Experience the natural wonders of southern Argentina on this adventurous itinerary geared toward active travelers. Hike ancient glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park before heading to Ushuaia—the southernmost city in the world—for canoeing, channel cruising, and frolicking with penguins. You'll have many full days of hiking on this itinerary, but you'll still have time to experience the local culture, food, and wines.

Highlights

  • Take a stroll over Buenos Aires' Puente de Mujer (Woman's Bridge) at sunset
  • Grab an ice ax and take a trek along one of South America’s most famous glaciers
  • Boat to Isla Martillo to see huge colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins
  • Pick from a range of hikes with stunning views of Mt. Fitz Roy
  • Spend a day trekking and canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 3 Perito Moreno Glacier Trek El Calafate
Day 4 Transfer from El Calafate to El Chaltén El Chalten
Day 5 Full Day Hike to Laguna de Los Tres & Mt. Fitz Roy El Chalten
Day 6 Hike to Mirador Cerro Torre El Chalten
Day 7 El Chaltén to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 8 Fly from El Calafate to Ushuaia - Explore the City Ushuaia
Day 9 Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego Ushuaia
Day 10 Beagle Channel Cruise Ushuaia
Day 11 Day Trip to Estancia Harberton & Isla Martillo Ushuaia
Day 12 Fly from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City

The Obelisco in Buenos Aires
The Obelisco 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 by far 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 landmark in 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 walks 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 common for locals to have dinner after 9pm, especially on weekends. 

Day 2: Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate

Beautiful views of Lago Argentino
Beautiful views of Lago Argentino

In the morning, a driver will meet you at your hotel and take you to the airport for your flight to El Calafate. This city is located on the shores of Lago Argentino and is known as the gateway to Argentina's glaciers. If you can, choose a window seat to 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 to enjoy the quaint cafes and shops around town. You can also learn about nearby glaciers by visiting the Glaciarium, a multi-media center that has an ice museum, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. It even has a bar made totally of ice.

Day 3: Perito Moreno Glacier Trek

Hikers trekking Perito Moreno
Hikers trekking Perito Moreno

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll transfer to Los Glaciares National Park. As you enter the park you'll catch your first glimpse of the majestic Perito Moreno. This expansive ice mass flows down from the Andes into 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 will reverberate in your ears. 

Believe it or not, you will be trekking on top of this glacier. It's a full-day excursion that involves walking over the ice while fully equipped with crampons and an ice axe. Traversing Perito Moreno is an adventure, it's perfectly safe as you'll be accompanied by certified bilingual guides. Enjoy crossing deep, blue ice crevices and hiking over meltwater streams as you experience Perito Moreno up close. 

During the day you'll also have ample time to witness the glacier from one of the many viewing platforms in the park. These platforms are accessible via a network of boardwalks that run along the shores of the lake. They offer the best vantage points and sweeping views of the glacier, making for great photo opportunities.

Day 4: Transfer from El Calafate to El Chaltén

Mt. Fitz Roy, near El Chalten
Mt. Fitz Roy, near El Chalten

After breakfast, a vehicle will pick you up for the three-hour drive to the town of El Chaltén. If the skies are clear, you'll be treated to incredible views of Mt. Fitz Roy, the infamous 11,020-foot (3,359-meter) granite mountain that looms over the town. El Chalten is regarded as a hikers paradise due to the proximity of Fitz Roy and other mountaineering options in the area.

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

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Day 5: Full Day Hike to Laguna de Los Tres & Mt. Fitz Roy

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

Today you'll set out on a full-day outing in Los Glaciares National Park. El Chaltén is the perfect starting point for hiking because there are a number of trailheads that start just outside of town. Many of these lead into the Fitz Roy range and offer wonderful opportunities for day hikes.

A "day hike" here means a full day of hiking, since most trails can take up to 11 hours to complete, depending on which route you take. The hike you'll most likely take today goes to Laguna de los Tres. The trail leads up through an alpine forest—where you'll have beautiful views of Piedras Blancas Glacier—and all the way up to the lake. Laguna de los Tres earned its name from the panoramic view it offers 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 well-earned rest.

Day 6: Hike to Mirador Cerro Torre

Dawn at Laguna Torre
Dawn at Laguna Torre

Today, you'll leave El Chalten on foot accompanied by a professional guide. On this hike, you'll traverse a glacial valley that has fascinated geologists due to its perfect "U" shape, which is the result of the area once being covered by large swaths of ice. The total distance of this hike is 15 miles (24 km) and takes about six hours to complete.

The journey will take you through bright green lenga forests and around lagoons until you reach the day's final destination: Laguna Torre. This glacial lake sits at the foot of the sharp granite peak of Cerro Torre, and here you'll find the glacier that feeds the lake as well. After spending some time at the lake and admiring the views, you'll return to El Chaltén along the same path.

Day 7: El Chaltén to El Calafate

Fitz Roy at sunrise
Fitz Roy at sunrise

After breakfast, you'll transfer three hours to El Calafate. Upon checking into your hotel, you can then spend the afternoon exploring the town and its surroundings. Browse the local shops and enjoy the cafés, and be sure to sample the local cuisine like roast Patagonian lamb and Argentine staples like rib-eye steak and empanadas. You'll want to wash it all down with a good glass or two of Malbec from the Mendoza wine region.

Day 8: Fly from El Calafate to Ushuaia - Explore the City

Early morning view of Ushuaia
Early morning view of Ushuaia

After breakfast in El Calafate, you'll pack up and transfer to the airport for your flight 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, Ushuaia sits between the jagged peaks of the Martial Mountains and the silver waters of the Beagle Channel. This is the same waterway where Charles Darwin explored 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 craggy mountains and silver channel.

Suggested activities in and around town: 

  • Stroll the streets of downtown. As you walk around the colorful shops and buildings, notice 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. 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's the most decadent dish in Ushuaia. 

Day 9: 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 the 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 10: Beagle Channel Cruise

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the Beagle Channel
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the 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 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, collect giant shells, and look out to 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 11: Day Trip to Estancia Harberton & Isla Martillo

Gentoo penguins in Isla Martillo
Gentoo penguins in Isla Martillo

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll embark on a full-day excursion to do some penguin-spotting. The trip starts at the Ushuaia pier, where you'll catch a bus to Estancia Harberton, a working Patagonian ranch that dates back to 1886. The hacienda's property sits on 50,000 acres that include lakes and forests. You'll pass through some of these rugged Fuegian forests on your way to the estancia. 

Upon arrival on the property, you'll head to a docking point on the shore. You'll then hop in a Zodiac boat and zip along the water to Isla Martillo, an island home to thousands of Magellanic penguins and even some gentoo penguins. On a 90-minute walking tour of the island, you'll get up close and personal with these penguins as an expert guide reveals insight into their characteristics and behavior. Expect plenty of great photo opportunities.

At the end of the tour, you'll return to Ushuaia in time to have dinner in town.

Day 12: Fly from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires - Departure

Farewell, Argentina
Farewell, Argentina

This morning, you'll head to the airport in Ushuaia for your flight to Buenos Aires. You'll then transfer to the international airport for your international flight back home. Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Best of Patagonia: El Calafate & Ushuaia - 12 Days
Map of Best of Patagonia: El Calafate & Ushuaia - 12 Days