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Planning a trip to Patagonia is a bucket list dream come true. But Patagonia travel planning comes with challenges other destinations may not have. The destination is remote and because it’s likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip, there’s more urgency to make sure you see and do everything on your Patagonia trip.
In this Patagonia travel guide, I’ll show the itinerary I used for my Patagonia adventure, including how to get to each place, where to stay, and how many days was the right amount of time for all the things to do in Patagonia.
Planning a Trip to Patagonia
South America is a huge continent with so many incredible sights to see and experiences to have. Before planning a trip to Patagonia, you need to know where is Patagonia in South America.
Quite frankly, though, planning my Patagonia trip was trickier than I had expected. This was mostly because of the distances between places and how to get to each one without using too much time or spending too much money.
Traveling in South America from one place to another is not always straightforward and often takes logistical planning, time, and money, especially if you have a fixed amount of travel time.
Even for independent travelers like me, it’s completely understandable why many people choose to join a Patagonia Tour instead of arranging all the logistics on their own!
You can see from the map below, I started out my 2-week Patagonia itinerary by flying to Santiago, Chile and then made my way down to El Calafate, Argentina, making just a quick connection in Buenos Aires.
From there, I continued my route through Patagonia by bus. This is because many Patagonia flights route back up to Santiago or Buenos Aires before connecting back down to Patagonia. This wasn’t logical as I planned my Patagonia itinerary.
El Calafate, Argentina is the second pin in the cluster of 4 pins on the southern portion of the map. To the north is El Chalten, Argentina. To the south is Torres del Paine National Park and Puerto Natales, Chile. The furthest pin is Ushuaia, Argentina, a.k.a. “the end of the world.”
Approaching El Calafate Airport
Within South America, I flew on Aerolineas Argentinas, but airlines like LATAM and Sky Airlines also offer inter-South America flights. These flights can range in prices from high to what you might expect. Luckily, I had saved by using miles and points to book an award ticket to Santiago from New York and then on to El Calafate, Argentina.
Miles & Points Travel Hack: Aerolineas Argentinas is a SkyTeam member. You can use Delta SkyMiles to book with Aerolineas Argentinas, as well as transfer Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue, another SkyTeam partner you can utilize for Aerolineas Argentinas bookings.
LATAM is a Oneworld Alliance member and availability can be searched through the British Airways or Qantas websites. You can use British Airways or Iberia Avios to book short-haul inter-South America flights on LATAM using the power of airline alliances.
The cheapest way to travel through South America is overland on buses. I met travelers in Santiago with more time who were planning to take buses south, to towns in Chile’s Lake District, points in Argentina, and Patagonia. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that many days.
So, from El Calafate, Argentina, I used a series of buses to get from place to place, until eventually flying home from Ushuaia, Argentina. Remember, flights between the Chilean and the Argentinian sides of Patagonia, generally, don’t exist. And, I didn’t have time to fly back north to connect in Santiago or Buenos Aires to reach a different part of Patagonia.
My Patagonia Itinerary
El Calafate, Argentina
Perito Moreno Glacier
Situated about 45 minutes from Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, El Calafate is the perfect jumping off point for a glacier excursion. There are a few restaurants, shops, and tour agencies on the main street and the blue waters of Lago Argentina brush along the outskirts of town.
Where to Stay in El Calafate:
I stayed at Schilling Patagonia Travellers and really enjoyed my stay here. If you’re looking for comfortable and friendly budget accommodations, I would highly recommend Schilling. The family who runs the B&B was super helpful and booked bus tickets and a Perito Moreno Glacier excursion for me. The atmosphere was friendly and laid-back. Breakfast was included in the rate and, best of all, the bus terminal was 2 blocks away.
How to Get to El Calafate:
You can fly on Aerolineas Argentinas from Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina to El Calafate. After landing, it was easy to get a seat on a shuttle into the town of El Calafate. At the time of my visit, the cost was $10US and payable with cash only. There wasn’t an ATM at the airport, so plan accordingly.
I don’t remember what company the shuttle was, but upon doing research at the time this post was updated, Ves Patagonia looks like the type of shuttle bus I took.
Number of Days in El Calafate:
I stayed in El Calafate 2 separate nights. I spent 1 night, did the glacier excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier, and then took the 6:30 bus to El Chalten, Argentina. On my return from El Chalten, I stayed 1 more night at Schilling, before departing the following morning for Puerto Natales, Chile. If you plan to just see Perito Moreno Glacier, you’ll be fine with a couple of nights in El Calafate.
Why did I break up my time in El Calafate? I wanted to hike in El Chalten before leaving the area, but El Calafate is the larger bus hub with more connections to places further south into the Patagonia region. If you prefer not to hop around so much, go directly to El Chalten from the airport. After a few days there, spend time in El Calafate before moving on.
El Chalten, Argentina
Welcome to El Chalten!
El Chalten is a tiny town dubbed the trekking capital of Argentina. It’s roughly 3 hours by bus from El Calafate. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Fitz Roy perched just beyond the town. Different from Torres Del Paine in Chile, El Chalten lends itself to day hikes. The trails are accessible from town and well-marked.
