4 days in Argentine Patagonia
Updated: Sep 22
Explore one of the few growing glaciers in the world, hike to stunning views of lakes and mountain peaks and take in the local culture of the small Argentine mountain towns.
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Day One: Rio de Hielo
Rio de Hielo is, as it is described in Spanish, a river with icebergs from the glaciers floating throughout it. Take a boat trip with Rio De Hielo Express through the river. Riders have the opportunity to see Spegazzini Glacier and Upsala Glacier as well as magical icebergs and glacial landscapes along the way. The boat ride is an 8-10 hour tour. The ‘All Glaciers’ tour adds an option for a short hike to a viewpoint of Glacier Bay in the Spegazzini refuge for an all-day tour that lasts 10 hours.
Day Two: Perito Moreno Glacier, National Park Los Glaciares
Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers left in the world that is not shrinking. It’s part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the 3rd largest freshwater reserve in the world.
There are many options for activities when visiting the glacier that I’ve outlined below:
Walk the Glacier Trail around the glacier.
The trail is 2.9 miles out and back, on a boardwalk with 623 feet in elevation gain. There are ever-changing views of the glacier along the boardwalk. We spent 2 hours walking on the boardwalk.
Take a boat ride tour of the glacier.
The 45 minute boat ride offered in the park provides a close view of the glacier. On the boat tour it is common to see ice chunks fall off of the glacier and crash into the water below (which is a sign of the glacier growing, not shrinking). Seeing the glacier from the water gives a closer perspective than from the walkway. The guide on the boat also teaches riders about the glacier. It’s worth experiencing both a boat ride (or kayak ride) and the walkway. Boat tickets don’t need to be bought in advance. Tickets can be bought at the park entrance upon arrival (unless you are booking a larger guided tour in advance that includes a boat ride).
Kayak around the Glacier
Mil Outdoor offers all day kayak tours around the glacier. If you book the option with a transfer from El Calafate, the tour company allows two hours to walk the boardwalks around the glacier mentioned in #1 above. The tour option without a transfer starts later (at 11am) to allow time to explore the boardwalk on your own beforehand. With both options there is an hour and a half of kayaking time around the glacier area. The tour outfitter also provides a dry suit, boots, gloves and a life jacket. https://miloutdoor.com.ar/en/
Hike on the Glacier
There are tour options that include time for walking on the boardwalk mentioned above, a 20 minute boat ride across Argentine Lake and an additional hike on the glacier itself. The tour company will provide crampons (ice cleats) that make it easier to walk on the ice. The tour includes two hours hiking on the ice and then hiking through a forest with views of the glacier on the way back.
If you plan to follow this exact itinerary I recommend driving to El Chalten early evening on day two. It’s a 4 hour drive from El Calafate to El Chalten. If you book a guided hike starting in El Chalten, the tour operator may request that you stop by their office in El Chalten the evening before the hike. If you need to rent any gear, plan to pick it up the night before your trek as well. Our tour company was open until 9:30pm the night before our hike. We hired a driver for the drive (through El Chalten Transfers, $300 USD round trip for the car), but there is also the option to drive with a rental car or take a minibus. See Getting Around for more details.
At the time we went, it was hard to find a rental car with automatic transmission. The road between the towns is paved and well-maintained. It makes for an easy (and beautiful!) drive for anyone that can drive a manual transmission car. Plan for extra time to stop for pictures along the way.
El Chalten is a fun backpacker mountain town nestled in the mountains that has many dining and bar options for the evening. See Where to Eat for recommendations for the night.
Day Three: Hiking, El Chalten to Laguna de Los Tres
We booked a 2-day guided trek starting El Chalten. The trek took us to Laguna De Los Tres and Laguna Torre, and had views of three peaks, Mt. Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and Mount Poincenot throughout the hike. The landscape was ever changing throughout the two days, so we were never bored.
Our trip to Patagonia was part of a 2-week trip throughout all of South America. We wanted to avoid packing camping gear for only this portion of the trip, or having to deal with meal planning and prep, so we decided to pay for a guided hike. We booked the service through Patagonia Hikes for $420 per person, with meals and camping gear included. During the hike, we only had to carry water, our lunch and clothes and they handled everything else. When we arrived at the campsite there was a tent set up for us as well as a dining dome tent where they served dinner and breakfast. We were pleased with the quality of the food, the level of service and the company of our guide while hiking.
One fyi, their advertising noted that water was included, this meant filling our hydration packs out of the appropriate lakes and streams. It is fresh glacial water so it is drinkable without boiling it.
The trails in this area are well marked, so it would be easy to navigate the hike without a guide. There are outfitters in El Chalten that offer gear rentals as well. Even if you want to avoid traveling with a tent and camping gear, you could rent it and then hike on your own to save money.
