Few places on this planet can compete with the natural splendour of Patagonia, Argentina. As one of the last stops before Antarctica, the country’s southern region rewards those who make the long trip down with landscapes so spectacular it seems unfathomable there could be so much beauty in one place. Rugged, snow-capped mountain peaks frame glacier-fed lakes, where the water is such a brilliant turquoise hue that you’d think you’re in the Caribbean. Ice floes tumble down from the huge craggy glaciers, and waterfalls stream into lush, pristine valleys.
It’s no surprise the region is one of the top Argentina tourist attractions, and Patagonia hiking trips and trekking adventures top many bucket lists for good reason. Here’s the perfect itinerary for those who have one week to spend exploring this incredible spot.
Days 1 and 2: El Calafate
Many Patagonia tours start in El Calafate, since the small city has an airport (FTE) which is how most visitors arrive in the Santa Cruz province. It’s worth spending a day or two in the charming spot, which feels like a quaint mountain village yet has all the amenities you could need: think great restaurants, plenty of accommodation options, and boutiques for picking up any outdoor gear you might have forgotten.
There are a couple of places worth seeing just on the outskirts of El Calafate, one of them being the Glaciarium. This interpretation centre has exhibits including dioramas, a 3D movie and models detailing southern Patagonia, making it a great way to get acquainted with the history and geography of the area before heading out to explore it. There’s even an ice bar called Glaciobar Branca inside, where guests bundle up and sip drinks served over real glacier ice.
It’s also worth making a trip out to the Walichu Caves, an archeological site with Paleolithic cave paintings dating back thousands of years in red, yellow, black and white hues. They were created by Indigenous peoples who drew people, animals and maps on the caverns to help other hunters and gatherers. However, the real highlight of a visit here is if you get the opportunity to stay for a hearty dinner lit by candlelight—after all, there aren’t many places in the world where you can dine in a cave!
Back in town, El Calafate is on the shores of sprawling Lago Argentino, which has a protected area called Reserva Natural Laguna Nimez where flocks of bright pink flamingos stand out against the sparkling blue water. The waterfront is also the perfect place to watch a captivating sunset, signalling the end of another day as it goes down behind the peaks of the Andes.
Day 3: Los Glaciares National Park and a Perito Moreno Glacier tour
Day three of your Patagonia trip itinerary is where the adventure really begins, by heading to the otherworldly Perito Moreno Glacier. Located in Los Glaciares National Park less than an hour drive from El Calafate, this mass of ice rises nearly 250 above the surrounding lake, and takes up 254 square kilometres making it larger than the entire city of Buenos Aires.
There are a couple options for exploring the park, with most visitors opting to wander along the wooden boardwalks overlooking Lago Argentino. Admire the huge sheaths of ice from Perito Moreno that sparkle as they catch the sunlight, framed by a towering mountain range and vibrant foliage. There’s a sense of stillness in the air, which is only broken by the occasional rumble as the glacier calves, sending ice plummeting 60 metres down into the azure lake. It’s a captivating sight that leaves you truly in awe of this incredible planet.
However, there’s an even more epic way to see the glacier up close which happens to be one of the most unique things to do in Argentina: trekking right on it. Excursions depart by boat from the Bajo de Las Sombras port and sail right up to the glacier, granting a unique vantage point of the natural wonder from the water. Guests disembark onto Perito Moreno, then buckle into crampons which help their shoes grip the ice before setting off with a guide to traverse up and down the glacier.
Over the next couple hours you’ll get to feel like a mountain goat scampering around the snowcone-like surface, ducking into snow caves and admiring the spectacular scenery. The water in the tiny turquoise pools that dot the virgin landscape are so pure you can drink right out of them, and tours are capped off with a round of whiskey on the rocks—the ‘rocks’ being ice scooped right off Perito Moreno, naturally. Between the adrenaline rush, stunning views and photo-ops galore, it’s safe to say this will be one of the most memorable adventures of your life.
Day 4: Route 40, a petrified forest and El Chaltén, Argentina
Day four of your Patagonia trip itinerary means heading down Argentina’s iconic Route 40, a scenic roadway spanning nearly the entire length of the country that’s often compared to America’s Route 66. Those short on time may want to head straight to El Chaltén which is the gateway to Mount Fitz Roy, but if schedules allow there’s a petrified forest near La Leona which is like taking a trip back in time; this is where the dinosaurs used to roam, after all.
Accessed via an unpaved road in an estancia, travellers arrive to find a landscape unlike anything else: an arid, windswept depression, surrounded by dusty canyon walls that dramatically rise above the valley below. This inhospitable landscape in the Patagonian steppe is remarkably different from 70 million years ago, when it was humid and home to lush forests and meandering rivers. Today, visitors can enjoy a fascinating walking tour with an expert guide who will teach you about the geology of the area while pointing out giant petrified tree trunks and real dinosaur fossils along the way.
