Puerto Madryn, Argentina is a major wildlife destination in South America. This a mid-sized town, located on the east coast of the country, in the province of Chubut – which is part of Patagonia – is one of the best places to visit in the country. I wholeheartedly recommend adding it to your Argentina itinerary.
Though Puerto Madryn has some beautiful beaches (don’t expect palm trees and clear turquoise waters – this is Patagonia after all, which is the contrary of tropical), the major attraction in this part of Argentina is the thriving marine life.
Between May and December Puerto Madryn is a great place to spot Southern Right Whales. On a lucky day you may be able to spot them from the shore. But even in the summer months, when it is not whale-watching season, there are plenty of things to do in Puerto Madryn. Indeed, a trip to the nearby Peninsula Valdés or to Punta Tombo, or even just a boat tour along the bay will provide endless opportunities to spot more species.
In this post, I highlight all the best things to do in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, and provide some practical tips to organize your trip there.
The penguin colony of Punta Tombo is a must
13 Fabulous Things To Do In Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Go whale watching
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Puerto Madryn is the Southern Right Whales. These can be seen in the winter and spring months, which in the southern hemisphere go from May to December. The peak season to spot them is between June and November (much like in South Africa), when whales come to the bay to give birth and teach their calves how to swim before moving to other parts of the ocean.
Whales can be spotted from the shore at El Doradillo beach, which is at about 30 minutes from the city. On a very lucky day you may even see them from the beach in town. Alternatively, you can opt for a boat tour for higher chances to spot these huge, beautiful animals.
These are the best whale watching tours in Puerto Madryn:
Puerto Madryn is a fantastic place to admire Commerson’s dolphins. These are black and white dolphins often called “panda dolphins” or “skunk dolphins.” They are smaller than the typical dolphin and are only found in this part of the world. Boat tours to go dolphin watching usually take place in Puerto Rawson and Golfo Nuevo.
Tours normally last around 90 minutes, and you’ll get to see dolphins playing and swimming near the boat (it’s like if they challenged it to play!), while the guide will be providing plenty of information about these mammals as well as other animals you may be spotting.
These cuties are fun to swim with!
Dive or snorkel with the sea lions
Though sea lions can get a bit aggressive when on land, they are truly cute when in the water. They can be seen in various spots around Puerto Madryn, but if you fancy snorkeling or even diving with them, head to Punta Loma where a colony of around 600 lives, protected from the orcas that also live along this coast.
Sea lions live in the area of Punta Loma year round – so you’ll have a chance to see them and swim with them regardless of the time of year you visit.
Lobo Larsen is the best company in town that organizes sea lion snorkeling or diving expeditions. These are some good tours that can be booked online:
Take a selfie with penguins – as long as you don’t get too close!
Visit the penguin colony in Punta Tombo
There’s little doubt that one of the top things to do in Puerto Madryn is visiting the penguin colony in Punta Tombo Natural Reserve. Once you get in the reserve, you’ll literally be surrounded by them. Guides will tell you not to walk in front of them or not to get too close to them – but worry not! There are so many, that chances are they will be the ones walking in front of you and you’ll have plenty of excellent photo opportunities.
The penguins you’ll see in Punta Tombo are the Magellanic ones. The best time to see them is between September and April, when they get to the are to mate and give birth. Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll get to see lots of young (very cute) ones.
TIP: For as cute as they are, penguins have a very strong beak and they surely hurt when they bite! Avoid touching them or getting too close.
One of the best places to spot wildlife near Puerto Madryn is Peninsula Valdes. There is a good reason that this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Located at around 77 km from town, a trip to Peninsula Valdes normally includes several stops to beaches in the area and to admire the colonies of elephant seals and the former lighthouse (now a hotel) of Punta Delgada. You’ll also see some penguins in Punta Norte (though not nearly as many as in Punta Tombo).
These are some of the best tours of Peninsula Valdes:
Not a tropical beach, but Puerto Pyramides is lovely
Hang out in Puerto Pyramides
Most people visit Puerto Pyramides during their day tour of Peninsula Valdes. However, this tiny town – no more than a village, really – which is surrounded by pyramid-shaped cliffs (hence its name) is a nice place to hang out for a day or two. It has a couple of cool bars and cafés, a super nice beach where it is safe to swim (and the water is actually quite warm in the summer) and it is a departing point for hikes and diving expeditions; not to mention it is an excellent whale watching location.
The only downside when you are at the beach is that – much like the rest of Patagonia – it is super windy here. So chances are you’ll be covered in sand.
Not far from Puerto Madryn there is a protected nature reserve with a large colony of sea lions, called Punta Loma. You can go snorkel or dive with them (as I have said before) but even you don’t, make sure to visit Punta Loma as it is the only permanent sea lion colony of South America, with around 600 lobos marinos (actually, this translates into sea wolves). These live in a beautiful pebble beach and you can see them from a lookout point.
These are some guided tours that go to Punta Loma:
There are a couple of good beaches in Puerto Madryn
Relax at the beach
Fair enough, Patagonia is hardly famous for its beaches. But if you visit in the peak of the summer, you may get some really hot days (it was 32 degrees Celsius when I visited Puerto Madryn) and then, the beaches in town will be more than enough to get a breath of fresh air and cool down. Besides, it is an excellent place to spot locals drinking mate, kite or windsurfing, or just relaxing.
Depending on when you go, you’ll be able to view a concert. Otherwise, there are plenty of bars, pubs and restaurants around.
Other than the one in town, the best beaches around Puerto Madryn are El Doradillo and Playa Parana.
Visit an estancia
Scattered around Patagonia there are many estancias (ranches). If you ask me, the best are the ones around Tierra del Fuego or around El Calafate. However, there are a few good ones also close to Puerto Madryn where you can enjoy a day admiring the local wildlife, horseback riding, checking out the livestock and having a fabulous asado. Among the best estancias in the area there are Estancia San José, Estancia Rincon Chico (which actually is in Peninsula Valdes) and Estancia San Lorenzo.
Further out, one of the most popular ranches, Estancia San Lorenzo, will allow you to combine your visit with a trip to the penguin colonies. This tour goes to a local ranch and has the add on of El Pedral penguin colony.
Visit the Museo Provincial de Ciencias Naturales y Oceanografico
This small museum is a nice introduction to the nature and history of Puerto Madryn and Chubut. You’ll find plenty of information on the southern right whales found in this area; on other marine mammals and even on the history of the Welsh settlers who founded the town. It’s in one of the oldest buildings in town, a few minutes walk from the city center and admission is free – worth visiting.
Visit Trelew and Gaiman
Most of the towns in Chubut were founded by Welsh settlers. One of the nicest things to do in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, is taking a day trip to discover them. Trelew is at about one hour from Puerto Madryn
Trelew has an interesting paleontology museum (more about that later); whereas Gaiman is a farming village that was founded in the 1800s with plenty of historic buildings and even a lovely Welsh tea shop. If you crave a good cup of tea with bread, jam, cakes and what not, make sure to stop at the Casa de Te Ty Gwyn.
You can go to Trelew and Gaiman on a guided tour from Puerto Madryn. These are a couple of good options:
The best place to see fossils in Patagonia is actually in Trelew, not far from Puerto Madryn, at the Paleontology Museum. There are a couple of different exhibitions and – depending on the time of your visit – you may even be able to see thelargest dinosaur ever found – which was discovered near Trelew.
There are many excellent restaurants in Puerto Madryn, which is especially a great place to try the famous Argentine steaks or lambs (or even better asado). However, you’ll also find lots of seafood and Italian food options (much like in the rest of Argentina).
Among the best restaurants in Puerto Madryn, I recommend En Mis Fuegos, a lovely romantic spot – I didn’t visit on a date but my sister when with her (then boyfriend, now) husband and loved it. Another place to try is Cantina El Nautico, especially good for seafood (make sure to try the shrimps). Giuseppe is the best place for pizza and pasta at reasonable prices.
A view of town from the sea
Practical Information To Organize Your Trip To Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Where to stay in Puerto Madryn
There are a few good places to stay in Puerto Madryn, for all tastes and budget. I opted to stay at a hostel when I visited, and had a fantastic experience meeting people I am still friends with. Alternatively, there are some good hotels and even small apartments you can rent.
