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Active Argentina: Walking in Patagonia

14 days from £3,180pp

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Active Argentina: Walking in Patagonia:
Trip Dossier

The world's most spectacular wilderness mountain treks can be hard to reach. Not so in Argentine Patagonia: world-class hiking trails are just a short drive away from the airports of El Calafate, Los Glaciares National Park, and Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego National Park. We've put two treks together, the M Trek and a hike on Tierra del Fuego, in one amazing walking holiday.

The M Trek, so named after its shape, is a long recognised and popular route, renowned for its spectacular mountain views of the Fitz Roy massif, as well as vistas over crystal clear glacial lagoons. The Tierra del Fuego hike is less well known or walked, which adds to its appeal. Just a few kilometres inland from the busy port of Ushuaia is a quiet wilderness of ancient forest clinging to mountain cliffs, hidden streams and views over vertiginous glaciers. Follow guanaco trails where footpaths have not yet been forged. Some peaks you’ll see are still as yet nameless. A superb trek. 

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Buenos Aires. Transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

At leisure to explore the city.

Day 3

Fly to El Calafate, transfer to hotel.

Day 4

Excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Day 5

Public coach to El Chaltén in the Fitz Roy Mountains

Day 6

Hiking in the Rio Blanco valley, camp overnight.

Day 7

Trek to the Laguna Torre, camp overnight.

Day 8

Boat to the Glacier Viedma, trek alongside the glacier. Return to El Calafate.

Day 9

Fly to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Transfer to your hotel.

Day 10

Begin ‘End of the World Trek’ to Laguna del Caminante, camp overnight.

Day 11

Trek in the Superior Valley, camp overnight.

Day 12

Hike back towards Ushuaia, transfer to hotel.

Day 13

Fly to Buenos Aires, transfer to central hotel for final night of the holiday.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for your flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Buenos Aires. Transfer to your hotel.
 
Buenos Aires is an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills.

The centre of town is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches, as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic Parisian feel. The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

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Day 2

At leisure to explore the city.
 

Transfer to your hotel in Buenos Aires. The capital is an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills. 

The centre of town is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches, as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic Parisian feel. The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

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Puerto Madero

Day 3

Fly to El Calafate, transfer to hotel.
 
Transfer to airport and fly to El Calafate in Southern Patagonia (3hrs), a small tourist resort with a frontier feel situated on the banks of milky turquoise Lago Argentino.  Argentina’s Patagonia is a remote land of endless grassy plains, granite mountain peaks tipped with eternal snows, cool blue lakes dotted with icebergs and immense blue-tinged glaciers. Transfer to your hotel.
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Day 4

Excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier.
 
Guided excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier. It’s an early morning departure from El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park, a 90min drive to the walkways and viewing platform overlooking the glacier. The thundering shards of falling ice are a breath-taking spectacle as you pass at a safe distance along the walkway in front of the Canal de los Tempanos, which separates Brazo Rico from the main part of the lake.

The glacier is a staggering 5km wide and stands 60m above the surface of the lake. Its ice mass is fed by the southern continental ice field from the west, and from other smaller glaciers in the vicinity.

In the afternoon, board the Safari Nautico or Moreno Fiesta for an hour-long cruise on the lake beneath the glacier, with a commentary. Alternatively, you can just walk and contemplate, away from the other visitors.

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Perito Moreno

Day 5

Public coach to El Chaltén in the Fitz Roy Mountains
 
A 3hr journey from El Calafate bus station takes you deep into Los Glaciers National Park. Wildlife to look out for includes guanaco and the ostrich-like rhea. The road skirts the turquoise waters of Lago Viedma, with views of the Viedma glacier. On a clear day, an hour before arriving in El Chaltén, the whole of the Fitz Roy massif comes into view - a fantastic taste of what lies ahead. Transfer to your hotel.

Make preparations for tomorrow’s start of a moderate intensity, fully guided trek reaching the Piedras Blancas glacier viewpoint of the striking Fitz Roy mountain face, continuing along the Cerro Torre valley with glimpses of its spectacular centrepiece of jagged peaks. Finally there’s an ice trek over the Viedma glacier in crampons.

