. With so many to choose from, it may be tempting to reach out and touch them, but alas, this is not allowed. Photos, on the other hand, are more than welcome.

After the tour concludes, you'll make the return trip up the coast and transfer back to your hotel. 

Day 4: Península Valdés & Whale Watching

A whale breaches near Puerto Madryn
A whale breaches near Puerto Madryn

After breakfast in Puerto Madryn, a driver will pick you up at your hotel for a full-day tour—by land and sea—starting in Península Valdés. The first stop will be the Istmo Ameghino Interpretation Center, which will act as a useful primer for your foray into this unique eco-system. Through various educational exhibits, you'll gain insight into the different types of fauna that call the peninsula home. There's even a lookout tower featuring stunning views of the Golfo Nuevo and the Golfo San José.

After visiting the interpretation center you'll continue to Puerto Pirámides. This is the embarking point for today's oceanic wildlife-watching excursion. Once you've boarded the ship, it will sail along the coast with several opportunities for wildlife spotting. Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions and (if you're lucky) right whales and killer whales. You'll even pass a local lighthouse that epitomizes all the seafaring splendor and rugged coastal beauty for which Patagonia is deservedly famous.

Even after the boat ride, your day isn't over yet. On the way back to Puerto Madryn you'll pass some salt flats as well as Isla de Pájaros, an island abounding with different avian species like cormorants, egrets, rheas, and flamingos. In the late afternoon, you'll complete your tour and return to the hotel.

Day 5: Snorkeling with Sea Lions in Puerto Madryn

Snorkel with sea lions in Puerto Madryn
Snorkel with sea lions in Puerto Madryn

There are only a few places in South America where you can swim with sea lions in their natural habitat. Puerto Madryn is one such place. In the morning a guide will pick you up at your hotel and transport you to their office where you will change into your swimwear. You'll then board a boat at Puerto Pirámides, on Península Valdés, and depart for a nearby bay, which is full of sea lions. 

Upon arrival, it's time to hop in the water (wetsuits and equipment will be provided). If you're feeling apprehensive, there's no need to be. Sea lions are curious by nature and will swim up and offer a friendly hello. Also, a guide will be there every step of the way to offer specific instructions about what to do when a sea lion approaches. It's nothing short of an unforgettable experience.

Day 6: Fly to Ushuaia - Explore the City

Early morning in Ushuaia
Early morning in Ushuaia

After breakfast in Puerto Madryn, you'll pack up and fly down to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel where you'll have the rest of the day to explore as you see fit. 

Located on a bay in the Patagonian region of Tierra del Fuego, the city sits between the jagged peaks of the Martial Mountains and the silver waters of the Beagle Channel. This is also the same waterway where Charles Darwin found himself when he was riding the HMS Beagle almost 200 years ago. Make sure to get out and walk along the waterfront for a better glimpse of the majestic mountains and impressive channel.

Suggested activities in and around town: 

  • Stroll the streets of downtown. Walking around the colorful shops and buildings, you'll see an endearing jumble of architectural styles with everything from mock chalets to tumbledown wooden cottages.

  • Stop in at the Prison Museum. The building that houses Ushuaia's Maritime Museum was actually once an old prison. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century, some 600 convicts occupied 380 cells until the prison's closing in 1947. The history harkens back to a time when the worst of Buenos Aires' populace were banished to the perceived "end of the world." Even today, much of the prison looks unchanged since its doors closed. 

  • Visit the Museo del Fin del Mundo, or "End of the World" Museum. Located on the waterfront, this small museum features fascinating exhibits on the region's natural and indigenous history. You'll also find extensive bird and sailing exhibits. 

  • Head to Laguna Esmeralda. A few miles outside of Ushuaia, this is an easy afternoon hike for all levels. Also, the shores of this turquoise lake are great for photos and stopping to enjoy nature. 

  • Sample the local cuisine. The region is famous for its seafood, particularly centolla (king crab). Try it au gratin—it'll likely be the most decadent meal of your trip.

Day 7: Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego

Coastal trail in Tierra del Fuego
Coastal trail in Tierra del Fuego

Today, you'll spend a day in Tierra del Fuego National Park, one of the most frequently visited places around Ushuaia. It's close to the city and isn't expensive to enter, which means it's wide open for locals and visitors alike. There are many wonders within its 155,000 acres, so you'll want an experienced guide to show you the best hikes, lakes, and lookout points. 

