This 11-day tour dives into Argentina and Chilean Patagonia with a slew of moderate, yet incredibly scenic day trips. Starting in Buenos Aires, you'll get a taste of mind-boggling glaciers, sail the ice rivers in El Calafate, and enjoy the magnitude of Chile's most famous national park. Mixing relaxation and adrenaline, the tours (many by boat) are flexible for those who prefer more challenging activities.

Highlights

  • Stay three nights in a charming waterfront town called Ushuaia
  • Spend a day trekking and canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park
  • Boat to Martillo Island for huge colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins
  • Take a walking tour of one of South America’s most famous glaciers
  • Hike to the base of the Paine Massif for the best view in Torres del Paine

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Buenos Aires to Ushuaia Ushuaia
Day 3 Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park Ushuaia
Day 4 Penguin Colony Excursion Ushuaia
Day 5 Ushuaia to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 6 Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 7 Punta Bandera Harbor - Glacier Boat Tour El Calafate
Day 8 El Calafate to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 9 Trekking in Torres del Paine National Park Torres del Paine
Day 10 Mount Balmaceda & Serrano Glacier Puerto Natales
Day 11 Puerto Natales to El Calafate - 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 Ushuaia

Sunrise in Buenos Aires
Sunrise in Buenos Aires

After breakfast this morning, you'll transfer to the Buenos Aires airport for your flight to Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city at the edge of the vast South American continent.

Upon arrival, check into your hotel room and explore your new surroundings. Located in a large bay featuring a rocky coast and surrounding snowcapped Martial Range, Ushuaia features a charming downtown and scenic dock area. This day will be relatively relaxed since the next day will feature more physical, outdoors activities.

Day 3: Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park

Great views in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Great 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 4: Penguin Colony Excursion

Isla de los Lobos, Ushuaia
Isla de los Lobos, Ushuaia

Today you'll embark by boat from the tourist port of Ushuaia out into the Beagle Channel. As you venture out towards the center of the channel you'll be treated to panoramic views of the coast and the skyline of the city, all of which sits under the watchful gaze of Mount Olivia and the Cinco Hermanos Mountains

You'll sail southwest and pass the Isla de los Lobos, which is little more than a rock but happens to be the permanent habitat of a large group of sea lions. You'll have ample opportunity to view these creatures and take plenty of photos. Then, it's off to Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island). This is a natural habitat of various species of seabirds including Magellanic cormorants and imperial shags. It's a birder's dream, so keep your binoculars and macro camera lens close.

The furthest you'll venture today is Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, located on the northernmost of a chain of islands of the same name. Here it is possible to see part of the Monte Cervantes, an ocean liner that sank in 1930. Your guide will also point out many sites both onshore and across the channel, such as Estancia Remolino (a remote ranch), Gable Island, and the naval base at Puerto Williams (located on Navarino Island, Chile). 

Eventually, you will reach Martillo Island, where the boat will stop and you can observe the sizeable colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins that call the island home. After this six-hour day-trip, you'll return to the local port and you can spend the remainder of the day enjoying your hotel's amenities and exploring the town.

Day 5: Ushuaia to El Calafate

Icebergs on a lake in El Calafate
Icebergs on a lake in El Calafate

This morning, after breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport in Ushuaia for your flight to El Calafate, a regional hub for visits to the stunning glaciers of Southern Patagonia, including the world-famous Perito Moreno Glacier.

After a short flight, arrive, check into your hotel, and take the rest of the day to relax or explore the charming city. In the evening, try to stop by the Laguna Nimez Reserve, where you can admire an amazing array of endemic birds in the sanctuary and watch the sunset over Lago Argentino.

Day 6: Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour

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

Today, you're in for an exciting full-day excursion. It starts with a pick up from your hotel in El Calafate, followed by a one-hour transfer to Los Glaciares National Park. As you enter the park you'll catch your first glimpse of 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. 