Our tents and dining dome were set up in a separate part of the campground and we noted that the public part of the campground seemed more social and fun.
Day one of the trek was 6 hours of hiking that first went by Capri Lake, then up to Laguna De Los Tres, Laguna Sucia and then on to Poincenot Camp where we stayed overnight. The trail also passes by a viewpoint of Fitz Roy Massif, the closest spot next to the peak without a technical climb.
The hiking goes up and down throughout the day, but there is a big climb for the hour before reaching Laguna De Los Tres. The highest altitude during the hike on day one is 2,624 meters.
Day Four: Hiking to Laguna Torre, Transfer to El Calafate
On the second day of the trek we hiked from the Poincenot Campsite through Torre Valley, passing by Madre and Hija Lakes with Mt. Fitz Roy in the background. The trail leads up to Laguna Torre and then back down to El Chalten. It is 8 hours of hiking.
We had an early morning flight out to Mendoza the next day so we drove back to El Calafate to overnight there.
Advanced Bookings for Argentine, Patagonia
I recommend booking any tours or guides for the area at least a month in advance, especially if you are traveling during Argentina's summer. You don’t need to book the boat ride at Perito Moreno in advance.
Building an Itinerary with a Stop in Argentine, Patagonia
We visited Patagonia as part of a two-week-long trip in South America. We flew from the States to Buenos Aires, then to El Calafate, then Mendoza, up to Igazzu and ended our trip in Rio. Most flights connect in Buenos Aires so it’d be easiest to add a day or two there. You could also easily add on the Chilean side of Patagonia, which is still on my list.
What to Wear and Pack for a Trip to Argentine, Patagonia
What to Wear
Hiking boots or shoes
Waterproof jacket and pants
A warm hat
A packable jacket for the overnight trek
What to Pack
A daypack for hiking (a 25 liter pack is recommended for the overnight hike to carry your lunch and clothes)
A water bladder
A lightweight pair of shoes or sandals for overnight on the trek (you will want to take a break from your hiking boots)
What to Eat in Argentine, Patagonia
Dulce de Leche- This is a thick caramel spread that the locals eat on top of fruit, toast, bread and more. It is significantly thicker (and more delicious!) than most caramel sauces in the States. It is more similar to a spread than a sauce. If you want to buy dulce de leche to try or to take home, look for the Colonial Style brand in the grocery store. A local recommended it to us and it was our favorite too.
Chimichurri Sauce- This sauce may already be familiar, as it is often in Argentinian or empanada restaurants around the world, but be sure to have it while in Argentina as well. It is often offered in a homemade version at finer dining restaurants and is in a bottle on the table (like ketchup is in the States) at most other restaurants. It is a parsley based sauce with oil, vinegar and garlic.
Empanadas- A common offering at restaurants, empanadas are hand sized savory pies that are originally from Spain and Portugal. The Spanish immigrants likely brought them over to Argentina and now they are a staple food item in Argentina. Each area of Argentina has specialty empanadas known for the area. In Patagonia the most common filling is lamb.
Where to Eat
In El Chalten, Argentina
B&B Beer and Burgers
A fast casual restaurant option that has a wide selection of Argentinian beers and burgers. They had a happy hour special and live outdoor music when we went.
Restaurante Aonikenk Chalten Fonda Patagonia
They serve burgers, pizzas and pasta as well as traditional Argentinian dishes.
They serve traditional Argentinian dishes like steak, lamb and chicken as well as burgers, pasta and vegetarian options.
El Calafate is the closest town to Perito Moreno Glacier. It’s a tourist town but has the largest airport for traveling in and out of the area. We booked a private room at America Del Sur Calafate Hostel for our two nights there and loved it. It has a large common area with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. It also has a restaurant with fresh, healthy well-priced meal options.
For the night in El Chalten when you aren’t camping, there are many hostels and boutique lodging options.
Getting around Argentine, Patagonia
A rental car is the easiest method for exploring this area and following this itinerary. They don’t rent automatic transmission cars, so renters need to know how to drive a manual transmission car.
There’s also the option to hire a driver for a relatively reasonable cost. We hired a car through El Chalten Transfers, elchalten.com. It cost $300 USD round trip for the car to drive us to Perito Moreno once and then to and from El Chalten.
To travel to and from El Calafate and Perito Moreno there are taxis available or transfers can be arranged with a tour company offering the tour options mentioned above. Taking a taxi early in the morning helps to beat the tour company crowds.
When to Go to Argentine, Patagonia
October through February are the best months to visit Patagonia. Those months are their spring and summer and offer the best conditions for hiking in the area. Summer (December through February) will have the biggest crowds, so going in spring or slightly into the fall in March will avoid the crowds. We traveled in early March and were able to see the trees and landscape start to change colors.
Trip Dates: March 2016
Article Updated: August 2022
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