If you are looking for an “outdoorsy” trip focused on hiking, camping and trekking, a trip to Patagonia is for you. Patagonia offers some of the most beautiful and unique natural landscapes in the world from massive glaciers to lagoons to mountains. It’s truly a hiker’s mecca.
Unlike some travel destinations where there’s a typical route to see the main sites, Patagonia offers a variety of different options: Argentina side vs. Chile side; camping trips vs. day treks, extreme high-end hotels vs. camping. As long as you are up for a lot of hiking, what’s best is that you can really tailor the trip based on your personal preference. If you’re looking for a five star, luxury hotel with personalized service, there’s that. But, there’s also week-long camping and backpacking treks – arguably the more popular option.
If it was up to Matt, we would have slept outside for two weeks straight, however, I can only push my adventure limits so far. We decided to meet in the middle, which is one of the reasons we chose the Argentina side of Patagonia vs. the Chile side. There were many more options of day treks and middle of the road accommodations, as opposed to week-long trekking trips in Chile.
We began our trip flying into Buenos Aires and then flew from there to El Calafate, the gateway to El Chalten where the main hiking/sight-seeing area is. (Note that there are two different airports in Buenos Aires, so if you’re going directly to Patagonia, you’ll need to switch airports – something we luckily realized before it was too late).
El Calafate is home to Glacier Perito Moreno – the main tourist attraction in the area. While some people may head directly to El Chalten, it’s definitely worth stopping here. Perito Moreno is one of the one of the most unworldly sites I have ever seen. And, it is one of the only glaciers left in the world that is in perfect equilibrium, growing as much as it is retreating.
There are a few options to get up and close to it – you can either go yourself if you have a car (we didn’t) or go on a group tour. Based on reviews, we chose the “Big Ice” tour – a full day tour where you spend 3.5 hours on the glacier. Most tours offered an hour and a half on the glacier, and we now see why. After about two hours, we were ready to call it quits – it was freezing! That said, it was still absolutely worth doing and highly recommended, especially if you do the shorter version. The company we used Hielo & Aventura was efficient, on time, knowledgeable and very professional. It was one of the best tour guide experiences we have ever had. And they give you a glass of whiskey at the end of the trek. Cant get much better than that!
After two days in El Calafate, we took a three hour bus ride to El Chalten, home of the other half of Los Glaciares National Park. The majority of our trip was spent here, hiking, hiking and more hiking.
The two most well-known hikes – and arguably the reason most tourists come to Patagonia – is to hike Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Torres. Both are full day hikes, around 6-8 hours based on experience level, but neither are difficult – they’re just long!
Laguna de Los Tres is known for its views of three peaks: Fitz Roy, Poincenot and Torre (hence the name Laguna de Los Tres). The hike to this spot was easily my favorite part of our two week trip – the destination is absolutely stunning with a once in a lifetime view of a lagoon surrounded by glaciers and mountains. What many people don’t tell you is that there’s another lagoon to the left of Laguna de Los Tres which is only a short hike. While you may be exhausted at this point (I was), it’s absolutely worth the extra trek for this view.
On top of the breath-taking views of the lagoon, the hike itself was also one of most versatile and stunning treks I’ve ever done (Matt even said it may be his favorite – and that comes from someone who’s trekked every mountain). You’ll pass through rivers, glaciers, prairies and forests while surrounded by some of the world’s tallest peaks.
The other well-known hike, Laguna Torres, is also spectacular but it’s hard to compete with Laguna de Los Tres. We also happened to have once-in-a-lifetime weather on our Laguna de Los Tres trek which added to our adoration of it. We didn’t get as lucky on our Laguna Torres day (or any other day during our two weeks for that matter!). Though we went during summer in South America, we were still wearing 3-4 layers a day, including fleeces and coats – something to keep in mind if you’re traveling here in December.
Although we did not have the time or cooperating weather to do the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado hike, it comes highly recommended from a number of friends who have spent time in the region.
WHERE TO STAY
One of the most unique and special parts of the trip was staying in the Patagonia Eco Domes in El Chalten. While it’s more common to stay in town, where you have access to restaurants, bars and shops, the domes provide a true getaway. Not only are they in the middle of the forest, surrounded by beautiful scenery, but there isn’t internet which fully forces you to check out. There’s also only nine domes, so the place is very cozy and intimate. At dinner, you’ll be surrounded by a handful of other guests talking about which hikes you trekked that day and comparing and contrasting experiences.
There isn’t anything nearby the domes, so for good or bad, all your meals will all be here. Luckily, the food was good and the chef is wonderful – he makes you feel at home within minutes of meeting him. While dinner is a premium compared to some places in town, it’s worth it for the experience. You’ll get to choose between two options for an appetizer, main and dessert. This doesn’t include the bread basket and unique homemade dip that comes with every meal in Argentina – maybe one of my favorite parts about the country!
WHAT WE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN
While we had an incredible time in El Calafate and El Chalten, there were a few things we wish we did differently, which may be helpful if you’re planning a trip here.
First, we should have rented a car. While it is absolutely feasible to get around without one, having a car would have provided more flexibility to tour the national park and access sights that were off the beaten path. If you don’t want to hike everywhere, then a car is a must-have.
Second, while we absolutely loved our experience in the Eco Domes, staying there for three nights when we only had five nights in El Chalten may have been too much. The town was much cuter than we expected with excellent restaurants, fun bars and an overall cool environment.
All and all, it was a successful first trip together to South America and we cant wait to go back!