This is a selection of the best places to stay in town:
Any time is a good time to visit Puerto Madryn, and no matter when you go you’ll be able to see beautiful wildlife. Having said so, do organize your trip in time to see the animals you are more keen on. Whales are best seen between May and December, whereas penguins between September and April. Elephant seals can be seen year round.
How to get to Puerto Madryn
The easiest and fastest way to get to Puerto Madryn is to fly to Trelew, which is at about 55 km, and then take the bus or a private shuttle. You canbook your airport transfer here.
Alternatively, you can fly to Bahia Blanca and then take the bus (it’s around 10 hours), or bus it all the way from Buenos Aires (around 20 hours). There are also daily buses to El Calafate. The trips are very long, but at least the buses are very comfortable.
You may want to rent a car for the duration of your stay in the area, but car rental in Argentina can be quite tricky, with lots of restrictions on the distances you can cover. Anyways, the best thing is to enquire. You can do so here.
Alternatively, the best way to around is to join the guided tours that regularly leave from town.
El Chalten is – quite simply – one of the places you should never skip during a trip to Argentina. This tiny town considered to be a climbing paradise counts around 1600 inhabitants, though apparently no more than 400 people live there year round. The population inevitably swells with the presence of tourists in the summer months – they travel all the way to this remote location as it is the getaway to some of the best hikes in Patagonia.
The name El Chalten means “smoking mountain” in the Aoniken language, and it used to be the actual name of Mount Fitz Roy, referring tot he clouds that normally forma round the peaks in the region. The town was founded in 1985 to keep watch of an area that was highly disputed between Argentina and Chile.
In this post, I highlight all the things that you should see and do in El Chalten, and share some tips to make the most of this incredible place.
There’s little doubt that hiking is the best thing to do in El Chalten
10 Things To See And Do In El Chalten
Hike to the Condor Lookout
El Chalten is all about hiking, and you should head out on a trail as soon as you get there. The walk to the Condor look out is an easy one, with a gradual yet steady ascent but very short (no more than 2 km there and back). With the incredible views of the mountains and Lake Viedma, this is the perfect introduction to what this part of Patagonia has to offer.
The trail is at the southern entrance of town. The best time of day to hike to the Condor Lookout is sunrise, when you have a chance to admire the peaks glow in a beautiful, pink light. However, it’s also a great walk to do if you have a couple of hours to kill when you have just arrived in El Chalten, Patagonia, and don’t have enough time for a longer hike.
The hike to Laguna Torre is one of the best you can start from El Chalten
Hike to Laguna Torre
The hike to Laguna Torre is one of the best you can do while in El Chalten. It’s a moderate trek that goes to the base of Cerro Torre, were you’ll get incredible views of the mountains.
The overall hike takes between 5 and 7 hours, depending on how often you stop and on whether or not you walk all the way to Mirador Maestri, from where you have even better views of the glaciers. The trail starts at the northern entrance of El Chalten, and it’s initially very steep for about 2 km, after which it becomes a very easy ascent. The only really difficult bit is the 2 km to Mirador Maestri, for the terrain is unsteady and the trail harder to follow.
The incredible view at Laguna de Los Tres is one of the best in El Chalten
Hike to Laguna de Los Tres
One of the absolutely unmissable things to do in El Chalten is hiking to Laguna de Los Tres, at the base of Mount Fitz Roy. This is one of the most rewarding hikes in Patagonia, with incredible views throughout – starting with those you get from Mirador Piedras Blancas and Laguna Capri, to those you finally have once you reach the lake.
There are two starting points to this trail: one is in town, at the northern side, and you’ll have to walk to the lake and back on the same trail; the other is at Hostaria El Pilar, at about 12 km north of town (you’ll need to get there by taxi, and the ride is about $1200 Argentinian Pesos), and after reaching the lagoon you’ll walk on the same trail that goes back to town.
It’s an easy to moderate hike for the most part. However, after Campamento Poincenot camping site, the hike becomes strenuous with a one km that goes all the way to the lake. This km is a steady 40% incline on rocky terrain, incredibly hard to walk up and just has hard to walk back down – making this one of the hardest hikes in the area of El Chalten.
The trail to Laguna de Los Tres is very well marked and easy to follow and you can hike independently. If you like the idea of joining a group, several guided treks depart from El Chalten every day. These are some of them:
Not far from El Chalten, the Huemul Circuit is one of the most incredible, yet challenging hikes in Patagonia. This hike will take the best of four days, during which you’ll have to cross river, climb over mountain passes, and camp – all in exchange for incredible views of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.
Unlike the majority of hikes in Patagonia, you can’t walk this trail independently. In fact, the trail isn’t well marked and you will need a local guide to help you navigate the area, cross the river, etc. Make sure you are properly equipped for it, and ask for information in El Chalten before agreeing to do it. You can book your guided Huemul Circuit here.
Chorrillo del Salto is a must when in El Chalten!
Relax at Chorrillo del Salto
One of places you absolutely should not miss while in El Chalten, Patagonia, is Chorrillo del Salto. This beautiful waterfall has a series of small natural pools with crystal clear water – though the water, much like in the rest of Patagonia, is freezing. The views from there are absolutely splendid, and it’s a very quiet place too.
To get to Chorrillo del Salto, you have to follow the trail to Laguna de Los Tres from El Chalten, and once you get to the sign marking km 5 of the trail take a detour right. There is no real trail to get there, but it’s fairly easy and all you have to do is follow the roar of the water.
TIP: you can actually go to Chorrillo del Salto when hiking to Laguna de Los Tres. It’s a perfect place for a break!
Go on an ice trek on Viedma Glacier
Ice trekking is a lot of fun. The most popular place to do it in Argentina is Perito Moreno Glacier, near El Calafate. The good news is that you can actually do it elsewhere too – and closer to El Chalten. This is obviously not something you can do on your own – you need a guide that tells you exactly where to step, and a company that rents you all the gear you will need to walk on ice, such as crampons.
It’s a fun way to get a better understanding of the life and look of a glacier, and to listen to its cracks.
The landscape of Patagonia is incredibly varied, and you can get a good idea of this if you visit La Leona Petrified Forest. At about half way between El Chalten and El Calafate, along Ruta 40, this is a place to admire beautiful dry and sandy rock formations, as well as the local wildlife (especially guanacos) and fossils.
You can only visit La Leona Petrified Forest on a guided tour, because it is located in private land. You can enquire in town to find out more.
In El Chalten, you can go running with the best views in the world!
Rafting isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when traveling to Patagonia, but it’s one of the most fun things to do in El Chalten. There, you can go white water rafting on rivers that are glacier tributaries and get a good dose of adrenaline. Several companies in El Chalten organize rafting expeditions on Rio de las Vueltas, on III and IV class rapids. You’ll be given all the equipment and there will be a photographer racing down the river on a kayak to snap photos of you.
You can book your rafting expedition from El Chalten here.
Get a much deserved massage
Is there anything better than getting a massage after a long hike? (Well, ok, there is to me: a pint of cold beer – but more on that later). The good news is that El Chalten has a couple of spas where you can get a professional massage, spend some time in the sauna, in the jacuzzi, and even do cold therapy leg treatments which are very effecting into restoring you! The place to go is Spa Yaten.
Drink craft beer
Yes – one of the best things to do in El Chalten after a long hike is having a good beer. There is nothing better to restore your much needed salts and minerals. The good news is that despite being so small, El Chalten has a few good pubs where you can enjoy a craft beer. The even better news is that most of them observe some sort of happy hour, so your pint will turn out quite inexpensive.
The best place for a good beer in El Chalten is La Cerveceria. It’s a lovely pub that brews its own beer, with a nice beer garden and where you can also get very earthy portions of stews and other local specialties. In other words, it’s the place to go after a hike.
In El Chalten, you get incredible views throughout
Practical Information About El Chalten
When to visit El Chalten
Summer is by far the best time to visit El Chalten – make sure to go between the end of November and the end of March. If you prefer traveling in the shoulder season, you can head there in October or in April, but keep in mind that many businesses and even trails may be closed then. Make sure to call in advance to double check.
