Chile and Argentina's far south is a trekker’s dream. This is where Patagonia's craggy mountains, massive glaciers, and rushing waterfalls create countless opportunities for exploration on foot. After a day in Buenos Aires, head to Los Glaciares National Park for some ice trekking on Perito Moreno, a glacier that is actually advancing. You'll then head to Torres del Paine—the crown jewel of national parks in Patagonia—for a multi-day hike through Grey Glacier, French Valley, and the imposing towers of Las Torres.

Highlights

  • Explore Buenos Aires by foot and hit a steakhouse (preferably late!)
  • Walk along Perito Moreno glacier sporting crampons and an ice ax
  • Get a free day to explore Los Glaciares National Park any way you'd like
  • Get bragging rights by completing a five-day trek in Torres del Paine
  • Break up the leg exercise with a kayaking excursion near Grey Glacier

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 El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Hike El Calafate
Day 4 El Calafate Free Day El Calafate
Day 5 El Calafate to Torres del Paine Torres del Paine
Day 6 W Trek - Day 1/5 Torres del Paine
Day 7 W Trek - Day 2/5 Torres del Paine
Day 8 W Trek - Day 3/5 Torres del Paine
Day 9 W Trek - Day 4/5 Torres del Paine
Day 10 W Trek - Day 5/5 Torres del Paine
Day 11 Torres del Paine to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 12 Fly from El Calafate 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: El Calafate to 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 4: El Calafate Free Day

Consider a boat trip to Spegazzini Glacier on your free day
Consider a boat trip to Spegazzini Glacier on your free day

Today, you'll get a free day to venture out and discover more adventures in and around El Calafate. There are plenty of options: Explore more glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park, go horseback riding on a nearby ranch, or join a kayaking tour.

For instance, the Upsala Kayak Experience includes a boat trip across Lago Argentino where you'll set out in double kayaks on the Upsala Canal. Spend a few hours paddling amongst icebergs of all sizes in the canal, and then re-board the boat for the return to El Calafate.

Another less-exerting option is the Rios de Hielo boat trip—one of the best ways to sail across Lago Argentino and see the Upsala and Spegazzini Glaciers. The boat first heads along the northern arm of Lago Argentino towards the Upsala Canal, where you will see a spectacular wall of ice and views of the Upsala Glacier. The boat then turns south on the Spegazzini Canal until reaching Spegazzini Glacier, the highest in Los Glaciares National Park.

Day 5: El Calafate to Torres del Paine

Guanacos in Torres del Paine National Park
Guanacos in Torres del Paine National Park

Today, you'll transfer from El Calafate to Torres del Paine National Park, which takes about 2.5 hours. On the way there, pass through rolling grasslands home to rheas, guanacos, Patagonian hares, and even condors. Make sure to have your passport on hand, as you will cross the border to Chile before ending up at Torres del Paine.

After entering the park through the Laguna Amarga entrance, you'll ride a shuttle to your camp, a comfortable lodge right next to the Torres del Paine—a place that offers some of the most dramatic landscapes in South America. Keep an eye out for wild guanacos as they roam the windy plains. In addition to the namesake mountains, other highlights of the park include:

  • Salto Grande: a 213 ft high waterfall
  • Laguna Amarga: a water-filled caldera
  • Cuernos del Paine: magnificent granite spires in the shape of horns
  • Lake Pehoé: a beautiful lake that reflects the Cuernos del Paine

Day 6: W Trek - Day 1/5

An exciting first day on the trek
An exciting first day on the trek

Today marks the start of your epic journey through the furthest reaches of Torres del Paine! The W trekking circuit begins with a pleasant walk on the Cuernos Trail, which runs alongside the bright turquoise waters of Lake Nordenskjold. This section is more of a warm-up hike, and its easy pace allows you to admire Patagonia's remarkable flora and fauna while being surrounded by the park’s central lakes and the peaks of the Paine Massif. The hike ends at Refugio Los Cuernos, a cozy mountain refuge located on the shore of Lake Nordenskjold.

Alternatively, depending on the schedule, the trek could end at Domo el Francés, a campground featuring three dome bungalows, located between Cuernos and Refugio Italiano, which affords an amazing view of Lake Nordenskjöld. Regardless of where you overnight, you'll have the evening free to relax and enjoy dinner.

