Best of Southern Patagonia - 15 Days
- Boat to Isla Magdalena and frolic with thousands of penguins
- Have lunch and ride horses on a working Patagonian ranch
- Take a wildlife tour with a private guide on your first day in Torres del Paine
- Trek along a rare glacier wearing crampons and an ice ax
- Kick off the trip in Chile's capital for wine bars and trendy restaurants
|Day 1||Arrival in Santiago de Chile||Santiago|
|Day 2||Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas||Punta Arenas|
|Day 3||Isla Magdalena & Penguin Colony Boat Tour||Punta Arenas|
|Day 4||Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales||Puerto Natales|
|Day 5||Day-Trip to a Patagonian Estancia||Puerto Natales|
|Day 6||Ultima Esperanza Fjord & Rio Serrano Boating Adventure||Torres del Paine|
|Day 7||Torres del Paine Wildlife Tour||Torres del Paine|
|Day 8||Hike to the Base of the Paine Massif||Torres del Paine|
|Day 9||Boat Trip to Glacier Grey||Torres del Paine|
|Day 10||Torres del Paine to El Calafate (Argentina)||El Calafate|
|Day 11||El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Trek||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|
Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile
Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. You'll have the rest of the day to explore the city at your leisure.
Suggested activities include:
Hike to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, where you can get your bearings by surveying the area from a high vantage point. Pathways lead 2,788 feet (850 m) up this central hill to a series of lookouts that offer wraparound views of Santiago. If you aren't the hiking type, not to worry: catch a scenic gondola instead.
Stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista. On the north side of Santiago, you'll find this trendy enclave, at once fashionable and bohemian. Stroll past colorful houses adorned with graffiti art and choose between an eclectic array of eateries and bars—great for people watching.
Visit the Plaza de Armas, a stone plaza located in Santiago's historic center dating to 1541. There's also the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 whose towering twin bell towers dominate the north side of the plaza.
- Snap pics in front of the Palacio de la Moneda. Chile's opulent Presidential Palace (known simply as "La Moneda") is a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas. It was here in 1973 that Chile's armed forces, backed by the U.S. government, overthrew President Salvador Allende, kicking off a brutal right-wing military dictatorship that would last for 17 years. Visitors are welcome.
For dinner be sure to get out of the hotel and enjoy a culinary adventure in the city. In recent years Santiago has emerged as a global foodie destination. Chilean chefs are reinventing traditional dishes like empanadas, cazuelas (stews), and seafood with ingredients harvested all the way from the northern deserts and southern Patagonian regions. You can find great restaurants and wine bars not only in the Bellavista neighborhood but also in the revitalized historic barrios of Yungay and Italia.
Day 2: Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas
After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport, at which time you'll catch your flight to Punta Arenas. Upon arrival at this small Patagonian city, you'll transfer by private car to the hotel.
You're now in the major transport hub in one of the most beautiful regions of Chile. Founded in 1848 on the eastern shore of the Brunswick Peninsula, in its heyday Punta Arenas was home to the creme de la creme of Patagonian society. Today it's a tourist destination, and from here you can easily access some of the most impressive natural attractions in Patagonia, like Torres del Paine National Park and Magdalena Island. There are also a number of sites in and around town that deserve your attention.
Suggested activities include:
Stroll the Plaza Muñoz Guerrero. This is a good starting point for a walk around the city. Not only is this leafy central plaza a gem (the pathways are lined with French streetlamps and a statue of Magellan sits in the center), the surrounding architecture is impressive as well. All around the plaza are a number of majestic neoclassical mansions once owned by the monied sheep-ranching families of the 19th century.
Tour the Palacio Sara Braun, which is one such neoclassical mansion fronting the plaza. If you want to get an idea of just how much wealth the sheep trade generated in the 19th century, take a tour of this former home of the family Braun. Inside is a testament to luxury in the form of opulent dining halls and billiard rooms.
