Many people are aware of Patagonia's unspoiled wilderness and vast steppe deserts, but it's also a haven for exotic wildlife and marine mammals. You'll see these creatures firsthand when you visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Península Valdés for a whale-watching tour and visit to a Magellanic penguin colony. To cap the adventure, you'll even hike across the surface of a massive glacier.

Highlights

  • Enjoy dinner and a tango show in Argentina's capital of Buenos Aires
  • Go on an expedition to view exotic marine mammals at Península Valdés
  • Visit a massive colony of Magellanic penguins
  • Swim with sea lions off the Atlantic coast
  • Hike across the surface of Perito Moreno Glacier

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore Buenos Aires
Day 2 Walking Tour of Buenos Aires Buenos Aires
Day 3 Buenos Aires to Tigre Buenos Aires
Day 4 Fly from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn Puerto Madryn
Day 5 Explore Península Valdés - Whale-Watching Tour Puerto Madryn
Day 6 Visit the Punta Tombo Penguin Colony Puerto Madryn
Day 7 Snorkel with Sea Lions in Puerto Madryn Puerto Madryn
Day 8 Puerto Madryn to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 9 Perito Moreno Glacier Hike El Calafate
Day 10 Excursion to Upsala Glacier & Estancia Cristina El Calafate
Day 11 Free Day in El Calafate El Calafate
Day 12 Fly from El Calafate to Buenos Aires - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore

The Obelisco in Buenos Aires
The Obelisco in Buenos Aires

Welcome to Argentina! The capital city of Buenos Aires is known as the "Paris of South America" and the "Queen of El Plata." Famous for its mix of European ambiance and Latin American culture, it's the birthplace of the tango and abounds with cobbled streets and beautiful Baroque architecture.

Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will transfer you to your hotel for check-in. Once you've had the chance to rest, you can head out and explore. The city center is your best starting point.

Day 2: Walking Tour of Buenos Aires

The Teatro Colón
The Teatro Colón

After breakfast, you'll take an organized tour of Buenos Aires. During this three-hour walking excursion, you'll visit the neighborhood of Retiro plus stroll Avenida 9 de Julio—South America’s widest avenue. You'll pass through the historic city center, home to the Teatro Colón opera house, National Congress, Plaza de Mayo, and the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace). Then, visit the oldest neighborhood in the city, San Telmo. Afterward, you'll stop by B.A.'s original port, La Boca.

In the evening, enjoy a delicious meal accompanied by a tango performance—one of Argentina's most famous cultural highlights.

Day 3: Buenos Aires to Tigre

The canals of Tigre
The canals of Tigre

Today you'll travel up Río de la Plata where it converges with the Paraña River Delta, located about an hour north of Buenos Aires. During the boat ride, you'll enjoy views of the city skyline as you enter a network of freshwater canals and sail among the islands that make up this unique region. The main port is in Tigre, a Venetian-style village whose small-town and relaxing atmosphere contrast with Buenos Aires' bustling energy.

On the waterfront, you'll find Puerto de Frutos, a maze of craft markets, produce stalls, and artisanal goods. The Museo de Arte features a grand collection of Argentine art spanning two centuries. The Naval Museum and the Museo de Maté are other highlights worth a visit. The latter offers an overview and tasting of maté, an herb cultivated in the Paraná region of the country and used for tea.

Day 4: Fly from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn

Elephant seals on Península Valdés
Elephant seals on Península Valdés

After breakfast, you'll transfer to Aeroparque Airport, located near the city center, for your flight to Puerto Madryn, the gateway to Argentine Patagonia.  

Puerto Madryn is a town that sits along the Golfo Nuevo (New Gulf) of northern Patagonia's Atlantic shore. This coast is home to an abundance of marine mammals including the southern right whale.  However, Puerto Madryn is most famous as 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. It's a short trip from Puerto Madryn to Gaiman, where you can enjoy a spot of tea.

Upon arrival at Puerto Madryn, a driver will meet you for the transfer to your hotel. If you have the 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 with patio seating and ocean views.

Day 5: Explore Península Valdés - Whale-Watching Tour

Whale breaching near Puerto Madryn
Whale breaching near Puerto Madryn

After breakfast in Puerto Madryn, a driver will pick you up at your hotel for an exciting full-day tour of both the land and the sea. The tour starts in Península Valdés, and the first stop is the Istmo Ameghino Interpretation Center. Through various educational exhibits, you will gain insight into the different types of fauna that can be found in this peninsula. There is also a lookout tower featuring stunning views of two magnificent bodies of water: the Golfo Nuevo and Golfo San José.

After visiting the interpretation center, you will continue to Puerto Pirámides. This is the starting point for today's oceanic boat tour. Once aboard the ship, you will sail along the coast and enjoy several opportunities for wildlife sightings. Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions and (if you're lucky) right whales and killer whales. You will also pass a local lighthouse that epitomizes all the seafaring splendor and rugged coastal beauty that Patagonia is famous for.

Your day isn't over after the boat ride. On the way back to Puerto Madryn you will pass some salt flats as well as Isla de Pájaros, an island abounding with different birds including cormorants, egrets, rheas, and flamingos. In the late afternoon, you will return to your hotel where you can recharge or stroll through the city.

