I knew I would love Patagonia before I even arrived. I’d dreamt of visiting for so long that I don’t even remember how I first learned about it. I can only assume it was a picture or story from a fellow traveler that first prompted me to want to visit. Not easy to access or the cheapest place to visit, it took me until now to get there.
For those of you who may not know where Patagonia is, here’s a quick geography lesson. Patagonia stretches across both Chile and Argentina. It is located in the most southern part of these counties and includes multiple national parks. The area is so large that much of it is still remote wilderness, covering just over 400,000 square miles.
Normally I would say that a trip like this would require months of preparation, but we planned and booked everything in about a month. We didn’t decide until December that we were going on the trip, but we knew we wanted to go in February. February is one of the best months to visit because it is South America’s summer. You get warm temperatures and little rain, but lots of strong winds.
We spent a total of two weeks in Patagonia and it was the perfect amount of time. The itinerary below outlines what we did, where we went and how far we hiked. For the most part, I wouldn’t change a thing. If there was something I would modify, I called it out below. We only spent time in Patagonia, but there is so much more to see in both Chile and Argentina that I hope to make it back to explore more.
Two Week Itinerary
Day 1 | Travel
Cleveland, Ohio to Santiago, Chile to Puerto Natales, Chile
We lost the entire first day to travel. It took a staggering 23 hours to reach Patagonia or more specifically, Puerto Natales, Chile. Traveling from Cleveland has it’s challenges, especially since we don’t have many direct flights available. To get to Chile, we had to fly to New York first (an hour flight), before flying to Santiago (ten hour flight) and then finally Puerto Natales (three hour flight). While none of the flights were that bad, it was a long time to spend traveling.
Day 2 | Puerto Natales + W Trek Prep
Hotel: El Establo
At first, flying into Puerto Natales seemed like a gamble. Very few travel websites and bloggers even reference the Puerto Natales airport, probably because it just opened within the last couple of years. The upside of flying into Puerto Natales is that it gets you close to Torres del Paine National Park, which was our goal. The other option is to fly into Punta Arenas (also in Chile) and then take a three hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. We decided to cut out that step by flying directly into Puerto Natales and luckily for us, we didn’t experience any issues or delays.
On day two we walked around town, but there isn’t a whole lot in Puerto Natales. You can definitely find plenty of dining options, but it’s really just a jumping off point for the national park and other excursions. That first afternoon we had a meeting at Fantastico Sur, which is the company we used to book the W trek. The W trek is five days of hiking through Torres del Paine National Park, staying at refugios (essentially dorm/hostel style sleeping) or camping. Fantastico Sur booked everything we needed for the trek, including accommodations and bus tickets. We just had to show up.
Day 3 | Puerto Natales + Travel to Torres del Paine
Hotel: Refugio Torre Central
Day three officially kicked off our trek, just without any hiking. We packed up our giant backpacks – mine holds up to 75 liters (big mistake – I would do no more than 50 in the future) and stored our rolling suitcases for when we returned. We were then transported by bus the two and half hours to Torres del Paine National Park.
Surprisingly, this refugio was quite nice. There were open sitting areas for meeting with fellow travelers and a bar to stock up on beverages. We met people who had done the trek in the opposite direction and got helpful tips for our trip based on their experiences. We also made quick friends with the people we had rode the bus up with, which was awesome because we would continue to hang out with them every evening of the trek once we made it to that night’s accommodation.
Day 4 | W Trek from Central to Chileno + Torres del Paine Base Hike
Hotel: Refugio Chileno
Hike Distance: 9.75 miles
We woke very early at 5:30 a.m. to the sounds of heavy rain and wind. We dressed in our waterproof gear, grabbed a quick breakfast (not great food when you leave before official breakfast time), grabbed our packed lunch and headed out into the early dawn. We were treated with a special sight about ten minutes into our walk. A puma was hunting rabbits near the refugio. I just happened to see her stroll across the road before she hid in the high grasses and stalked her prey. She saw us too, but lucky for us she was completely uninterested.
We continued walking for the next couple of hours until we reached Refugio Chileno. At this point we were sick of walking in the rain, so we took a break, unloaded our large backpacks and prepared our day packs for the remainder of the hike to the base of Torres del Paine. As we kept an eye on the weather, the rain stopped and the clouds started to part. We took that as our signal to start hiking. It was the right call, as about two hours later we had made it to the base of the famous towers and were rewarded with fabulous views of the both the mountains and the aqua lake down below. We enjoyed the view for awhile, before making the trek back down to Chileno for the evening.