While not the only glacier in the area, Perito Moreno is indeed the star of the show. It's also unique in that it is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, a factor that results in the calving mentioned above. Upon arrival, you'll be able to admire Perito Moreno from a number of different vantage points via the network of wooden walkways strategically situated in front of the glacier. Even better, you'll also get up close and personal with its massive ice wall on a boat tour. 

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

Day 7: Punta Bandera Harbor - Glacier Boat Tour

Tour the glaciers by boat
Tour the glaciers by boat

Aside from Perito Moreno, there are a number of other incredible masses of ice in Los Glaciares National Park. You'll get a chance to visit a few of these on a full-day boat excursion around Lago Argentino. In fact, you will get so close to the glaciers' walls that you'll practically be able to reach out and touch them.

The morning starts with a transfer to Punta Bandera Harbor where you'll hear a quick speech about safety. You'll then board a modern catamaran in the mid-morning and embark on your journey. As you travel north along the frozen waters of Lago Argentino, you'll weave between icebergs as you make your way towards the first site: Upsala Glacier. After crossing the Boca del Diablo (the narrowest part of the lake), you'll enter the Upsala Channel and shortly afterward reach the glacier.

The next destination is the towering Spegazzini Glacier. However, as you enter the Spegazzini Channel you'll first catch a glimpse of the Seco Glacier, a retreating wall of ice that is perpetually moving inland from the lakeshore. Finally, you'll reach Spegazzini. With ice walls 442 feet (135 m) tall, just being near this towering behemoth will be enough to make you shiver.  

The tour ends with the boat's return to Punta Bandera where you'll transfer back to your hotel.

Day 8: El Calafate to Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales has a colorful waterfront
Puerto Natales has a colorful waterfront

After breakfast in El Calafate, it's time to make your way into Chilean Patagonia from Argentina. This involves hopping on a southbound bus headed for the Chilean town of Puerto Natales. The journey can take upwards of five hours depending on traffic conditions at the Argentina/Chile border.

Puerto Natales is the principal base for excursions into Torres del Paine National Park. Upon arrival, you'll notice a stark contrast between this town and El Calafate/El Chaltén. This coastal hamlet is far less touristic (even in the peak summer months) and retains its air of small-town tranquility practically year-round. 

The best activities in Puerto Natales also happen to be the mildest. The town offers simple pleasures, like strolling the waterfront promenade. It sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound, which affords views northward to the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro, and it looks phenomenal at sunset. You can also get out and meander among the brightly painted residential houses with their corrugated tin roofs.

Day 9: Trekking in Torres del Paine National Park

The base of the Paine Massif
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 10: Mount Balmaceda & Serrano Glacier

Start your boat tour in Puerto Natales
Start your boat tour in Puerto Natales

Early this morning, you'll head to the dock at Puerto Natales and hop on a boat bound for Mount Balmaceda, located in the southern end of Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. The park is only accessible by foot or by boat, and this nine-hour day tour follows the Ultima Esperanza Sound from Puerto Natales to the mountain (in other words, keep your camera close). 

On the boat ride, you'll be treated to vast, panoramic views of native forests comprised of Coihue, Canelo, and Lenga trees. You're also likely to spot sea lions as you head north towards the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. You’ll then disembark and have an opportunity to enjoy views of these glaciers from land. After a short hike, you’ll then reach the Hosteria Perales, where a typical Patagonian barbecue will be served. 

In the afternoon you'll return by boat to Puerto Natales.

Day 11: Puerto Natales to El Calafate - Departure

Southern Patagonian Ice Field
Southern Patagonian Ice Field

It's time to say goodbye to Patagonia! Today, you'll transfer back to El Calafate to catch a domestic flight to Buenos Aires. 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.

Upon your arrival in Buenos Aires, transfer to the international airport for your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Patagonia Highlights in Argentina & Chile - 11 Days
Map of Patagonia Highlights in Argentina & Chile - 11 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019