Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia, Buenos Aires and Santiago! February 2020
This, my friends, was an adventure.
So much to see! So much to do! So much beauty! And so so much travel. South America is a big place, and even though we saw a ton of the bottom half of the continent, it took very long to get everywhere. But you know what- totally worth it. We did planes, planes, more planes, vans, ubers, no trains, more planes. Here is a quick snapshot of how we did this trip- with some suggestions, insights, and input on maybe how to plan yours even better.
First off- I used a travel agency to plan this trip. Only having been to South America a few times, I wanted an expert to arrange all the of the travel, as well as suggest the best of excursions to go on. I used a company called Argentina/Chile on the Go. Building the itinerary- they were great to work with. The only things I would say they fell short on were: They were not able to secure us an early check in, as they had promised, when we arrived in Argentina. Me being the pushy broad that I am, was able to do this with the front desk, but it caused some stress since we were extremely tired. Also, they had originally booked us for an all day excursion while in El Calafate to an Estancia Cristina, which seemed really long and boring. 1 hr van ride, 3 hr boat ride, 1 hr ATV ride, museum, 3 hr boat ride, 1 hr van ride! They had actually discouraged us from doing an excursion to El Chalten- due to long drive time (which everything was so that really didn't matter) and weather (which turned out to be fine). Once we got to El Calafate, we quickly realized El Chalten was THE thing to do (where Fitz roy is, hiking, you know the main reason you go to this area), so we cancelled our Estancia excursion. The company kind of just through it to us to book on our own through a local company a driver to take us to El Chalten- which we did and it was awesome. IMO- On the go should have handled it better. Just my input. But anyways, here's what our trip looked like:
Friday/Saturday: We flew overnight, connecting in Miami, arriving Buenos Aires Argentina from Philly Saturday morning. Driver was waiting for us- headed to the Palo Santo hotel in the Palermo neighborhood of BA. After a 45 min drive, and enduring the drama of securing a hotel room early, we got our power nap in, then headed out to explore BA. We checked out a plaza/open market in Palermo and grabbed lunch at a nice rooftop spot called Clara. From there we walked to some huge parks, an open zoo, and stopped by Mooi under the train for drinks. I love what they did with the train here, basically the tracks are above and underneath in the stone structure they put a bunch of restaurants and coffee shops with indoor/outdoor seating. Probably my fave spot in BA. We headed back to the hotel for our free happy hour wines, and then headed to a recommended steak house Don Julio for dinner. This place was the spot- and they knew it. They offered free champagne while you wait, which definitely came in handy since we waited...for 2 hours. At one point we went down the block to another spot called Tropicana for drinks (looked like it turned into the club later that night), and then back for more champagne. Finally got a table outside, and gotta say not really impressed with the food. I am not a steak eater, and they had no other options, so I ate some veggies and sides, but Joe did order steak- also not impressed. So maybe pass on this one, could be all hype. After dinner we got some gelato a block away and walked back to the hotel.
We heard a lot of warnings from people about BA- that it was unsafe, don't walk around with your wallet, or a backpack, etc. It honestly seemed pretty safe to us. Maybe because we live in a major city, but we had no issues and did not feel unsafe at all here. I'm sure it's all relative, and we kept to the Palermo area which is pretty established. Also what was great- because we went in February (their Fall) we had really long days- the sun didn't go down until around 9pm in the cities, and 10pm in the parks- which was so nice!
Sunday- Travel Day from Buenos Aires to El Calafate
We started out the morning in BA, had our free delicious breakfast at the hotel, then walked back to the Avant Garden train/park area for one last goodbye. We were picked up from the hotel and 15min at a local airport for our flight. About 3 hours to El Calafate- picked up from the tiny airport with amazing lake/mountain views, and taken to our hotel about 15mins away called the ACA. Great location, but the rooms were super hot, and we just happened to be there during the 100yr anniversary of Lago Argentino- and were right next to a concert venue. We fell asleep every night to the sounds of loud rock music. I did not like this hotel at all- besides the rooms the breakfast was free but terrible. I ate slices of bread and orange juice every day. By the time we got to the hotel and checked out the town- we needed dinner so we tried Wandoba pub which had really good bar food and a fun vibe. Right on the main street - which felt like a ski town- lots of cute restaurants and bars and shops.
