3 Epic Patagonia Itineraries for Backpackers

Reflective lake

The Patagonia region, straddling Argentina and Chile towards the very bottom of the South American continent, is a bucket list destination that comes up time and time again – and for good reason. 

Otherworldly landscapes, vast expanses of unspoiled wilderness, and trekking heavyweights like Torres del Paine and Mount Fitz Roy make a visit here a once-in-a-lifetime treat. 

While definitely still remote, there are regular air and land connections from bigger cities in Argentina and Chile (especially during peak season), and a variety of adventures await you once you arrive. These Patagonia itineraries for one and two weeks of travel will help you plan the trip of a lifetime. 


Related: (opens in new tab)


3 Epic Patagonia Itineraries

1. Chilean Patagonia Itinerary: 1 Week

Day 1-2: Fly into Punta Arenas and visit Isla Magdalena

Fly into Punta Arenas Airport from Santiago. Once you’re feeling settled, book a ferry ride to Isla Magdalena for a day trip to see the adorable Magellanic penguins. Unlike other wildlife tours where sightings are not guaranteed, there is a very strong chance you’ll see the penguins here. The island is a nationally-protected breeding ground for approximately 120,000 of them!

Penguins
Did you know? A group of penguins is called a waddle!

Day 2-3: Travel from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, and then to Torres del Paine National Park

Take a charter bus or rent a car to Puerto Natales, where you can stock up on snacks and any gear you may need. From there, continue to Torres del Paine National Park, which is also accessible from Puerto Natales by bus or rental car. Puerto Natales is more of a jumping-off point than a destination in its own right, but feel free to wander a bit around the small town if you have some free time. 

Day 3-7, Option 1: W Trek

The W Trek is one of the most popular hikes in Patagonia, but it requires a commitment of 4-5 days to complete in its entirety, as well as pretty good conditions and advance planning. Spanning around 80 kilometers (50 miles), the hike is moderate in difficulty and doesn’t have too many high-altitude portions or ascents. 

Note that thru-hiking is only available from October to late April due to the weather, and you’ll definitely need to book your lodging in advance. Campsites should cost about $9-25 USD per night, and you’ll need to bring all your own gear – tent, cooking materials, layered clothing, etc., or rent it in Puerto Natales. 

If you go the refugio route, you won’t need to pack so much gear and you’ll have a guaranteed place to stay each night. These start at about $25 USD for a bed in a dorm room and tend to get booked up quite fast.

The W Trek combines the highlights of the park into a super-doable multi-day trek, including Valle Francés with its unbelievable ‘hanging glacier’, Glacier Grey, and, of course, the iconic towers from which the park gets its name. It typically is hiked from east to west in the shape of a ‘W’, beginning at Refugio Las Torres and ending at Refugio Paine Grande.

Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is breathtaking. Photo credit: Steven Bewick

Day 3, Option 2: Mirador Las Torres hike

If the W Trek is a bit too daunting for you, there’s still a way to see the towers on a day trip. Arguably the most famous hike in the whole park, the 20-kilometer Mirador Las Torres trail starts near the Hotel las Torres and the welcome center and should take around 7-8 hours to complete. 

Keep in mind that this trail is quite tough on the ascent, and good weather is crucial to your enjoyment and also in order to get a really good view of the iconic towers. The good news is that the way back is much easier because it’s all downhill! 

Day 4, Option 2: Glacier Grey kayak trip

For a bit of a change of pace, consider spending a day visiting the largest piece of ice in the world (well, outside of the North and South Pole.) Glacier Grey is a part of the massive Southern Patagonian Ice Field, and its immense size makes it ideal for glacier-hiking. 

You can also kayak across Grey Lake to get up close and personal to the glacier. Keep in mind that the glacier hike can be a bit challenging, and the nature of this day trip makes a guide necessary. 

Day 5, Option 2: Mirador Lago Grey hike

The Mirador Lago Grey is an easy 5-kilometer hike, perfect for a day with rain forecast in the afternoon or for those not seeking to hike for several hours. 

Starting at the end of the Y-150, right near the Hotel Lago Grey, the hike crosses a suspension bridge down to a sandy peninsula with amazing views of the cordillera and the water. While you can’t really see the glacier from here, there are huge chunks of ice in the water which is also an impressive sight. 

Note: Don’t miss the views from Mirador Pehoé, located right on the road where the Hotel Lago Grey is, no hiking needed!   

Day 6, Option 2: Mirador Cóndor hike

Mirador Cóndor is another one of those bucket-list hikes in Torres del Paine that people often recommend. It’s only 3 kilometers long but can get a bit challenging due to the ascents. 

