Explore the rugged beauty of the icy wilderness of Patagonia on this adventure-filled 9-day itinerary that loops down from Buenos Aires through El Calafate and El Chaltén. Start off by learning about the culture of Argentina with a tour and tango show in Buenos Aires. Then, travel south to see the famous Perito Moreno glacier up close, raft down the Rio de las Vueltas, and hike on top of the secluded Cagliero glacier. 

Highlights

  • Witness the awe-inspiring sight of ice "calving" at Perito Moreno glacier
  • Put on a dry suit and raft the rapids of the Rio de las Vueltas
  • Travel to El Chaltén to admire the Famous Mt. Fitz Roy
  • Strap on some crampons and ice hike on Cagliero glacier
  • Take in the scenery while trekking in Los Glaciares National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires Buenos Aires
Day 2 Buenos Aires City Tour - Dinner & Tango Show Buenos Aires
Day 3 Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 4 Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 5 Estancia Cristina Excursion El Calafate
Day 6 Raft the Rio de las Vueltas El Chalten
Day 7 Full-Day Hike to Laguna de Los Tres & Mt. Fitz Roy El Chalten
Day 8 Ice Trekking at Cagliero Glacier El Chalten
Day 9 Fly from El Calafate to Buenos Aires - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival to Buenos Aires

The chic downtown neighborhood of Puerto Madero

Welcome to Buenos Aires! Known as the "Paris of South America," Argentina's capital is a city defined by passion—as evidenced by its rich tango heritage and its citizens' limitless enthusiasm for fútbol (soccer), by far the country's most popular sport. 

When you arrive at the airport, your driver will pick you up in a private car and take you to your hotel, where you can relax after your long flight. But make no mistake: the city will be calling. So after a quick power nap, venture out into the tree-lined avenues of Buenos Aires to explore. The best starting point is the city center.

Suggested activities include:

  • Visit the Obelisco, which might be the most recognizable monument 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 one of the widest avenues in South America.
  •  Stop by the Teatro Colón, one of South America's premier opera houses. The horseshoe-shaped gallery has 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 worth walking by to take in the beautiful intricacies of its architecture from the outside. The Colon's neoclassical façade has been the face of one of the most handsome buildings in Buenos Aires since its opening in 1908.
  • Stroll through 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 places to walk in a city famous for its walkable neighborhoods. For a romantic stroll, cross over the canal on the Puente de la Mujer ("Woman's Bridge") at sunset. 

Day 2: Buenos Aires City Tour, Dinner & Tango Show

Tango Dancers in Buenos Aires
Tango dancers in Buenos Aires

After breakfast, you'll join a fascinating tour for 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, one of South America's widest avenues. Along this street, you'll see the Teatro Colon, the continent's most opulent opera house, and the iconic Obelisco monument.

You will also pass through the historic and architecturally rich city center, which is home to the Congress Building, Plaza de Mayo, Avenida de Mayo, and the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace). Then, you'll walk along the upscale waterfront promenades of Puerto Madero before heading to the oldest neighborhood in the city, San Telmo. Afterward, you'll stop by La Boca, the city's original port.

In the evening, we'll pick you up for a night on the town: dinner and a tango show. Here you’ll discover one of Argentina's most famous traditions. Tango is more than our national dance: it's a story of love, sensuality, and passion. A live band of local musicians will serenade you and world-class tango dancers show off their best moves while you enjoy an à la carte dinner of delicious Argentine cuisine. 

Day 3: Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate

Lago Argentino
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, 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 take in the stunning views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field as you fly over it. 

Upon arrival at El Calafate, a driver will pick you up and 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 take in some information on the 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 4: Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour

Enjoy the views of Perito Moreno
Enjoy the views of Perito Moreno

After breakfast at your hotel, it's time to head 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 of ice that curves around the lake. If you're lucky you'll witness "calving," the awe-inspiring sight of ice breaking off the glacier and crashing into the tranquil waters below. Every time ice hits the water a thundering crash echoes on the lake. 

While it's not the only glacier in the area, Perito Moreno is the star of the park. It's also one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, which is what causes the calving mentioned above. You'll be able to admire Perito Moreno from a number of different vantage points thanks to the network of wooden walkways that zigzag strategically in front of the glacier. You'll also be able to see the massive ice wall up close on a boat tour. 

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

Day 5: Estancia Cristina Excursion

The view from Estancia Cristina
The view from Estancia Cristina

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

Once you reach the port, a ferry will take you on a journey up the Upsala Channel, passing towering icebergs along the way. When 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 of 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, you'll disembark at 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. And the surrounding scenery is breathtaking—all around you'll see panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes, and glaciers. 

All told you will stay for about six hours. After the museum, you'll set out on a 6-mile (9.5 km) 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 through the 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 disembarking you will be taken back to your hotel.

Day 6: Raft the Rio de las Vueltas

Rafting on the Rio de las Vueltas

This morning after breakfast your driver will pick you up and take you to El Chaltén, a tiny mountain town nestled in the middle of Los Glaciares National park. The town is home to the famous Mt. Fitz Roy, and on a clear day, you can see the stunning views of the jagged mountain range as you drive into town.

Once you have settled into your accommodation you will be picked up by your rafting guide and head out for an adrenaline-fueled adventure down the Rio de las Vueltas. The excursion starts at the rafting basecamp, where your guide will teach you how to wear a dry suit and the basics of paddling as part of a team.

Once your team is fully equipped and ready to go, you will start your 10-mile (16-kilometer) descent down the Rio de las Vueltas. The first section is gentle, which will give you some time to get used to paddling on the river. A bit lower down your group will enter the rapids and get the full rush of adrenaline and adventure you signed up for. During the quieter parts of the descent, you'll get a chance to admire canyon's unique sedimentary formations. 

In the evening you'll have the chance to explore El Chaltén, a town full of local eateries, breweries and wine shops. You won't be disappointed.

Day 7: 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 be doing 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 gets 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 8: Ice Trekking at Cagliero Glacier

The trek to Cagliero Glacier

Today's excursion is for the truly adventurous! After breakfast, your driver will take you to the Los Huemules Reserve, which is just outside of El Chaltén. From there you will hike on a well-maintained trail through a dense Lenga forest until you reach Laguna Diablo.

Once you reach the lake you'll regroup to tackle the next part of the trail, which skirts the northern side of the lake on irregular terrain until the Via Ferrata. The Via Ferrata is made up of easy rock-climbing sections that are reinforced with steel wires and artificial steps, allowing climbers to cross safely with secured, specially-designed harness belts. Before you begin this section, your guide will give you the necessary equipment and explain how to cross the Via Ferrata. 

After 0.6 miles (1 km) of climbing, you'll be rewarded for your efforts with stunning up-close views of the Cagliero Glacier. Your guide will give each participant crampons and give you a brief lesson on ice trekking. Then, it's time for your group to set out onto the ice: you'll explore the glacier on foot for the next 1 to 2 hours, depending on the group's physical ability and the weather conditions. After this once-in-a-lifetime experience, your guide will lead you back the same way you came, along the Via Ferrata and then back through the forest to catch your ride back to El Chaltén. 

Day 9: Fly from El Calafate to Buenos Aires - Departure

Sunset in Buenos Aires
Sunset in Buenos Aires

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

Map

Map of El Calafate & El Chalten Grand Tour - 9 Days
Map of El Calafate & El Chalten Grand Tour - 9 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Oct 28, 2019