Monday- Los Glacieres National Park
Our first excursion! Our driver picked us up and drove us 1hr 15min to a small port in Los Glacieres National park (On the go arranged for park passes ahead of time), where we then took a 40min boat ride up to the Perito Moreno Glacier, docked at a small beach, and then walked to the glacier, where we put on our helmets and spikes for our shoes, and did a mini-trek on the actual glacier for a good 90mins. It was a pretty cool experience- once in a lifetime for sure! After our trek and the boat back our driver then took us to the main visitors center, which had a gift shop/cafeteria, and a ton of staircases leading to different balconies, which provided amazing glacier views. After the car ride back to El Calafate, we went to a super cute coffee shop called El Bar for fancy caffeinated drinks, and then had dinner at Pura Vida which was the best dinner spot in El Calafate in my opinion (also vegan friendly). We did have to wait about 45min for a table but I think it was worth it.
Tuesday- El Chalten
The excursion that almost never was, but I'm really glad worked out. Our driver drove us through the deserted landscape of Patagonia for 3 hours to reach the small town of El Chalten (there was a halfway point/rest stop for bathrooms and coffee luckily). We checked in with the park rangers at the visitors center, and even though it was pretty cloudy and we couldn't clearly see Fitz Roy- we still did the hike to the base and turned around at the Ponderosa campground. It was a really fun hike- forests and vistas, valleys and lakes and even a view of a mountain glacier at the end. Because our driver was waiting, we did this 10mile hike super fast- in about 4 hours. Afterwards we bought some snacks in the town before heading back to El Calafate- where we had made dinner reservations at El Zainya the night before. This was a really cute spot too, very popular (couldn't get a table the night before just walking in) so I'm glad we made the reservation. After dinner we had a few drinks at the Patagonia Brewing company, and ice cream before heading back to the hotel.
What I would have done differently : I don't know what the hotel situation is in El Chalten, but if they had a decent hotel I maybe would have done 1.5 days in El Calafate and 1.5 days in El Chalten. El Calafate is the closest town to the Perito Moreno glacier, and to the airport, so that is the draw there, but El Chalten had so many hiking trails right in your backyard- like Fitz Roy, no pay access to a different part of Los Glacieres National park, and was close to other smaller glaciers. So if you are looking into this area see what the lodging options are in El Chalten possibly- and think about staying one night there/maybe two.
Wednesday- Travel day to Torres Del Paine/Tierra Patagonia
The hotel Tierra Patagonia picked us, as well as 2 other couples, up at 9am and we made the long, boring, 6 hr trip across the border, into Chile, and onto our hotel. The border was a mess- it took forever to get our passports checked (once to leave Argentina and then again to enter Chile). The driver also went way out of his way to- stop at a small hotel so everyone could go to the bathroom. Just a very long travel day. We finally got the hotel- and talk about luxury. Hands down the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in, maybe ever will. So so acommodating- knew we were running late so held the restaurant open so we could have a late lunch. Then we sat with an excursion specialist to plan out our next 2 days in Torres Del Paine. From there we headed to their amazing pool with incredible views of the mountains (this entire hotel just had windows with insane mountain views, even in the rooms, in every room you had a mountain view- just unreal), joined in on their nightly yoga class for a stretch, took a quick walk to their beach for more views, and then sat down to an incredible dinner. They had a different 3 option pre-fix menu every night, with unlimited booze, I just loved it. I usually am not a fan of all-inclusive, but you are in the middle of nowhere - there is no town in Torres del Paine- so if you gotta do all-inclusive luxury is the way to go for sure.
