A guide to the Andes part of Patagonia between Ushuaia and Bariloche
Are you thinking about heading to Patagonia with only 3 weeks and don’t know which places to visit? This piece is here to help you decide what itinerary to pick, especially if you want to stick by the Andes, rather than exploring the flatter eastern parts in Southern Argentina. So if you are for example interested in places like Puerto Madryn, this might not be the best source of information for you. But if you’d like to know about the iconic Torres del Paine, Mt Fitzroy, Perito Moreno Glaciar, Tierra del Fuego or Bariloche as well as few perhaps less known places, you’re reading the right article.
Except brief description of the listed locations, this piece will also talk about general logistics, budget, possible obstacles, safety, transport options. You could however also access far more detailed, AKA mini guide-like information about specific locations, by clicking the links provided bellow. Those include particular trekking/activities options, safety and various tips. I hope that you’ll find this article useful.
3 weeks itinerary for Patagonia possible locations in south-to-north order
Ushuaia (Arg) ✈️ – Punta Arenas (Chile) ✈️ – Puerto Natales (Torres del Paine) – El Calafate (Arg) ✈️ – El Chaltén – Los Antiguos/Chile Chico (Marble Caves and upper Carretera Austral) – Cerro Castillo – Coyhaique ✈️ – Puerto Chacabuco – Quellón (Chiloé) or Puerto Montt ✈️ – Puerto Varas – Bariloche (Arg) ✈️
Obviously, you can pick your direction, pace/depth of exploration as well as staring and ending point, according to your needs or time schedules. I’ll state how many days should one spend in each place for the basic explorations only, that would cover the highlights of the listed locations. However, because we’re all interested in different things, and whether it’s trekking, fauna, flora, adventure activities and so on, we might all require individual time frames to explore our particular areas of interest.
I therefore suggest leaving some space for flexibility in your itinerary if possible because some of these locations have multiple attractive trekking/activity options, as you’re about to find out. In my own experience, once you’re travelling, your areas of interest might slightly alter, if compared to your original plans that were made somewhere on the sofa in your living room 😉
Tip: Start creating your own itinerary by saving the red-highlighted Google Maps location links provided bellow. If you are signed into your Google account and if any of the listed places sounded like your cup of tea, just click "want to go". Personally for me, seeing the "Want to go" places helped me to determine my journey, when I was planning my trip across Latin Americas...
When to visit Patagonia
In my humble opinion, the ideal time to visit Patagonia are shoulder seasons. It’s either Austral spring (October – November) or Austral autumn (March – April). Either way, you’d avoid the crowds gathering in Patagonia in austral summer (Nov-Mar) and your overall cost of the trip will be considerably cheaper.
It is however possible that some hotels and restaurants might not be open yet and some treks not yet prepared for trekking (or still closed for the bad weather) if you go too early, respectively too late. Having all that pre-information out of the way, let’s get on the Patagonia in 3 weeks itinerary.
1: Ushuaia. 3-5 days (optional)
Ushuaia is a charming little town (pop approx 70 000) that promotes its tourism as the southernmost city in the world AKA El Fin Del Mundo (End of the World). The town is surrounded by a dramatic mountain range and has beautiful Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego in its close proximity, only 17km away. The whole area boasts of fantastic trekking opportunities of all grades.
Except the surrounding nature, it would be worth to explore the lively town a bit. You could even get your passport stamped by the port entrance with ‘End of the World’ stamp. If you are interested in local history or just in case of a bad weather, it would be worth checking out the local museum that’s made of former prison to find out about the history of marine exploration and the hard life of the first settlers here.
I would also recommend to take a boat trip through the Glaciers Avenue that passes along four glorious glaciers and the iconic lighthouse in Beagel Channel. It’s a bit pricey but definitely worth it 😉 Before you leave Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, don’t forget to send some exclusive post cards to your loved ones from El Fin del Mundo post office in the park, right by one of the bus stops. More details about Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, including numerous useful links, trekking options, safety and more could be found here.
2: Punta Arenas (Isla Magdalena). 1-2 days
The biggest attraction that puts Punta Arenas on the tourist map is the town’s close proximity to Isla Magdalena, an island that hosts a large colony of Magellanic Penguins (estimated population of 120 000). You can visit Isla Magdalena with multiple agencies offering the tour for and equivalent of about €80, if the weather permits. Other than that, the town comes with some museums connected to its marine exploration history, few shipwrecks and a lot of wind. Further information about Punta Arenas ad the Penguin tours could be found here.
