Planning Your Trip to Patagonia
Patagonia covers a whopping 409,500 sq miles (1,060,600 sq km) over two countries on the southern cone of South America. Needless to say, you'll want more than a few days to see it all. To get the most out of the experience, plan on 7-10 days. That will give you enough time to explore two different regions, visit famous glaciers, and enjoy rewarding circuit hikes through the area's beautiful national parks.
If you really can't get away for longer than five days, it's still possible to have an unforgettable (albeit abbreviated) Patagonian adventure. An "express trip" will include a couple of locales in either Chile or Argentina. Embark on a day hike through Torres del Paine National Park, walk with penguins at Puerto Madryn, or take a boat tour to the majestic Perito Moreno Glacier.
However, if you're an active adventurer with time on your hands and an itch for things remote, then plan on at least 14 days in Patagonia. This will give you enough time to visit more regions and test yourself on extended hikes, such as the epic O Circuit through Torres del Paine. There will even be time left over to enjoy a bit of city fun in Buenos Aires and Chile's capital of Santiago.
Patagonia in 5 Days
Five days is just enough time to experience a couple of Patagonia's major highlights, like glaciers, mountains, or a brisk day-hike.
To see the most iconic Patagonian sights in the shortest time, embark on this quick trip to Los Glaciares National Park. Argentina's largest national park covers thousands of square miles and is home to its most famous glacier: Perito Moreno. First, you'll arrive in Buenos Aires for some sightseeing before hopping on a flight to the town of El Calafate on the shores of Lago Argentino. This will be your base to embark on boat tours to the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers, visits to historic estancias (cattle ranches), and a thrilling hike over Perito Moreno's ancient ice.
For an experience slightly off the tourist trail, head over to Chile for this 5-day trip on the Carretera Austral. Chile's most scenic highway runs 770 miles (1,240 km) through Patagonia and is full of natural wonders. Visit the otherworldly marble caves at Río Tranquilo, take a trip down the Exploradores River to San Rafael Glacier, and embark on a day hike through evergreen forests to lookout points offering panoramic views of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. You'll even squeeze in a city tour of Santiago.
Patagonia's wildlife is just as impressive as its awe-inspiring natural landmarks. The best way to see as many of its unique species as possible is on an excursion to Puerto Madryn, on Argentina's east coast. From this city, you'll visit the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site, Península Valdés, home to a diverse ecosystem of animals. These include Magellanic penguins, sea lions, and guanacos (a type of llama). Besides boat tours to spot right whales and orcas, you'll also stop at Isla Pájaros, a small island abounding with various avian species like cormorants, egrets, rheas, and flamingos.
Check out this article for more 5-day itineraries.
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Patagonia in 7 Days
In a week, you can visit two distinct regions of Patagonia or head straight for Torres del Paine National Park to embark on a significant circuit trek.
Maybe you'd like to combine the majesty of Patagonia's glaciers with a mountain hike. In that case, there's this tour of Los Glaciares and Mount Fitz Roy. After exploring Buenos Aires, you'll travel to Los Glaciares National Park and grab crampons and an ice ax for your trek over the Perito Moreno Glacier. Next is a trip to El Chaltén, a gateway to Mt. Fitz Roy and its iconic granite peak. Over two days, you'll hike more than 30 miles (48 km) up through alpine forest to glacial lakes and the jagged spire of Cerro Torre.
Hiking may be the premier activity in Patagonia, but rafting is great fun too. This water-sports adventure will take you to Chile's northern Patagonia river valley. The first thrilling ride is down the rushing turquoise waters of the Futaleufú River. Then, after kayaking down the Espolon River, you'll hike to a treehouse camp in the forest. The last two days include braving Class IV rapids and barreling down a white-granite river canyon, after which you'll be rewarded with a Patagonian asado (lamb barbecue).
And if you're an inveterate hiker laser-focused on outdoor excursions, this trekking adventure in Torres del Paine National Park is for you. It covers the park's most famous multi-day hike, the W Trek. This route takes 4-5 days to complete and runs from the park's southwest to the northeast in a "W" formation (hence the name). On this trail, there are many stunning landscapes that folks on a day tour rarely see. They include various glaciers, the rocky French Valley, and lakes Grey, Nordenskjöld, and Pehoé.