Day 7: W Trek - Day 2/5

Head into the French Valley
Head into the French Valley

After breakfast, you'll transfer to the dock at Pudeto where you'll board a catamaran and take a 30-minute ride across Lago Pehoé. From here you'll begin the challenging trek to Valle Frances (French Valley) on a steep trail leading near the Paine Massif. How far in you go depends on the overall speed of your particular group. If you make good time, you'll reach a hanging bridge over the French River, located at the foot of the southeast face of the massif. Here you'll be treated to stunning valley views.

You'll then hike to the upper section of the valley where you can marvel at the geological formations and glaciers. After this portion of the trek, we will pause for a picnic and relax. Your group will then descend through grassland and forest until you reach Refugio Paine Grande, located on the shores of Lake Pehoé, where you will overnight.

Note: the excursion to French Valley varies throughout the season depending on the schedule of the catamaran connecting Pudeto and Refugio Pehoé.

Day 8: W Trek - Day 3/5

The jagged ice wall of Grey Glacier
The jagged ice wall of Grey Glacier

Today you'll hike from Refugio Paine Grande along Lake Pehoé to the northern side of Lake Grey, which is fed by the glacier of the same name. Here you'll enjoy a picnic lunch before boarding a vessel that sails right up to the massive and jagged ice wall of Grey Glacier. From the boat, you'll likely witness great chunks of ice breaking off the wall and crashing into the water below. This is a process called "calving," which is the result of the glacier slowly encroaching ever further into the water.  

If the boat trip is canceled due to weather conditions, your group will instead trek up to a viewing point where you can marvel at panoramic vistas of the glacier. You'll also have the chance to take a kayak excursion on the lake and maneuver around the small icebergs. After, you'll return on foot to Refugio Paine Grande and take a catamaran to the dock at Pudeto, where a vehicle will meet you and transfer you to the next base camp.

Day 9: W Trek - Day 4/5

The base of the Paine Massif
The base of the Paine Massif

This is your penultimate day on one of the most famous nature treks in the world. As such, we've saved the best view for last. Today you'll be trekking up to the base of the famous Paine Massif. In the morning you'll hike to the Hotel Las Torres, at which point you'll gradually ascend through the Ascencio Valley, located on the massif's eastern face.

It's a rigorous hike but an incredible one. Along the way, you'll pass below jagged mountain ridges, through beech forests, and over small rivers. Just before the base of the massif lies the greatest obstacle of the trek: a steep moraine that requires deftly maneuvering around masses of boulders. At this point, you'll look up and the site of three gigantic granite monoliths, the result of millennia of glacial ice erosion, will tell you that you've arrived at the base of the Paine Massif. 

After the tough uphill climb, you've earned a break. So now you'll kick back on the shore of the turquoise lagoon at the foot of the massif and enjoy a picnic lunch. Savor the memory and take plenty of photos, because there aren't views quite like this anywhere in the world.

After eating, you'll backtrack along the same trail through the Ascencio Valley and return to camp for a hearty dinner.

Day 10: W Trek - Day 5/5

Wild horses in Laguna Azul, Torres del Paine
Wild horses in Laguna Azul, Torres del Paine

In contrast with yesterday's ascent to the Paine Massif, the fifth day of the W Circuit involves a much less arduous hike. After breakfast, you'll transfer by vehicle to Laguna Azul, which is notable for the views of the Paine Massif looming over it. En route you'll pass by Cañadón Macho, an area of golden hills home to wild guanacos and ñandúes (a type of Rhea). 

At Laguna Azul, you'll hike to a lookout point where you'll be treated to a gorgeous view of both the lagoon and the granite towers of the massif. After lunch, you'll drive to the northern shore of Lago Sarmiento where the Fauna Trail begins. As we hike northbound, you'll see an impressive range of Patagonian fauna on the vast plains, including guanacos, ñandús (a type of Rhea) and maybe even a puma. After approximately three miles (5 km) of relaxed walking, you'll reach the Laguna Amarga ranger station. A driver will meet you here and transfer your group back to camp where you'll enjoy a celebratory dinner.

Day 11: Torres del Paine to El Calafate

Spend time at this center, followed by a drink at the bar!
Spend time at this center, followed by a drink at the bar!

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, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. For fun, it even has a bar made totally of ice—a great stop before dinner in town.

Day 12: Fly from El Calafate 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 Trekking in Chilean & Argentine Patagonia - 12 Days
Map of Trekking in Chilean & Argentine Patagonia - 12 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019