This 13-day tour of Argentina's far south covers the classics. Starting in Buenos Aires, you'll fly to Patagonia 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 mountains). There's also whale watching and a visit to South America´s largest Magellanic Penguin colony for the ultimate photo ops.

Highlights

  • See an opera performance (or take a tour) at the historic Teatro Colon
  • Have afternoon tea in Gaiman—a historic town founded by Welsh settlers
  • Explore the sites in around the southernmost city in the world
  • Pick from a range of hikes with stunning views of Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre
  • Gear up for an ice trek on a famous glacier that is actually advancing

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 Península Valdés & Whale Watching Puerto Madryn
Day 4 Penguin Colony at Punta Tombo Puerto Madryn
Day 5 Fly to Ushuaia - Explore the City Ushuaia
Day 6 Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park Ushuaia
Day 7 Beagle Channel Cruise - El Calafate to El Chaltén El Chalten
Days 8-9 Hiking in El Chaltén El Chalten
Day 10 El Chaltén to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 11 Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Hike El Calafate
Day 12 El Calafate Free Day El Calafate
Day 13 Fly 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 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: Península Valdés & Whale Watching

A whale breaching near Puerto Madryn
A whale breaching 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 4: 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 5: Fly to Ushuaia - Explore the City

Argentinian treats in the southernmost city in the world
Argentinian treats in the southernmost city in the world

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 6: Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park

Snowcapped views in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Snowcapped views in Tierra del Fuego National Park

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 7: Beagle Channel Cruise - El Calafate to El Chaltén

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse

Today is an exciting travel day to Los Glaciares National Park! But first, you'll get a chance to experience the Beagle Channel on a half-day boat tour to the iconic Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse. On the route, you'll get great views of the Ushuaia Bay, passing different islands with several colonies of unique bird species and marine fauna.

Upon return in the mid-afternoon, you'll transfer to the Ushuaia airport for your flight to El Calafate. From here, you'll take a 3- to 4-hour bus ride to the charming mountain town of El Chaltén where you'll be able to enjoy desert views of Southern Patagonia along the famous Route 40 (if possible, snag a window seat).

El Chalten is the top-rated trekking destination in Argentina and you'll quickly see why. Located at the foot of Mt. Fitz Roy—and surrounded by glaciers, lakes, rivers, and forests—this pristine area feels like a hidden gem in Patagonia. Many trailheads can be found right in town.  

You'll arrive in the late afternoon with time to rest. In the evening, have a stroll around town, or simply relax at one of the local restaurants or breweries.

Days 8-9: Hiking in El Chaltén

Numerous trails to choose from
Numerous 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 10: El Chaltén to El Calafate

A hiker at the base of Cerro Torre
A hiker at the base of Cerro Torre

This morning is your last chance to explore the El Chalten area on this trip. If you haven't done so already, head on an early hike to see the Fitz Roy Massif light up at sunrise. There's also the hiking path that leads to the foot of Cerro Torre complete with amazing views of the namesake lake and glacier.

In the afternoon, you will be picked up from your hotel by a minivan and travel to El Calafate. Arrive in the evening and check into your hotel.

Day 11: Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Hike

Trekking Perito Moreno
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 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 Free Day

Take a kayaking tour
Take a kayaking tour

Today, you'll have a relaxing (or not so relaxing) free day to 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 explore 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 13: Fly to Buenos Aires - Departure

Sunset in Buenos Aires
Sunset in Buenos Aires

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 Classic Argentine Patagonia - 13 Days
Map of Classic Argentine Patagonia - 13 Days