Experience the sophistication of Buenos Aires, the mesmerizing force of the Iguazu Falls, the wildlife of Ushuaia, the spectacular glaciers of El Calafate, and more. This 13 day trip to Argentina's historic capital and then across Patagonia perfectly balances natural and cultural sightseeing, making it ideal for any adventurous traveler.

Highlights

  • Explore the energetic neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango
  • Discover Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world
  • See giant glaciers and plummeting waterfalls up-close
  • Kayak, hike, and sail through a variety of landscapes across three national parks

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Buenos Aires City Tour, Dinner, and Tango Show Buenos Aires
Day 3 Buenos Aires to Ushuaia Ushuaia
Day 4 Penguin Colony Half-Day Excursion Ushuaia
Day 5 Tierra del Fuego National Park - Trekking and Canoeing Ushuaia
Day 6 Ushuaia to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 7 Perito Moreno Full-Day Tour El Calafate
Day 8 Estancia Cristina Excursion El Calafate
Day 9 El Calafate Free Day El Calafate
Day 10 Fly from El Calafate to Puerto Iguazu Puerto Iguazu
Day 11 Iguazú Falls - Argentine Side Iguazu Falls
Day 12 Iguazú Falls - Brazilian Side Iguazu Falls
Day 13 From Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires & 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 City Tour, Dinner, and Tango Show

Colorful buildings on Caminito Street in La Boca, birthplace of tango
Colorful buildings on Caminito Street in La Boca, birthplace of tango

After breakfast, a fascinating city tour will provide an overview of Buenos Aires as well as a better understanding of Argentina’s history and culture. During this three-hour tour, you will visit Retiro as well as Avenida 9 de Julio, South America’s widest avenue featuring El Teatro Colon and Obelisco. You will also pass through the historic and architecturally imposing city center, home to the Congress Building, Plaza de Mayo, Avenida de Mayo, and Casa Rosada. Then, walk along the modern docks of Puerto Madero before heading to the oldest neighborhood in the city, San Telmo, stopping by upmarket Recoleta for the local cemetery and Plaza Francia and La Boca, the city's original port.

In the evening, enjoy a scrumptious meal accompanied by free-flowing wine and a tango show, one of Argentina's most iconic cultural highlights. Experience the heartbeat of Argentina first-hand before heading back to your hotel to relax for the night.

Day 3: Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

City of Ushuaia
City of Ushuaia

Transfer to the Buenos Aires airport for your flight to Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city at the edge of the vast American continent. Upon arrival, check into your comfortable hotel room and explore your new surroundings. Located in a large bay featuring a rocky coast, Ushuaia features a charming downtown and scenic dock area. This day will be relatively relaxed since the next day will feature more physical, outdoors activities.

Day 4: Penguin Colony Half-Day Excursion

Time to visit some penguins
Time to visit some penguins

Today you'll embark by boat from the tourist port of Ushuaia out into the Beagle Channel. As you venture out towards the center of the channel you'll be treated to panoramic views of the coast and the skyline of the city, all of which sits under the watchful gaze of Mount Olivia and the Cinco Hermanos Mountains

You'll sail southwest and pass the Isla de los Lobos, which is little more than a rock but happens to be the permanent habitat of a large group of sea lions. You'll have ample opportunity to view these creatures and take plenty of photos. Then, it's off to Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island). This is a natural habitat of various species of seabirds including Magellanic cormorants and imperial shags. It's a birder's dream, so keep your binoculars and macro camera lens close.

The furthest you'll venture today is Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, located on the northernmost of a chain of islands of the same name. Here it is possible to see part of the Monte Cervantes, an ocean liner that sank in 1930. Your guide will also point out many sites both onshore and across the channel, such as Estancia Remolino (a remote ranch), Gable Island, and the naval base at Puerto Williams (located on Navarino Island, Chile). 

Eventually, you will reach Martillo Island, where the boat will stop and you can observe the sizeable colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins that call the island home. From here we return to the local port and you can spend the remainder of the day enjoying your hotel's amenities and exploring the town.

Total Tour Duration: Six hours

Day 5: Tierra del Fuego National Park - Trekking and Canoeing

Great views in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Great views in Tierra del Fuego National Park

Tierra del Fuego National Park is one of the most frequently visited places around Ushuaia. It's close to the city, it's easily accessible, and it isn't expensive to enter. That 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, the best lakes, and the best lookout points. 

On this day trip, you'll have just such a specialized guide to help you discover the true natural beauty within Tierra del Fuego National Park. You'll get to know the ins and outs of this protected paradise, from the seaside mountains to the freshwater rivers to the subantarctic forests and the 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 seven 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 by traces of ancient settlements once occupied by the Yámana indigenous people.

After a 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 where both the Pan American Highway and Nacional Route No. 3 culminate.