There are a few bakeries and cafes that make sandwiches and snacks to pack for a day of hiking. Otherwise, you won’t find shops selling hiking gear so come prepared.
You’ll want hiking pants that are comfortable and can handle the changing elements Patagonia is known for. Even if you visit during El Chalten’s summer months, I recommend a light shell jacket to throw on if you encounter a passing rainstorm.
These gear items paired with the right hiking boots and a little sunshine, you’re guaranteed some of the best hiking ever.
Where to Stay in El Chalten:
I stayed at the Nothofagus Bed and Breakfast and would recommend it to solo travelers, as well as couples. It was a quiet and cozy place to stay. My rate included breakfast, but note, payment must be made in U.S. dollars. Recent reports from El Chalten are there are no ATMs. (When I visited, there was 1 and it was frequently out of cash.) Be sure to get all the cash you need from El Calafate or before you arrive.
How to Get to El Chalten:
Chalten Travel runs buses several times a day between El Calafate and El Chalten. At the time of my visit, I paid $62.50US for a round-trip ticket between these 2 towns.
Mt. Fitz Roy on a clear day
Number of Days in El Chalten:
This depends on the amount of trekking you are interested in doing, but 2-3 days would be plenty of time to do a few of the hikes and see the landscape of Los Glaciares National Park. I stayed 2 nights, before heading back to El Calafate on the 6:00 p.m. bus.
Puerto Natales, Chile
Puerto Natales and the Chilean Fjords
Puerto Natales is a port town nestled among the fjords of southern Chile. You can take a cruise through the waterways to see the surrounding glaciers and mountains. I spent a day horseback riding in the mountains over Puerto Natales for a birds-eye view of the Chilean Fjords.
The city is also not far from Torres del Paine National Park, making it a popular place to stay or prepare for a park visit. I used Puerto Natales as my gateway into Torres del Paine National Park.
Where to Stay in Puerto Natales:
I stayed in Kaluve Patagonia. My room was comfortable and clean, had a luxury shower, and strong wifi. The family who owns Kaluve is dedicated to a high level of hospitality and go above and beyond to accommodate guests. It felt more like a homestay feel than that of a hostel or guesthouse. It was about a 10-15 minute walk from Kaluve to most restaurants and food markets in town.
How to Get to Puerto Natales:
Different companies run buses directly from El Calafate to Puerto Natales. The bus ride is about 5 hours, which includes time at a border crossing between Argentina and Chile. At the time of my trip, I purchased a one-way ticket for $55US from Always Glaciers, which also does Patagonia tours. The bus picked me up directly from my hostel in El Calafate and dropped me off just a couple blocks from Kaluve Hostal in Puerto Natales.
Stunning Torres del Paine National Park
Number of Days in Puerto Natales:
You can use Puerto Natales as a stop before camping or staying at accommodations within Torres del Paine National Park. Or you can stay several nights in Puerto Natales, making day trips to Torres del Paine. Buses run between Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine.
I stayed 2 nights to explore Puerto Natales and do a full day tour of Torres del Paine, largely because I am not much of a camper (understatement!) and the park accommodations, especially as a solo traveler, were pricey! In hindsight, I wish I’d had more days in Torres del Paine, but having a reason to return is never a bad thing. 🙂
View of Ushuaia from the water
Ushuaia, nicknamed “El Fin del Mundo,” Ushuaia, is on the very southern tip of Argentina. It’s part of the Tierra del Fuego. It’s also the gateway to Antarctica, with many Antarctic cruises leaving from the port of Ushuaia. The city clings to a small swath of land between the ocean and snow-capped mountains behind.
Where to Stay in Ushuaia:
Ushuaia is expensive compared to other towns in Patagonia. I stayed at the Hotel Austral and would highly recommend it for budget-minded travelers. There are cheaper hostel options in town but I found Hotel Austral to be a step up from the nearby hostels and guesthouses and not much more per night. In fact, I switched my booking last minute from a hostel to Hotel Austral and ended up paying only $4US more per night.
How to Get to Ushuaia:
I used Buses Pacheco for the 12-hour “trek” from Puerto Natales to Ushuaia. This time included a border crossing, pit stops, and a couple of bus transfers. At the time of my trip, a one-way ticket was roughly $70US.
Beagle Channel Lighthouse
Number of Days in Ushuaia:
To explore Tierra del Fuego National Park, walk with penguins, and cruise the Beagle Channel, you will need 2-3 days. The town has a main street with shops and restaurants that are also worth exploring. I spent 3 nights/2 days before flying out of Ushuaia’s airport.
Planning a trip to Patagonia takes some time and coordination, but the payoff is incredible! If the Patagonia itinerary above feels overwhelming to do on your own, consider a Patagonia tour. You simply don’t want to miss out on seeing this part of the world with your own eyes!
Checking a Patagonia adventure off your bucket list will only be outdone by how jaw-dropping the destination is and all the memories you make!
So, what would you like to see and do on your Patagonia vacation?
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