Day 5 | W Trek from Chileno to Cuernos
Hotel: Camping at Refugio Cuernos
Hike Distance: 8 miles
For me, day five was one of my favorites. Aside from it being a rather easy hiking day, the views coming into Refugio Cuernos are stunning. You have glacial blue lakes to the left and rugged mountains on the right. It was also crazy windy, giving us a taste of the Patagonian wind we had read so much about. At one point my sunglasses were ripped right off of my face.
Because we booked so late, we ended up having to camp at Cuernos. The good news was we didn’t have to carry any of the camping equipment – it was already set-up for us when we arrived. The bad news was that the tent was really small and the bed mats were very hard. Cuernos was my favorite of all of the nights we stayed in the park because the views were insane and the sunrise/sunset were gorgeous. I did not sleep well, but that might have been due to the fact that it sounded like my tent was going to blow away with me in it.
Day 6 | W Trek from Cuernos to Paine Grande
Hotel: Refugio Paine Grande
Hike Distance: 15 miles
This was our longest day of hiking and also the day I made an amateur mistake. We started the day early from Cuernos, as it can take anywhere between eight and ten hours to hike this part of the trek. While the terrain isn’t difficult, it’s a really long day of walking. We stopped through Campo Italiano on our way to drop our large packs (you can leave your large pack and just carry your day pack for part of this day’s hike) and to stock up on water. This is where I made the mistake. I got water out of the river, which SHOULD be good to drink unfiltered, except it wasn’t.
We hiked from Italiano through the Frances Valley and ended at Mirador Britanico, where you’re basically surrounded by mountains on all sides. It felt like I was in a mountain colosseum. It’s really a beautiful and scenic hike the entire way up. From Britanico, you make your way back down the same trail, before grabbing your large packs and continue on your way to home base at Paine Grande. The views are beautiful, but after the last 2.5 hours of hiking we were mentally done and ready for a nice, cold beer.
Paine Grande Refugio reminded me more of Central, likely because those two refugios have the best access to civilization, so they just offer more than the others. Around 8 p.m. I started to realize that something was very wrong with my stomach. Whatever was in the water caused me to get something like food poisoning and I spent the evening and early morning being violently sick. It was not a great way to end the day.
Day 7 | W Trek from Paine Grande to Grey + Kayaking at Glacier Grey
Hotel: Camping at Grey Shelter
Hike Distance: 7 miles
I woke up the next morning and felt super weak. “Lucky” for me, this day of the trek was one of the shorter hiking days. The bad news was that I wasn’t sure I could hike seven miles with nothing in my stomach except a couple of crackers. I was also very concerned that I might get even more dehydrated and be even farther from civilization. After consulting with my mother who is a nurse, I decided to try the hike and see how I felt. I am not going to lie, it was rough. I had to stop a million times for breaks and was pretty sure I was not going to make it many of those times. Through the patience of my friend and mind over body, we finally made it to camp where I passed out for a much needed nap.
Unfortunately, we had also scheduled our kayaking trip with Bigfoot for that evening, so I had to rally after my nap. This was an excursion I had been dying to do and I really didn’t want to miss it. I felt a little bit better after my nap and the kayaks ended up being tandem, so it wasn’t that difficult. We were also lucky because the lake was super flat, which apparently is not always the case and trips are routinely canceled if it’s too windy. We ended up kayaking alongside the icebergs that had broken off in the lake and were able to get pretty close to the glacier. It was beautiful.
After kayaking, I fell asleep and slept like the dead until morning, even with us sleeping in a tent. And I didn’t get sick after that, so a major win in my book.
Day 8 | W Trek from Grey to Paine Grande + Catamaran + Bus to Puerto Natales
Hotel: El Establo
Hike Distance: 7 miles
On our final day of the W trek, we retraced our steps back to Paine Grande from Grey Glacier. I was feeling much better and actually able to appreciate the views of the glacier that I had missed on the way up while I was struggling to survive. It was a beautiful day with perfectly blue skies and little wind. We ended up meeting some new friends from California and passed the afternoon with them while we waited for the catamaran that would take us across Lake Pehoe, to a bus that ultimately takes you back to civilization. It was crazy windy that day, so much so that I felt like I was going to get blown over walking.
Over the course of five days we hiked just under 50 miles, kayaked at Grey Glacier and witnessed some of the best that nature has to offer. We met a unique group of people who share the same sense of adventure, as we all worked to accomplish the same goal. We made so many new friends and enjoyed running into people we had met on different parts of the trail throughout our time in the national park and then outside of Torres del Paine as we migrated to the Argentina side of Patagonia.
