Explore the best sites of Southern Patagonia (both countries) on this two-week adventure. First, there's Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina Patagonia for a boat trip to Perito Moreno Glacier. Next is Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia for three days of guided hikes. Head back across the border to Ushuaia—the southernmost city in the world—for ice trekking and free time to see the penguins. 

Highlights

  • Boat to Perito Moreno, a rare glacier that is advancing (vs. retreating)
  • Hike to the base of Chile's Paine massif for a true Patagonian experience
  • Go ice trekking on Ojo de Albino Glacier towards a green lake
  • Explore Ushuaia and its nearby sites, including an island full of penguins
  • Kick off the trip in Buenos Aires for a steakhouse and tango lesson

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 3 Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 4 El Calafate to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 5 Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine - Hiking Excursion Torres del Paine
Day 6 Hike Lake Nordenskjold Torres del Paine
Day 7 Hike the French Valley Torres del Paine
Day 8 Boat Trip to Glacier Grey Torres del Paine
Day 9 Torres del Paine to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 10 Free Day in El Calafate El Calafate
Day 11 Fly from El Calafate to Ushuaia - Explore the City Ushuaia
Day 12 Hike to Ojo de Albino Glacier Ushuaia
Day 13 Free Day in Ushuaia Ushuaia
Day 14 Fly from Ushuaia 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: Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate

Lago Argentino
Lago Argentino

This morning, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer 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, another transfer will take you to your hotel. 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 3: 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 4: 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 5: Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine - Hiking Excursion

The Paine Massif
The Paine Massif

After breakfast in Puerto Natales, you'll pack up and transfer to the entrance of Torres del Paine National Park. From here, you'll make your way to the base of the park's three iconic 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 for dinner and a good night's rest.

Day 6: Hike Lake Nordenskjold

Monte Almirante Nieto
Monte Almirante Nieto

After breakfast, it's time for another adventurous hike. Today you will get to see Lake Nordenskjold up close. After leaving Refugio Chileno you'll embark on a brisk four-to-five-hour hike to Refugio Cuernos, an outpost located on the shore of Lake Nordenskjold and at the foot of the Paine Massif.  

Along the way, you'll hike along the base of Monte Almirante Nieto and traverse a few Patagonian rivers by hopping across rocks. The trek doesn't lack in beautiful scenery, as every step of the way you'll be treated to the natural glory of Patagonia in the form of jagged mountain peaks, glaciers, and wild animals. Eventually, the lake and the peaks of the Cuernos del Paine will come into view and you'll know you've reached your destination. You will spend the night here, in Refugio Cuernos.

Day 7: Hike the French Valley

Views from the lookout point at the French Valley
Views from the lookout point at the French Valley

Today you will hike into the heart of the park to visit another iconic area of Torres del Paine: French Valley. After breakfast, you will meet your guide and transfer to the Pudeto Ranger Station, located on the shore of Lake Pehoé. From here it's a half-hour catamaran cruise across to the lake where you'll arrive at the trailhead and begin your trek.

The first part of the trail is relatively flat and leads along the north side of Lago Skottsberg to Refugio Italiano, which is located at the bottom of the French Valley. Here you'll break for water and snacks. Afterward, you'll have the option to continue deeper into the French Valley along a steep trail through lenga forest. Roughly 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from Italiano, you'll reach a viewpoint near the Horns of Paine that affords wide views of the French Glacier hanging down from Mount Paine Grande. From here we will make our way back to the hotel and you can spend the remainder of the day relaxing.

Day 8: Boat Trip to Glacier Grey

Grey Glacier
Grey Glacier

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 9: Torres del Paine to El Calafate

Goodbye, Torres del Paine!
Goodbye, Torres del Paine!

Today, you will transfer from Torres del Paine National Park to Puerto Natales where you'll catch the 3.5-hour bus north to El Calafate, Argentina.

Upon arrival at El Calafate, another transfer will take you to your hotel. You can spend the rest of the day relaxing, or venture out and enjoy the quaint cafes and shops around town. If you haven't done so yet, prime yourself with information on the nearby glaciers by visiting the Glaciarium. This multi-media center has an ice museum, an ice bar, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers—a great stop before dinner in town.

Day 10: Free Day in El Calafate

Consider a kayaking tour
Consider a kayaking tour

Today, you'll have a relaxing (or not so relaxing) free day to either 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 see 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 11: Fly from El Calafate to Ushuaia - Explore the City

Typical Argentinian treats at a shop in Ushuaia
Typical Argentinian treats at a shop in Ushuaia

After breakfast in El Calafate, you'll pack up and transfer to the airport for your flight 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. This day will be relatively relaxed since the next day will feature more physical, outdoors activities.

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. As you walk around the colorful shops and buildings, notice 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 12: Hike to Ojo de Albino Glacier

Ice trekkers on their way to the green lagoon
Ice trekkers on their way to the green lagoon

Today is a full-day guided ice trek to Ojo de Albino Glacier!

After an early breakfast, you'll be picked up and transferred to a trailhead located 12 miles (20 km) from Ushuaia. Upon arrival, meet your guide and talk through a safety briefing before gearing up and entering the path. The first section travels through a forest and several peat bogs, crossing the Tierra Mayor Valley until you reach the Esmeralda Lagoon, which—as its name indicates—amazes the onlooker with its intense green color.

After a photography break, you'll walk around the lagoon in search of beaver dams until you cross the tree line where the ascension becomes more demanding. Notice how the slope is more pronounced through the large rock formations.

You've now entered a steep mountain landscape where you can appreciate the panoramic views of the valley and Laguna Esmeralda below. Keep going until you finally reach the Ojo del Albino Glacier. This part the glacier includes a mass of cracked flat ice, surrounded by sharp peaks, and, at the center, melting water with beautiful icebergs. Depending on the conditions of the ice, your guide will decide if it is safe to carry out a glacier transit.

Either way, you will have lunch surrounded by an imposing landscape. After this well-deserved rest, it's time to start making your way back to the entrance for your return to Ushuaia.

Day 13: Free Day in Ushuaia

See several kinds of penguins on Isla Martillo
See several kinds of penguins on Isla Martillo

Today is a free day in Ushuaia to do as you like! You can spend more time exploring the sites in town, or join an organized excursion.

Suggestions in the area include: 

  • Beagle Channel Cruise: This boat excursion sails through the Beagle Channel, one of the region’s most important waterways named after the HMS Beagle, a 19th-century British ship that once carried Charles Darwin to South America. You'll get breathtaking panoramic views of the city of Ushuaia and the entire bay. Be on the lookout for sightings of diverse marine wildlife such as cormorants and sea lions, especially near the Lobo and De Los Pajaros islands. 

  • Tierra del Fuego National Park: Close to the city for easy access, there are many wonders within the park's 155,000 acres. You can take a 4.3 mile (7 km) hike on a coastal path that follows the Beagle Channel where you'll have prime views of the channel along the way. You'll also pass remnants of ancient settlements once occupied by the Yámana indigenous people. 

  • Isla Martillo Penguin Excursion: Featuring a Magellanic penguin colony (amongst other species), a guided tour to Isla Martillo includes a hike where you will learn about the penguins' characteristics and natural habitat.

Day 14: Fly from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires - Departure

Sunset at the Puente de las Mujeres bridge in Buenos Aires
Sunset at the Puente de las Mujeres bridge in Buenos Aires

This morning, head to the Ushuaia airport for your flight to Buenos Aires, then connect to your international flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Southern Patagonia - 14 Days
Map of Southern Patagonia - 14 Days