Day 1: El Calafate, Argentina
Our Patagonia adventure begins on arrival in El Calafate, where we meet our Expedition Leader and fellow travelers at a welcome dinner this evening.
Day 2: La Leona Petrified Forest / El Chalten
Today, we cross the broad expanse of Patagonian steppe that sprawls beyond El Calafate. Along our drive, we admire magnificent views of Lago Argentino, cross several river valleys, and drink in the panorama of the Southern Andes and Mount Fitz Roy. A hike through La Leona Petrified Forest reveals fossilized remnants of a warm, humid prehistoric Patagonia as we observe enormous tree trunks that date back millions of years, heaps of fossilized broken bones, and occasionally whole leg bones of large reptiles, some of which are still being identified. Wind and water erosion occur rapidly, so each season brings new surprises. Continuing to El Chalten, we make our base in the small alpine-style town that is the hub of Patagonia adventure travel.
Day 3: El Chalten—Mount Fitz Roy Vista Hike
Heading north of El Chalten, we embark on a scenic hike through the Magellanic forest. A gentle, rolling trail rewards our efforts with stunning views of glaciers and the Fitz Roy massif’s magnificent spires. Walking above the Rio Blanco, we hike toward the Mirador Piedras Blancas, where we listen for the groaning glaciers grinding down the bedrock of the mountains. After savoring our final viewpoint, we retrace our steps down the trail, enjoying the mountain vistas along the way. After a brief respite at our hotel in El Chalten, we enjoy a delicious dinner at one of the modest, hospitable restaurants that abound in this charming town.
Day 4: Lago del Desierto / El Calafate
We depart from El Chalten and enjoy a scenic drive through Los Glaciares National Park, a protected area created in 1937 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. After passing through the forest along Rio de las Vueltas, we reach Lago del Desierto, a brilliant turquoise lake overlooking glaciers, waterfalls and the Fitz Roy and Torre mountains. Aboard our excursion boat, we absorb views of Huemul and Creston glaciers as we cruise across Lago del Desierto to reach Glaciar Vespignani Reserve, where we disembark and begin a short hike. Our destination is the base of Vespignani Glacier, which is one of 48 outlet glaciers that flow down from the nearly 6,500-square-mile mass of ice known as the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. We marvel at the scale of the glacier and imposing north face of Mount Fitz Roy towering in the distance before we hike back down, then drive back to El Calafate for a late dinner and another stay at the Hotel Kosten Aike.
Day 5: Lago Argentino—Perito Moreno Glacier
This morning, we enjoy birdwatching on Patagonia’s largest freshwater lake, which is fed by the glacial meltwater of several rivers. More than 40 migratory bird species frequent Lago Argentino, including black-necked swans, flamingos and silvery grebes. Our next destination is among Patagonia’s most famous natural wonders: Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few advancing glaciers on the planet. Nearly 200 feet high, it winds down from the perpetual snowfields of the Andes to its terminus in Lago Argentino, where it crowds the water with enormous floating rafts of ice that calve from its massive face. Some light hiking in the area offers us varied vantage points of the glacier and icebergs.
Day 6: Upsala Glacier Cruise/Estancia Cristina
A catamaran cruise across Lago Argentino brings us to the dramatic Upsala Glacier that fills a large valley with an imposing blue face nearly five miles across. Unlike Perito Moreno, this glacier is retreating rapidly, leaving a jagged puzzle of ice floes in its wake. We disembark at Estancia Cristina, an early 20th-century sheep farm where the traditional gaucho way of life once prevailed. After a classic lunch of lamb roasted on a spit, we board 4-wheel-drive vehicles to reach a lookout with stupendous views of the surrounding peaks and Lago Argentino far below.
Day 7: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Driving across pampas and steppe, we enter Chile and Torres del Paine National Park. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the park is home to a host of wildlife including pumas and guanacos. A remarkable array of birds live here, too: we may see eagles, hawks, lesser rheas, buzzards and South American condors returned from the brink of extinction. Dominating the horizon are the famous "horns and towers of Paine," igneous rock spires millions of years old.
We stay at famed EcoCamp Patagonia, offering low-impact luxury accommodations in the wilderness. Our domed suites are modeled on traditional Kawesqa
native huts, blending artfully with the wild landscape. Warm and wind-resistant, these nomad-style dwellings afford superlative views and a complete immersion in nature. There are plenty of hours ahead to drink in this stunning landscape,
since the sun sets around 11 pm at the height of the southern summer. Enjoy magical evening light by which to admire the furry guanacos grazing on the steppe and the mythical-looking peaks on the horizon, bathed in rosy alpenglow.
Day 8: Torres del Paine—Salto Grande
Our day begins early with a drive to the southern part of Torres del Paine National Park, watching overhead for Andean condors and eagles hunting hares and small rodents. As we traverse the park, we'll stop at an array of famous viewpoints, surveying the snow-clad massif of Paine Grande, highest in the range, and Los Cuernos, famed for its dark granite horn-like spires. On a calm day, brilliant blue Lake Pehoe reflects the serrated peaks like a mirror. We follow its shoreline to Salto Grande Falls, a thunderous cataract that pours into the lake from Lake Nordenskjold above. After a day of extraordinary scenic grandeur, a hearty dinner awaits back at EcoCamp.
Day 9: Torres del Paine—Puma Tracking / Laguna Azul
Travel to the eastern side of the park today to follow the sendero de la fauna—
the animals' trail—so dubbed for the many guanacos often seen along the way. It winds through a favorite puma hunting area where we may see the remains of camelids that the big, tawny cats have preyed upon. "Puma" is the name the Incas gave to this animal also known as a cougar or mountain lion. While they are notoriously elusive, we have been seeing more of these stealthy cats in the past couple of seasons, and we'll hope to further that good luck today on a nature walk through known puma territory. High rock formations flank the path, serving as dwellings and lookout points for the pumas, and our Expedition Leader helps us scout for signs of their presence.
If time permits, we’ll visit a nearby cave with ancient paintings decorating the walls, mostly representing guanacos. Our day continues with a drive to Laguna Azul in the northern part of the park, where on a clear day we can see the iconic Towers of Paine from a completely different angle. Before we return to our camp, we stop at Cascada Paine to enjoy one of the most beautiful views on this side of the park.
Day 10: Puerto Natales / Punta Arenas
Our grand Patagonia adventure concludes today in one of the world's southernmost cities, Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan. Along our leisurely drive, we'll stop for lunch and exploring
in Puerto Natales, an attractive town on Ultima Esperanza Sound that serves as a gateway for trips into Chilean Patagonia. The town is backdropped by the Riesco mountain range, the Paine Massif
and the Southern Ice Field glaciers, while in the foreground, black-necked swans and gulls bob on the misty waters of the sound. Once we reach Punta Arenas, we gather for a farewell dinner to celebrate our final night in Patagonia.
Day 11: Punta Arenas / Depart
A transfer to the airport is provided for flights home.
Please Note: This itinerary is meant as a guideline and can change due to the unpredictable nature of the wind and weather in Patagonia. On some occasions, conditions may require us to deviate from our intended itinerary, in which case we will provide the best available alternative. And we'll make a great adventure of it!
Physical Rating: Moderate