Patagonia trip plan

Many friends asked about our trip so I thought I would share the details of our trip here. We spent three weeks in South America from Dec 30, 2017 to mid January 2018.

Day 1

Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, a 3.5 hours flight, and a 3 hours drive to El Chaltén.

Day 2 Cerro Torre Trek

Full day hike to Laguna Torres. This hike ends at Laguna Torres with Glaciar Torre and view of Cerro Torre which we didn’t see as it was shrouded in the low clouds.

Day 3 Monte Fitz Roy Trek

Let me share with you what we actually did and what I recommend you do instead.

Hired a car to take us to the starting point, El Pillar, 17Km north of El Chaltén. We started at 3am, hiked two hours to Point Poincenot to catch sunrise on Mt Fitz Roy. Instead of hiking up to Laguna de Los Tres at the base of Monte Fitz Roy, we took the easy flat trail to Lago Madre e Hijo then turned back.

In hindsight, I would do the following instead. Start from El Pillar to Campo Poincenot then go all the way to Laguna de Los Tres. On the way back, at Poincenot, take a different route and walk all the way downhill back to El Chalten town.

Tips at El Chaltén

1. The sun doesn’t set until around 9.30 or 10pm. You can still go out and explore El Chaltén after a full day hike. If the weather is good, make sure you go outdoor, walk to the river Rio Fitz Roy (entry to the town) and you get panoramic view of the mountain range with El Chaltén town in the foreground.

2. The best restaurant here is La Tapera. Their Locro, a Argentinian hearty stew and vegetable rice wok, a very wet fried rice with vegetable is surprisingly good.

3. Internet is very slow and no cellular signals.

4. We stayed at the top hotel Los Cerros which is so so and it is at the highest point in town. I would just be happy to stay in the cheaper places below and get a better view of Fitz Roy instead.

Day 4

Transfer from El Chaltén to El Calafate and from there 30 mins drive to our next hotel Eolo Patagonia. Gorgeous little hotel in Estancia Alice with views of Lago Argentina on the north and Torres del Paine mountain range on the south.

Day 5
Glaciar hiking at Perito Moreno, a full day excursion.

Day 6 

On the road. Travel by car from El Calafate on Ruta 40, stopped at La Esperanza, crossed the Argentina and Chilean border to arrive at our next hotel Tierra Patagonia. Beautiful five hour drive across Patagonian steppe. We arrived at Tierra in time for lunch and joined the afternoon excursion to Laguna Azul. Saw plenty of wildlife and waterfall on the drive to the lake. A stroll on the shore of Laguna Azul ending with a nice picnic while admiring the view.

Day 7 Paine Tower full day hike 

Read here for details of the hike and pictures.

Day 8

Enjoy the day at the hotel. Woke up early to catch the sunrise on Torres del Paine mountain range, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, catch up with emails and reading, hang out with new friends, explore Lake Sarmiento right in front of the hotel and surrounding. A glorious day indeed.

Day 9 French Valley full day hike

A long day. A 45 minutes drive, then an hour or so on the boat and we finally got to Refugio Paine Grande to start the French Valley trail ( the middle leg of W).

Day 10 

Depart hotel for Punta Arenas airport, which is 4 hours drive away.

if I were to do this trip again, I would do either of these two things.

1. Spend one full day or stay one night in Punta Arenas. There are several amazing hotels here and visit the penguin colonies here at Isla Magdalena (half day tour).

2. If I have more time, I would tour Antarctica. There is a an 11-day Antarctic fly and sail cruise adventure from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Or fly to Ushuaia then go to Antarctic from there as more cruises leave from Ushuaia.

From Ushuaia which is in Argentina, fly back to Buenos Aires. This will make the international airfare much cheaper as you would fly in and out of Buenos Aires.

The best day hike in Torres del Paine

The W Trek is Patagonia’s most famous hiking route, with the granite towers that give the park its name. In full, it’s a 4 or 5 day hike that can be walked without carrying gear or food, between refugios or campsites. It can also be broken up into day hikes from comfortable hotel bases, or incorporated into longer, wilder treks. To make the four-day trip accessible to all hikers, serviced campsites along the route hire out tents and on-site canteens provide nutritious, three-course meals.

The O or Full Circuit is a 7-9 day route that adds a northern section on to the park’s famous W Trek.  Circling the Paine Massif (the towers) and exploring much more of the national park, this 129 km route, delivers on all of the park’s most celebrated sights. The extra distance and absence of refugios on the northern side, meaning you’ll definitely be doing some camping, make it a tougher trail, as you will be carrying your own camping equipment.

Remember, well-meaning guides will talk you into taking the easier hikes, unless you come prepared knowing specifically what you want to do. This time we insisted that we are ready for the challenge. 

We knew we wanted to walk to the base of the towers(the pink route on the map), about 20km and 9 hours to complete. It is the toughest of all day hikes but is also the iconic trail in Torres del Paine National Park. With its landscape of aquamarine glacial lakes, and the skyrocketing granite torres (towers) from which the park takes its name, Torres del Paine has captured the imagination of trekkers from all around the world.

The walk started easily enough with a flat stroll across the open grassland from the Eco Camp,  then we began to hike up a steep ascent next to the Ascencio River until reaching the Paso de los Vientos (Pass of the Winds).

After passing through dense forests at Refugio Chileno, we reached the most challenging point of the trail. This last section, a 1.5km moraine section of loose rock and boulders and 500m elevation,  requires total focus and often using our hands as well.  

Having ascended through this difficult terrain and battled against the winds we arrived at the lookout where we were face to face with the classic, breath-taking view of the Torres del Paine. What the pictures cannot show is the biting Patagonian winds of Torres del Paine, so strong that it will knock you off your feet. We all settled down to our well deserved packed lunch. Our guide Thomas whipped out from his heavy backpack tea bags and hot water for a nice cup of tea. Just what i needed after the long hike.

Trail head, near Hosteria Los Torres[/caption]

The last section, approximately 1.5km and 500m elevation,  is the toughest part, a strenuous scramble over the moraine, often using our hands to climb the huge boulders. 

A steep climb up the valley[/caption]

Taking a breather

This stretch is a wind tunnel. At one point, a gust of Patagonian wind literally stopped me in my tracks. If it wasn’t for the backpack, I would have been blown over.
Didn’t know what moraine is until I got here. Moraines are accumulations of dirt and rocks that have fallen onto the glacier surface or have been pushed along by the glacier as it moves. The dirt and rocks composing moraines can range in size from powdery silt to large rocks and boulders.
Refugio Chileno camp site, and others in the Park, are serviced camp site. Tents and meals are provided, saving trekkers the hassles of carrying own camping equipment.

When we got to Refugio Chileno, we were told Las Torres Lookout was close due to strong winds. I flew half way around the world for this and it was so disappointing. We were so close already! As luck would have it, the trail miraculously reopened just as we were about to turn back.

Here is another section of moraine, this time with bigger rocks and boulders.
The most grueling part of the trail, about 1.5 hours of navigating through rocks and boulders.
Euphoric moment of blue sky, warm sun and chilling Patagonian wind.
We made it!

Downhill is just as tough as the climb, really tough on the knees.
Hundreds of horses galloping across the creek.
Celebrating a hard day’s work in style, courtesy of Tierra Patagonia. Cold beer, cold cut and fruits!