Explore the Best of Southern Chile & Argentina on a Grand Andean Adventure
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: Lago Argentino / El Chalten
This morning, enjoy birdwatching on Patagonia’s largest freshwater lake, 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. Later, we cross the broad expanse of Patagonian steppe that sprawls beyond El Calafate. Along our drive, we admire magnificent views of sparkling Lago Argentino, cross several river valleys, and drink in panoramas of the Southern Andes and Mount Fitz Roy. Continuing to El Chalten, we make our base in the small alpine-style town that is the hub of Patagonia adventure travel.
Day 3: Mt. Fitz Roy Vista Hike
North of El Chalten, we take a scenic hike through the Magellanic subpolar forest—the southernmost forest ecosystem on Earth—emerging to magnificent mountain vistas. A gentle, rolling trail through the beech woodlands rewards our efforts with arresting views of glaciers and the Fitz Roy massif’s evocative spires. Walking above the Rio Blanco, we hike to the Piedras Blancas lookout, offering a panorama over the glacier, with a chance to hear the ice cracking and groaning as it grinds its way down the bedrock at the base of this hanging valley. After savoring a final vantage point, we retrace our steps down the trail, with more exhilarating vistas along the way. Tonight we enjoy dinner out at one of the hospitable restaurants that abound in the charming mountain town of El Chalten.
Day 4: Mirador del Torre / El Calafate
Today we hike from town to one of the most iconic views in Patagonia: the granite towers of Cerro Torre. A rolling trail through the valley rewards us with stunning views of the massif, easily identifiable by its vertical gray spiked peaks. The highest point in the range is more than 10,000 feet, and the distinctive spires are a popular challenge for advanced rock and ice climbers. Cerro Torre itself was not successfully climbed until 1974. The surrounding views of glaciers, snowfields and
pine-studded valleys are equally glorious. We'll picnic with a box lunch along the way, then hike back this afternoon to the town of El Chalten, keeping an eye out for Andean condors that often glide overhead. We continue to El Calafate to have dinner and spend the night.
Day 5: Upsala Glacier Cruise / Estancia Cristina
A catamaran cruise across Lago Argentino brings us to dramatic Upsala Glacier. One of the most famous of the 48 outlet glaciers spilling from the nearly 6,500-square-mile mass of ice known as the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Upsala fills a large valley, terminating in an imposing blue face nearly 5 miles across. The 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 6: Lago Argentino—Perito Moreno Glacier
Today we visit Los Glaciares National Park to view one of Patagonia’s most famous natural attractions: 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. This morning we take a boat ride on the Brazo Rico, the southern arm of Lago Argentino, then disembark for a short hike along a secluded shoreline and through the forest to arrive at a private vantage point on the southern face of Perito Moreno. Reboarding our small vessel, we get a closer look at the glacier’s jagged ice walls, reflecting prisms of blue light. From our landing point on shore, it's a short drive to the official entrance for sightseeing at Perito Moreno, where boardwalks in the area offer varied perspectives on the glacier and icebergs.
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 Torres del Paine—the "horns and towers of Paine"—igneous rock spires millions of years old.
A stay at famed EcoCamp Patagonia offers 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 outstanding views and a complete immersion in nature. There are plenty of hours ahead to drink in this stunning landscape,
since the sun doesn't set till 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—Lake Pehoe & Salto Grande Falls
Our day begins early with a drive to the southern part of Torres del Paine National Park as we watch 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 few seasons, and we 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 glaciers of the Southern Ice Field, 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 Patagonia adventures.
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