A week for the highlights of Patagonia

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
9
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
2
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
8
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
4
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
7
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
72 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
South America
country
Argentina / Chile
Length of time
Around a week
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 200
Time of year visited
January
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
98th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 30% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

So you have a week and you want to see the highlights?  Likely flying in from somewhere 12+ hours away and have from one weekend to the next for vacation?  My suggestion would be to focus on Torres del Paine National Park and the Perito Moreno Glacier from El Calafate

You could make your way down to Punta Arenas, but I just think that the scenery around El Calafate area beats it in every respect.  You don’t really have time for the Navimag ferry through the Fjords.  Parque Nacional los Alerces is too far away.  And don’t waste your time going to see the King Penguins at Porvenir

The only place that you should consider squeezing in is the hiking around El Chalten, but we didn’t get a chance to check it out and it would be tight

By giving yourself 4 nights in Torres del Paine / Puerto Natales, a day to see the Perito Moreno Glacier and a day and a half or so of driving (including crossing the Argentina – Chile border), you’ll leave tired but not exhausted, and with a feeling of awe for Patagonia

highlights

#1 Seeing the stunning mountains of the Paine range that are the focal point of the Torres del Paine National Park

#2 Seeing the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno glacier. Just standing on one of the view points and seeing it dominating the entire valley and edging its way forward into the lake. A natural wonder of the world

#3 Staying in hotels with out-of-this-world views around them, and enjoying these views with a well earned drink after a day of hiking

#4 Hiking through the simply beautiful lake areas of central Torres del Paine

#5 Getting a chance to see some of the local wildlife such as Reas, Guanacos and Eagles. Maybe if you're lucky a Puma

#6 Taking boat trips up the the immense glaciers to see and hear them carving into the lake

#7 Taking a breather in one of the drives across the park and just taking it all in

The route. For the link to see the route in google maps, see the link below in the Rough Itinerary

#8 Soaking up the traveller backpacker vibe in towns like El Calafate and Puerto Natales. Good spots to have a chat with some of your fellow travellers over a Patagonia beer

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1 – arrive in Puerto Natales and stay in the domes
  • Day 2 – transfer into Torres del Paine National Park.  Trek to Base Torres (18km, ~8 hours, 35,000 steps) with your guide.  Spend the evening at Hotel Lago Grey
  • Day 3 – Grey glacier boat tour and transfer to Hosteria Pehoe to spend the day gawping at the views and the evening in the Hotel
  • Day 4 – full day light trekking through the park.  Transfer back to the domes in Puerto Natales
  • Day 5 – make your way across the border by bus to El Calafate
  • Day 6 – visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, making sure to take the boat to see it up close and, of more time, the glacier walk
  • Day 7 – depart from El Calafate
  • For the link to the route on google maps, see Google Maps Patagonia for 1 week

Travel Tips

  • Arranging things yourself is relatively easy and, from what I’ve seen, can be done quite late.  The only piece that you should really book ahead for is Torres del Paine for entry permits and my suggestion is to have a tour company do that for you (recommendation below).  If on a tight timeline, it is also worth asking your hotel to book you bus tickets as they can be full for some days in summer (although we never had a problem).  The visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier can be arranged when you arrive in El Calafate as there are many tour companies
  • For Torres del Paine:
    • I’d highly recommend the Garden Domes for the accommodation and organising the days in the park.  Expensive ($1500) but very much worth it
    • You must toast your day of hiking up the the base of the Towers by having a drink in the stunning lounge of Hotel Lago Grey.  The view across the glacier, lake and mountains behind is magnificent
    • The Hosteria Pehoe is nothing special as a hotel, but stunning views around from the centre of the park more than make up for it
    • The hike to the base of the Towers is busy so be prepared for crowds and for an 8 hour / 18km / 35,000 steps round trip
    • If pressed for time, I’d actually prioritise the glacier and the general view of the park ahead of the base of the Towers hike.  Yes they are stunning, but its a there-and-back hike and it really is busy
    • Ask your driver / guide to keep an eye out for the guanacos.  There are heaps of them around and the locals are so used to them that they may not appreciate just how much you may appreciate them!
    • For more details, see 3 very civilised days in Torres del Paine National Park
  • For Perito Moreno:
    • Be prepared for mass tourism but don’t worry, you can get away from quite a lot of the crowds quite easily on the boardwalks and the glacier itself is so huge you’ll always have a good view
    • A typical tour costs $70 – tour $30, entry fee $10, boat trip $30.  Do the boat trip – if you don’t you’ll likely find yourself hanging around waiting for it to return or having a bit longer than you really need looking at the glacier
    • There are a series of easily to follow boardwalks that give you different views of the glacier.  Obviously it depends on your tour as to how much time you have but I’d say give them all a go.  The distances are overestimated and, if you do your timing right, if you get tight for time all it will do is eat into your lunch time
    • We didn’t walk on the glacier, just because I’ve done this sort of thing before.  But, if you haven’t, I’d really recommend it because its a cool experience with the crampons etc
    • El Calafate is actually a cool little town with a lovely central tree-lined street.  Sure its like the lycra outdoor capital, but still fun to wander along the Av del Liberator General San Martin to check out the restaurants
    • If its a nice day, you’re in town and fancy a beer, I’d really recommend the rooftop area of Librobar in the gnome village right in the centre of town
    • We stayed outside of town to save a little bit of cash and it was no problem.  Hosteria Roblesur was nice and would recommend
    • For more tips, see here – Perito Moreno glacier from El Calafate
  • Pay attention to sunscreen – the sun is fierce in this part of the world
  • Parrilla and mate tea – make sure you try to a local parrilla (grill) and get a local or guide to let you try some mate (tea).  But do make sure you ask them to tell you the right etiquette first!
  • Books
    • I couldn’t recommend more highly This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson, one of my favourite books.  This charts, in historical fiction-style, the true story of Captain Fitzoy’s journey to chart the Tierra del Fuego, meeting the native Fuegians and bringing the young Charles Darwin with him
    • In Patagonia.  Bruce Chatwin’s account of his journey through Patagonia to see the windswept landscapes, descendants of Welsh immigrants, forgotten legends and a feeling of adventure in seeing “the uttermost part of the earth”

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone