Patagonia Itinerary: El Chalten & Torres Del Paine

Ok, I’m finally sitting down to start the story – it’s a long one!  But first, I’d better provide an overview of our basic itinerary.  When we started researching this trip, we knew we wanted to visit Patagonia, but didn’t know much else about it!  I purchased a Patagonia trekking book, and started to realize how vast Patagonia is.  Considering we’d only have two weeks for the trip and we wanted to see as much as possible, we opted to stay in the southern region of Patagonia, and would unfortunately not be able to see the Chilean lakes district or Bariloche in Northern Argentina, both which also appealed to me but would require extensive additional travel. 

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We were advised the Mount Fitz Roy area and Torres del Paine were not to be missed, so we stuck with a basic 2-week itinerary to see both of these, as many other tourists do.  Our first stop, the Mount Fitz Roy area is in Argentina, with the small town of El Chalten at its footsteps.  All the hikes we’d do in this area would be day hikes, from a home base of a Hosteria.  We’d next travel by bus to Chile and do a 5-day hut-to-hut hike called the W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park.  It would be hiking with packs, followed by evenings in refugios, much like we did on the Alta Via 1 trek in Italy.

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We didn’t want to go in tour group as we like to be on our own schedule and “get away” during hikes, so we found some self-guided tour options online.  We got a couple quotes and ended up going with Swoop Patagonia.  They basically arranged all our bus tickets, hotel/refugio stays, and any other logistics items, so we just had to show up on time with vouchers to our next destination.  And no, this trip wasn’t cheap, but we knew it was also once in a lifetime and it was significantly easier to have someone else schedule considering we had a tight time frame and many operators only spoke Spanish (not my forte).  Many of our breakfasts and meals were also included as we’d be in remote areas with limited options.  I made sure to document the food so you can see it in upcoming posts!

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A couple notes on what to expect with Southern Patagonia:

  • This is one of the most beautiful areas of the world I’ve ever seen, but one of the most difficult to get to!  The land is very vast, so expect many buses and/or flights to get around.
  • It can be EXTREMELY windy.  Don’t go without a wind breaker and warm hat!!  We lucked out with fairly nice weather in November (the start of their summer), however, the wind could cut like ice and if the sun went away it easily was cold.
  • English is fairly common, however, there are still many people that speak only Spanish, so it helps to have some Spanish background – thanks David my Spanish-speaking hubby!
  • You’ll eat a lot of white flour (bread, empanadas, etc.) and in the mountains food choices will be limited due to the remoteness.  They pack in a lot of foods via horses, so don’t expect gourmet.  I’ll chronicle the meals in the upcoming blog posts for those curious. 

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{ I kid not about the strong wind }

We flew round-trip from Houston to Buenos Aires and used reward miles to save some costs.  Some people fly into BA and out of Santiago, Chile (or vice versa), but the round-trip flight was most cost-effective for us.  You’ll see most flights are offset by a day in case of delays; it’s best to be on the safe side and leave room as delays seem to be common in South America.

  • Day 1: Fly IAH-BA (overnight, 9-10 hrs)
  • Day 2: Fly from BA-El Calafate, Argentina (3 hrs), Argentina, 2-hr bus to El Chalten, Argentina
  • Day 3: Day Hike Laguna de los Tres (6+ hrs)
  • Day 4: Day Hike Laguna Torre (6 hrs), 2-hr bus to El Calafate
  • Day 5: Perito Moreno Glacier Tour
  • Day 6: 5-hr bus to Puerto Natales, Chile
  • Day 7: 2-hr Bus to Torres del Paine Nat’l Park, Start of W Trek: Hike to Mirador Torres / Refugio Chileno, 6 hrs hiking
  • Day 8: Hike Ref. Chileno to Ref. Cuernos, 4 hrs hiking
  • Day 9: Hike Ref. Cuernos to Ref. Paine Grande with side-trek to French Valle, 6 hrs hiking
  • Day 10: Hike Ref. Paine Grande to Ref. Grey with side-trek to glacier viewing, 7 hrs hiking
  • Day 11: Catch 2-hr Glacier Grey Cruise back to Grey Hotel, 3-hr bus back to Puerto Natales
  • Day 12: 5-hr Bus Trip Puerto Natales to El Calafate, 3-hr Flight to BA
  • Day 13: Walk around BA, Fly back to Houston (overnight, 9-10 hrs)

I’m exhausted just typing this!  Again, the hiking is amazing, but the travel is a little on the intense side.  Despite the amazing scenery, by Day 10 I was getting ready to be home, which I think is normal for me on trips.  Still, this was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that I’m glad we go to experience.  Next up, getting there!