On this day trip, you'll have a specialized guide to help you discover the natural beauty within the park. You'll get to know the ins and outs of this protected paradise, from seaside mountains to freshwater rivers to subantarctic forests and tranquil bays.

You'll depart from your hotel by minibus for the short ride to the entrance of Ushuaia National Park. Then it's a 4.3 mile (7 km) hike on a coastal path that follows the Beagle Channel. You'll have prime views of the channel along the way, but you'll also get to enjoy the diverse flora and fauna of the area. You'll also pass remnants of ancient settlements once occupied by the Yámana indigenous people.

After this brisk three-hour trek, you'll reach Lago Roca where you can relax and enjoy a hot lunch. Then it's time to start the canoe ride down the Lapataia River. This waterway leads to your ultimate destination, Lapataia Bay. Located in the Beagle Channel, it sits at the end of the Pan American Highway and Nacional Route No. 3.

Day 8: Beagle Channel Cruise

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in Beagle Channel
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in Beagle Channel

After breakfast in Ushuaia, head to the pier to board a boat for a local cruise. Today's excursion sails through the Beagle Channel, one of the region’s most important waterways named after the HMS Beagle, a 19th-century British ship that once carried Charles Darwin to South America.

As you pass through the channel, you'll get breathtaking panoramic views of the city of Ushuaia and the entire bay. Be on the lookout for sightings of diverse marine wildlife such as cormorants and sea lions, especially near the Lobo and De Los Pajaros islands. If the winds are calm, you can even hop ashore on one of the islands’ bridges, collect giant shells, and see the opposite coast which stretches across both Chile and Argentina. Before making your way back to Ushuaia, see the famous Les Eclaireurs, the so-called "Lighthouse at the End of the World".

Day 9: Ushuaia to El Calafate

Icebergs on a lake in El Calafate
Icebergs on a lake in El Calafate

This morning, after breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport in Ushuaia for your flight to El Calafate, a regional hub for visits to the stunning glaciers of Southern Patagonia, including the world-famous Perito Moreno Glacier.

After a short flight, arrive, check into your hotel, and take the rest of the day to relax or explore the charming city. In the evening, try to stop by the Laguna Nimez Reserve, where you can admire an amazing array of endemic birds in the sanctuary and watch the sunset over Lago Argentino.

Day 10: Punta Bandera Harbor - Glacier Boat Tour

Tour the glaciers by boat
Tour the glaciers by boat

Aside from Perito Moreno, there are a number of other incredible masses of ice in Los Glaciares National Park. You'll get a chance to visit a few of these on a full-day boat excursion around Lago Argentino. In fact, you will get so close to the glaciers' walls that you'll practically be able to reach out and touch them.

The morning starts with a transfer to Punta Bandera Harbor where you'll hear a quick speech about safety. You'll then board a modern catamaran in the mid-morning and embark on your journey. As you travel north along the frozen waters of Lago Argentino, you'll weave between icebergs as you make your way towards the first site: Upsala Glacier. After crossing the Boca del Diablo (the narrowest part of the lake), you'll enter the Upsala Channel and shortly afterward reach the glacier.

The next destination is the towering Spegazzini Glacier. However, as you enter the Spegazzini Channel you'll first catch a glimpse of the Seco Glacier, a retreating wall of ice that is perpetually moving inland from the lakeshore. Finally, you'll reach Spegazzini. With ice walls 442 feet (135 m) tall, just being near this towering behemoth will be enough to make you shiver.  

The tour ends with the boat's return to Punta Bandera where you'll transfer back to your hotel.

Day 11: Free Day in El Calafate

Take a kayaking tour
Take a kayaking tour

Today, you'll have a relaxing (or not so relaxing) free day to either arrange a spa treatment at a nearby resort or venture out and discover more adventures in and around El Calafate. Perhaps, you'd like to see more glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park, go horseback riding on a nearby ranch, or join a kayaking tour. 

