Discover the wonders of Southern Patagonia with this 9-day itinerary. Begin your journey in the cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires and then head down to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, to see penguins up close and go canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park. Top it all off with a visit to El Calafate to see the iconic Perito Moreno Glacier, and take in the breathtaking scenery of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.

Highlights

  • Discover Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world
  • Explore Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the only advancing glaciers in the world
  • Kayak, hike, and sail through a variety of landscapes across three national parks

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Arrival in Ushuaia & Beagle Channel Cruise Ushuaia
Day 3 Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego Ushuaia
Day 4 Penguins on Isla Martillo & Estancia Harberton Ushuaia
Day 5 Fly from Ushuaia to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 6 Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 7 Estancia Cristina Excursion El Calafate
Day 8 Fly from El Calafate to Buenos Aires & Tango Show Buenos Aires
Day 9 Departing Buenos Aires  

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

A driver will pick you up from the airport when you land and take you to your hotel, where you can rest and recharge after your long flight. But make no mistake: the city will be calling you. So after a quick break, make sure to venture out and explore. The best starting point is the city center.

Suggested activities include:

  • Visit the Obelisco, which might be the city's most famous monument. 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 Latin America.
  • Stop by the Teatro Colón, one of South America's premier opera houses, which is known worldwide for its incredible acoustics. Even if you plan on taking a tour or catching a show here later, it's still worth passing by to take in the exterior architecture. The Colon's neoclassical façade has made it 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 the city. Take a romantic stroll by crossing over the canal on the Puente de la Mujer ("Woman's Bridge") at sunset. 
  • Dine at an Argentine steakhouse or parilla. When night falls and dinnertime arrives, it's time to enjoy a thick, juicy steak (Argentina has some of the best beef in the world) drizzled with delicious chimichurri (a garlic, herb, and vinegar sauce). Buenos Aires is a late-night city, and it's not uncommon for locals to have dinner well past nine in the evening, especially on weekends. 

Day 2: Arrival in Ushuaia & Beagle Channel Cruise

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

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

Ushuaia sits in a large bay with a rocky coast, surrounded by the snowcapped Martial Range. The city has a charming downtown and a lovely port. Today is a good time to relax because tomorrow will be filled with more physically-demanding, outdoorsy activities. 

After checking into your hotel, board a boat in Ushuaia's tourist port and sail into the Beagle Channel. As the boat sails further into the channel, you'll get a chance to see panoramic views of the coast and the skyline of the city at the base of Mount Olivia and the Cinco Hermanos Mountains

The cruise will take you southwest and pass the Isla de los Lobos, a nondescript rocky island that happens to be the home of a large group of sea lions. You'll have ample opportunity to see these majestic creatures and take plenty of photos. Then, it's off to Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island), where various species of seabirds live, including Magellanic cormorants and imperial shags. It's a birder's dream, so keep your binoculars and camera lens up and ready.

The furthest you'll sail today is Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, which is located on the northernmost island in Les Eclaireurs Islands. Here you'll see part of the Monte Cervantes, an ocean liner that sank in 1930. Your guide will also point out many points of interest onshore and across the channel, including 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 for you to observe the sizeable colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins that call the place home. After this six-hour tour, you'll return to Ushuaia's port. From there you can spend the remainder of the day enjoying your hotel's amenities and exploring the town.

Day 3: Trekking & Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego

Coastal trail in Tierra del Fuego
Coastal trail in Tierra del Fuego

Today you'll spend the day in Tierra del Fuego National Park, one of the most popular spots near Ushuaia. It's close to the city and isn't expensive, which means locals and tourists alike often visit. There are lots of things to see within the park's 155,000 acres. Your specialized guide will show you the best hikes, lakes, and lookout points and help you discover the natural beauty of the park. You'll get to know the ins and outs of this protected paradise, from seaside mountains to icy rivers to subantarctic forests and tranquil bays.

A minibus will drive you a short way from your hotel to the entrance of the park. From there you'll hike 4.3 miles (7 km) on a coastal path that follows the Beagle Channel. You'll have great views of the channel along the way, and you'll also get to see the diverse flora and fauna of the area up close. The trail also passes 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 your canoe ride down the Lapataia River towards your ultimate destination, Lapataia Bay. Located in the Beagle Channel,  Lapataia Bay sits at the end of the Pan American Highway and National Route No. 3.

Day 4: Penguins on Isla Martillo & Estancia Harberton

Gentoo penguins in Isla Martillo
Gentoo penguins in Isla Martillo

After breakfast at your hotel, it's time for a full-day penguin excursion. The trip starts at the Ushuaia pier, where you'll catch a bus to Estancia Harberton and drive through rugged Fuegian forests until you reach the dock, where your boat will be waiting for you.

From here, you'll board a semi-rigid rubber boat that will take you to an island and give you a chance to see a Magellanic penguin colony (amongst other species) up close. This guided tour includes a 90-minute hike to both Isla Martillo and Estancia Harberton, where you will learn about the penguins and their natural habitat. Expect plenty of great photo opportunities.

At the end of the tour, you'll return to Ushuaia in time for dinner and a night out on the town.

Day 5: Fly from Ushuaia to El Calafate

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

This morning, after breakfast, a driver will take you to the Ushuaia airport for your flight to El Calafate, your base to visit the stunning glaciers of Southern Patagonia, including the world-famous Perito Moreno Glacier.

After a short flight, 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 native 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 excitement-packed excursion. 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. Stick around to 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 7: Estancia Cristina Excursion

The view from Estancia Cristina
The view from Estancia Cristina

There's more activity in store for you today. A driver will pick you and other passengers up early in the morning and drive you 28 miles (45 km) to the port at Punta Bandera, located on Lago Argentino. The drive along this route is scenic and pleasant, affording sweeping views of the Patagonian countryside and the charming wooden houses that intermittently dot the landscape. 

Once you reach the port, you'll board a ferry and embark on a journey on the Upsala Channel, passing towering icebergs along the way. As you reach the northern section of the channel you'll see the western front of the Spegazzini Glacier. A over 10 miles long and a mile wide, the length, breadth, and towering ice walls that define 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 8: Fly from El Calafate to Buenos Aires & Tango Show

Sunset in Buenos Aires
Sunset in Buenos Aires

Today your driver will pick you up and take you to the airport for your flight back to Buenos Aires, and you'll be transferred to your hotel once you land. 

In the evening, we'll pick you up and take you out to discover one of Argentina's most mesmerizing traditions: tango. Tango is more than Argentina's national dance; it's a reflection of Buenos Aires' eclectic immigrant origins, a display of emotions and sensuality through movement. Professional tango dancers will perform stories of love and loss, accompanied by live music played by local artists. The show lasts around 3 to 4 hours and includes an à la carte dinner of delicious Argentine cuisine. 

At the end of the night, your driver will take you back to your hotel, with your head and heart full of the bohemian spirit of our beloved Buenos Aires.

Day 9: Departing Buenos Aires

Goodbye, Buenos Aires!
Goodbye, Buenos Aires!

Enjoy one last breakfast in Buenos Aires and check any last-minute attractions off of your list. When it's time, we'll meet you at your hotel to show you to the airport for your flight home. Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Ushuaia & El Calafate Adventure - 9 Days
Map of Ushuaia & El Calafate Adventure - 9 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Oct 31, 2019