Do keep in mind that even in the summer months the weather in Patagonia remains unpredictable: you can expect wind, rain and in the worst case scenario even snow at any time. Make sure to check the weather before you head out. You can do so here.
Unless you have a very tight schedule, I suggest you stay in El Chalten for a week or more, so that you can wait for good weather conditions to hike to Laguna de Los Tres or Laguna Torre. Make sure to also pack adequately for your trip to Patagonia.
Guided tours of Patagonia that also go to El Chalten
If you are tight on time, don’t feel like planning a trip around Patagonia but still want to go to El Chalten, it may be a good idea to consider a guided tour. This way, you’ll have a guide to help you navigate the trails, and someone that takes care of all the accommodation and transportation bookings.
These are some of the best tours of Patagonia that go to El Chalten:
Patagonia Hiking:a great 9-days tour for travelers who love nature with stops in El Calafate and El Chalten.
Argentina Multisport: the best option for active travelers who want to have a go at hiking, biking and even rafting around El Chalten.
Hike Patagonia In Depth: with some nights of camping, it’s an incredible tour for people who want to be fully immersed in nature.
The nearest airport to El Chalten is that of El Calafate, which has direct flights from Buenos Aires and Ushuaia via Aerolinas Argentina, and connecting flights from a number of other places in the country. It then takes about 3 hours to travel from El Calafate to El Chalten.
There are regular buses between El Calafate and El Chalten. These depart from the main terminal, on Julio Argentino Roca in El Calafate, at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm and, during peak season, also at 1:00 pm. The best companies are Chalten Travel and Caltur. A one way bus ride costs around $20.
If you like the idea of having your own car, make sure to pick a car at El Calafate airport. Check out the prices of car rental here.Keep in mind that the only place you can stop along the way for fuel, toilets and food is Estancia La Leona. Quite frankly, the food is so bad that you may as well skip that.
The incredible views at Laguna Torre
ATMs in El Chalten
I wholeheartedly recommend you plan your trip to El Chalten and budget for it in advance as much as possible, and withdraw cash in El Calafate, before arriving. There are only two ATMs in town, located by the bus terminal. With the amount of visitors, these are often out of money and out of service. Cash is king in El Chalten, so budget your cash wisely.
Internet in El Chalten
Internet is hardly a thing in El Chalten. Even the best of the Argertinian SIM cards will get you any service, and though most hotels and restaurants have wifi, the service is inconsistent at best. Make sure to warn family and friends before going; set up an out of office reply in case someone tries to reach you for work reasons; and by all means do not schedule work conferences or e-meetings while you are there – you’ll spend most of the time being frustrated for the poor service while you should actually be hiking!
Where to stay and eat in El Chalten
El Chalten has some good accommodation options and a few good restaurants and breweries. Most places are closed between the end of April and the beginning of October.
These are some of the best places to stay in El Chalten:
Estancia La Quinta is a fantastic option if you like the idea of an isolated place. It’s a 55 minutes walk to the center of El Chalten, or 7 minutes car ride. The rooms are plain but very comfortable, the area very quiet, and the staff very friendly and helpful. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Most bars, restaurants and bars in El Chalten offer happy hour and usually get packed between 5:00 and 8:00 pm, when people come back after a day of hiking. These are the best places grab a bite in El Chalten:
Maffìa – a simple eatery where you may have to share your table with other people. They still make home made pasta and sauces. Good enough even for Italians, it has earthy portions and fair prices.
Ahonikenk – at the entrance of town, it offers Argentine staples such as milanesa with very big portions and fair prices.
Curcuma – the only completely vegan restaurant in town.
La Vineria – excellent place for draft beers and wines.
Cerveceria Artesanal – the best pub and brewery in El Chalten.
Mathilda – a lovely café with refreshing salads and drinks.
Traveling to Patagonia is many a dream, including mine. To be fair, it is such a spectacular place that even after having been there 3 times already, I hardly feel like my dream came true and I feel compelled to visit and again. This easily qualifies as one of my favorite places on earth.
Patagonia is huge, very diverse and simply breathtaking. But traveling around Patagonia is easier said than done: the weather is unpredictable; the infrastructure often lacking, and the prices higher than a backpacker would hope for.
Sure enough, before you plan to visit Patagonia you should do a bit of research so that you know what to expect. So, I have decided to put together a post that sums up a few facts and things you should know before you go there.
Make sure you are properly informed before traveling to Patagonia
30 Important Things To Know Before Traveling To Patagonia
Patagonia is huge
Saying that you are traveling to Patagonia hardly gives a clear indication of where you are going. Patagonia is huge! First of all, it spans across two countries – Argentina and Chile. Only in Argentina, it comprises a whopping 5 provinces: Chubut, Neuquén, Río Negro, Tierra del Fuego and Santa Cruz.
I recommend visiting both countries, if you have the time (Patagonia calls for slow travel, actually) and your budget allows it. A good idea may be flying into Buenos Aires and out of Santiago de Chile, and then moving around by bus to cover the shorter distances and by plane for the longest ones.
The best way to fully enjoy Patagonia is by taking your time to explore it, to take in all the amazing views and landscapes it has to offer. Try to be as spontaneous as possible, letting your travel plans unfold little by little, so that you can make the most of the good weather – should you be so lucky to have a few days of sun in a row. And make sure to give yourself plenty of time to move from one place to the other: with such huge distances bus rides take a lot of time and easily warn you out. Just to give you an example, the ride from El Chalten to Bariloche takes a whopping 24 hours!
A vast land like Patagonia calls for slow travel and at the same time careful planning
But if you are short on time, planning is vital
This almost contradicts what I have said before about slow travel, I know. However, if you are short on time but still want to visit Patagonia, careful planning is vital. This means taking a few planes to connect you from one place to the other (which will inevitably increase the price of your trip), or joining a guided tour where you let the experts do the planning job and you just have to plan what goes in your backpack.
If you like the idea of sitting down while someone else organizes your Patagonia trip, and want to join a guided group tour, you may want to consider the following tours:
Patagonia Hiking:this is a fantastic tour, perfect for active travelers who want to be in nature for most of their time. It lasts 9 days with stops at a bunch of the most famous places in Patagonia.
Argentina Multisport: the perfect tour for very active travelers who like the idea of hiking, biking and even rafting.
Hike Patagonia In Depth: the name says it all. This tour is for those who want to spenda s much time as possible hiking. You’ll be spending a few nights camping.
Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego:the best tour if you also want to go to Tierra del Fuego and want to visit both the Argentinian and Chilean side of Patagonia.
Especially for certain places
For as much as you may want to be spontaneous and even if you have all the time in the world, there will be some places for which you will have to plan in advance during your Patagonia trip. Torres del Paine National Park is one of the highlights of Chilean Patagonia, but unless you have some accommodation booked (whether camping or staying in lodges) local authorities won’t let you get on trails such as the W-trek or the O-circuit (both multi-day hikes). In the high season, this means booking months in advance and it will often imply planning the rest of your trip around those dates.
Border crossing can be tricky when traveling to Patagonia
Border crossing is easier said than done
One thing to keep in mind when traveling to Patagonia – especially if you want to visit both Chile and Argentina – is that border crossing in South America is not that straightforward. Even if you don’t need a visa, the process can be very slow. You will have to get to one border, line up to get your passport stamped out, move to the other border (which can be as far as 5 km) and get your passport stamped in.
Border control is actually quite strict, especially in Chile, and your bags will carefully screened to make sure you are not carrying anything that may hinder the local flora, fauna and agricultural crops. Make sure not to carry things such as fruit or meat or dairy products if you plan to cross the border. I was stuck for a good hour when I crossed to go to Torres del Paine, because a German guy traveling on the same bus forgot he had an apple and a banana in his bag – for which he had to pay a hefty fine.
Patagonia is pristine
One thing you’ll immediately notice upon traveling to Patagonia is how clean it is. Not only the air is clear and crisp; but you won’t see any garbage around along trails and in national parks, despite the fact that there are no garbage bins. Be respectful of the environment and always take a small bag to dispose of your garbage: make sure you contribute to the effort to keep Patagonia clean.
