You can do Patagonia in 10 days or less (disclaimer: it requires a very ambitious itinerary). When we started trip-planning and decided to include both Chile and Argentina, almost everyone who had been there told us it was impossible to go for such a short period of time.
However, we are newish parents and the absolute longest that we felt comfortable being away from our son was 10 days. That also happened to be the maximum amount of time we could actually get away with BL’s work schedule.
Therefore, I’m going to share with you exactly how we did our whirl-wind trip, as visiting Patagonia for 10 days or less takes lots of advanced planning.
If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I was ready to go back to see V around day 5, and if I had the resources to cut it short, I likely would have. That’s not to say that this trip wasn’t one of the most incredible of my/our lifetime, just that it’s a really far place to be without your heart son.
To make the most of our trip, we flew into Buenos Aires and out of Santiago. If you are planning a quick trip like we did, this makes the most sense to limit back-tracking. That being said, you could reverse our itinerary if you’d rather see Santiago instead of Buenos Aires. We chose to fly into BA as that’s a city that I’ve always wanted to go to, even for a short amount of time.
Day 1: Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires reminds me of a slower, more raw Barcelona, and I mean that as a compliment. Even though we were only in town for a quick 24-hours, we packed a lot into our day. If you’re heading in from the US, I highly recommend the overnight flight through Miami to maximize your time. We arrived close to 7:30AM, which left the entire day for exploring.
I won’t pretend to be an expert in BA, but I really enjoyed our day and recommend hitting these highlights: explore La Boca, grab an ice cream cone and walk around the city, the beach, incredible food at very cheap prices (compared to the US) and a little dancing!
Where we stayed: Sileo Hotel
Day 2: Travel day to El Chalten
Here’s the truth about doing Patagonia: nothing is close. Be prepared to spend as much time in adventure as you do in a bus, car or plane. It’s one of the reasons people thought we were insane for doing a trip this quickly; it takes a lot of time to get to where you need to go.
After two flights and a 3-hour bus ride, we were finally in El Chalten for a few days. Of all the places we visited, this town was my favorite. It reminded me a little of South Lake Tahoe; it was packed with lots of yummy, locally-run spots, backpackers and students.
If you do Patagonia in a short time, you must be patient with the weather. Every blog we read before we left said to ‘expect all four seasons,’ which we did, except for summer. Even though it was the middle of December (summer in South America), we experienced the most bone-chilling wind I’ve ever felt, sideways rain, hail, snow and sleet. Ironically, the conditions made the experience a little more legit: we were at the end of the earth, and it felt like it.
Where we stayed in El Chalten: Hosteria Kau Si Aike
Day 3: Laguna de los Tres Hike
This hike was billed as moderate, but it was fairly flat compared to the rest of Patagonia, so if you’re looking for a family-friendly hike, this is it.
We started out with a little rain, which allowed us to witness one of the most beautiful double rainbows over the valley. It’s a little hard to see in this photo, but the view was magnificent. We headed into a pub after we got off the mountain to celebrate with empanadas and beers.
Day 4: Fitz Roy Hike
I’ll open this day by letting you know I had a full-blown panic attack on the ascent. We started the day at 5AM, and by 11AM, we had hiked alone through two snow storms and wind so fierce it nearly knocked me off my feet. We were tired, wet and mentally drained.
Then, we got to the last kilometer, an almost vertical ascent up the top of the mountain to get to the panoramic view. The wind and snow had picked up, and we kept looking at each other saying, “I’m sure the trail bends somewhere. We can’t be going straight up. Right?!”
After slipping a few times and realizing that no one else was on the trail with us, I completely lost it. I felt unsafe, scared and stupid for continuing with the hike. I sat down as much as I could and just wept, paralyzed with fear and letting ever emotion wash over me. We eventually made it to the top for a quick we did it! moment, then headed back down in a rain and wind storm that seemed to intensify every few minutes.
I can barely describe the sense of accomplishment we felt getting back to the village. Ego is a tricky thing; it was a little foolish to continue on, but there’s no way we could have turned around after going that far. We had beers, a few more relief tears on my part, and empanadas. There’s my top tip for Patagonia: eat a lot of empanadas. They are so good, particularly after ass-kicking hikes.
We hopped on a bus that evening to El Calafate and grabbed a late, casual NYE dinner.
Day 5: El Calafate and Perito Morena Glacier
After two full-day hikes, we took it easy by heading to the Perito Moreno glacier. If you are short on time, then I would recommend taking this part out, but it was a nice sandwich between our two most intense hikes, and breathtaking.