However, the challenge is totally worth it for the views of Lago Pehoé and the Los Cuernos mountains poking out in their distinctive horn shapes – there’s a reason why this is one of the most photographed places in the park, and it’s a great hike to prioritize. 

Day 7: Journey back to Punta Arenas from Torres del Paine, and fly back to Santiago from there.

Torres-del-Paine
Torres Del Paine is one of Chile’s best destinations for hikers.

If you’d like to tack on a week on the Argentine side, see the 2-week Patagonia itinerary below. 

Note that internal flights in Chile tend to be cheaper (and more frequent) than in Argentina, so consider starting any combination itinerary on the Chilean side, followed by the Argentine. 

Also keep in mind that the best way to get between the two sides of the Patagonia region is via bus or car, as budget flights are usually nonexistent. 

2. Argentine Patagonia Itinerary: 1 Week

Day 1: Fly into El Calafate and visit Laguna Nimez

Fly into El Calafate Airport from Buenos Aires. The journey from the airport to the town is quick and budget-friendly via regular shuttle departures, and the town is much more developed than Puerto Natales. 

There are a variety of cute shops and restaurants, and the town center is within walking distance of Laguna Nimez, a serene bird sanctuary where you can see all types of flora and fauna, including flamingos. 

Calafate Hostel is a great place to stay, with lovely staff, super-reasonable prices, and proximity to activities, as well as discounts on day trips and tours. 

Day 2: Boating and glacier-trekking in Perito Moreno 

No trip to the Argentine side of Patagonia is complete without a visit to the breathtaking Perito Moreno glacier. Located in the Los Glaciares National Park, only 80 kilometers from El Calafate, Perito Moreno is a perfect day trip. 

Perito Moreno Glacier
The Perito Moreno Glacier is 3 miles wide.

The glacier is enormous, with a wide, flat surface perfect for trekking – one of the most popular activities there. You can also opt to just do the boat ride, or even just explore the small, well-marked trails around the glacier. 

You’ll notice that this is very popular with tourists. While absolutely worth it, it’s good to arrive as early as you can to ensure you get the best spots on the boat or unobstructed views on the trails. 

If you opt to do the glacier hike, it begins with a boat ride across the lake to the glacier, where you’re given crampons and pickaxes for the hiking portion. Most people choose the mini-trek that lasts about 1.5 hours, but you can also opt for a 3.5-hour hike. Note that the price of transportation to the park, entry fees, the boat ride, and the guided trek add up quickly – this may be one of the more expensive days on your trip. 

Day 3-6: El Chaltén, “Trekking Capital of Argentina” 

Day 3: El Calafate to El Chaltén, Los Cóndores and Las Águilas hike

The drive from El Calafate to El Chaltén takes about four hours and is very scenic. If you rent a car, you’ll definitely be tempted to stop regularly to take photos! Keep an eye out for guanacos, adorable (but very shy) members of the llama/vicuña family, and perhaps even a lone gaucho on horseback. 

It’s also possible to travel between El Calafate and El Chaltén by bus, so check departure times from the airport or the town center, as this is often easier. 

If you get a sufficiently early start, you’ll have time for a quick hike upon arriving in El Chaltén. There are two viewpoints accessible right from town: Los Cóndores and Las Águilas. 

These offer splendid views of Cerro Torre, Fitz Roy, and the Valley of the Vueltas if the weather is clear. Even if it isn’t, the view of the cozy town below is worth it on its own, and neither is particularly hard. 

Day 4: Laguna de los Tres day hike

El Chaltén is such a great destination to prioritize because many of the region’s best hikes start right in town. One of the most popular, the Laguna de los Tres hike, offers a great summary of the region’s forests, meadows, and soaring mountain peaks, all in a doable day hike. The final summit to the laguna can be a bit tough (with some rock scramble and uneven terrain), but the view of Mount Fitz Roy from the top is absolutely stunning. 

El Chalten
The entrance to El Chaltén National Park.

You can stay overnight at the Poincenot campground (bonus: camping here is free!) to continue on the Mount Fitz Roy trek, or return to El Chaltén. All-in-all, this hike is about 24 kilometers in length. It’s advised to bring your own gear with you if you’re camping, but it can also be rented at the entrance to the park. 

Day 5-6, Option 1: Continue on Mount Fitz Roy overnight trek

Definitely the most emblematic hike of the Patagonia region, trekking Mount Fitz Roy is one of the most popular and recognizable treks in South America and perhaps, the whole world! Even better, the trail is mostly flat, so it’s not terribly difficult (unless you choose to scale the mountain itself, which is expert-level difficult.) 