You should be environmentally conscious
Speaking of efforts to keep Patagonia clean, male sure to consider the impact of your actions and try to be an environmentally conscious traveler as much as possible. Always walk on the trails – you’ll often see signs that warn you that certain areas are recuperating. Never light fires in the forest. Fires started by careless hikers have caused incredible damage to Patagonia in the last decade (it was in 2012 that a massive portion of Torres del Paine burned down following a fire lit by a camper). Remember that the strong winds of Patagonia carry the fire far and fast!
There will be no shortage of amazing views during your Patagonia trip
The views are incredible throughout
Whether driving along the vast planes of Chubut, the windy roads of Tierra del Fuego, or along the peaks of the province of Santa Cruz, you can rest assured of something: when traveling to Patagonia, you will no shortage of breathtaking views.
The wildlife is unique
One of the biggest treats when traveling to Patagonia is the possibility of admiring the local wildlife. Guanacos – a wild species similar to llamas and alpacas – are found throughout Patagonia, from the vast plains of Chubut to the icy Tierra del Fuego. Depending on the season, you’ll be able to see southern right whales, orcas and sea lions in Chubut, as well as in Tierra del Fuego. Various species of penguins live on the shores of Chubut (the best place to see them is Punta Tombo) and in Tierra del Fuego. Other animals that populate this part of the world are pumas (though they are way more difficult to spot), flamingos, foxes and an incredible variety of birds.
One of the many reasons to travel to Patagonia is the beautiful wildlife
The weather is crazy
The best time to visit Patagonia is the summer, between the end of November and the very beginning of April. Even if you may want to visit in the low season, you won’t have much of a choice: most businesses, hotels, restaurants, and tour companies and even bus routes only operate in the summer months. Trails are closed in the winter months, and often covered in snow anyways.
You may be able to travel to Patagonia in the shoulder season, ie in October and in April and May, and enjoy it when it is less crowded. But before heading there make sure to double check if trails are accessible and if any hotel or hostel is still open.
Provided that you are traveling to Patagonia in the summer, rest assured that you’ll get a good dose of the crazy Patagonian weather. On any given day, you may get sun, wind, rain and at times even snow. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly recommend to be fully equipped for sudden weather changes.
You’ll be hiking most of the time (and should be prepared for it)
Most people who travel to Patagonia go there to hike, and to be fair most of the incredible sites in Patagonia require a bit of an effort to get to admire them. Obviously, bus travel allows you to visit some of the most famous places such as Perito Moreno Glacier or Tierra del Fuego National Park, but for the vast majority, you need to hike.
Needless to say, you should be prepared for all the hiking you’ll be doing. This means being actually fit – don’t attempt to hike to Laguna de Los Tres is the most exercise you’ve done in the last few months was lifting your pint glass. And it also means being properly geared for the hikes.
Hiking (and traveling in general) can be exhausting. Make sure to allow yourself a rest day between the longest hikes, to give your legs and feet a break. You can use those rest days to do other useful things such as planning the next steps of your Patagonia trip, looking for bus companies for your onward travel; booking guided tours with local companies; doing laundry (such a hard thing to do if you keep moving from one place to the other!) and – quite simply – relaxing before you head on to the next hike.
You’ll be doing lots of hiking when traveling to Patagonia
Patagonia is actually quite expensive
There is no other way to put it, really. If you are planning to travel to Patagonia, you should be aware of the fact that this is not a cheap place. Although access to the trails is free for the most part (you’ll be paying a fee to access Los Glaciares National Park, where Perito Moreno Glacier is located, and to visit Tierra del Fuego National Park), everything else will add up to the costs.
Accommodation, food, transportation and – should you do any – tours in Patagonia are expensive. However, this should not prevent you from traveling to Patagonia. By all means, go. Just plan your trip smartly so that you can save a bit here and there.
You should pick your accommodation wisely
The best way to keep your costs down when traveling to Patagonia is by picking your accommodation wisely. The good news is that Patagonia offers a wide range of options for just about any taste and budget, with refugios (mountain huts); hotels; boutique hotels; chalets; hostels and even camping sites. Hostels, chalets and camping sites are obviously the best options if you have a small budget, especially because you have the possibility of cooking as well. However, keep in mind that Patagonia is becoming an increasingly popular destination and that places fill up quickly. Make sure to book in advance for a chance to get a spot in the cheapest places.
It can be crowded – but never overwhelming
As I have said before, Patagonia is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination for nature and hiking lovers, and on a regular day you’ll find a lot of people on most trails. Yet, it’s such a vast place that you’ll hardly feel overwhelmed. Besides, most travelers visit Patagonia with only one thing in mind: hiking. This means you’ll likely encounter like minded people with whom to share your experiences and who you can join on the trails.
Internet is hardly a thing
Make sure to warn your family and friends before traveling to Patagonia, and to set an automatic out-of-office reply for your email. Internet is hardly a thing in many places around Patagonia. While in El Calafate you’ll easily get wifi in town, forget about in El Chalten. You may do your best by getting a local sim card; you may try hard to get online at your hostel, or when at a restaurant; and you may even be able to send the odd WhatApp message to your friends and upload a picture or two on social media if you are lucky.
But really, by all means don’t schedule work calls or business e-meetings: internet is frustratingly slow in most of Patagonia, and chances are you’ll end up wasting your time trying to communicate while really, you should be out on the trails.
But you’ll still need a power bank
The lack of internet will keep your phone battery going longer than it normally would. The constant use you’ll make of it to take incredible photos will consume it. Make sure to take a good power bank with you, so you can recharge your phone on the go any time your battery is running low. You wouldn’t want to run out of battery when you need to photograph that impressive mountain, right?
Visiting an estancia should be an integral part of any Patagonia trip
You should visit an estancia
Estancias are farms used for cattle raising that can be found all over Argentina. Patagonia has some beautiful ones. Though some have now become actual tourist attractions where animal farming is only a minor part of the income, most of them are still fully working to raise the famous Argentinian beef and Patagonian lamb. A few of the latter ones are open to visitors. Try to find one of them, and make sure to visit. It’s a great way to learn more about the local culture and way of life, and about the hardship of living in Patagonia in the winter.
You do need hiking boots
Hiking boots are a must when traveling to Patagonia. You simply can’t head out on the trails with a pair of running shoes: you need something that gives you excellent ankle support, and that is water proof. If you are getting new boots, make sure to use them a few times before your trip and wear them in, so that they will be more comfortable.
Make sure you also don’t underestimate the importance of good hiking socks: they will keep your feet from rubbing against the shoes and blistering.
In fact, you do need proper hiking gear
Packing smartly is essential when traveling to Patagonia. Leave your fancy clothes at home, and only bring good hiking gear that keeps you warm and at the same time comfortable.
You do need a refillable water bottle when traveling to Patagonia
You should bring a water bottle
Water in Patagonia comes from glaciers and it’s absolutely safe to drink. Local authorities put a lot of effort in educating people to avoid practices that may cause contamination of rivers, streams and water sources and for the most part, you can easily refill your bottle at the river and avoid the use of plastic.
On occasions, campers and travelers doing things such as washing their clothes or even something as simple as swimming or rinsing their bowls in the river have caused contamination with serious consequences for people drinking the water. To be on the safe side, take a steripen with you, or chlorine dioxide tablets.
By all means, avoid any kind of behavior that may cause contamination of the water: no swimming, washing dishes or clothes in the river!
You should always wear sunglasses
Sunglasses are a basic commodity in Patagonia. They will protect you from the sun, but most importantly repair your eyes from the ever blowing winds and from all the dust that these carry. Make sure to always keep a pair in your bag!
And a hat or a beanie
Make sure to pack a hat and / or a beanie for your Patagonia trip. You should go for something that protects you from the sun so – ideally – covers your forehead, and at the same time keeps your ears and head warm when it gets windy. You may not look stylish, but Patagonia ain’t a cat walk either.
Remember to put on sun block
Never underestimate the importance of sun block when traveling to Patagonia. Make sure to smother it on your face, neck, ears, chest and any other exposed bit. You won’t feel the sun so much, because it never gets too hot, but your skin definitely will and it will thank you if you protect it!
Calafate berries are yummy
El Calafate, the main starting point to visit Perito Moreno Glacier takes its name from a berry that grows in a small bush and that can be found all over Patagonia. You will see these bushes along the trails and can safely eat the berries. Mind you, they are so tiny that there hardly is a chance you’ll fill up on them! But an old saying goes: “Once you taste the calafate berry, you are destined to go back to Patagonia.” I guess I called it upon me…
You’ll be able to reward yourself with great food after hiking!
Actually, all food is good
Speaking of food, you’ll be glad to know that during your Patagonia trip you are likely to have some really good food. Whether you opt for the typical asado (mixed grill) or go for the local trucha (trout), the ever-present milanesa (breaded and fried meat) or the home made pasta or lamb ravioli; you can rest assured that you’ll be having delicious food throughout.
Argentina and Chile are both famous for their wine, but while this will be ever present on any good restaurant menu, Patagonia is not a wine producing region. What abounds locally, however, is beer. In recent year microbreweries have been springing pretty much anywhere, and you’ll be able to reward yourself with a good pint of craft beer after any hike. El Chalten has a lot of small breweries (which is surprising for such a small village). In Ushuaia, head to The Birra and opt for a good pint of Beagle.
Argentina and Chile are the safest countries in South America, and Patagonia is by far the safest region. You can travel to Patagonia safely, even by yourself. Chances are you’ll be meeting lots of other like minded travelers, and enjoy a chat or two with the very friendly locals.
Yes, you do need a good travel insurance
Regardless of how safe Patagonia is, of how fit you are for hiking, make sure to get yourself a good insurance before traveling to Patagonia. Some parts of it are truly remote, and in the unlucky event that something happens to you, you may have to be evacuated and this is very expensive. Get a quote for a good travel insurance here.
Hiking in Patagonia is as good as it gets. The quality and variety of the trails; the unique wildlife; the clean air and – most importantly – the incredible views throughout make it a must for anybody who enjoys being in the nature. There is little doubt that this is one of the ultimate things to do in Argentina.
Patagonia is huge. It spans between the southern regions of Chile and Argentina, where it comprises the provinces of Chubut, Neuquén, Río Negro, Tierra del Fuego and Santa Cruz. This is to say – it takes a good amount of time and effort to get to know it all, and I am by no means done with it, despite having been there multiple times.
In this post, I select my favorite hikes in Patagonia, dividing them according to the closest access point and sharing a few tips to help you make the most of it. Please keep in mind that this list of hiking trails in Patagonia is by no means exhaustive!
Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most fun hikes in Patagonia
15 Fantastic Trails For Hiking In Patagonia
Hiking in El Calafate
El Calafate is one of the best places to go hiking in Patagonia, since it is very well connected to the rest of Argentina both via plane and bus.
This small town in the province of Santa Cruz is the best access point to Argentina’s lakes region. Most people go there to visit Los Glaciares National Park, but remain positively surprised by how many more things to do there are. The good news for hiking lovers is that there are some interesting hikes in this part of Patagonia.
Overall walking distance: varied, depending on whether you go on a big trek or mini trek
Overall walking time: between 1 and a half hours and 8 hours
Difficulty level: easy
The classic tours of Perito Moreno Glacier involve walking along the various view points and, at most, a boat ride on Lake Argentino to see the glacier in all its glory. A more fun way of experiencing Perito Moreno, however, is going on an ice trek. As far as hiking in Patagonia goes, this is by far one of the most unique experiences.
Hiking expeditions usually start from the southern banks of the lake, with a boat ride to a base camp where you’ll meet local guides who, after a short walk through the forest, will stop right by the moraine and help you to gear up for the trek, for which you have to wear crampons and gloves.
There are two different itineraries – a longer one, that takes up to 8 hours; and a short one that takes around one hour and a half. The latter one is actually very easy, slow paced and with very little ascent, yet a great way to get to know more about the glacier.
These are some of the best guided tours of Perito Moreno that also include an ice trek:
One of the nicest Patagonia treks departs from Estancia Cristina
Upsala Glacier viewpoint and Cañadón de los Fósiles
Overall walking distance: 14 km
Overall walking time: 5 hours, including breaks
Difficulty level: easy
One of the nicest day trips from El Calafate is to Estancia Cristina, a beautiful farm located on the shores of Lake Argentino, in Los Glaciares National Park. Though most people who go to Estancia Cristina end up spending the day horse riding or, at most, on a 4×4 to explore the surroundings, this area is home to one of the nicest Patagonia trekking.
The hike that departs from Estancia Cristina goes to a viewpoint to admire Lake Guillermo, the eastern front of Upsala Glacier and the South Patagonian Continental Ice Field. From there, it goes down to the Cañadón de los Fósiles for a 14 km trek, during which you’ll have a chance to admire beautiful marine fossils.
It’s a fairly easy hike – the main challenge is represented by the strong wind that regularly blows in this part of the country. It takes between 4 to 5 hours to complete the hike, including a break for lunch.
These are some excellent guided tours to Estancia Cristina that include the hike to Cañadón de los Fósiles:
It’s easy to see why El Chalten is thought to be Patagonia hiking capital
Hiking in El Chalten
Of all the places to go hiking in Patagonia, El Chalten is my favorite. Chances are that, if you visit, it will become yours too. What I love about it is that such a tiny village has direct and free access to an infinity of great trails. All you have to do to go hiking in El Chalten is walking out your door – that’s how accessible the trails are. And when you are done hiking, the village has plenty of breweries, restaurants and bars to refuel your energy.
Most of the Patagonia treks that you can access from El Chalten can be done in a day. However, if you are keen on staying completely immersed in the nature, you can combine two or more trails (ie the trail to Laguna Torre and the trail to Laguna de Los Tres) to go on a multi-day hiking trip. In this case, you have to be fully equipped with camping gear and food for the duration of the hike.
Here are some excellent hikes that can be easily accessed from El Chalten.
Overall walking distance: 2 km
Overall walking time: 1 hour
Difficulty level: easy
Hiking in Patagonia doesn’t have to mean spending a full day on the trail. This short and sweet hike is actually very rewarding. It starts in El Chalten and, with a gradual but steady ascent, takes you to a lookout point from where you can admire the mountains with the backdrop of Lake Viedma.
The best time of day to do it is sunrise, when (provided the skies are clear) you’ll get that perfect pink glow over the peaks of Patagonia. The good news is that you don’t have to wake up too early for it, as it’s truly a short walk. You go back the same way you walked in.
The trek to Laguna Torre is one of the nicest ones in Patagonia
Overall walking distance: between 19 and 24 km, depending on whether you walk to Mirador Maestri or not
Overall walking time: between 5 and 7 hours.
Difficulty level: moderate
If you go hiking in Patagonia, you simply can’t skip the hike to Laguna Torre. This moderate trek takes you to the base of Cerro Torre, for spectacular views of one of the most beautiful peaks in the world.
The trail starts at the northern side of El Chalten, and after a steep 2 km it becomes more moderate, taking you through beautiful meadows with uninterrupted views of Cerro Torre. Once you get to the lagoon, you have the option to continue walking to Mirador Maestri. This is the only difficult part of the trail, but it’s completely worth the challenge for breathtaking glacier and mountain views.
When it comes to hiking in Patagonia, nothing beats Laguna de Los Tres
Laguna de Los Tres
Overall walking distance: between 24 and 26 km, depending on where you start
Overall walking time: 8 hours
Difficulty level: moderate to hard
Patagonia trekking reaches perfection on the trail to Laguna de Los Tres. I’d dare say that, of all the hikes in Patagonia, this is the most rewarding one in terms of views: you’ll get a first peak of the mighty Cerro Fitz Roy from Mirador Piedras Blancas; gorgeous views from Laguna Capri; and you take a short detour to go to Chorrillo del Salto, a lovely waterfall at km 5 of the trail.