Thursday- Base of the 3 Towers Hike in Torres Del Paine
This was one long, amazing day of hiking. What an epic hike. Our guide from the hotel was super nice, and super fast. Like real fast. Apparently he said our group made record time- the fastest he had ever done this hike with a group. We started out early in the morning, took about 45mins to ride to the park. We were given hiking poles for the trip, and I was hesitant to use them at first, but what a game changer. I'm hooked on hiking poles from now on! It was about 4 hours in, 3.5 hours back- 13 miles total. We were given lunches by the hotel which we got to customize the day before, and when we reached the top that's when we stopped to eat. I felt amazing completing this hike, and being able to keep pace! We also started at there perfect time, but the time we were making our way down from the towers the trail was getting super crowded. Start early- end early. At the end the driver had set up a table outside the van with food and drinks which was extremely needed to end this hike with. It wasn't as hard as I imagined, it wasn't a total incline hike which would have been brutal, so if you get the chance to do this hike just do it! The minute we got back to the hotel I got in the pool, had some quality outdoor hot tub time, and capped off the day with another amazing dinner.
Friday- D'Agnostini Hike in Torres Del Paine
If the 3 towers hike was a 8 on a scale being the toughest, I'd rate this hike at a 6. Not easy, but not hard. Beautiful views, another great guide, perfect weather. This hike I really got to enjoy the scenery more since we were with an older couple and actually got to take our time. Took us about an hour to reach the starting parking lot- and this was a one way hike- so our driver met us at the end with snacks and drinks again. I really prefer the one ways versus going back the same way you came- keeps it fresh. The views of the lakes and mountains on this trail were actually better than the 3 towers hike, and it was not crowded at all- we maybe saw 2 other groups the entire day. This 8 mile hike took about 5.5 hours. Then it was back for one final night at the hotel- pool, hot tub, yoga, and dinner.
I think I liked Torres del Paine slightly more than Los Glacieres. It was gorgeous. Lots of wildlife. Endless hiking. And our hotel was again incredible. We apparently also got super lucky with the weather. When we arrived it was really windy, but for our hiking days- no wind, and perfectly clear, 50's in the morning, up to the high 70's a couple days in the afternoon, and sunny. Everyone kept saying this was not normal- so February might be the ideal time to go! Layering was key.
Saturday- Travel Day to Santiago
Another long car ride- provided by the hotel. This time, we drove 4 hours south to the most southern airport in South America- Punta Arenas. From here it took us 3 hours to fly to Santiago, Chile. Our driver picked us up and in 20mins we were at the Orly hotel -then out to check out Santiago. Orly hotel was great- nice room, really good breakfast, super old boutique-y in a great location by the San Cristobal Hill and a few good restaurants. The driver had recommended Aqui Esta Coco, a few blocks away from our hotel, for dinner - so we went there (they took our walk in- the place was huge). Such good seafood- but a little pricey. We had been spoiled in BA on the prices. However, the ubers were super cheap- and we took one to Chipe Libre for some pisco drinks (so so good).
Our last day! And we made the most of it. Wouldn't be a good day without a hike- we walked about an hour up to the top of San Cristobal Hill- right in the heart of the city. They were actually doing a streets closed thing, so there were a ton of people out biking and hiking up the hill with us, and halfway they had set up spin and tae-bo classes- it was so cool! This hill also had a pool you could hang at, such a fun scene! After our city hike, we walked to the downtown to check out the Mercado Central for lunch. We settled on Donde Augusto for a seafood lunch- I thought it was great- people on TripAdvisor don't agree- but we had some good crab and shrimp and from there checked out the Plaza de Armas. We were again, apparently very lucky, that there were no protests that day. The city is absolutely covered in graffiti, all of the statues have been destroyed, the walks around town were pretty unsettling. You can tell a lot of people are suffering. Despite all this, I really enjoyed Santiago. I did not feel as safe as I did in BA, but still felt pretty safe during the day. If the protests were going on, maybe not so much. By nightfall we were back in the airport, for our flight back to the US.
I feel I could have done one more night in Santiago. I loved what I saw of their nightlife and restaurant scene.
This trip ignited my desire for more South America! We are already talking about where to go next February- because of the days being so long and the temperature being warm in most areas- it's really the ideal time to travel there!