So, you’re thinking about going to Patagonia? Well, you’ve come to the right place.
With the sweeping mountain views, glaciers, and crystal blue lakes, this region offers some of the best natural wonders in the world! Pictures simply will not do it justice, which I learned after taking about ten thousand of them… I continuously battled with quantity over quality as my phone space slowly filled up over the six days. When I returned, I sifted and edited my way through the pile until I felt I had the best representation of the incredible landscapes. Overall, I would call this trip one of the best of my life, so if you’re on the fence about going, take my advice and do yourself a favor!
This post will be a little different than my other posts because I want to help answer many of the questions I had before going down. Many different bloggers will say different things but it’s important to keep in mind that you can do Patagonia any way you want! If you want to go hard-core backpacking for ten days without warm water, go for it, but if you want to still enjoy the parks while returning home to a plushy bed every night, you can do that too. There is no one-size-fits-all experience, just like any other travel destination in the world.
*For quick access budget chart, see the bottom of this post*
My overall itinerary was as follows;
Feb 21st: Fly from Buenos Aires to El, Calafate Argentina.
Feb 22nd: Catch 7am bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales, Chile
Check into hostel, rest for the evening.
Feb 23rd: Take 7am bus to Torres del Plaine Park and hike to the base of the towers (8 hours)
Take same bus home back into town.
Feb 24th: Do full-day bus tour around national park.
Feb 25th: Hike Grey Glacier (8 hours)
Feb 26th: Take 7am bus back to El Calafate
Check into hostel and do half-day excursion.
Feb 27th: See Perito Moreno Glacier
Feb 28th: Fly back to Rio
So, a few notes about my itinerary. We electively chose to fly in and out of El Calafate because domestic flights within Argentina are dramatically cheaper then international ones. Since we were coming from Buenos Aires already, this was the more economical option for us. Taking the 6 hour bus ride to and from Puerto Natales took some time, but it was also a nice way to see more of the region. For the bus, there is very little information online about it but there are many companies that do daily rides to and from. We booked round trip right away and saved 100 Argentine Pesos in the process, so I highly recommend doing that. We went with the company Cootra, and were able to pay by card. If instead you want to primarily focus your time in Torres del Plaine, fly directly into Puerto Natales, Chile. You will save time and energy once you have landed.
One thing that was really helpful when we arrived in Chile was to attend the “3 O’clock Talk” hosted by Eratic Rock. Even though we were not doing the “W” trek, which almost everyone else was doing, we learned lots about the weather, what to bring, how the park operates, and park costs. I highly suggest you seek that out and attend also, trekking or not.
Main takeaways from the session:
-Torres del Plaine Park does not have a search and rescue team. If you get lost, any decision you make could be fatal. Don’t be stupid. Stay on the path! The paths are very clear and well marked, but if you decide to wander off and take a picture of a flower by the creek, you run the risk of losing the path. It’s just not worth it.
-The park holds many natural biomes. The reason so many can live in such a close proximity is because of the wind. Patagonian winds are extreme and you should be prepared for flying water or pebbles from your surroundings.
-Do not wear baggy clothing and do not bring a backpack cover. Waterproof your backpack from the inside using plastic garbage bags, and save yourself from walking with a parachute behind you. In addition to this, be prepared for intense weather changes. Have sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, water gear, and warm layers to help yourself stay comfortable on your journey. You should also designate a “hiking uniform” and a “campsite uniform” with the hiking uniform being durable and protective, and the campsite uniform being warm and comfortable.
-If you’re sleeping in the park, make sure your sleeping bag can go down to -3 degrees C, comfortably. There is a big difference between sleeping through the night and surviving the night. Also, a sleeping pad is a necessity for insulation. For boots, make sure you have something comfortable, with good treads, is semi-waterproof, and has ankle support. Finally, get over your pride and use trekking poles. Not only to they stabilize you in the wind and the water, they allow you to focus less on your feet and more on your gorgeous surroundings.
-Park entrance fee is $21,000 Chilean pesos that lasts three days entering and exiting, or however long you choose to trek within the park (ie 9 day O trek, or 5 day W trek). In order to begin the W from the right, or hike the base of the towers during the day, you will get off at the first bus stop and then need to pay 3,000 Chilean pesos for a short shuttle ride to the trail head. This is one way so if you are doing the day hike, bring 6,000 pesos. For hiking Grey Glacier, or to begin the W from the left side, you will get off at the second bus stop and take a ferry ride across a lake to access the trail head. One way is 18,000 CP and round trip is 28,000 CP. Everything MUST be paid in cash
-Bus rides to the park leave between 7:00 and 7:30am, ask your hostel to book you a round trip from town, or go to the many agencies and pay the 15,000 CP fee.
Food and Waste
-Bring lots of food on the trail, you will get tired, but make sure you can access it easily and eat it on the move. Peanut butter or ham quesadillas, nuts, cereal bars, or chocolate bars (that’s right) are all great options. For overnight trekkers, your requirements are different for dinners and you’ll have to look elsewhere for that info (sorry). Also note that whatever garbage you bring into the park, you are also responsible for bringing out of the park so have a separate space designated for that in your pack.