Day 6: Visit the Punta Tombo Penguin Colony

Get up close with the penguins at Punta Tombo
Get up close with the penguins at Punta Tombo

Today involves a boat tour down the Atlantic coast and ending at one of the most incredible destinations in  Patagonia: Punta Tombo. In the morning, a driver will meet you at your hotel for the transfer to Puerto Rawson, a fishing village located about 31 miles (50 km) south of Puerto Madryn. You'll then board a ship and start the tour. As you head down the Patagonian coast, keep an eye out for black-and-white Commerson dolphins, known to be the smallest dolphin species in the world. 

The tour continues down to Punta Tombo and its famous penguin colony. This tiny protected area is less than a square mile, but home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in Latin America (estimated at over one million). You'll be able to explore the site on foot and wander right alongside these cute, waddling critters. While touching the penguins is strictly prohibited, photos are welcome.

Day 7: Snorkel 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, and Puerto Madryn is one of them. In the morning, a guide will pick you up at your hotel and transfer you onsite where you'll change into the necessary swimwear. You will then board a boat at Puerto Pirámides and depart for a nearby bay, which is full of sea lions. 

After arriving, you will put on the provided wetsuit and prepare the equipment. While you may feel apprehensive, there's no need to be. Sea lions are curious by nature and will swim up to you 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 an animal approaches. You can expect to be mesmerized by the friendly sea lions during this unforgettable experience.

Day 8: Puerto Madryn to El Calafate

The city of El Calafate, Argentina
The city of El Calafate, Argentina

This morning, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight to El Calafate, a city that sits on the shores of Lago Argentino and is known as the gateway to Argentina's glaciers. If you can, get a window seat so you can enjoy the stunning views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field as you fly over it. 

Upon arrival at El Calafate, another transfer will take you to your hotel. You can spend the rest of the day relaxing or venture out and enjoy the quaint cafes and shops around town. Maybe prime yourself with information on the nearby glaciers by visiting the Glaciarium. This multi-media center has an ice museum, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. For fun, it even has a bar made totally of ice.

Day 9: Perito Moreno Glacier Hike

Hiking Perito Moreno, Argentina
Hiking Perito Moreno, Argentina

After breakfast, you'll head to Los Glaciers National Park to go trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier. On this full-day excursion, you'll walk over Perito Moreno's surface while equipped with crampons and an ice ax. It's a perfectly safe activity, as you'll be accompanied by certified bilingual guides. So enjoy crossing deep blue ice crevices and hiking over meltwater streams as you experience Perito Moreno up close and personal. 

After your expedition on the glacier, you'll have plenty of time to appreciate it from one of the many viewing platforms in the park. These platforms are accessible via a network of walkways that run along the shores of the lake. They offer sweeping views of the glacier, making for great photo opportunities.

Day 10: Excursion to Upsala Glacier & Estancia Cristina

The view from Estancia Cristina
The view from Estancia Cristina

There's more activity in store for you today. Starting early, a driver will pick you and other passengers up from your respective hotels and transfer you 28 miles (45 km) to the port at Punta Bandera, located on Lago Argentino. The drive along this route is scenic and pleasant, affording sweeping views of the Patagonian countryside and the charming wooden houses that intermittently dot the landscape. 

Having reached the port, you'll board a modern ferry and embark on a journey on the Upsala Channel, passing towering icebergs along the way. As you reach the northern section you'll see the western front of the Spegazzini Glacier. At over 10 miles long and a mile wide, the length, breadth, and towering ice walls that define this ancient glacier are awe-inspiring. 

After taking the time to admire Spegazzini, you will continue sailing north and into the Cristina Channel. At the far end of this channel is the disembarking point for Estancia Cristina. Expect to arrive late morning. 

Estancia Cristina is one of the most impressive ranch-style lodges in the region. It was founded in 1914 by pioneers and built on a valley once covered by the Upsala Glacier. A visit to the Folkloric Museum here (located in an old sheep-shearing shed), offers insight into the history of the estancia. The surrounding scenery is nothing to scoff at either—all around are impressive panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes, and glaciers. 

All told, you will stay here about six hours. Afterward, you'll embark on a 6-mile (9.5 km) journey by 4x4 over an unpaved road that ascends into the mountains. Upon reaching the Continental Ice Field Refuge, you will exit the vehicle and begin a 20-minute walk featuring views of glacial landscapes and Andes mountains until you reach the Upsala viewpoint. Here you will have an unobstructed view of the eastern face of the Upsala Glacier as well as Lake Guillermo and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. 

In the late afternoon, you will board the boat again and begin the return to Punta Bandera. After landing, you will transfer back to your hotel.

Day 11: Free Day in El Calafate

Reserva Laguna Nimez
Reserva Laguna Nimez

Today is free to enjoy El Calafate however you choose. You can book a luxurious spa treatment and spend the day relaxing. Perhaps choose an active adventure like horseback riding on a nearby ranch or embarking on a kayak trip on the lake. You could also tour Reserva Laguna Nimez, a protected area 15 minutes walking distance from town and which is home to exotic birds like the Chilean flamingo. Or simply spend the day hanging out in the cafés in El Calafate.

Day 12: Fly from El Calafate to Buenos Aires - Departure

Sunset in Buenos Aires
Sunset in Buenos Aires

This morning, a driver will take you to the airport for your flight back to Buenos Aires. Upon arrival, you will transfer to the international airport for your return flight home. Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Argentine Wildlife & Glaciers Adventure - 12 Days
Map of Argentine Wildlife & Glaciers Adventure - 12 Days