We wandered through town in the morning, grabbed a few sandwiches, jumped on a bus and picnicked next to a glacier! Only in Patagonia.
Where we stayed: Hosteria Los Gnomos
Day 6: Travel Day to Puerto Natales
We got up very early the next morning to catch a bus into Puerto Natales, Chile. Have I mentioned again how far everything is in Patagonia? Between the customs and border patrol crossing, this trip took over 7 hours. We grabbed a late lunch in Puerto Natales before renting a car to head to Torres del Paine National Park.
Honestly, if you talk to me about our Patagonia trip, it takes me a few sentences to fully appreciate how incredible it was. And, after a few months of self-reflection, I think that’s because there was so much fear wrapped up in our trip.
Patagonia is wild. The weather is primal, the roads are primitive and you are very, very far away from traditional comforts. The internet is very spotty and days would pass before we would find a signal. All of this is charming and wonderful in its own special way, but it’s not ideal when you are a new parent and crippled by the idea of something happening to you or your child and not being able to communicate.
The car ride into the national park was an experience in itself. Most of the way is gravel (up and around mountains!) and the road signs, if you could call them that, are very confusing. Another giant wave of relief once we finally arrived at our camp site and were parked for the night.
As lodging options are very limited in TDP, BL convinced me tent camping was the way to go. Let me tell you, this was an awesome experience as the night sky was glowing with the brightest stars I’ve ever seen. Grabbing a campsite is also a smart money move; the only other lodging option close to the Tower’s hike is a $400/night hotel. Save your money, let someone else pitch your tent and enjoy a peaceful evening under the night sky.
Where we stayed: Torre Central refugio
Day 7: Towers Hike
After my melt-down on the Fritz Roy hike, I was pretty nervous heading out. Everyone had compared the two hikes to be similar in ability and ascent, and my head wasn’t in the right space.
Well, this turned out to be the most incredible hike, perhaps of my life. (Although, this New Zealand one is a very, very close second.) The weather was good and the view at the end was breathtaking. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. To me, this is a MUST in Patagonia, even though I preferred the time we spent in Argentina much more than the time we spent in Chile.
Depending on the weather forecast, I’d recommend starting early. I really enjoy being on the trail before it gets too crowded, especially as you get closer to the top with small, endless switchbacks. Going early also helps on Wind Pass, a narrow, open curve along a mountainside that feels like you could tumble to your death with every gust. A few times I had to crouch down low for fear I was going to fall off. This is much more pleasant when you aren’t also trying to pass other people!
After we got back to our campsite, we packed up our belongings and made our way to perhaps the cutest hotel I’ve ever seen, Hosteria Pehoe. We spent the evening playing card games by the fire, drinking beers and eating B+ quinoa-veggie burgers.
Where we stayed: Hosteria Pehoe
Day 8: Salto Grande Waterfall + Lago Grey
After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we hiked to see the Salto Grande Waterfall. With wind gusts reaching 70 mph it was an adventurous walk. It was hard to keep our footing, and unfortunately, we even saw a young girl thrown to the ground by the wind. We made it to the waterfall, completed the trail loop, and got out of there!
We had tickets for the Lago Grey boat trip that afternoon, but upon our arrival (with winds gusts still very strong), we learned it was cancelled.
Oh, well. So instead, we headed to the beautiful hotel bar and enjoyed a fresh cocktail served with glacier ice. After soaking in the view for a bit, we set out on the harrowing return car trip to Puerto Natales just in time for dinner followed by a nightcap involving the best gin at Last Hope I’ve ever tasted.
If you make your way to Puerto Natales, you must head here. The bar staff was all women serving up inventive cocktails with their homemade gin. The perfect place to close out our trip!
Where we stayed: Pire Mapu Cottage
Day 9: Head to Punta Arenas
It was hard to believe that even with all of the bus rides we’d taken in this part of the world we were still three hours from the nearest airport. We had breakfast in town and then grabbed a 10AM bus down to Punta Arenas to catch our flight to Santiago and begin our long return journey.
Day 10: Overnight flight to DC
Back to DC! We headed to my sisters house, picked up our baby (FINALLY!), ate lunch, then made our way back to STL.
So there you have it! A complete itinerary for exploring Patagonia in 10 days or less. If you’re heading there, let me know. I’d love to help answer any questions in building your itinerary.