For a break from the glaciers, you can also take a short 15-minute walk from El Calafate to an ecological reserve called Laguna Nimez. The protected area is a haven for a great variety of birds including the Chilean flamingo, and there is a self-guided boardwalk which takes visitors around the whole reserve. 

Another museum option (besides the Glaciarium) is the town's history museum: Centro de Interpretación Histórica. It covers the history of Patagonia since the ice age, including useful information on glaciers, as well as dinosaurs, extinct animals, indigenous peoples, and the formation of other geographical landscapes.

Day 12: El Calafate to El Chaltén

Look for views of Mt. Fitz Roy on your way to El Chalten
Look for views of Mt. Fitz Roy on your way to El Chalten

After breakfast, a vehicle will pick you up for the three-hour drive to El Chaltén. If the skies are clear, you'll be treated to incredible views of Mount Fitz Roy along the way. Because of this infamous peak, the town is nicknamed "hiker's paradise" due to the abundance of mountaineering options all around (which you'll soon discover).

Upon arrival, check into your hotel and have the rest of the day to acclimate to your new surroundings. Perhaps you'll want to take a walk in town before a relaxing evening sampling El Chaltén's many restaurants and craft-beer bars.

Day 13: Hike to Mt. Fitz Roy

View from Laguna de los Tres
View from Laguna de los Tres

This morning you'll embark on a full-day excursion into Los Glaciares National Park. El Chaltén is the perfect starting point for such an excursion because there are a number of trailheads just outside of town. Many of these lead into the range of Fitz Roy and offer wonderful opportunities for day hikes.

Let it be known that a "day hike" means a full-day since most options can last up to 11 hours depending on which route you take. The hike you'll likely be embarking on this morning is to Laguna de los Tres. The trail leads up through an alpine forest, complete with views of Piedras Blancas Glacier, all the way up to the lake. Laguna de los Tres earned its name due to the panoramic view of the three peaks: Fitz Roy, Poincenot, and Torre.

At the end of this 16-mile (26 km) hike, you'll descend the mountain and return to your hotel in El Chaltén for a much-deserved rest.

Day 14: Hiking in El Chaltén

Many trails to choose from
Many trails to choose from

Today you'll have the whole day to discover numerous hiking trails at your own pace.  El Chaltén is the perfect starting point for such an excursion because there are a number of trailheads just outside of town. Many of these lead into the range of Fitz Roy and offer wonderful opportunities for day hikes. In fact, you can choose when and where to go since all the paths are self-guided, clearly marked, and well maintained.

Let it be known that a "day hike" means a full-day since most options can last up to 11 hours depending on which route you take. If you're up for the challenge, hiking to the foot of Cerro Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres is highly recommended for impressive views of Fitz Roy and the whole massif. The trail leads up through an alpine forest, complete with views of Piedras Blancas Glacier, all the way up to the lake. In fact, Laguna de los Tres earned its name due to the panoramic view of the three peaks: Fitz Roy, Poincenot, and Torre. This trek becomes difficult at the end but is worth the effort—in other words, keep a camera close.

There are many relaxed trails available, too. For an easier option, head out from town on a short 1.9-mile (3 km) walk with views of lenga forests and the Rio de las Vueltas. This option also allows the chance to see all kind of birds including woodpeckers. For more mountain views, head to the Cerro Torre lookout.

You can also embark on a two-hour brisk hike amid native forest to a lagoon with deep blue waters. This is Laguna Capri—a lake that sits at the foot of the mountains with more unobstructed views of the Fitz Roy massif. 

No matter how you spend your day in the outdoors, you'll return to your hotel for time to explore more of the bar and restaurant options around El Chaltén.

Day 15: El Chaltén to El Calafate - Departure

Goodbye, Patagonia
Goodbye, Patagonia

It's time to say goodbye to Patagonia! Today a driver will meet you and transfer you from the town of El Chaltén to the airport at El Calafate Airport for your flight to Buenos Aires. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, transfer to the international airport for your flight home.

It's a bittersweet moment, to be sure, but on the ascent look out the plane window and, if it's a clear day, you'll be able to see the Southern Patagonian Ice Field stretched out before you in all its glory. Quite the farewell indeed.

Map

Map of Wildlife & Nature in Argentine Patagonia - 15 Days
Map of Wildlife & Nature in Argentine Patagonia - 15 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019