You can start hiking either on the northern side of El Chalten, or at El Pilar. The trail is easy for the most part, but around 1 km after Campamento Poincenot, a sign warns you that you should only continue hiking if you are really fit. The trail that goes to Laguna de Los Tres is seriously challenging – a one km uphill walk with a steady 40% incline on uneven rocks.
One of the lesser known hiking trails in Patagonia is the Huemul Circuit. Chances are that the fact that it’s really challenging keep the crowds away. This is the kind of hike where you’ll have to cross rivers and climb to Paso del Viento and Paso Huemul to be rewarded with incredible views of of Viedma Lake and Viedma Glacier – it’s one of the few hikes in Patagonia where you get to see the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.
You have to walk back to El Chalten following the same trail.
Contrary to most of the hiking in Patagonia, this one can’t be done independently (and by all means don’t do it solo). You are better off hiring a local guide that knows how to navigate the trail and which will have all the necessary equipment to move around.
There are many incredible hikes near Ushuaia. This is Laguna Esmeralda.
Hiking in Ushuaia
Most people travel to Ushuaia to go on a Beagle Channel cruise and admire the local wildlife; they go on a classic tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park and they use it as a base to depart for their Antartica cruise.
Hiking junkies will be thrilled to know that Ushuaia is home to some of the best hiking in Patagonia, with trails that, though moderate, are incredibly rewarding. Besides, there is something special in hiking at the “Fin del Mundo” (end of the world).
The following is a selection of my favorites hikes in Patagonia that can be accessed from Ushuaia.
The hike to Laguna Esmeralda is one of the easiest in Patagonia, yet incredibly fun and very rewarding. It takes you to a beautiful, emerald lagoon at the base of Glacier Albino.
The starting point of the hike to Laguna Esmeralda is in Valle de Los Lobos, at about 17 Km east of Ushuaia, along Ruta 3. You can easily reach it via a public shuttle that departs regularly from Ushuaia. From there you’ll be walking through a beautiful lenga forest; and you’ll have a chance to observe the massive beaver dams and will enjoy gorgeous mountain views throughout.
While hiking in Patagonia mostly tends to be challenging, the walk to Laguna Esmeralda is hardly difficult. As it rains a lot in Tierra del Fuego, the only thing you have to watch out for is mud, which makes the trail slippery, and the massive peat moss you’ll have to cross to get to the lagoon. Make sure to keep it moving, or else you risk finding yourself blocked up to your knees in the moss!
The hike to Laguna Esmeralda can be done independently, for the trail is easy to follow and there are no major challenges. However, if you’d rather join a group, several excursions depart from Ushuaia. This is a selection of the best ones:
Literally on the other side of the trail that goes to Laguna Esmeralda, there is the trail that takes to Laguna Turquesa. This is one of the lesser known hiking trails in Patagonia, yet incredibly rewarding.
The initial part of the trail is quite steep, and goes through the beautiful lenga forest. After that, it opens into a gorgeous green valley that leads to one of the most impressive, clear lakes you’ll get to see. You can actually take a detour and climb up a steep slope from where you’ll enjoy incredible views of Laguna Turquesa and you’ll be able to see all the way across to Laguna Esmeralda and the Carbajal valley.
You walk back along the same trail.
One of the lesser known hikes in Patagonia is the one to Río Larsifashaj waterfall
Río Larsifashaj waterfall
Overall walking distance: 5 km
Overall walking time: 2 hours
Difficulty level: easy
One of the nicest, easiest and lesser known hikes in Patagonia is that to Río Larsifashaj waterfall. This nice walk has very little incline and takes an overall 2 hour, during which you will be walking through the fields and forests that are Estancia Haberton private land, along a river and to an incredibly scenic waterfall.
The starting point of this trail is practically hidden, and the trail is on private land. This means that you won’t really meet other people while walking, but you will also need special permission from Estancia Haberton to trespass their territory. The only company in Ushuaia that has an agreement to cross this part of the estancia is Tierra Turismo. It’s worth every penny!
Overall walking distance: 8 km
Overall walking time: 3 to 4 hours, depending on the number of stops.
Difficulty level: easy
Among the best hikes in Patagonia there are some that are located inside Tierra del Fuego National Park. Senda Costera (coastal trail) can be accessed at Ensenada Zaratiegui and goes all the way to Acigami Lake.
Throughout the hike, you get to see the incredible views of the national park, the surrounding mountains reflecting in the lake, and even some conchales, piles of seashells left by the Yámana, the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego, and which have high archeological value. If you are lucky, you may even get to see some wildlife, including red foxes and wood peckers.
The trail ends by a restaurant where you’ll find buses going back to Ushuaia at regular times.
Patagonia trekking often means walking on peat moss. This is on the way to Laguna Esmeralda
Senda del Torbal
Overall walking distance: 2 km
Overall walking time: 1 hour
Difficulty level: very easy
If you are up for hiking in Patagonia but want a very easy trail, then head to Tierra del Fuego and walk the Senda del Torbal trail. It takes an overall hour to go through the peat bogs and you’ll have beautiful views throughout. , in the national park, is an easy trail of about 1 km that goes through the peat bogs.
Overall walking distance: 8 km
Overall walking time: 4 hours
Difficulty level: moderate to hard
This Patagonia trek is one of the hardest ones inside Tierra del Fuego National Park, for it is a steady uphill walk. You will be walking for 4 km to get to an incredible viewpoint from where you will be able to admire the surrounding mountains and the peat bogs that are so common in Tierra del Fuego.
The main access point is from Senda Hito XXIV, another trail that goes along Acigami Lake until the border with Chile. You walk back along the same trail.
Beautiful views when hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Overall walking distance: 13 km
Overall walking time: 6 to 7 hours
Difficulty level: moderate
Patagonia hiking often means having the chance to admire mighty glaciers. The hike to Glacier Vinciguerra is one of those, and the views make it one of the best Patagonia treks.
The trail, which is free to access, starts in Barrio Andorra, at the north eastern side of Ushuaia, and goes through the peat moss and through a forest and through a valley until you reach the glacier.
You walk back along the same trail.
If you are keen on walking on the glacier you can even join a guided tour, so that you will have the crampons and other necessary equipment. These are some good tours:
One of the most popular hikes in Patagonia, near Ushuaia, is that to Martial Glacier. The reason is that it is fairly easy to access, as the trail starts at a fairly straightforward 40 minutes walk from the center of Ushuaia (you can also go there by taxi or bus).
The hike is fairly steep, with a steady ascent, but once you get to the top, you will have incredible views of the city, the surrounding mountains and even Beagle Channel.
You can walk back on the same trail or follow an alternate one that takes you to a nice café where you can get a steaming hot cup of coffee before heading back to town.
One can’t say to have been hiking in Patagonia without going to Torres del Paine
Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
You can’t really say you have been hiking in Patagonia if you haven’t been to Torres del Paine National Park. This is one of the most popular places to visit in Chile, and for a good reason: it’s simply magnificent.
Unfortunately, my experience in Torres del Paine is very limited as I have only done a day hike there. This means that I will have to go again for more (something I am always keen on doing). Having said so, the day hike I did in Torres del Paine easily qualifies and one of the nicest Patagonia treks I have been on.
Torres del Paine Mirador Las Torres
Overall walking distance: 18 km
Overall walking time: 9 hours
Difficulty level: hard
When it comes to Patagonia trekking in Chile, the hike to Mirador las Torres is the most popular one. The trail goes to a lookout point from where you get an incredible views of the Torres – the famous peaks that tower over an incredibly turquoise lake just below.
This day hike is one of the hardest hikes in Patagonia. First of all it is mostly uphill, and chances are you’ll have to battle the strong Patagonian winds as you walk along. Having said so, you’ll get spectacular views of waterfalls, forests and mountains throughout, so your efforts will be paid off! Beware that the last part of the hike is very steep.
For an even better experience, I recommend to spend the night at the nearby refugio and to start this Patagonia trek while it’s still dark outside, so that you get to the viewpoint in time for sunrise and get to see Las Torres beaming in red.
Guided Patagonia hiking trips may be a good option
If you can hardly be bothered to organize your trip, or if you are short on time but want to make the most of your time in Patagonia, you may want to considered a guided Patagonia hiking tour. This way, you’ll have someone else taking care of all the logistics, and you’ll have an experienced guide help you navigate the trails.