3: Puerto Natales (Torres del Paine). 3-6 days
An approximately 4hrs/€10,50 north from Punta Arenas lies Puerto Natales, the gateway to the Torres del Paine Parque Nacional, the place with some of the most iconic views in Chile. Two hours bus drive from the town will get you to the park for an equivalent of €19,50 return bus to the Hotel Las Torres is further €7,90 return and the 3 day entrance to the park will cost you €27,50.
Please bear in mind that unless you plan your trip well ahead (I’m talking two months as least), you’ll find it rather difficult to secure a spot in the camping places inside the park. Such situation would disallow you from doing the multi day “W” or “O” treks but you will still be able to make day trips commuting from Puerto Natales, including the iconic Las Torres trek. More information, tips and recommendations, as well as the rather unnecessary comparison between TdP and its Argentinian “counterpart” El Chaltén is here.
4: El Calafate. 1 day
El Calafate is a rather pretty tourism-boosted town of about 20 000 people. It’s main attraction is its proximity to the mighty Perito Moreno Glacier. In spite of a mass tourism element (the glacier is among the most visited places in Argentinian Patagonia), it’s definitely worth it once you’re in the area. I mean that Perito Moreno is one stunning and spectacular glacier and the park’s impressive infrastructure will provide you with great experience. A little guide about how to visit the glacier from El Calafate is here.
5: El Chaltén. 3-4 days
About 4,5 hours and about €19 Euros’ worth of a bus drive from El Calafate will get you to El Chaltén is a small charming touristy outpost that lies in the picturesque valley at the feet of Andes mountains. El Chaltén is a pretty and “well oiled” tourist town with some nice restaurants, hotels, hostels and bars with tasty Argentinian cuisine, wine and artisanal beers.
All major treks are accessible from the town. The two main treks are Mt Fitzroy/Laguna de Los Tres (my fav) and Laguna Torre. The difficulty levels are usually easy-ish (pretty much a walk in the forest) but the last hour or so usually involves some steep ascent to get to the view points. More information, include all trekking options in the area could be found here.
6: Los Antiguos/Chile Chico (Marble Cathedral: optional). 1 day
In case you have time and patience for a bit of a detour that involves a long-ish night bus journey, you can grab a night bus from El Chaltén to Los Antiguos. I’ve opted for the 9pm – 6:30am/€49’s worth but (I know, they all were bloody expensive), that took me to the Argentinian frontier town of Los Antiguos. The bus ride involved a stunning sunset over the famous Ruta40, followed by a decent sleep in a semi-cama seat.
Crossing over to Chile is in this case a bit challenging because one has to pass through a 7km stretch of land between Argentina and Chile to reach Chile Chico and no public transport is allowed to operate this route. From there it’s a rather expensive (€29), 3hrs drive by a 4WD vehicle to Puerto Rio Tranquillo on an unpaved road. Further details about visiting Marble Caves here, in case you were interested to get more details.
Alternative option to reach Carretera Austral from El Chaltén
In case you have felt more adventurous than taking a night bus, you can alternatively walk across the border back to Chile via Villa O’Higgins (the beginning or the end of Carretera Austral) right from El Chaltén. It involves taking two ferries across the lakes and a night spent by Lago del Desierto. More details about this adventurous trek could be found the the link about Carretera Austral bellow.
7: Careterra Austral. 2-10 days
Chile’s Ruta 7 is a 1240km (see the map here) long partially paved highway famous for its stunning views and multiple national parks filled with glaciers, lakes, fjords, steep mountains and forests. From its south end, it starts at Villa O’Higgins and ends in Puerto Montt. I would personally recommend renting a vehicle to explore the full potential of what this beautiful stretch of land has to offer.
To fit this itinerary, this article only counts on exploring the region north of Chile Chico stretch of Carretera Austral, which would cover just over 1/2 of the possible journey. It’s however, of course up to you, how deep you’d like to explore the region. I’ve compiled a little guide for exploring the full length of the Carretera Austral with all popular stops along the way, activities, trekking options as well as extensive logistical details. Find it here.
8: Cerro Castillo. 1-4 days (optional)
Cerro Castillo is “the new Torres del Paine“, some say. I’m afraid that due to a knee-trouble, I can’t confirm what I’ve heard and read from multiple sources is true. What I can confirm is that quite a few travellers I’ve met raved about this less visited 4 day trek in Cerro Castillo. So if you like trekking in more secluded nature, this might just be the place for you to consider. More information could be found in the link about Carretera Austral above.
