Planning A 10 Day Trip to Patagonia
Here’s what I learned about planning a trip to Patagonia: it is logistically challenging and expensive. If you’re considering this trip, it’s probably good to know this up front and plan many months in advance (3-6 months is recommended). Patagonia is huge and encompasses a large region of South America spanning both Chile and Argentina. To see everything I could dream of seeing, I would probably need months, but I only had 10 days! If you already live in South America or you are considering this as an add on to a longer backpacking tour, then it may be possible to travel inexpensively, see much of the region, camp, hike, etc. However, the following post is not a guide for that type of trip. There are many awesome posts/guides about doing the W and O Treks and information about booking campsites. This post will help you plan a trip that involves visiting a few key areas in Patagonia over a relatively short period of time, staying in moderately priced hotels, and advice about day treks and explorations. Still with me? Sound like a trip you’d be interested in? Great! If you’re not interested in all the logistics and trip planning stuff, head here to see the complete and final itinerary!
Choosing When To Go
Definitely go during their Spring/Summer (October - Early March) when weather is milder (yet still unpredictable at times) and you get about 16 hours of DAYLIGHT. I love traveling with so much daytime because it means I can pack in a ton of fun into each day! Peak season is December - February, so if you can go on the shoulders of peak season you will avoid steep prices and limited options.
Choosing Where To Go
With only 10 days to spend in Patagonia (including travel days), we had to narrow down the key areas we wanted to visit. I began as I always do by researching on Instagram, talking to friends, reading posts by Travel and Leisure, etc and started mapping destinations that sounded interesting. For more on how I map out my vacations visit this post. Then I began to consider what route and how many stops I would need to make to get the majority of my destinations into one trip. For example, I knew I wanted to see The Perito Moreno Glacier, Mount Fitz Roy, and Torres Del Paine. This meant that at least I would need to be traveling to three cities El Calafate, El Chalten, and Torres Del Paine National Park and that we would be crossing the border between Argentina and Chile (more on that later). We decided to spend 2 nights in El Calafate, 3 nights in El Chalten, and 3 nights in Torres Del Paine, with the rest of the time accounted for with travel days. We would have happily stayed in each place longer, if we had more time.
Logistics of Getting There & Getting Around
I began to consider the costs and logistics of either flying into Chile and doing a South to North trip or flying into Argentina and going North to South. A quick search of flights on our dates revealed that flying into Buenos Aires and making our way South was the cheaper option. For this route it seemed like the entry point flying into Patagonia from Buenos Aires is El Calafate. We booked separately round trip flights in/out of Buenos Aires and round trip flights from Buenos Aires to El Calafate. Keep in mind that there are two main airports in Buenos Aires and the one with more flights to El Calafate seems to be AEP. If you can manage not to have to transfer airports in Buenos Aires you will definitely save yourself some stress. Unfortunately our cheapest option given our constraints had us flying into EZE and transferring to AEP airport for our flight down to Patagonia to El Calafate. The airports are about 45min-1hour apart and considering luggage, customs, passport control, etc. you want to give yourself at least 4-5 hours in between flights. The cab in between was about $40.
Next we had to decide how we wanted to get around once we were in Patagonia. I looked into renting a car versus busing from destination to destination. Given our extremely tight time frame and desire for flexibility, ie stopping on the side of the road for photoshoots, it seemed like renting a car was the best option. Keep in mind that rental cars are LIMITED in Patagonia and to book this well in advance. We had a last minute rental car cancellation that almost threw the whole trip off. We ended up having to pay a pricey penny to rent a pick up truck, but in the end, it all worked out. There are multiple rental car companies in El Calafate and we rented ours from Dubrovnik with pick up and drop off in El Calafate since we were flying in and out of there. Make sure your car rental agreement allows for enough mileage to account for everywhere you are planning to visit, we ended up being charged a surplus fee as we went over the miles allotted, even though I had explicitly told the company exactly where we were going and mapped out the trip with them. This seemed very annoying and unfair, so try and negotiate upfront so this does not happen to you. All that said it is possible to bus everywhere on our itinerary and arrange day trips through various excursion companies to take you to the different sites.
Choosing Hotels & Adventures
With our three cities mapped out and flights/transportation set. I began to research hotels and excursions in each of the different areas we would be visiting.
In El Calafate, we chose to stay at Blanca Patagonia Boutique Hotel for our 2 nights. The town feels very much like a “ski town” you would visit in the US. Lots of shops and restaurants that look like ski lodges and cater to the adventure hiking clientele, selling outdoor gear and clothing. The main excursion on our one full day was visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. This is about a 1 hour drive from El Calafate and the entry fee into the park was recently increased to 700 Argentinian Pesos ($19/pp), although they now accept credit cards. Once inside the park there are a few options for how you can explore the glacier including two ice trekking options, boat rides, and walking the boardwalk. The ice trekking options are pricey and I recommend booking in advance. The boat ride which we opted for ran every hour, was 350 ARS ($10) each and there was no need to book in advance. Recommend stopping for lunch at Nativos de la Patagonia or bringing your own picnic. Give yourself a couple hours to explore the glacier by land and hike along the boardwalks. We made this an all day event but gave ourselves time for relaxing in the hot tub of the hotel when we returned and going out for dinner in town.