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Fitz Roy

Day 6

Hiking in the Rio Blanco valley, camp overnight.
 
The snow-strafed, almost skeletal, jagged peaks which rise up from a harsh, oft barren landscape around Mount Fitz Roy frame the territory of some of Latin America's most dramatic, visually jaw-dropping trekking routes. You'll see some of the best sights in this two day hike.  A 30min drive takes you along the banks of the Rio de las Vueltas to the Blanco river and the start of this private two-day trek. There are good views of the northeast face of Mount Fitz Roy, the crimson Mount Electrico and the stunning, ice-jacketed Mount Aniversario.

From here, the trail takes you into a dense sub-Antarctic beech tree forest, the bright green foliage a welcome relief from the harsh rocky slopes. The trail traces the banks of the Blanco river before rising up through the valley. There are great views of Piedras Blancas glacier, which descends from the heart of a granite labyrinth into a small lagoon and thence into the chilly waters of Rio Blanco. Continue walking along the valley, cross the river and rise to discover expansive views over silvery Laguna de los Tres: this is widely agreed to be one of the continent's most breath-taking vistas. Enjoy your packed lunch with the face of Mount Fitz Roy spread out in front of you. Hike back to camp at Poincenot.

There is neither running water nor shower facilities at the camp site; however, water is provided for washing. The campsite has a long drop-style toilet. All this is a small price to pay for the breathtaking wilderness scenery. You do not need to carry a tent or camping gear as the campsite will already be set up.

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Day 7

Trek to the Laguna Torre, camp overnight.
 
After breakfast at the camp, start hiking south and over a pass into the Fitz Roy river valley. You'll pass the Madre y Hija lagoon (mother and daughter, a larger lake attached to a smaller one), an expanse of rippling blue water fringed by the rugged beech forested slopes of steep, battleship-grey and tawny mountains.

Hike through the gnarled, fairy-story woodland to Mount Torre Valley where on a clear day you will observe the vertical slopes of Mount Torre, one of the world's most challenging climbs. Arrive at Torre Lagoon and pause for a picnic overlooking this awesome sight. Trek back to El Chaltén following the Fitz Roy river through stunted sub-Antarctic forest and overnight at your hotel.

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Hiking at Fitz Roy

Day 8

Boat to the Glacier Viedma, trek alongside the glacier. Return to El Calafate.
 

The Viedma glacier, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, is over a mile wide at the point where it debouches into Lago Viedma. On today's excursion you'll hike not on the ice but alongside it and to vantage points above the ice, with chances to take photographs and learn about the glacier's accelerated retreat in recent years. It's a 15km drive from El Chalten to the tiny port of Bahia Tunel, located in a hidden natural bay a few hundred meters from the delta. Set sail for the Viedma glacier, en route passing icebergs and after about an hour, disembark at a rocky headland located in front of the glacier. From here, you'll spend about 3 hours exploring the rocky landscape which frames the Viedma glacier's spectacular expanse of moraine-clogged ice. Your guide will be able to identify where and why the glacier has retreated, and from various natural lookouts you'll be able to appreciate its multihued folds and crevasses. Given the nature of the terrain this is a moderately difficult activity but the distance walked not substantial - around 5-7km. Re-board the Huemul for the return trip (45 mins), which crosses in front of the glacier for some close up views, before returning to Bahia Tunel. Return to El Chalten and continue by bus to El Calafate; overnight.

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Viedma hiking

Day 9

Fly to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Transfer to your hotel.
 

Transfer to the airport and fly to Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city, on the island of Tierra de Fuego. The city has grown rapidly in recent years, partly as a result of government incentives to settlers and its establishment as a Free Port, and partly a tourist centre - most Antarctic cruises leave from the port here. The setting is spectacular; jagged mountains hem in the town down to the shore of the Beagle Channel. Transfer to your hotel.

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Ushuaiai

Day 10

Begin ‘End of the World Trek’ to Laguna del Caminante, camp overnight.
 