9: Puerto Chacabuco to Quellon by ferry or Puerto Montt by ferry or on Carretera Austral. 2-6 days
In case you like to observe nature and wildlife from the deck of a large boat and have no money to splash on one of the expensive cruises in the area, I’ve got good news for you: the local ferries also cut the stunning Patagonian nature as well 🙂 In case you were tempted, I’ve described multiple options of ferry travel in Southern Chile in a separate article here.
If taking a ferry wasn’t your cup of tea, you can just carry on heading up north on Carretera Austral and explore the region with multiple national parks. In particularly, I’d recommend Queluat nearby Puhuyuapi and Pumalín nearby Chaitén. Again, more details about popular spots on Carretera Austral could be found here.
In case you wanted something different and let’s say less visited, you could also consider visiting Isla Chiloé, the largest island of Chile with it’s two national parks, Ireland-like landscapes and unique local carpentry architecture. More details about the island are here.
10: Puerto Varas. 2 days (optional)
Popular posh Chilean resort town with pretty German architecture-influenced centre is located on shores of glacier lakes of Lago Llanquihue. The ultimate highlight in town are the lake and Vulcan Osorno, the perfectly shaped volcano that holds few spectacular trekking opportunities. More details could be found here, in a joined piece about Puerto Varas and it’s Argentinian “counterpart” Bariloche, the last destination on this list.
11: San Carlos de Bariloche. 3-6 days
About 5 hours stunning bus drive from Puerto Varas will take you over the Andes to San Carlos de Bariloche for and equivalent of about €13 . The town’s centre (Centro Cívico) is reminiscent of the Swiss Alpine houses and it hosts plenty of restaurants, cafés, bars and the locally made famous chocolate shops. Bariloche is one of the main tourism hubs in the whole Patagonia.
The nature around Nahuel Huapi Lake comes with spectacular scenery and a wide-range of activities available all year round. If you are into trekking, you might consider visiting Cerros Otto, Tronador and Catedral, the last being also a SKI resort in the winter. Again, for more detailed information, please see this piece that delivers more details about trekking, activities as well as places to see in the area.
How to get there?
Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires
The obvious travel hubs, where you will be most likely landing in Latin America are the respective capitals of Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile. Please click on the links to get more info about those two cities as they are both worth checking out. Especially I recommend spending at least few days in Buenos Aires, AKA The Paris of Latin America. Whether it’s checking out the world-class tango show, checking out some of the many art galleries in the city, trying the famous Argentinian cuisine of just sightseeing one of the many attractions of this incredible city has to offer.
When it comes to flying within Latin America, the internal flights do come with some great deals, if you book in advance. However as soon as you make it international, prepare for some crazy prices. So keep it in mind, that if you land in for example Santiago, consider flying to the nearest Chilean airport near your desired destination. Skyscanner should be able to help you with your choices.
Furthermore, please bear in mind that the distances down here could be enormous. When it comes to comfort, the buses here are amazing but any crazy relocations would cost you time so take that into consideration when deciding what places you’d like to visit, if the length of your vacation is strictly fixed. More information about public transport in Latin America could be found here, in case you were in interested.
When it comes to budgets, well, that is often rather individual, depending on your standards as well as activities you will decide to take upon. I mean that your budget can grow exponentially if you decide to take few boat trips or a guided multi-day tour for instance. Another considerable expense is your local transportation. If you want to see many locations, prepare to splash a lot of money for long bus journeys. I’d say that those are often the major elements to affect the total of your expenses.
To give you more particular answer, I’d say that if you want to be very economical and stay in dorms or tents, cook your own meals and only splash cash on park entries, you can get by with approximately €50 a day on average. If you pick the shoulder season, you could save up few bucks but then not all facilities and hotels might not be open yet, which will require a wee bit more planning. In case you were interested, here‘s a country-by-country traveller’s budget in Latin America.
Please note that some location you might visit are rather remote and not all of them will have ATM. Cards are sometimes accepted in hotels and even some park entrances but I would not count on using the plastic the way you’re used to in your city. It is therefore a good idea to always have some spare cash. Furthermore, there are the ATM withdrawal fees that are sometimes crazy, particularly in Argentina. More details about ATM fees in Latin America as well as the possible ways around them could be found here, in case you were interested.
When it comes to crime, Patagonia is one of the safest places on earth. Well, the larger cities, such as Bariloche do come with some pickpocketing and scam but most places in the whole region are very dependant on tourism and locals can appreciate that as well as its reputation when it comes to safety. Most of the travellers I’ve met were more worried about the fellow travellers rather than the locals to be honest.
