Begin your journey in the cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires. Next, head south into Patagonia to experience Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Here, you'll visit a penguin colony and you'll get to go trekking and 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 Buenos Aires to Ushuaia Ushuaia
Day 3 Penguin Colony Half-Day Excursion Ushuaia
Day 4 Tierra del Fuego National Park - Trekking and Canoeing Ushuaia
Day 5 Ushuaia to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 6 Perito Moreno Full-Day Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 7 Estancia Cristina Excursion El Calafate
Day 8 El Calafate Free Day El Calafate
Day 9 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: Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

City of Ushuaia
City of Ushuaia

Transfer to the Buenos Aires airport for your flight to Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city at the edge of the vast American continent. Upon arrival, check into your comfortable hotel room and explore your new surroundings. Located in a large bay featuring a rocky coast, 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: Penguin Colony Half-Day Excursion

Time to visit some penguins
Time to visit some penguins

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. From here we return to the local port and you can spend the remainder of the day enjoying your hotel's amenities and exploring the town.

Total Tour Duration: Six hours

Day 4: Tierra del Fuego National Park - Trekking and Canoeing

Great views in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Great views in Tierra del Fuego National Park

Tierra del Fuego National Park is one of the most frequently visited places around Ushuaia. It's close to the city, it's easily accessible, and it isn't expensive to enter. That 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, the best lakes, and the best lookout points. 

On this day trip, you'll have just such a specialized guide to help you discover the true natural beauty within Tierra del Fuego National Park. You'll get to know the ins and outs of this protected paradise, from the seaside mountains to the freshwater rivers to the subantarctic forests and the 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 seven 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 by traces of ancient settlements once occupied by the Yámana indigenous people.

After a 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 where both the Pan American Highway and Nacional Route No. 3 culminate.

Day 5: Ushuaia to El Calafate

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

Transfer to the airport in Ushuaia for your flight to 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 Full-Day Boat & Walking Tour

Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier

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: Estancia Cristina Excursion

The view from Estancia Cristina
The view from Estancia Cristina

There's more activity in store for you today. Starting at 7 am a driver will pick you and other passengers up from your respective hotels and transfer you 45 km (28 miles) to the port at Punta Bandera, 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. 

Having reached the port, you'll board a modern ferry at approximately 8:15 am. You'll then embark on a journey on the Upsala Channel, passing towering icebergs along the way. As you reach the northern section you'll see the western front of the Spegazzini Glacier. At 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 is the disembarking point for Estancia Cristina. Expect to arrive around 11:30 am. 

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. The surrounding scenery is nothing to scoff at either—all around are impressive panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes, and glaciers. 

All told you will stay here about six hours. After the museum, you'll embark on a 9.5 km (six-mile) 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 featuring views of 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. 

Around 5:30 pm you will board the boat again and begin the return to Punta Bandera. After landing at approximately 7 pm, you will transfer back to your hotel.

Day 8: El Calafate Free Day

The reflection of the ice on the water in El Calafate
The reflection of the ice on the water in El Calafate

Get one more day in El Calafate to venture out and discover more adventures. Rent a kayak for a tour, check out other glaciers, or go horseback riding on a nearby ranch.

Day 9: 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 Ushuaia & El Calafate Adventure - 9 Days
Map of Ushuaia & El Calafate Adventure - 9 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019