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19 thoughts on “Patagonia Itinerary: El Chalten & Torres Del Paine

  1. How were the hotels/inns on the hikes? I have thought about doing that but I wasn’t sure on the quality of the lodgings. Kyle did something like that white water rafting but they stayed in swanky places along the river — curious how it would be hiking.

    1. I took lots of pictures so they will be documented in upcoming posts! They are nice (not luxury), some a bit rustic but not bad at all. Many of them are shared rooms, etc. though.

  2. Awesome trip! Im doing an almost identical trip starting November 6 2014. Its good to know its doable so thank you for this post! I got a couple questions if you got a sec?
    – How was it scheduling buses while down there? Did you have them pre booked or did you wing it kinda day of or day before? There is a lot of conflicting info on the web
    – Also on the W did you rent equipment in town or did you just sleep at the refugios?
    Thanks again for post and any advice you may have!
    Cheers,

    – Hunter

    1. Hi Hunter! Thanks, you will love Patagonia! On your questions: the buses were quite difficult for us to figure out as well, so we had the travel companies do the booking for us. I can’t say whether it would work or not to wing it – you might be at risk of having to wait a day if you can’t get the bus you want (we were on a pretty tight travel schedule and didn’t have days to hang out if we missed a bus, so we booked ahead of time). On the W we slept in refugios the whole time and they provided linens & pillows. I think it was worth not having to carry the extra equipment. Have a great trip.

  3. Hello. I came across your very helpful series of posts on your Patagonian adventures. I have been looking around for reviews on some of the travel companies coordinating the self-guided treks in Torres del Paine and it looks like you used a couple of them. How was your experience with Swoop Patagonia (though it looks like you used them for the Argentina portion)? And Dittmar Adventures? I’m basically wondering if the services they offer are worth it, and if you have any thoughts on doing the W trek solo? Did you regularly pass people on the trails?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Chris- We had a good experience but it was pricey. We had a limited time and knew we needed bus tickets, etc. to go seamlessly, so we understood that would be the tradeoff. Swoop organized the more local companies like Dittmar and Walk Patagonia. So Swoop was a bit more like the middle man. It might save $ if you can go to the local companies directly, but Swoop worked well too. The W Trek could be done solo (there are tons of people) but you’d just have to be sure you have all your reservations in line, etc. so you don’t have to skip around too much. The huts get very crowded during the season.

  4. Your travel itinerary is just what I’ve been looking for! Thank you and I look forward to reading what else you wrote about your trip

  5. Hi Brittany,

    I cam across your amazing blog while planning my own Patagonia trip. Thanks so much for documenting all this! Inspired by your good experience, we are also considering Swoop Patagonia for the W trek. I wanted to know what did you use Walk Patagonia for in El Chalten? We were thinking of doing the El Chalten day hikes by ourselves. Can those hikes be done independently or do you need permits etc for which you need a tour company?

    Thanks so much for your help!

  6. your itinerary looks like the exact trip I want to do. You organized the trip through Swoop Patagonia but did you do the trip with a group or did the company just organize everything for you..??? if you did it alone did you have any trouble doing the W circuit or any of the other hikes without a guide? Also, how did you get your tickets (ie bus tickets from el chatlan to torres del paine) from the company???

    thanks!
    Maureen

  7. Hi Maureen – 1) no group just myself and husband. 2) no issues doing it as a couple (a few areas where paths were hard to follow but nothing bad, many folks hiking), 3) all tickets were through Swoop. Hope you make it!

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