Take a seaside walk. In recent years Punta Arenas has revitalized its waterfront area, so come and enjoy the boardwalks and outdoor spaces complete with artistic sculptures.
Reserva Nacional Magallanes. If you're interested in an active excursion just outside the city, head seven km west of Punta Arenas to this 33,000-acre forested reserve (known locally as Parque Japonés). There's a self-guided nature trail lined with lenga and coigue trees, and it makes for a great, brisk hike.
- Watch the sun go down at Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. This viewpoint overlooks the city all the way out to the Strait of Magellan. It's a great place to come and watch the sun go down over Patagonia.
Be sure to head out in the evening and enjoy a local dinner. Obviously, seafood is the order of the day here, so sample some local specialties, like chupe de centolla (souffle of king crab), as well as oysters, scallops, and other shellfish.
Day 3: Isla Magdalena & Penguin Colony Boat Tour
This half-day tour begins bright and early in the morning. You'll transfer from downtown Punta Arenas by vehicle to a pier on the Strait of Magellan, at which point you'll board a vessel that will take you 18 miles (30 km) northeast to Isla Magdalena. On this island is Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, a protected area home to Chile's largest colony of penguins.
First, though, you will travel to Marta Island, located in the middle of the strait. It's home to a large colony of Patagonian sea lions whose numbers top a thousand. However, these aren't the only residents on this rocky outpost. You'll also find a number of seabirds, which include cormorants, skuas, arctic pigeons, and more.
Now it's time to arrive at Isla Magdalena, where you'll disembark and spend one hour on shore. During this time you'll follow an 800-meter (2,624-foot) path to an old lighthouse that offers sweeping views of the Strait of Magellan. On your way, be sure to enjoy the company of the island's residents: a Magellanic penguin colony that can reach up to 170,000 in number. There's no experience on earth quite like hiking alongside penguins near Patagonian waters first mapped by Magellan and made famous by Charles Darwin.
Afterward, it's time to return to the vessel and make the journey back, reaching Punta Arenas by midday.
Note: the order of the destinations you visit is subject to change on the day of the excursion.
Day 4: Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
At the scheduled time you'll hop on a bus going from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, further north in Chilean Patagonia. This trip will take about three hours, and along the way, you will be treated to wide views of the expansive Patagonian desert. If you're lucky you may spot some local wildlife, including the guanaco (a relative of the llama) and the ñandu (a type of rhea).
Upon arrival at Puerto Natales, check into your accommodation and then head to the tour operator office for a trip briefing. At this point, you will be able to ask any last-minute questions as well as pick up all of your tickets and vouchers for the next few days' adventures.
Afterward, you're free to explore Puerto Natales. This small port city is the main base for excursions into Torres del Paine National Park. It's far less touristy than many other Patagonian hubs and thus retains an air of small-town tranquility. Puerto Natales offers simple pleasures like strolling its waterfront promenade, which sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound. Facing north from here you'll see the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro, and the view is phenomenal at sunset.
Day 5: Day-Trip to a Patagonian Estancia
After breakfast at your hotel in Puerto Natales, you'll visit the beautiful Estancia La Peninsula. This full-day tour is the perfect way to learn about daily life at a working Patagonian ranch.
The adventure starts with a 30-minute boat ride through the fjords before arriving at the ranch for a welcome pastry and cup of coffee. From here, you will have the chance to choose between a variety of activities such as horseback riding, hiking, or taking a land tour in a 4x4 vehicle. You'll then enjoy a traditional barbecue followed by a demonstration of sheep shearing and wool classification. You will also have a chance to meet the estancia's resident sheepdogs.
At the end of the tour, return by boat to Puerto Natales where you will have the rest of the evening to enjoy at leisure.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Ultima Esperanza Fjord & Rio Serrano Boating Adventure
After breakfast, it's time for a boat tour of the Ultima Esperanza Sound, a fjord adjacent to Puerto Natales. During the voyage, there will be opportunities to stop at many viewpoints for a chance to see glaciers, waterfalls, and cliffs. If you keep an eye skyward you'll likely spot condors, too.
Eventually, you will arrive in Bernardo O'Higgins National Park where you'll disembark for a short walk through the native forest of Coigues, Ñirres, and Ciruelillos until reaching the impressive Serrano Glacier. You'll then continue the boat journey up the Río Serrano. enjoying the natural beauty of the region as you go. Eventually you'll arrive in Pueblo Serrano, a village known as the gateway to Torres del Paine National park, where a delicious meal will be waiting for you.
Afterward, you'll head into the park and check into your lodging for the night.
Day 7: Torres del Paine Wildlife Tour
After breakfast this morning, you'll be picked up by your guide for a full-day private wildlife tour of Torres del Paine National Park. Throughout the day you will be transported to different areas that boast the best viewing of guanacos (the native camelid), as well as flamingos, rabbits, ñandus, condors, foxes, and owls among others! You'll also have the chance to explore the park's unrivaled flora and fauna at your own pace.
When the tour has wrapped, you will be dropped off at your hotel for some relaxation before dinner.
Day 8: Hike to the Base of the Paine Massif
After breakfast, you'll head up to the base of the Torres del Paine towers on one of the most popular hiking routes in the park. Although it can be completed in less than a day, this hike is strenuous and requires a good level of physical fitness. However, the stunning views at the base of the Paine massif make it well worth the effort.
The trekking route covers 11 miles (18 km) and lasts about nine hours. Every step of the way you will enjoy views of beautiful scenery comprised of rivers, native forest, mountain peaks, and narrow valleys. You'll likely even spot some impressive local avian varieties, like condors and black eagles.
Your route will begin at the Las Torres Hostel and will take you over the Ascencio River, at which point you'll ascend about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) to a lookout featuring panoramic views of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. Then you'll continue through sections of lenga forest until the remaining 45-minute stretch, which is a steep ascent that involves a hard scramble over a moraine to the final path leading up to the viewpoint.
This is the hardest portion of the hike, however, once you arrive at the lagoon at the base of the Paine Massif and stare up at the nearby Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine) jutting into the sky, you'll likely forget all about your exhaustion. Upon arrival, you’ll have ample time to rest by the lagoon and marvel at the amazing rock formations as you enjoy a delicious picnic lunch.
Afterward, you'll begin the return trip back down the trail. The descent takes approximately four hours and then you'll head to your hotel.
Day 9: Boat Trip to Glacier Grey
This morning, you'll board the Grey III catamaran for a tour of Glacier Grey, which feeds the lake of the same name, Lago Grey. The boat travels across the lake and stops close to the glacier, which gives passengers a prime vantage point to snap photos of its massive ice walls. The Grey III then continues to the other side of the lake, where you'll disembark and make your way to the Bigfoot Basecamp to begin an epic ice hike.
This portion of the trip starts at Islatak Island with a hike up the glacial moraine. After an hour, you'll reach the ice, gear up, and learn the basics and safety protocols of glacier hikes from a pro. Equipped with an ice ax, crampons, helmet, and harness, you will then walk onto the Grey Glacier, where you will step over blue crevasses, hop over meltwater streams, and pass alongside ice caves. It's truly a singular experience.
Following your ice hike excursion, you'll return to your hotel.
Day 10: Torres del Paine to El Calafate (Argentina)
It's time to say good-bye to Torres del Paine and hello to Argentine Patagonia! After a relaxing morning (or an early morning hike if you'd prefer), you'll take a transfer to the park's entrance and then meet your transfer to El Calafate. This trip will likely take between 3 and 4 hours depending on border congestion.
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 11: El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Trek
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 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.
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. And while traversing Perito Moreno is certainly an active adventure, it's perfectly safe 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.
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 12: El Calafate to El Chaltén
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
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
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
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.