Check out this article for more 7-day itineraries.
Patagonia in 10 Days
In 10 days, you can mix and match some of the locations mentioned above while also traveling between Chile and Argentina.
Case in point: this best of southern Patagonia adventure. It starts in Argentina with a boat tour of Los Glaciares National Park and Perito Moreno. Afterward, you'll head to El Chaltén for a 16-mile (26-km) hike to Mt. Fitz Roy. Then cross over into Chile and the town of Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine. In the morning, you'll embark on a day tour to a few of the park's highlights, like the glassy waters of Laguna Amarga and the thundering Salto Grande waterfalls. The next day involves an 11-mile (18-km) ascent to Base Torres, followed by a couple of easy days of glacier tours around Puerto Natales.
Another option is to enjoy the best hiking in Argentine Patagonia. This itinerary combines the north and south of the region, beginning with a glacier hike on Perito Moreno. Then spend three days on mountaineering excursions around El Chaltén. These include self-guided treks plus a hike up to Laguna Capri, which features stunning views of the Fitz Roy massif. You'll then travel north to Bariloche in Argentina's Lake District. You'll spend the last couple of days hiking to mountain viewpoints overlooking the majestic Lake Nahuel Huapi and trekking to waterfalls and glaciers.
Alternatively, spend 10 days discovering the wonders of Chilean Patagonia. Starting with a city tour of Santiago's neighborhoods and plazas, you'll fly down to Puerto Montt at the doorstep of Chile's Lake District. From here, embark on tours of the villages near Lake Llanquihue and hike to viewpoints around the Osorno Volcano and the Petrohué Falls. Then fly south to embark on the famed W Trek in Torres del Paine. You'll hike past many highlights, like Lake Nordenskjöld, Grey Glacier, Laguna Azul, and up through the Ascencio Valley. Throughout the trek, you'll overnight at mountain refuges with incredible views.
Check out this article for more 10-day itineraries.
Patagonia in 2 Weeks
With two weeks in Patagonia, you can embark on the region's best treks, be it a collection of day hikes or a multi-day circuit route.
This round-up of Patagonia's best day hikes is perfect for those who want to cover as much ground as possible. It starts with a hike on Perito Moreno and maybe a stop at the ice bar in El Calafate's Glaciarium multi-media center. You'll then spend three days hiking around El Chaltén before heading off to Torres del Paine for day hikes to the Paine Massif and the French Valley. A boat trip will take you across Lago Grey to the glacier of the same name; then, another hike leads to Lake Pehoé, a stunning turquoise lake. An easy 4-hour hike to Lake Nordenskjöld, at the foot of the Cuernos del Paine, caps the trip.
If you'd rather focus your efforts on a single hike, the epic O Circuit trek is the best option. Start by enjoying the wine bars in Santiago before flying to the historic city of Punta Arenas and taking a boat tour of a Magellanic penguin colony. Then transfer to Puerto Natales for a day trip to the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. Then you're off into Torres del Paine for eight full days of trekking through the park. On this "O"-shaped route, you'll see it all, from the Asencio Valley and Lake Pehoé to the Paine River and French Valley, plus excursions to the glaciers of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
There's also an opportunity to head to the farthest reaches of Patagonia on this 14-day best of Argentine Patagonia adventure. It includes the Perito Moreno glacier hike as well as a few days trekking around El Chaltén and Fitz Roy. Then fly to Tierra del Fuego, a region at the southernmost end of Argentine Patagonia. Explore the capital city of Ushuaia, take a cruise along the silver waters of the Beagle Channel, and go trekking through the sub-Antarctic forests of Tierra del Fuego National Park. After walking with penguins on Isla Martillo and visiting historic estancias, you'll fly back to Buenos Aires.
Check out this article for more 14-day itineraries.
More Great Patagonia Itineraries
Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Patagonia? Check out these other Patagonia itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.