The southern region of Argentina and Chile offers travellers some of the most spectacular scenery on the South American continent. The Patagonian Andes consist of towering granite peaks, pristine lakes and massive glaciers. The town of El Chalten is our base for some great day hikes to Fitz Roy Base Camp, Laguna de los Tres and Cerro Torre. The sight and sound of the Moreno Glacier, as it makes its torturously slow advance across a five-kilometre front, will leave you breathless. Across the border in Chile, we enjoy some great day treks through the Paine National Park with its magnificent wildlife and the incredible Towers of Paine. Finally, at the tip of the continent, we explore the world's southernmost city – Ushuaia. A boat trip exploring the tiny islands of Beagle Channel is a delightful way to conclude our adventure.
Please note regional flights are not included in the tour price: Please contact us or your travel agent for flight details and costs.
Day 1 - Buenos Aires
On arrival at Buenos Aires' Ezeiza Airport (international) or Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (domestic), you are met and transferred to your hotel in the city. Please look for your transfer guide at the airport - they will be holding a sign with your name on it. Once you have checked into the hotel the remainder of your first day is free. In the evening you meet your tour leader and the other members of your group for a pre-tour briefing. Please check the notice board at hotel reception to confirm the exact time and place of your meeting. This is generally followed by an optional group dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 2 - Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is home to 11 million 'portenos', a name given to the inhabitants of Buenos Aires that literally means 'residents of the port'. It has been shaped by a history riddled with conflict and struggles. Even the achievement of independence in 1816 did not resolve ongoing disputes between local residents and conservative provincial landowners. However, following a succession of military juntas, Argentina now has a stable, democratic government. Our city tour of the Argentine capital combines bus transportation and walking and takes us to the district of Recoleta, famous for its cemetery often referred to as a miniature city-within-a-city because to its size. This place is also famous as the resting place for Argentina's favourite First Lady, Eva Peron. We also visit Palermo, Plaza San Martin, Plaza de Mayo and the colourful neighbourhood of La Boca, with its colourful wooden buildings. The afternoon is free for us to explore the city further at our leisure, but it may be possible to book on tours to the Costanera Sur Bird Sanctuary, Tigre Delta or Madero Harbour (please note that these additional tours will be at extra costs). In the evening it is also possible to arrange to see a tango show. Please ask your tour leader for more information.
Day 3 - El Calafate - El Chalten
We are transferred to the domestic airport (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery) for our flight to El Calafate. On arrival we are met and transferred by bus 220 kilometres north to the village of El Chalten, located at the foot of Cerro Fitz Roy (Fitz Roy Range). Our road journey takes approximately three-and-a-half hours. Founded in 1985, this small place situated within the Los Glaciares National Park is considered the 'trekking capital' of Argentina. We spend the night in twin-shared rooms in lodge style accommodation.
Day 4 - Fitz Roy Camp
El Chalten is our base for two days days in Los Glaciares (Glaciers) National Park, where Cerro Fitz Roy (3441m) towers above the surrounding peaks. We start our trek by making our way to the beautiful Laguna de los Tres, which was named after the three Frenchmen who were the first people to climb Fitz Roy. We then continue on to Fitz Roy Base Camp. Along the way, we look up for signs of the magnificent Andean condors, the birds of prey with the largest wingspan, which are often seen soaring overhead.
Day 5 - Optional Trek or Activities - El Calafate
Today is a free day for optional activities. The excursion to the Viedma glaciar to walk on the ice is a popular one, alternatively you might like to take another trek to Mount Pligue Tumbado, where we get to enjoy and absorb fantastic views over the whole Fitz Roy Massif. The sharp jagged features of the peaks gives rise to an ethereal and unworldly feeling that you are sure to encounter on this unique trek.
Another fantastic trek is to the base camp of well-known Cerro Torre (3102m), the most famous spire in the range.
In the late afternoon we travel by local bus back to the town of El Calafate, situated on the southern shore of Lake Argentino. El Calafate is a small remote community that is named after a small dark berry that grows in abundance around the area. It was officially founded in 1927 and has a population of 6000. In the evening we are free to wander around and absorb the lively atmosphere in the main street (Avenida del Libertador General San Martin), accentuated by the long twilight of the southern summer.
Day 6 - Perito Moreno Glacier Excursion - El Calafate
After breakfast we set out on our half-day trip to Perito Moreno Glacier. We travel 160 kilometres to get there and back, mainly on paved roads and over an area of wide barren plains known as Peninsula Magallanes. If we look up, we may be lucky enough to see condors soaring overhead. Upon arrival, we view arguably the world's most famous glacier from various vantage points. The spectacle we encounter here is not only one of sight, but also of sound. Thunderous cracks are followed by equally tremendous splashes, as great chunks of icebergs from the glacier wall break off intermittently and crash into the waters of the channel. Please pay attention to the signs around the site warning about the dangers of 'flying' ice. After our experience with the awesome force of nature, we return to El Calafate for a free afternoon. However those interested can book on an optional mini-trekking excursion where, after being provided with crampons and pick-axes, we get to actually walk on the glacier itself. Your tour leader can help to organise this activity for you, but this will need to be arranged on arrival.