That’s safety, when it it comes to danger from fellow human beings. But there’s something with far bigger potential of danger: The Mother Nature. I don’t mean to sound patronising but please bear in mind that you’re about to visit very remote wilderness with possible extreme weather conditions. Please do not underestimate the nature and also, please do not overestimate your trekking skills/abilities or your fitness levels, if you decide to take upon some of the more difficult treks 😉 More about safety in Latin America could be found here, in case you were interested.
Please remember to comply with Chilean customs rules that ban you from importing fruits, certain animal products or seeds. More details about that could be found here. Furthermore, upon entering Chile, you’ll be given a little paper slip with your stamped passport. Do not lose it because you’ll need it upon your departure.
Also, be pragmatic about your gear, what you pack. Every gram you carry on multi-day treks becomes heavier after few miles. In case you were going for a long trip and wanted to check if you have thought of everything, here’s my packing list of stuff I carried with me over 8 months across Latin Americas. Furthermore, here‘s also a post that lists things you should think about way before you finally departure for your adventure. Things that could later make your life much easier. I recommend checking that one out 😉
Sort of conclusion
Whatever you do – enjoy the nature – it’s truly one of the most beautiful, diverse and so called “untouched” areas of our planet to visit. I’m not saying that you’ll see the whole Patagonia in 3 weeks using this itinerary but I’m sure that it will allow you to see some of the its highlights 😉 Set your priorities straight. If you for example want orcas hunting seals, check what is the best place (Puerto Madryn, in this case), check when is the best time to do so (Oct and Nov, in this case) and wrap the rest of your trip around your priorities.
Overall, I’d say that less is sometimes more. If you can, don’t try to squeeze everything into a short single trip. There’s so much to see that some people keep coming back for years. Allow yourself to fully breath in the atmosphere, rather than just snapping a picture and rushing to the next place. For quite a few people, travelling has lately become some sort a photo-collection contest. Some travel websites even list locations based on “Instagram potential” (:0
Look, I am not judging, I’ve also taken many pics and posted them on Instagram myself – it’s just – it never ever cross my mind to think about a location in terms of the “likes” potential on social networks. I mean: be there for yourself, this is a real moment. And it’s your moment, remember it for what it is, rather than what it could be on social networks. That way you’ll see the small things, because “beautiful things don’t ask for an attention” 😉 You can always re-visit your pics in the eve, after shower and perfect dinner, with a glass of Malbec in you hotel.
Traveller’s Guides to Chile and Argentina
For more complex information about both countries that are home to Patagonia, please click here, respectively here. Expect learning about basic history, cuisine, general tourism info and safety, popular as well as off the beaten path places to visit and more.
Latin American locations covered on Quaint Planet with links
Santiago de Chile ► Valparaíso ► Santiago de Chile ►Punta Arenas – Ushuaia – Punta Arenas ► Puerto Natales – Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales ► El Calafate (Perito Moreno Glacier, Arg) ► El Chaltén (Los Glaciares National Park) ► Chile Chico (Ch) – Puerto Rio Tranquillo (Marble Caves) ► Coyhaique – Puyuhuapi – (Carretera Austral) ► Puerto Chacabuco – Quellón/Castro ► Puerto Varas – San Carlos de Bariloche (Arg) ► Buenos Aires ► Colonia (Ur) ► Montevideo ► Punta del Diablo – Cabo Polonio ► Montevideo ► Salto ► Concordia (Arg) ► Puerto Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) ► Salta ► San Salvador de Jujuy ► Tilcara ► San Pedro de Atacama (Ch) ► Uyuni Salt Flats Tour (Bol) ► Uyuni ► Sucre – La Paz (Death Road Tour) ► Copacabana (Lake Titicaca) – Isla del Sol – Copacabana ► Cusco (Per) ► Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) ► Cusco ► Lima ► Máncora – Montañita (Ecu) ► Puerto López ► Quito ► Ipiales (Col) – Pasto ► Tatacoa Desert ► Bogotá ► Medellín ► Villa de Lleyva ► Santa Marta – Cartagena – Rincón del Mar Necoclí ► Capurganá ► Puerto Obaldía (Pan) ► Panama City ► Las Lajas ► Cerro Punta ► David ► Bocas del Torro ► San José (Costa Rica) ► San Juan del Sur (Nic) – Ometepe ► Granada ► Managua – El Rama – Bluefields – Corn Islans ► Léon ► El Tunco (El Salvador) ► La Antigua Guatemala – Lake Atitlán ► Lanquín (Semuc Champey) – Flores (Tikal) ► Belize City ► Bacalar – Tulum – Playa del Carmen – Valladolid – Cancún.
Featured image is by John Vossen from Pixabay.