Day 6: Ushuaia to El Calafate

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

Transfer to the airport in Ushuaia for your flight to 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 7: Perito Moreno Full-Day Tour

Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier

You're in for an exciting full-day excursion. It starts with a pick up from your hotel in El Calafate, followed by a one-hour transfer to Los Glaciares National Park. As you enter the park you'll catch your first glimpse of majestic Perito Moreno. This expansive ice mass flows down from the Andes out over the turquoise waters of Lago Argentino, ending abruptly in a great wall that curves around the lake. Wait a bit and you'll witness "calving," the awe-inspiring sight of ice breaking off the facade and crashing into the tranquil waters below. Every time ice hits the water a thundering crash reverberates in the ears. 

While not the only glacier in the area, Perito Moreno is indeed the star of the show. It's also unique in that it is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, a factor that results in the calving mentioned above. Upon arrival, you'll be able to admire Perito Moreno from a number of different vantage points via the network of wooden walkways strategically situated in front of the glacier. Even better, you'll also get up close and personal with its massive ice wall on a boat tour. 

After a day spent discovering the glacier and wandering the numerous trails, you'll head back to El Calafate to enjoy the evening as you please.

Day 8: Estancia Cristina Excursion

The view from Estancia Cristina
The view from Estancia Cristina

There's more activity in store for you today. Starting at 7 am a driver will pick you and other passengers up from your respective hotels and transfer you 45 km (28 miles) to the port at Punta Bandera, 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 at approximately 8:15 am. You'll then 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 around 11:30 am. 

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. After the museum, you'll embark on a 9.5 km (six-mile) journey by 4x4 over an unpaved road that ascends into the mountains. After 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. 

Around 5:30 pm you will board the boat again and begin the return to Punta Bandera. After landing at approximately 7 pm, you will transfer back to your hotel.

Day 9: El Calafate Free Day

The reflection of the ice on the water in El Calafate
The reflection of the ice on the water in El Calafate

Get one more day in El Calafate to venture out and discover more adventures. Rent a kayak for a tour, check out other glaciers, or go horseback riding on a nearby ranch.

Day 10: Fly from El Calafate to Puerto Iguazu

Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls
Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls

Today, you will fly across to the opposite side of Argentina and make your way to Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world. After stopping briefly in Buenos Aires, you will arrive in Puerto Iguazu and be transferred to your hotel. Take the rest of the day to soak up the warm tropical weather and relax by the pool. In the evening, you can check out the Three Borders Landmark, a museum, and monument complex located in the tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

Day 11: Iguazú Falls - Argentine Side

Touring Iguazú from the Argentine side
Touring Iguazú from the Argentine side

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to the entrance of Iguazú National Park, on the Argentine side of the falls. This is where you will begin the day's adventure. It's a full-day excursion that involves traversing three circuit routes around the falls, each offering exceptional vantage points from which to view this magnificent natural wonder. 

Circuit routes include:

The upper circuit, which features 800 meters (2,624 feet) of catwalks. These wooden walkways are elevated from the jungle surface so as not to disrupt the natural pathways used by the indigenous fauna. This circuit affords views of the upper portion of Iguazú. That means you'll be treated to no shortage of panoramic vistas of the surrounding falls.

The lower circuit, which consists of 1,600 meters (5,250 feet). These are also elevated and offer views from directly below and around Iguazú falls. This circuit takes you near the base of falls and provides a unique experience where you'll be up close with the natural surroundings, feeling the magnitude of the falls from up close. 

Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Gorge) enjoys an intimidating reputation that will precede your arrival to the park. This is the star of the show and the biggest of the some 275 falls that makeup Iguazú. A small tourist train leaves from within the park at the Cataratas Station and travels 18 minutes to Garganta Station, where you'll find restrooms, a snack bar, and the start of the wooden pathway to the falls. Then a walk of about 1200 meters (3,937 feet) will take you over the river, culminating at a viewpoint. Just hearing the plunging falls reverberating in your ears is a one-of-a-kind experience. Actually peering 82 meters (269 feet) down into the cavernous abyss as the highest of Iguazu's falls thunders all around you is downright unforgettable. 

At the end of the tour, the driver will pick you up and transfer you back to the hotel. 

Upper circuit duration: One hour
Lower circuit duration: Two hours
Devil's Gorge duration: Two hours

Day 12: Iguazú Falls - Brazilian Side

Iguazú Falls
Iguazú Falls

The Brazilian side of Iguazú may lack the number of hiking routes found on the Argentine side, but it makes up for it with a wealth of amenities in the form of a visitors center and restaurants complete with terraces overlooking the falls. Upon arrival at the Visitors Center, you'll board a double-decker bus that embarks on a 30-minute ride into the park. It will eventually stop at the entrance to a path leading to the falls.

The first stop after you disembark the bus is a balcony that offers panoramic views of the Argentinean side of the falls (be sure to keep your camera at the ready). You'll then hike 950 meters (3,116 feet) along the Iguazú River until you reach the falls on the Brazilian side. The walkway passes over the river and next to the Salto Floriano (Floriano Falls). This magnificent wall of plunging water makes quite an impression, as do the vistas of the lower Iguazú River and the Devil’s Throat Canyon.

Day 13: From Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires & Departure

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls

This morning, transfer to the airport for your flight back to Buenos Aires. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, transfer to the international airport for your return flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Highlights of Argentina - 13 Days
Map of Highlights of Argentina - 13 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019