Due to abundant ranger stations along the way, many people choose to complete it self-guided. Continuing from the Laguna de los Tres, you’ll continue to see unbelievable lagoons, such as Laguna Madre, Laguna Hija, Laguna Nieta, and of course Mount Fitz Roy itself.  

Day 5-6, Option 2: Vespignani Glacier and Lago del Desierto 

If Laguna de los Tres was enough hiking for you, another option instead of the full Fitz Roy trek is a boat ride along the Lago del Desierto with some lighter trekking to see the Vespignani Glacier and the northern face of Fitz Roy. 

The Vespignani Reserve has easy, moderate, and difficult trail options, and you’ll also have great vistas of the Huemul and Crestón glaciers on the boat ride from Punta Sur, near El Chaltén.

Day 7: Journey back to El Calafate, then back to Buenos Aires. 

If you have time, consider visiting Estancia Cristina, an estancia dating back to 1914 that still offers day tours, hiking, boating, horseback riding, and other activities. The boat tour, in particular, comes well-recommended for its views of the Upsala Glacier on the Lago Argentino. 

Again, if you’d like to tack on a week on the Chilean side, see the 2-week Patagonia itinerary below.

3. 2 Week Patagonia Itinerary (Joint Chilean and Argentine Sides)

Day 1-2

Fly into Punta Arenas and visit the penguins at Isla Magdalena, then make your way to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine from there. 

Day 3-7

Enjoy Torres del Paine National Park, either hiking the W Trek (in whole or part) or doing individual hikes, treks, or outdoor activities like Lago Grey, Glacier Grey, and Mirador Las Torres. 

Day 7

Make your way via bus or rental car from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. The journey takes about 3.5 hours and is eminently easy and doable by bus – this is the recommended option. If you’d prefer to rent a car, you can, though make sure that you’re allowed to take the car over the border between Chile and Argentina!  

Looking out over the water at Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is commonly used as a jumping-off point for other destinations.

Read more about road tripping South America here. 

Day 8

Visit the Perito Moreno glacier for a day trip, adding a boat ride and/or glacier-trekking if you’re so inclined. The boat ride is extra-spectacular, giving you an up-close and personal view of the glacier.

Day 9-12

Spend a few days in El Chaltén, enjoying classic hikes like Mount Fitz Roy or Laguna de los Tres, horseback riding, boating, and other activities in the ‘trekking capital of Argentina’.  

Day 13

Enjoy a relaxed day in El Calafate, which has nice local shopping and dining options, as well as Laguna Nimez (within walking distance) or other day trip options like Estancia Cristina. 

Day 14

Fly back to Buenos Aires from El Calafate. 

If you have longer than 2 weeks, even better! You can choose to extend your visit to any of the above-mentioned places, or further excursion options could include Tierra del Fuego National Park, the ‘end of the world’ resort town of Ushuaia, and even Antarctica.


Practicalities of Planning a Trip to Patagonia

There are a few things to keep in mind as you plan your trip.

Time of Year

Peak season on both sides of the Patagonia region is summertime: from December to March. While you can visit parts of the Patagonia region year-round, note that the tourism infrastructure is much more developed on the Argentine side. 

Attractions like the Perito Moreno glacier are accessible year-round (and a winter visit here, in particular, is fantastic!) but Torres del Paine is generally less accessible in winter. 

Many tours do not operate at all, and trails and roads are often closed. Shoulder season is a great time to avoid crowds, pay a bit less for accommodation, and still get to do everything you’d like to do. 

Cloudy Fitz Roy
Shoulder season is good for budget backpackers but the conditions are generally less favorable.

Advance Booking

If you’re planning to visit either side of Patagonia in peak season, it’s crucial to book your lodging (whether hostels, campsites, or refugios) and activities ahead of time. Activities like the boat ride and glacier trek on Perito Moreno, lodgings at Refugio Frey, or the campsites along the W Trek fill up really rapidly and have very limited availability. 

Entrance to Torres del Paine National Park should also be booked online. In shoulder season, booking ahead of time can save you money and also give you peace of mind. In the off-season, consider booking ahead of time to be sure that what you want to do is open in the time of year you’re visiting.  

Hiking 

Whether or not you need a guide depends completely on the trail you’re planning to do. While some trails are well-marked, easy-to-navigate, and relatively risk-free, others can get dangerous quickly. 

Remember that the weather in Patagonia is very volatile, and this can present grave danger to even the most experienced hikers. When in doubt, hire a guide – and definitely hire one if it’s recommended for the hike you’re doing. 