The dense forests, high mountains and glaciers of Tierra del Fuego are a surprise to you arriving from the bleak Patagonian steppes further north.  The forested landscape of the National Park surrounds the world's southernmost city, Ushuaia.  Here, at the tip of the continent, spring and summer days are long and it's not normally very cold, but it can be windy and wet and you should expect four seasons in one day, every day, and in no particular order...

Your 3 day trek takes you over passes and through the valleys inland from Ushuaia, to beautiful lakes and to the summit of the rarely-visited Mount Tonelli.

There are not many places in the world where you can hike in a virtually unvisited wilderness within just a few kilometres of an international airport and busy port, but this trek in the mountains behind Ushuaia offers you the opportunity to do just that. It is so remote - if you can use that word in this context - that you walk along narrow trails forged by guanacos rather than humans, and many of the spiky mountain peaks in this protected national park are as yet unnamed. Carved through by icy streams, waterfalls and glaciers, mantled by evergreen forests and carpeted with boggy, flower-speckled grassland, and framed by needle-sharp icy peaks, it is a tortured landscape of incredible natural beauty. It's a circuit, and local conditions will dictate if you go up the Andorra valley or climb down it: it's the same amount of climbing either way, of course, and the gradient is similar.

This is not an extreme trek; anyone of good fitness, who is reasonably sure-footed and does not harbour a fear of heights, should be able to manage easily and enjoy the experience.

From Ushuaia, you head inland and travel by road towards the Andorra valley, along a road lined with small homesteads. Start walking up through woodland, sun-dappled if you are lucky, alongside swift streams, crossing makeshift bridges. It is easy walking to start with; you may pause for a snack or lunch on a grassy meadow with views across the valley to the towering build of a snow-smothered and sharply glaciated mountain range, the Cordón Vinciguerra. You emerge above the trees with great mountain views and descend through coarse grassland peppered with lumpy rocks to a sheltered site on the shores of Laguna del Caminante: a perfect place to camp, but without any facilities. If there is time you may want to explore the forest-fringed shoreline of this tranquil, silvery lake.  Pitch your tents among the trees for a two night stay; you'll be served a camper's afternoon tea and later, dinner. Retire for the night in a wilderness place undisturbed by the noise of any human activity.

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Tierra del Fuego

Day 11

Trek in the Superior Valley, camp overnight.
 
After breakfast prepared by your guides, you set off on a day trek, so you only need to carry equipment for the day: the essential walking poles,  your valuables and documents, a camera, binoculars, hat, wet weather gear, warm jacket, sunglasses and sun-cream - you never know what weather you are going to be graced with.

Climb for 4hrs slowly and steadily up a tiny guanaco track alongside lakes and through a glaciated valley (the path falls away to a steep slope in places, you need a bit of a head for heights), across a dried up lake bed frequented by a couple of lonely horses, and up a steep, stony path to the summit of Mount Reber, at 1,120m approximately above sea level. En route you pass the snout of a retreating glacier, testament to the effects of global warming.

From the peak, you have 360° panoramas of rows of snow-draped, jagged peaks including the Sierra Darwin in Chile, beyond which on a clear day you'll spy the cobalt waters of the Beagle Channel and Lake Fagnano in the deepest heart of Tierra del Fuego.  This is true virgin territory: you'll see no roads, tracks, buildings fences...it's Patagonia in the raw. Return to the camp site in 2 hrs.

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Tiera de Fuego trek

Day 12

Hike back towards Ushuaia, transfer to hotel.
 

On the last day return to Ushuaia via Paso de la Oveja, less wooded than the outbound trip - you climb up a high stony path to a pass framed by rocky mountain cliffs sheltering pouches of glistening snow. Descend, traversing a guanaco trail which grips the contours of a grey-green, U-shaped glaciated valley, above the tree-line until you dive into the forest for a wooded walk eventually emerging within sight of the city of Ushuaia, where you are collected by vehicle and taken to your hotel. (5 hrs).

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Tierra del Fuego trekking

Day 13

Fly to Buenos Aires, transfer to central hotel for final night of the holiday.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for your flight home.

Essential information

Transport

Three flights (longest 3.5hrs); 2 road journeys (longest 4hrs).

Accommodation

In El Chaltén you stay in an alpine-style lodge at the base of snow-capped mountains. There is one night spent camping in tents on the M Trek.  In Ushuaia the accommodation is in a homely hotel/guesthouse used to receiving trekkers and travellers. 