In El Chalten (3 hour drive from El Calafate), we stayed at Hotel Destino Sur. This was our favorite town of the bunch, with an amazing atmosphere and tons of great restaurants and bars. There were so many options for hiking and exploring. During our short time there we managed to visit a waterfall, los condores, cerro torre, and fitz roy. The trekking in Patagonia is challenging and with my knee not in the best shape, I opted out of the hardest trek to Laguna de Los Tres. There were certainly hikers of all shapes and sizes out on the trails and overall it was some of the most beautiful hiking I have ever done. We left early on our final day in El Chalten to make the long drive to Torres Del Paine which involved crossing the border to Chile (see details below).
In Torres Del Paine, we stayed at Rio Serrano Hotel & Spa. Chile is overall way more expensive than Argentina and once inside Torres Del Paine you are basically limited to the food and excursion options offered by your choice of accommodation. There is no “town” nearby for going out like in our other destinations as TDP is very remote. It is important to look into food and excursion options well in advance and make sure you chose a place you will be happy spending all your time. We were thrilled with our choice which felt luxurious, but not over the top and had so many wonderful options for daily adventures as well as time for relaxation at the spa. Activities offered included horseback riding (although the 100kg weight limit prevented me from partaking in this sadly), river boat cruises, white water rapid adventures, multiple all day treks, bus tours, and more. Make sure you budget for this portion of the trip as all this fun does come at a cost. Alternatively, there are less expensive hotels/hostels in the park which likely offer fewer excursions and are more geared towards the people there only for hiking.
Crossing The Border from Argentina to Chile
We were very wary of the whole border crossing process and found that there was little updated information online as to how to navigate the whole ordeal. I hope that this post can provide some detail and shed light to lessen any worries that you may have. Whether you are traveling from Argentina to Chile by car or bus you will need to go cross the border and go through this process. It is also very important that when you are picking up your rental car, you tell them you plan to cross the border, so that they may provide you with an essential travel document, charge you the border crossing fee in advance ($80-100 USD), and do their best to explain the process. First off, do not be alarmed when you find yourself turning onto a rocky, dirt road to head towards the border, this is the correct route and just continue on track until you come across a small white building on the side of the road and a chain link gate. The border station is open from 8am-8pm. You will need to pull your car over to the side of the road and get out to enter the building and complete two border crossing stations. At the first station they will ask you to show them your travel document that says you have paid the border crossing fees and you will get a stamp upon exiting Argentina. The next station they will ask you to show them your passports and may ask a few simple questions like how many people are you traveling with and where are you staying/going? Most agents speak both Spanish and English. Then you will get back into your car and wait for someone to come out and open the chain to let you through. Easy as that? Not so fast… you will need to do the same thing ALL OVER AGAIN in Chile. As you drive from Argentina to Chile you will quickly notice that the roads become nicer, the signs bigger, your cell phone service suddenly turns on, and everything gets more expensive. There is a big difference between the economies of Argentina and Chile and it immediately shows upon arrival at the border. The border patrol station in Chile is a bit larger, has a big metal gate, and includes a luggage scanner. Although the overall process is pretty much the same. If you happen to find yourself behind a big tour bus, it can take some time as each person is processed individually. After you clear the two stations in Chile you will receive a second stamp that you are entering the country. In addition, if it is busy they will usually process several cars of people before coming out to open the gate, so you may be waiting in your car for a bit. By the end of the whole crossing process from Argentina to Chile and back you will have 4 stamps. It is very important that you complete each station and return the document when you return your rental car. Everything will start to make sense once you are there, but having a little heads up can help ease the anxiety.
What to Know About Money & Gas
Consider money and gas to be scarce resources in Argentina and Chile. We had no idea how difficult it would be to get Argentinian or Chilean pesos and it’s a good idea to think about this ahead of time. When we arrived in Buenos Aires we were stressed about making our next flight which left from a different airport about an hour away and made the major mistake of not finding an ATM in EZE. I would highly recommend having cash on you as many places are cash only. That said, most places will accept USD! Thank goodness for us, our first taxi was happy to take our USD. Make sure you check conversion rates so you know you’re not getting ripped off. We then tried to find an ATM at the AEP airport and came to know that there is ONLY 1 ATM in the entire airport and it was out of money. This is not an uncommon issue. We were finally able to take out some cash at a bank in El Calafate but they limit how much you can take out at once and by the time we had taken out the equivalent of a couple hundred USD, the ATM was empty. Luckily between that, some USD, and credit cards when accepted, we managed to just barely have enough to make it through the trip.
Next there’s the issue of gas. The rule of thumb in Patagonia is if you see a gas station, fill up your tank, as you never know when you may see the next one. There are two gas station in El Calafate, one in El Chalten, and two on the way from Argentina to Chile. One is a larger station in the town of La Esperanza and the other a smaller one in Tapi Aike (I have heard that this station is sometimes closed during the day, so it’s not a guarantee). We ended up having to scrounge our last few dollars together to get enough gas to make our way back to El Calafate. Nothing like adding a little drama to your roadtrip! We made it back to the airport and returned the car empty (as there are no gas stations nearby and driving back into El Calafate to fill up would have sacrificed an hour rountrip).
I hope you found these planning logistics helpful. Click here to see my complete 10 day itinerary.