Day 7-8 - Torres del Paine National Park
A full morning's drive takes us across the border to one of the most spectacular national parks in Chile - Torres del Paine National Park. A UNESCO-declared World Biosphere Reserve, it is a unique combination of impressive craggy mountains, including the famous Cuernos del Paine (Paine Horns), glaciers, waterfalls and lakes, as well as being home to abundant plant and animal life. There are excellent chances to spot guanacos, rheas, Andean condors, Chilean flamingos and many other species of birds and mammals. The Paine Massif rises over 3000 metres above the Patagonian steppe; a full day of trekking takes us to the base of the amazing Towers of Paine. We return in the evenings to our lodge located within the national park, where accommodation is provided in three and four bedded rooms with shared facilities.
Day 9 - Torres del Paine National Park - Puerto Natales
We enjoy a full day visiting the different areas of this beautiful national park. Short walks take us to Salto Grande Waterfall and the iceberg landscape of Grey Lake. In the late afternoon we transfer to Puerto Natales, a picturesque fishing village on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. With a population of 18,000, it is today a major tourist centre for anyone visiting Torres del Paine National Park or catching the ferry from Puerto Montt. The area was originally inhabited by Alacaluf and Tehuelche tribes before the first Europeans came in 1557. Subsequently, sheep farming became the main industry and attracted a large number of pioneering settlers to the area. These were largely immigrants that included people from German, British and southern Slavic stock, giving rise to a unique cosmopolitan mix that can still be seen today.
Day 10 - Punta Arenas
Today we take the bus to Punta Arenas, where in the afternoon we have some free time to enjoy some of the sights of this southern outpost. This city of 120,000 people is an important trading centre for wool, hides, mutton and timber produced in southern Chile, as evident by the multitude of sawmills, tanneries and facilities for processing frozen meat and canned fish. It is also the supply centre for the oil industry on the nearby archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. Punta Arenas was founded in 1849 for the purpose of reinforcing Chilean claims of sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan. The name came from 'Punta Arenosa', which means 'Sandy Point'. The city was a major refuelling station for ships before the opening of the Panama Canal. In your free time here we suggest that you climb the short distance to the top of the nearby Cerro Mirador, where the lookout offers fantastic views over the city and straits. This is best followed by a stroll around the historic heart of town and a visit to the indigenous and colonial museums. The main municipal cemetery is also worthy of a look and the names on the opulent headstones are testament to the diverse nationalities of the early pioneers that settled in this remote city.
Day 11 - Ushuaia
We have a long bus ride ahead of us today as we skirt the bottom of the South American continent before crossing the Straits of Magellan to the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego and the Argentinean town of Ushuaia. This unique place on the Beagle Channel lays claim to being the world's southernmost city and much of its development in the early 20th century was due to its development as a major penal colony. Today the old prison houses the Maritime Museum, which also contains interesting exhibits on Antarctic exploration. Today Ushuaia is the departure point for many expedition cruises to Antarctica.
Day 12 - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Ushuaia
Tierra del Fuego National Park was set up in 1960 and covers an area of 63,000 hectares, only a small part of which is open to the public. Our half-day excursion is designed for those who enjoy walks along easy and undemanding paths. We are collected from our hotel between 9:00 and 9:30 am and travel westwards. This seven kilometre walk (approximately three hours) is doubtlessly the most beautiful in the park, and we come across a great variety of vegetation including high deciduous beech, low deciduous beech, evergreen beech, winters bark and firebush. We have some free time to walk around the park, which is a natural reserve only opened to tourists a few years ago. Here we have the choice of two paths to walk on, both around 20 minutes long. Lapataia Bay, is home to beautiful seabirds of southern Argentina including albatross, petrel, snowy sheathbills and sometimes penguins, and marks the end of the Pan-American Highway. It contains evidence of the Yamana people who used to live in huts around this bay and ate shellfish. 90 species of birds live in the park including many water birds as well as the Andean Condor, the bird of prey with the longest wingspan in the world. It is also home to 20 species of land mammals, some of these are introduced animals such as Canadian beaver, rabbits and grey fox. On the outskirts of the park can be found an old steam train known as 'Tren del Fin del Mundo' (Train to the End of the World), which was used to transport prisoners down to this remote location in the days when Ushuaia was a penal colony. At the completion of our tour we travel back to Ushuaia and arrive back at our hotel around 1:30 pm.
In the afternoon, subject to weather conditions we embark on a 2.5 hours boat ride to the Sea-birds, Sea-Lions and Les Eclereurs Lighthouse Islands where we may see some of the beautiful seabirds of southern coastal Argentina including cormorants, rock cormorants, steamer-ducks, kelp geese, albatross, petrel and snowy sheathbills. You may even see some penguins during the excursion.
Day 13 - Buenos Aires
Many of you may have chosen to combine this trip with an Antarctic cruise on board one of our vessels. Those who have booked a voyage will stay in Ushuaia for their extraordinary experience travelling to the 'Frozen Continent'. Those of us returning to Buenos Aires will be transferred to Ushuaia Airport for our flight back to Buenos Aires, where our adventure comes to an end upon arrival at Buenos Aires' domestic airport, situated near the centre of town. Please note that the international airport, Ezeiza, is situated about 35km from the city and it will take about an hour to travel out there. If you require accommodation in Buenos Aires tonight and on any other subsequent nights, as well as an airport to hotel transfer, it is possible to book these additional services at the same time you book your main tour. Your travel agent will be able to book these additional services for you.