Some fast facts about Patagonia:
- Patagonia is at the very end of South America. It is bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Atlantic to the east. As a result, it’s also the gateway to Antarctica.
- Patagonia is not its own country – it is shared by both Chile and Argentina. Only 10% is Chile, while the other 90% is part of Argentina. But most residents will say they are Patagonians first, regardless of the border.
- It’s over 400,000 square miles with only 2 million people.
- The region has it all: the Andes Mountains, lakes, oceans, fjords, and glaciers in the west and the deserts further to the east.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, onto more topics about what to do when visiting “The End of the World.”
Torres del Paine may be the known gem of Patagonia but don’t let that fool you into thinking there isn’t much to see or it’s not worth the visit to the Argentinian side of Patagonia. It also has some great hiking and beautiful views, and the massive Perito Moreno glacier – SO COOL!
As a less avid hiker, Brice also liked this area more because he could just do day hikes, vs the multi-day hike with dorm accommodations that was the W Trail.
As a reminder, our itinerary on this part was: Puerto Natales, Chile (1 night) –> El Calafate, Argentina (3 nights) –> El Chalten (4 nights) –> Buenos Aires
- It’s the closest town to Perito Moreno Glacier, which is a must do.
- It’s the easiest way to get to great mountain town of El Chalten (more on that below).
- If you want to fly anywhere else in Argentina, this is the closest Patagonian airport!
We spent 3 nights there which was perfect, I think. We had one full day to do the glacier and one day to recovery from the W Trail, getting massages and sleeping in. At a minimum, you need 2 nights here.
If coming from other areas of Argentina, you can take a domestic flight into the El Calafate airport.
If coming from Chilean Patagonian like we did, the bus is super easy. We took Bus Sur, direct from Puerto Natales, Chile to El Calafate. It was a relatively comfortable bus ride with cushy recliner seats and paved roads. Including the surprisingly quick stop at the border to cross into Argentina, the ride was about 5.5 hours in total. I’d recommend booking online so you can pick your seat.
To leave, we bused back to El Calafate then flew from their to Buenos Aires.
Where to stay:
Esplendor by Wyndham: After completing the W Trail, we decided to splurge with this awesome fancy hotel with cool mountain decor. There are great massages and nice breakfast. it’s probably the nicest place in town but that does mean it’s also the most expensive.
Perito Moreno Glacier: SO amazing! You can just get the bus out there and walk along the well-maintained boardwalks to get great views of this giant glacier. However we did the full day “mini trek” tour with Hielo & Aventura and it was so worth it.
You get a 90 min trek on ice, a short boat ride, time along the beautiful boardwalk, and round-trip bus to/from El Calafate (about 1.5hr drive). Seeing the glacier from so many vantage points and seeing how blue the ice is was really special.
Pro tip: it’s cheaper to book direct from them (either at their office in town or on their website). Several sites like GetYourGuide will pitch other offerings but in reality, they all use this company. So once you cut out the middle man, you get a cheaper rate.
Reserva Laguna Nimez: we didn’t actually make it here but heard it has pretty views of lake and usually there are lots of flamingos.
Get massages! The masseuse at the Esplendor was great and perfect for some post-hiking relaxation. And it was only about $30 for the hour.
- La Zaina: nice place for Patagonian cuisine and wine. Reservations are helpful as it can be quite busy.
- Casimiro Bigua: most nights they have live music and traditional dancing which adds to a nice ambiance!
- Pura Vida: good spot for vegetarian food. It’s really popular so try to arrive before 8:30pm.
Hiking, hiking and more hiking!!
If you love hiking and beautiful mountain views in a charming little town set in a national park, this is the place for you. It’s super small and only has about 800 full-time residents. It’s mostly just lodging, restaurants, bars and hiking trails.
Best part: you can get to all the trails walking through down, so no cars are needed. After you finish a hike, stop at one of the many bars to relax with a local Patagonian beer with views of the mountains. Total bliss.
We spent 4 nights there. I’d recommend 3-5 days, depending on how much hiking you want to do as there isn’t much else to do there.
How to Get There:
Another bus ride! There are three main options: Cal-Tur, Chalten Travel and TAQSA. All have similar times, prices and buses. We went with Cal-Tur just because the time worked out for us. In total, it was about a 3 hour ride.
Unless you have a car, you’ll have to take the bus back to El Calafate to fly out.
Where to stay:
There are lots of options but mostly small apartments and hostels, and one fancier lodge hotel.
El Chalten Aparts: For our stay, this place was pretty good overall. The room were basic and the breakfasts provided weren’t great, but it was clean and nice having a kitchen.
We were still pretty exhausted from the W Trail, so we weren’t up for the full, serious hikes and if you’re in the same boat, don’t fret! You can do most any of the famous hikes as shorter options and still get great views.
Laguna de Los Tres (aka the Mt Fitz Roy) hike: the full hike is 16 miles round-trip and STEEP. So we opted to go until the mirador viewpoint just past Laguna Capri, which was a nice 4 hour hike. Tip: make sure the weather is clear before heading out on this one, otherwise it’s really steep for not a great view. Here’s a good post on the full thing.
Laguna Torre hike: we really enjoyed the views on this one. Again, we didn’t go all the way to the base of Cerro Torre but from the lake you still get some really gorgeous views.
Chorrillo del Salto Waterfall hike: this short hike isn’t pitched as often as the other two above, but it ends at a surprisingly nice, little waterfall and is a good option for a shorter day. Tip: be sure to start from the Fitz Roy trailhead, not from the road to get better views.
- Lo De Pep Lui: definitely our favorite place in El Chalten! They make the best homemade pastas and have really friendly staff. It’s only 4 tables so arrive on the earlier side.
- La Roti: great casual place for either take away or to eat in. Tasty empanadas, quiches and alfajores.
- La Tapera: more expensive for dinner but fun space and good pastas
- Curcuma: great vegan spot, little spendy but nice getting veggies!