Exploring the petrified forest is a great way to see a different side of the Patagonia landscape, before continuing your journey to the tiny town of El Chaltén to rest up ahead of your Mount Fitz Roy hike.
Days 5 and 6: Mount Fitz Roy Trek in Los Glaciares National Park
Now for the moment you came all this way for: trekking in Patagonia, Argentina. Los Glaciares National Park covers some 600-thousand hectares in Santa Cruz province, and is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its remarkable habitat which includes upland meadows, soaring mountain peaks, glaciers and vibrant valleys which are home to wildlife including pumas, skunks and huemul deer.
The crown jewel is Mount Fitz Roy, which is spectacular at sunrise when its peak is bathed in a rose hue. With that in mind, most travellers hike there on the first day of their trek to see it in the daylight, stay overnight in the Poincenot or Río Blanco campsites, then wake up before dawn on day two to trek back and admire Fitz Roy in its morning glory.
That is…if the weather cooperates.
Weather in Patagonia can be fickle—this is the great outdoors, after all. At more than 1100 metres above sea level, hikers can experience punishing rain, high winds, snow and sunshine all in a single day. While it’s critical to be prepared with gear to protect you against all the elements, there’s no way to ensure visibility so you’ll have to cross your fingers that Mother Nature cooperates, particularly during shoulder season.
The classic, two-day route most groups choose starts at the El Pilar trailhead about half an hour from El Chaltén, which winds through a forest to the hanging Piedras Blancas glacier. Admire the lateral moraines and the gorgeous lake below, then continue up a more challenging part of the trail to Laguna Torre to soak in the stunning views while enjoying a well-deserved lunch.
Later that afternoon, continue on to Laguna de los Tres for what will likely be the pinnacle moment of your Patagonia trip: the unforgettable moment when you see Mount Fitz Roy up close, with its vertical granite walls swathed in sparkling snow and framed by an aqua-marine lake.
When you finally manage to tear yourself away from the view, head to one of the campgrounds and set up camp for the night, and get set for an early wake up on day two to catch the sunrise.
The day-long descent back to El Chaltén takes you along the Torre trail, which winds through a gorgeous, sun-soaked valley with plenty of panoramic views. A standout spot is Laguna Capri, which is the perfect place to admire the reflection of the mountain range against the water, and get one last look at Mount Fitz Roy before making it back to town.
Day 7: El Chaltén to El Calafate
Hopefully you’ll get to sleep in this morning—you’ll likely need it after your epic trek! Since it takes more than three hours to get back to El Calafate from El Chaltén, this last day of the Patagonia road trip typically means packing up and heading off to the airport, perhaps to kickoff the next leg of your Argentina adventure or begin the long flight back home. Regardless, you’re sure to leave with incredible memories of an unforgettable journey through Patagonia, basking in the thrill of finally crossing this spectacular spot off your bucket list.
This itinerary is possible to do as a self-guided tour by renting a vehicle, though most travellers prefer to book through an operator since there are quite a few logistics involved, particularly for the trekking portion. Many companies in the area offer pre-packaged or custom tours covering the top Patagonia highlights, including Walk Patagonia which has offices in both El Calafate and El Chaltén, plenty of well-organized itineraries and English-speaking guides.
Getting to Patagonia:
Flying into Patagonia is the most time-efficient way to get to the Santa Cruz province—Argentina is a large country, after all. The national airline is Aerolineas Argentinas, which has direct flights from Ushuaia and Buenos Aires to Patagonia.
Hotels in Patagonia, Argentina:
Visitors will find the cost of accommodations quite reasonable in both El Calafate and El Chaltén, and neither city has any major chain hotels. When deciding where to stay in Patagonia, some top-rated picks include:
EOLO – Patagonia’s Spirit: This swanky spot is a Relais & Chateaux property, in a serene, secluded location outside of the city with gorgeous lake views. Rooms are modern, the on-site restaurant is highly-acclaimed, and the indoor pool is a nice bonus. Click here to book
Hotel Mirador del Lago: This hotel has a good location a short walk from the centre of town, and rooms with balconies overlooking the lake. Click here to book
Hosteria Senderos: This spot is about as luxe as it gets in these parts, with cozy, spacious rooms worthy of a romantic mountain getaway. Click here to book
Chalten Suites Hotel: Guests love the large reception area, friendly staff and large updated rooms. Click here to book
Globe Guide explored Patagonia as a guest of Walk Patagonia, which runs incredible one and two week tours throughout Patagonia. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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