My personal experience over the three days was really incredible! Our first day we hiked the towers, which was the hardest hike I’ve personally ever done just because the last 45 minutes you are bouldering at a 45 degree angle, but the rest of the path is pretty manageable. I wouldn’t recommend someone with knee problems doing this path because the way down is a continuous descent and by then end, my perfectly healthy knees were feeling it. I would recommend good shoes, a light day pack with a few extra layers, plenty of snacks, and an empty water bottle. The reason I say empty is because the water in all creeks and streams come directly from glaciers, so its some of the freshest water in the world. I recommend filling up that way 🙂
For the full day bus tour, both Sulema and I were relieved to have an easy day to recover, but still be productive. We booked through her hostel and paid $35,000 Chilean pesos, but just as the buses to get into the park, there are many agencies in town that can book a tour for about the same price. Our tour was great, but if I hadn’t had language experience I would have been frustrated because our guide spoke all in Spanish. He knew English, we chatted in between stops, but the bulk of information was all delivered in his native language. Like I said, this personally didn’t bother me, but if you book one of these be adamant about the fact you want an English tour if possible. For this expedition, you don’t need super structured shoes or intense gear, just lunch, a good camera, and some layers.
On our final day we made the fatal mistake of not knowing the round trip price of the ferry to hike Grey, and thus did not bring enough cash. We did however, find some other really beautiful day hikes to do and made friends with a park ranger. By following her lead, we were brought to a beautiful panoramic point that, in my humble opinion, offered the best view of the entire park. See below;
So, if you want to do relaxed day hikes, know that there are plenty super close to each bus stop that don’t require extra transportation to get to!
The town of Puerto Natales is fairly residential, with schools and parks nearby everything. Even though there were tons of hostels in the area, nobody stayed for more than a few days because everyone was either coming from a trek, or going to a trek. During the day, the place was very quiet but had a nice charm to it.
On the bus ride back to Argentina, it rained off and on so when we got out to go through customs a beautiful double rainbow appeared, that’s all.
Once back in Argentina, we checked into the America Del Sur Hostel and I 110% recommend you stay there. For a super reasonable price, you felt a though you were staying in a five start hotel. All rooms hold maximum four people with an ensuite bathroom, a beautiful common space, sweeping mountain views, free breakfast, and an amazing barbeque restaurant downstairs. The staff will happily give you info about the hostel, town, and park, and can help you book a tour, exchange cash, or let you charge a bottle of wine to your room. I felt a little bad because I didn’t really want to leave my hostel for my remaining time in Argentina because it was just that nice there!
After we arrived however, we wanted to be productive and booked a horseback riding tour for the evening. Overall, it was a very nice tour but altogether what you would expect. We were very tired by the end of the night.
For Perito Moreno Glacier, which is the main attraction of the town, we booked a guided tour for 600 Argentine Pesos and paid another 500 pesos to enter the park. Now, unlike Torres del Plaine, you need to pay the 500 entrance every day, it does not allow for more than one entrance. The tour lasted about half a day, but was nice because we got to sleep in and then had an evening of downtime before we left. If you have any sort of physical restrictions, don’t worry. This path is well built and accommodates everybody. There is cell service in the area with full service restaurants and cafes along the way. This is a much more polished version of a natural wonder.
The glacier was actually one of the most surprisingly beautiful parts of my trip. I knew Torres we going to be jaw dropping, but Perito Moreno was this massive three story glacier that had layers and layers of compacted snow with just a thin layer of water underneath, pushing it forward and slowly fissuring the ice into the icy lake. Right when we got on the wooden boardwalk, a huge piece of ice cracked off and fell right before our eyes! The sound was amazing and it caused this beautiful wave to expand throughout the rest of the lake. Once we thought the excitement was over, then another giant piece of ice rose from the depths to surface in front of us too! This piece was the most intense icy blue you’ve ever seen, and because it was from the bottom of the glacier it had a marbling of sediment in it making it almost look like a piece of art. It sounds lame I know, but I almost cried. It just got me into such a reflective mood about how lucky I was to have witnessed such a thing and to have had the opportunity to travel to Patagonia at all. It made for one of the sweetest moments of the trip.
Now, if you want to spend more time in Argentina, don’t worry, you can! Most people that we met in America del Sur were either going to or coming from El Calten, another town just north of Calafate. This town had another famous peak called Mt. Fitz Roy and is supposedly just as incredible as the towers, and just as hard to get to. Like Torres del Plaine, you take a bus to the trail head and do a full day 8 hour hike to the top. Very hard so ive heard, but also very worth it. Since I did not go to Chalten, my detailed information ends there.
I do however, have a final note about another northern Patagonian town called Bariloche. I went here on a previous trip and wrote a blog post separately about it here.
Finally, I know I wrote a lot about money stuff and its confusing, so here’s an easy access chart for your convenience 🙂
Next to read: The Ultimate Three-Day Guide to Bariloche, Argentina