There are several excellent options around, and they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg to guarantee an incredible experience.
These are some of the best guided group Patagonia hiking tours:
Patagonia Hiking:the name is rather self explanatory. This is the best tour around for hiking junkies. It lasts 9 days and among other places, it stops in El Calafate and El Chalten.
Argentina Multisport: not just Patagonia trekking! This is the perfect option if you are keen on hiking, rafting and cycling in Patagonia.
Hike Patagonia In Depth: if multi-day hikes are your thing and you like the idea of camping, then this Patagonia hiking tour is the one for you.
Best of Patagonia:a bit more classing, this 13 days tour goes to all of Patagonia’s landmarks.
You can expect rain on any given day when hiking in Patagonia
The Best Time To Go Hiking In Patagonia
The first thing you should keep in mind if you plan to go hiking in Patagonia is that it is huge, and the weather varies greatly from place to place. In general, the best time to go is between the beginning of November and April, when the days are long and the temperatures milder. The warmest months are February and March.
However, keep in mind that the weather in Patagonia is as unpredictable as it gets, and you may get rain, wind and even snow on any given day. The sudden weather changes may have a strong impact on your Patagonia hiking trip. Make sure to check the weather broadcast and the winds before setting out to hike. The WindGuru is an excellent website to do so.
Tierra del Fuego is especially cold even in the summer, with temperatures averaging 8 degrees (though a few weeks before I visited a major heat wave hit it, and it was as hot as 22!).
Getting To Patagonia
The majority of people that are traveling to Patagonia will either fly to Santiago, in Chile, or to Buenos Aires, in Argentina, and from there connect to one of the main access point to go hiking in Patagonia.
From Santiago, your best bet will be to then catch a flight to Punta Arenas. From Buenos Aires, you can opt to fly to Bariloche, El Calafate (from where you can easily reach El Chalten and even Torres del Paine National Park) or Ushuaia. There are direct flights from El Calafate to Ushuaia.
Getting Around Patagonia
The best way to cover shorter distances in Patagonia is by bus. Both Argentina and Chile have a very good web of buses connecting the main hiking hubs, with comfortable vehicles connecting El Calafate to El Chalten, or Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. It’s better to book your trip in advance.
Though Torres del Paine is at less than 3 hours drive from El Calafate, there are no direct buses connecting the two (unless you opt for a guided tour). You will have to take a bus to Puerto Natales and from there a connecting one to Torres del Paine on the same day.
Hiking in Patagonia can be costly – but it’s worth it!
Other Useful Information For Hiking In Patagonia
The costs of hiking in Patagonia
Hiking in Patagonia isn’t expensive per se. In fact, the vast majority of the trails can be accessed freely: you only have to pay to get into Los Glaciares National Park, where you hike Perito Moreno; and Tierra del Fuego National Park.
What makes a Patagonia hiking trip expensive are all the incidental costs such as transportation, accommodation, food and any the equipment you may need to buy.
You can try to cut the costs down by staying in camping sites instead of hotels or hostels – there are some near every major hiking hub; and buying your own food at grocery stores rather than eating out all the time. The camping sites on the way to Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Torre, near El Chalten, are free – though keep in mind that it’s nothing more than a safe, protected area to pitch a tent and there are no toilets, showers and any other basic services. You also have to booking a space in advance.
People that live in Patagonia swear by their water, saying it is absolutely safe to drink directly from the source. The National Park Service in Patagonia puts a lot of effort in educating visitors on how to keep the streams clean and in safe for everyone to drink from, and to prevent contamination.
The good news, if you are planning a long Patagonia trek, is that you don’t have to carry liters of water on your back but you can refill at the stream any time you need. I still recommend using your judgement before refilling your bottle, especially if there is live stock roaming in the area. Bringing a water bottle with a filter or some chlorine dioxide tablets may be a good idea.
Toilets and garbage disposal
Patagonia is pristine and it’d be great if it continued being this way. You won’t find any garbage bins along the trails, so you’ll have to carry a small bag to put all your garbage and dispose of it once you go back to town.
Real toilets are scarce when hiking in Patagonia. You will find the occasional hole in the ground kind of toilet but, for the most part, you’ll have to do with going behind the bushes. Make sure to to throw your toilet paper in a bag and bring it back to town with you.
Dogs and other pets are not allowed in national parks in Chile and Argentina. Before you plan your Patagonia trek, make sure to double check whether the trail you are setting to hike is part of a national park or not. Dogs on leash are welcome on trails that are not in national parks.
Make sure to be properly geared for your Patagonia hiking trip
What to pack when hiking in Patagonia
I won’t ever stress the importance for being properly geared up for a hiking trip. The same obviously goes for a Patagonia hiking trip. Whether you are planning to only do day hikes or to be out in the nature for a few days on a row, make sure to pack smartly, carrying everything you need to be comfortable, safe and warm while at the same time not to have to carry too much weight on your shoulders.
The basics for a good Patagonia trek include:
An excellent backpack that distributes the weight you carry across shoulder and hips. I normally use the Osprey Tempest 40 liters.
I wholeheartedly recommend that you get a good travel insurance before your Patagonia hiking trip. A lot of locations where you will be hiking are remote, and if something goes wrong, you’ll need to be evacuated – and that is really expensive. You can get a quote for a good travel insurance here.
Hiking to Laguna Torre is, quite simply, a must when in Patagonia.
The hike to Laguna Torre is one of the best in Patagonia and can be easily enjoyed when visiting El Chalten, Argentina’s trekking capital. If you plan to visit Argentina, Patagonia should be in your itinerary and you should include the hike to Laguna Torre among your activities.
The hike to Laguna Torre is a moderate one, with little ascent and gorgeous scenery along the way. It goes to a beautiful glacier-fed lake that sits at the base of Cerro Torre. Much like the hike that goes to Laguna de Los Tres, at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy, it is a must for nature and mountain lovers visiting this part of Argentina.
In this post, I highlight everything you should know to prepare for your hike to Laguna Torre and make the most of it, by sharing a lot of tips and useful information. Before getting to the juicy bits, however, I’d like to share some background information about Cerro Torre.
The gorgeous views of Cerro Torre from Laguna Torre
Some Background Information On Cerro Torre
Cerro Torre, at the base of which you’ll find Laguna Torre, is hardly the highest mountain in the world (it only reaches 3128 meters), but it easily qualifies as one of the most beautiful ones; not to mention, one of the most difficult ones to conquer with its almost completely vertical walls.
The mountain is located at the border between Chile and Argentina, and it wasn’t until 1959 that Italian mountaineer Cesare Maestri finally managed to conquer its peak – though this conquest was highly controversial and there were allegations that he had hoaxed the news.
Nowadays, much like the rest of Patagonia, Cerro Torre is thought to be a climbers paradise. However, some recent incidents that caused the death of a few climbers are a reminder of how unpredictably dangerous this and the neighboring peaks can be.
The good news is that, although climbing Cerro Torre can be a real challenge, it is possible to hike all the way to its base to admire it in all its beauty from Laguna Torre.
The beautiful views on the way to Laguna Torre
Hiking To Laguna Torre
There is little doubt that hiking is one of the main reasons to visit Patagonia, and that the trail that goes to Laguna Torre has all it takes to be one of the best hikes in the region: incredible views throughout the way; a moderate but steady ascent; a final push to reach the best viewpoint.
There are two starting points for the trail to Laguna Torre, both of them right at the back entrance of El Chalten. After about 10 minutes walk they converge into a single trail, which is very well marked and easy to follow, and you’ll hardly need a map (though you can pick one at your hotel or at the information center).
The initial part of the trail is a 2 km rather steep ascent. After that, you will get to the first viewpoint right by Cascada Margarida. That’s when you’ll get a first great view of Cerro Torre in the distance. On a clear day, the views are simply magnificent.
Once you pass Cascada Margarida, the ascent is little and the hike becomes much easier.
It takes another hour and a half to get to Laguna Torre. As you walk there, you will have Rio Fitz Roy roaring on your left, its water cloudy from the sediments it carries from Laguna Torre and its glacier.