Day 9 | Puerto Natales to El Calafate + Laguna Nimez
Hotel: Airbnb at Casa Vista Lago
After five days of continuous hiking, our legs were begging for a reprieve, and they got one as we headed by bus from Puerto Natales, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina. While advertised as a five hour bus ride, it took us a little more than seven, as border control was experiencing technical difficulties. When you leave Chile you have to physically exit your bus and have your passport stamped. Then, when you enter Argentina you get back off the bus and go through a similar process. So, we didn’t end up arriving in El Calafate until late afternoon.
We spent our Sunday afternoon wandering around the small town, looking for massages. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any, so we walked around Laguna Nimez in search of flamingos. It was an easy and flat walk, but very windy. Other than that, we mostly just ate and drank and went to bed early in preparation for another big day.
Day 10 | Perito Moreno Glacier
Hotel: Airbnb at Casa Visto Lago
Hike Distance: 7.5 miles
Day 10 was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. We took the hour and fifteen minute bus ride to Los Glaciares National Park and got to witness the magnificent Perito Moreno Glacier. One of only a handful of glaciers in the world to actually be considered in equilibrium, this glacier continues to advance and recede at almost equal rates. It’s also the largest glacier I have ever seen, at 70 meters high above the water and more than 100 meters under water. It is fed by the third largest ice field in the world, only falling below Antarctica and Greenland in size. It’s simply magnificent.
The Big Ice tour through Hielo y Aventura (I am pretty sure they are the only company you can book through) allowed us to get every possible view of Perito Moreno. First we were able to take in the glacier from the viewing platforms, which gets you pretty close to the face of the glacier. Then we took a boat ride past the glacier to start a one hour hike that went alongside the glacier. From there we put on crampons, helmets and harnesses and explored the glacier for three hours! I felt like an early explorer, one of the first to see this untouched wilderness. It was truly spectacular to climb up and down the crevasses of the glacier, leaving me feeling like I was traversing on the moon. Afterwards, we were “rewarded” with whiskey served over glacial ice. It was a fantastic day.
Day 11 | El Calafate to El Chalten + Laguna de Los Tres Hike
Hotel: Airbnb at Aires del Fitz
Hike Distance: 6.5 miles
For the record, day 11 was supposed to be our rest day. We started the day with a three hour bus ride from El Calafate to El Chalten. If we did it again, we would’ve gone all the way to El Chalten the day we went to El Calafate (day nine) to get the long bus ride done up front. We took Cal-Tur for the bus ($20) and I would totally recommend using them.
El Chalten is a million times cuter than El Calafate. I loved it there. It’s super sleepy and there are tons of places to grab food or drinks. You can also see the magnificent Fitz Roy mountain from town. To ensure we didn’t miss out on massages again, we had booked them ahead of time at Spa Yaten and oh how our bodies thanked us.
After our massages we made the decision to do part of the Laguna de Los Tres hike. We had originally planned on doing the whole thing the following day, but we heard the weather was going to be terrible and didn’t want to miss out on seeing Fitz Roy. We hiked about an hour and half to an amazing mirador of the mountains. I was so glad we went. While mostly uphill, the view was perfect.
Day 12 | El Chalten + Laguna Torres Hike
Hotel: Airbnb at Aires del Fitz
Hike Distance: 13.5 miles
Based on what we thought we knew about the weather, we ended up sleeping in on day 12 before going on the Laguna Torres hike. Imagine our surprise when the weather ended up being beautiful and 75 degrees all day. The hike was gorgeous and the glacier at the end was well worth the trek, but I wish we would’ve done the full Laguna de Los Tres hike. Oh well – next time!
It was a long hike day, but the trail was great and mostly flat. You were also able to catch glimpses of Fitz Roy along the way. This was also our last hike, bringing us in at 75 miles total for the two weeks we were in Patagonia.
Day 13 | El Chalten to Puerto Natales
Hotel: El Establo
Day 13 was mostly a travel day, as we had to start working our way back to Puerto Natales for the plane ride home. We took the 8 a.m. bus to El Calafate and arrived on time. We then stored our luggage at the bus station and went into El Calafate for lunch and drinks to pass the time until our 4:30 p.m. bus to Puerto Natales. If we would’ve modified our schedule, we would’ve already been in El Calafate, only needing a five hour bus ride, rather than two different buses totaling eight hours.
We hit up the Patagonian Brewing Co. and organized our pictures and just hung out. It was nice to not be hiking for once! We then went back to the bus station and made it back to Puerto Natales in record time, with no issues at the border. We stayed at the same hotel we had been at before, which was really nice and also great to know where we were going at 10 p.m.
Day 14 | Travel
Puerto Natales, Chile to Santiago, Chile to Cleveland, Ohio
Our last day doesn’t really count, as we really just had time for breakfast and lunch, before heading to the airport to start the nearly 24 hours of travel back to the US. The end.