During the trek in Tierra del Fuego you will spend two nights camping. The tents are lightweight and spacious - you can just about stand up in them. After a demonstration on the first night, you erect your own tent, whilst dinner is being prepared. In the rare instance that they blow over in a gale, the crew carry spare poles. 

N.B. Sleeping mats are provided but not sleeping bags – you need to hire one in advance. Our tip: bring an inflatable pillow.

Meals

Breakfast daily; lunch days 8; full board; 6, 7, 10, 11.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

  • Guided excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier.
  • Hike the Fitz Roy Mountain trek.
  • ‘End of the World Trek’ in Tierra del Fuego.

Summary of nights

14 days, 13 nights: Buenos Aires 2; El Calafate 2,  El Chaltén 3, El Calafate 1, Ushuaia 1, camping in Tierra del Fuego National Park 2, Ushuaia 1, Buenos Aires 1.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.


Not included in the journey price

• International flights to Latin America.
• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.


Currency

The unit of currency in Argentina is the Argentine peso.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques (American Express are the most widely accepted), though these are gradually falling out of use. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential.

Details of our recommended policy can be found at Briefing Dossier

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

This is an active hiking trip. There are a couple of public bus rides, and three internal flights.

This holiday includes hiking in rocky and hilly terrain. You need to be fit but no special equipment or extra training are necessary. If you have a disability or other special requirements, please call us.

Be prepared for camping in basic, but comfortable tents.

Climate

Winter in the Southern Hemisphere is between May and September. In Santiago and Buenos Aires, temperatures can be cool (5°C – to 15°C). While sunshine is possible, so is rain. Spring and autumn temperatures, October to November and March to April respectively, are between 15 and 25°C and there is a good deal of pleasant sunshine. January and February are hot, around 30°C. 

In Los Glaciares and Tierra del Fuego National Parks the best months for hiking are March and April, when the autumn foliage is stunning. Many hikers also visit in summer – December to January - along with non-trekkers so it can be busy. Days are long and mild then but it can be windy, as in spring (September to October).

Clothing and special equipment

For towns and cities bring practical, comfortable clothing and a light-weight jumper. If you plan to eat in smart restaurants, although clothing is not formal (no need for jacket and tie), something quite smart would be appropriate. 

In Los Glaciares National Park, for the M Trek we recommend a rucksack to carry your personal items, sleeping bag and lunch. All camping gear will be provided. (Note that you will be carrying your own personal gear during the 2 days of trekking).

In Tierra del Fuego, you carry your own personal gear, including your sleeping mat (we suggest a thermalite self-inflating mat rather than just a polystyrene one) and sleeping bag. Weight and size will be a factor in your choice but you should have a minimum 3 season bag, a 3/4 season one would be ideal, some very compact ones are available at specialist shops or on the internet. A blow up pillow is a nice addition for comfort.
You will also need light walking poles - Leki are an excellent brand - they both assist you on steep climbs and paths with loose stones, and help you keep your balance. 
Your backpack should be neither too big nor too small - you will be carrying it full on days one and three. Assemble the gear you are taking then you will have a good idea how big a sack you will need (probably around 60L).
It is essential to have good, well-worn and waterproof walking boots with good grip and ankle support. You may like to take a pair of light pumps to wear in the evenings.

Clothing for the Patagonia trekking should cater for the fact that you may come across any kind of weather conditions from balmy sunshine and 25 degrees to blizzards and gale force winds. Items you can wear in layers are best: start with some thermal underwear, then T shirts, long sleeved shirt, sweater, fleece and rain and windproof jacket. Take at least 2 pairs of trousers - if you have them, the kind which unzip into shorts are good because they save on space as you don't need to take shorts as well. A couple of changes of underwear, several pairs of socks, hat, gloves and scarf/buff.  Don't forget toiletries, a small towel (you can wash in the lake at the camp site), a water bottle, a torch, maybe a book to read and any medication. Put your gear in plastic bags to protect it from the rain. 

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in Latin America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following; typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. For specific requirements you must consult your GP.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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