As you reach the lake, the views of Cerro Torre and the glacier are incredible. You can opt to stop here, or, if you want even better views, venture along the trail that leads to Mirador Maestri. This is the hardest part of the hike, with a trail that is narrow and with steep drop on one side; on very rocky, uneven terrain. Adding to the challenge there’s the fact that this part of the trail can be difficult to follow for lack of clear signs. Having said so, when you actually make it to Mirador Maestri the views of the glacier are simply incredible.
You will have to hike back to El Chalten along the same trail.
The views from Mirador Maestri is nothing short of amazing
The sights on the way to Laguna Torre are splendid, and you’ll almost constantly have Cerro Torre in full view on a clear day.
Once you get to the actual lake, the view is impressive. The lake isn’t blue like that of Laguna de Los Tres, but the glacier is stunning and if you pay attention you will hear it cracking, much like it happens to Perito Moreno Glacier.
The lagoon is a perfect lunch spot, but if you want a real treat, push yourself all the way to Mirador Maestri, where you can sit and rest for a while in awe of the magnificent glacier.
Once you get at Laguna Torre, you’ll enjoy a wonderful view
What to expect when hiking to Laguna Torre
As for all trails in Patagonia, the one that goes to Laguna Torre is very well marked and easy to follow and the terrain good for the most part.
The only difficult part is the initial 2 km ascent and the final ascent to Mirador Maestri, which is on very uneven terrain. Only venture on that final bit of the trail if you are confident with your step, because it is very easy to lose your balance on the often moving rocks.
The way back to El Chalten is on the same trail. It takes pretty much the same amount of time to walk back down to the village.
TIP: The one to Laguna Torre is one of the most popular hikes in Patagonia and chances are that you will meet quite a few people along the way and at the lagoon. However, you won’t ever feel it is a crowded trail – especially if you start nice and early.
TIP: If you visit Patagonia in the summer months, you’ll be relieved to find out that days are very long and you have plenty of time to hike to Laguna Torre and back. Having said so, I recommend an early start (8:30 am is perfect timing!) so that you can avoid the largest crowds and that you can plan a longer break to admire the views once you get to the lake.
The view of Cerro Torre during the hike
Fact checking for your hike to Laguna Torre
Like all other hiking trails in Patagonia, the one to Laguna Torre is free to access.
Overall walking distance: 10.6 km to the base of Laguna Torre one way, to which you can add the little over 1 km to the Mirador Maestri, one way. The overall length is thus between 21 and 24 km, there and back.
Overall walking time: between 6 and 7 hours, depending on the amount of stops and on whether you also hike to Mirador Maestri.
Food and drinks: You should carry enough food and water for the duration your hike to Laguna Torre. You can refill your water bottle at the river – water is supposedly safe to drink but carry a water filter just in case.
Camping: Not far from the lake, the De Agostini campsite is a good place to camp overnight if you like the idea of waking up early to see the sunrise over the peaks – but keep in mind nights can be very chilly and though the camping does provide some shelter against the wind, this is very strong! Make sure to be properly equipped.
Toilets: There are no toilets along the trail to Laguna Torre. At about half way you will see a sign that points to a toilet, but it’s just a well hidden bush where everyone goes with no real toilet facilities. Make sure not to leave any toilet paper behind you.
Garbage disposal: there are no garbage bins on the way to Laguna Torre and – in fact – on any of the trails in Patagonia. The trails and the surrounding areas are, however, pristine. Make sure to take a small garbage bag to dispose of your trash and bring it back with you to El Chalten, where you can dispose of it appropriately.
Practical Information For Your Hike To Laguna Torre
Hiking to Laguna Torre independently
The hike to Laguna Torre can definitely be done independently. The trail is easy to follow with no major challenge. By all means, however, I do not advise you to hike alone, as there is no phone signal at all along the trail, should you run into an emergency.
Guided hiking tours of Patagonia that include hikes to Laguna Torre
If you aren’t a master of organization and are short on time, you may want to leave the organization bits to the experts and just book a good multi-day guided group tour to Patagonia that includes accommodation, transportation and all activities, and which will ensure you have a guide to help you navigate the trails.
These are some of the best tours available that include hikes to Laguna Torre:
Patagonia Hiking:this is the perfect tour for active travelers who love nature. It lasts 9 days and has stops at El Calafate and at El Chalten, to hike Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
Argentina Multisport: the best tour for adventure lovers, as it includes rafting, cycling, and trekking around El Chalten.
Hike Patagonia In Depth: the best option for those who want to get as close as possible to the mountains, with some nights of camping. No better way to experience Patagonia.
Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego:a great hiking tour that also goes to the end of the world, between Argentina and Chile. You’ll be hiking Perito Moreno, Laguna Torre and even Laguna Esmeralda.
Make sure to be properly geared for your hike to Laguna Torre
The best time to hike to Laguna Torre
The best time to hike in Patagonia is in the late spring and summer months, between October and April. However, please be advised that the weather is very unpredictable in this part of the world, and be prepared for wind, rain and even snow at any time. I was actually very lucky and enjoyed sunny, warm weather when I visited in mid February. If you are not on a tight schedule, plan to spend a few days in El Chalten so that you can wait for the perfect day to hike to Laguna Torre.
Essential items to wear and carry on a hike to Laguna Torre
You have to be properly equipped when hiking to Laguna Torre – much like you have to be for any other hike, anywhere in the world. I won’t ever tire of stressing the importance of a good pair of hiking boots that hold your ankle and keep your feet dry (I had to abandon mine in Ushuaia after a very muddy and wet hike to Laguna Esmeralda, when I realized they were not waterproof anymore).
The first thing you need to consider when gearing up to hike to Laguna Torre is that the weather in Patagonia can change dramatically at any given minute. It may well be sunny as you walk out the door, but the wind may start blowing any time and it may start raining (and at times even snowing!). This is to say: you have to be prepared for sudden weather changes.
The list of recommended items to wear and carry for your hike to Laguna Torre is based on my experience.
Here’s a list of basics for the day:
A good pair ofhiking boots, preferably with excellent ankle support and waterproof.
The hike to Laguna Torre is one of the best in Patagonia
Other Useful Information
How to get to El Chalten
El Chalten is the nearest place to reach Laguna Torre. The nearest airport to El Chalten is that of El Calafate. There are direct flights to El Calafate from Buenos Aires and Ushuaia with Aerolinas Argentina. From El Calafate, it is a 3 hours bus ride with gorgeous views of the mountains.
El Chalten is well connected to El Calafate by bus. Rides depart at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm from the terminal on Julio Argentino Roca. During peak season, there is an additional bus departing El Calafate at 1:00 pm. The best companies are Chalten Travel and Caltur. The ride costs around $20 USD one way.
If you’d rather travel independently, you can rent a car directly at El Calafate airport. Check out the prices of car rental here.Keep in mind that the only service station is at La Leona. There you can have a quick bite (though the food is terrible) and use the washrooms.
ATMs in El Chalten
Withdrawing money during peak season can be an issue in El Chalten. Indeed, there are only two ATMs located at the entrance of the village, by the bus terminal, and they regularly run out of cash. Lots of businesses do not accept credit cards. The best option is to make sure to withdraw cash in El Calafate after having carefully revised your budget!
Where to stay and eat in El Chalten
El Chalten has some very good accommodation options and a handful of good restaurants and breweries. Most places close between April and the beginning of October.
These are some of the best places to stay in El Chalten:
Almost all restaurants, bars and pubs in El Chalten observe some sort of happy hour and get very busy between 5:00 and 8:00 pm when most people come back from their hikes. These are the best places to eat in town:
Maffìa is a plain eatery that still makes home made pasta. Sauces are not the way we make them in Italy, but good enough. Prices are fair.
Ahonikenk makes some of the Argentine staples, including a good Milanesa. Portions are huge and prices fair.
Curcuma is one of the few options for vegans.
La Vineria has a great selection of draft beers and wines.
Cerveceria Artesanal is the best pub in El Chalten.
Mathilda is a cozy café serving salads, sandwiches and lots of good drinks.
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