Some hikes are always done with a guide, such as glacier-trekking on Perito Moreno, but some, like Mount Fitz Roy, have many ranger stations and are doable self-guided if you feel comfortable doing so. The W Trek is also doable self-guided, but it can be challenging to make your camping or refugio bookings without someone who knows the distances and terrain.

women hiking
Some of the most famous hikes in Patagonia can be done self guided.

Transport

To get between the airport in El Calafate and the city center, consider the airport shuttle. If you’d like to road trip in the area, renting a car is also an option for you, though there are a variety of buses and day tours available between hotspot destinations that will likely cost less than renting a car. 

Getting between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales is also easy by car or by bus. Hitchhiking is quite common with locals and tourists alike, but exercise your best judgment here – if something doesn’t feel right, you should refuse an offered ride. It is also best to hitchhike only if you have a travel companion with you.  

Money 

Unfortunately, Patagonia is not a particularly cheap destination. In high season, prices soar, and the necessity of importing food and other essentials to the region makes everyday costs fairly high as well. There are definitely ways to save, though as the tips below demonstrate!

  • Consider bringing non-perishables with you (like nuts, protein bars, etc.) and shopping at grocery stores. 
  • Camping is naturally cheaper than hotels, especially if you bring your own gear, but also can get pricey. Plan ahead.
  • Don’t forget to track flight prices! LATAM’s Spanish-language site is notorious for having much cheaper fares than their English-language one, so download Google Chrome’s browser extension to translate and compare fares, and don’t forget about budget airlines like SKY or JetSmart. 

Safety in Patagonia

Patagonia is very safe, with very few of the scams and risks to tourists inherent to other areas of South America. The biggest danger is the weather, which is highly volatile. Keep an eye on the daily forecast and be sure to listen to local emergency services if there are any warnings for that day. If possible, try to leave some flexibility in your trip in case it’s best to reschedule a hike for a different day. 

Patagonia
Keep an eye on the weather, especially if you’re hiking.

How to Get to Patagonia

The easiest way for most visitors to get to both sides of the Patagonia region is by air from Buenos Aires or Santiago. It’s best to pick the side you’re most interested in and fly there first – it’s difficult to go from Buenos Aires to the Chilean side and vice-versa. Note that Chile has more internal flights and providers than Argentina, so flights can often be cheaper. 

In Argentina, Aerolíneas Argentinas offers flights between Buenos Aires and El Calafate year-round. Note that while most international arrivals fly into Ezeiza International Airport, most flights to Patagonia fly from the domestic airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP.) 

If you want to take a (very long) road trip, consider driving part of Ruta 40, which connects almost the entirety of western Argentina from Santa Cruz to Jujuy, and includes Bariloche and other hotspots in Patagonia.  

The Chilean side can be a bit trickier. Flights to Puerto Natales, the closest hub to Torres del Paine, are few and far between, but LATAM offers flights between Santiago and Punta Arenas Airport (PUQ), which puts you about 4-5 hours from the entrance to the park. To get there, you can rent a car or take a charter bus.

It’s almost always financially unwise to get a flight from Argentina to the Chilean side or vice-versa, so the best way to get between the two sides of Patagonia is to take a bus between El Calafate and Puerto Natales. They are located about 350 kilometers away from each other, so about 4-5 hours by road. This is a super common journey, especially in peak season.

Residents of surrounding countries, as well as those visiting from the EU, the US, Canada, and a variety of other countries in South America, are exempt from visas in Argentina and Chile and eligible for a 90-day visa-free stay. Be sure to check your specific country to see if a visa is required prior to booking your trip!

Read more: South America Visa Guide.


Backpacking Patagonia is something all trekking fans should prioritize doing. The terrain is truly unique, and it’s not a cliché to say that it’s one of the most unforgettable places in the world. 

While you should definitely visit the big attractions like Perito Moreno and Torres del Paine, Patagonia is full of awe-inspiring backpacking destinations, with myriad trails and opportunities for bouldering, kayaking, glacier-hiking, and camping. 

If you’re seeking a ‘reset’ to connect with nature and want to witness the region in all its beauty and splendor, you’ll find something in these Patagonia itineraries to suit you.

Which of these Patagonia itineraries would you choose?

Tegan & Alex Bio Pic
Tegan George & Alex McKenzie | Why Not Walk

Tegan and Alex are travel, hiking, and biking enthusiasts currently based in Boston, USA. There is nothing they love more than exploring new places by walking, and they have visited over 30 countries together since they met in 2015. Their love for “walking the world” led them to found Why Not Walk, a travel guide site. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest to start planning your next adventure!

Find them on: Facebook | Instagram

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top