Private Journeys

Self-drive Patagonia: The open road to Torres del Paine

20 days from £5,190pp

Argentina / Chile / Patagonia


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Overview & Highlights

An adventurous self-drive holiday with three separate hire car trips to Chilean and Argentine Patagonia's volcanoes, turquoise lakes, glaciers and skeletal peaks. Pre-booked accommodation.  

  • Buenos Aires: Guided walking tour along the Avenida de Mayo

This holiday showcases three contrasting regions of Patagonia in Argentina and Chile where independent self-drive opens up amazing landscapes for you to explore at your leisure and preferred speed. You have freedom as soon as you get behind the wheel but also the security of knowing your accommodation is booked for you at the end of a day on the road.

Discover Argentina’s glorious lake district, a feast of virgin forests and rugged mountains reflected in a necklace of glassy lakes. The highlight is the drive north along the poster-perfect Seven Lakes Route to tranquil San Martin de los Andes. Later, fly south to visit one of Patagonia’s finest national parks: Los Glaciares, featuring Mount Fitz Roy. Move on to Torres del Paine National park in Chile staying at 2 lodges in different areas. Each is situated in magnificent surroundings, offers a range of optional excursions and enables you to enter and leave the Park on different, scenic routes. Besides scenic drives all round, each offers uniquely different experiences once you’ve parked the car. As you drive through the magnificent natural theatre of Patagonia you’ll really appreciate the extra freedom to pause for photos or linger longer for yet another fabulous view.

Itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Buenos Aires. Transfer to hotel close to colonial centre and commercial district of the capital.

You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel on the edge of the arty district of San Telmo by one of our local representatives.

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 French or Italian influences, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

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Day 2

Walking tour along the Avenida de Mayo.

Take a guided walking tour along Avenida del Mayo, one of Buenos Aires' principal stately arteries, linking the capital's colonial and political heart at Plaza de Mayo with the Plaza de Congreso, crossing the even more grandiose Avenida 9 de Julio. Built in the 1880s and often compared with similar boulevards in European capitals, it has a definite Old World ambiance, with art deco, art nouveau and neo-classical façades, shaded by leafy trees, lining the route.

The guided walk includes a stop at the world famous Café Tortoni, crammed with memorabilia, the barber's shop attached, and one of the first metro stations outside the USA and Europe, preserved in its original state as a museum. Visit the very ornate Barolo Palace, designed in accordance with the cosmology of Dante's Divine Comedy with floors representing heaven, purgatory and hell.

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Day 3

Fly to Bariloche in the lake district. Collect your hire car.

Transfer to the airport and fly to Bariloche in the lake district. San Carlos de Bariloche is the main town in Argentina's lake district, on the southern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi. The town, a centre for skiing in winter (July and August), and walking in summer, is set against a stunning backdrop of glacial green-blue lakes framed by the mountains of the Andes.

Depending on when you arrive in Bariloche, you will either be taken to pick up your rental car on the way to the hotel, or you will pick it up the following day. Your trip is based on a medium category 2WD vehicle. You will receive a Fly and Drive kit with maps and useful information about the area and highlights to visit.

Your hotel is on the outskirts of town on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi.

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Day 4

Explore the Bariloche area.

Day at leisure to explore the chocolate-box pretty region. We recommend a visit to either the Cerro Campanario view point or Cerro Catedral ski resort for panoramas over the lakes and mountains.

Bariloche is also a good base for scenic lakeshore drives.  Just 40 mins’ drive away is the Llao Llao peninsula with walking trails and picturesque drives around Lago Moreno. Alternatively, a boat departs daily from Puerto Panuelo for Puerto Blest, one of the area’s best day-trips.

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Day 5

Self-drive to San Martín de los Andes.

Today’s drive is perhaps the finest in the lake district, showcasing 7 beautiful lakes and 2 national parks along its journey between Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes.

Leaving Bariloche, the paved highway hugs the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi as far as Villa La Angostura where it crosses the Correntoso river before striking a more winding route though forests and glades in the heart of the lake district. The road emerges at a scenic pass with fabulous views of Lago Lacar during the descent to San Martin.  Start out early: it’s around 200km (4 hrs) of driving and roughly two-thirds is by paved road, but allow plenty of time if you intend to detour via Villa Traful or make the most of the numerous photo opportunities en route.

You have 2 nights in a quaint little hotel, La Casa de Eugenia, close to the lakeshore.

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Day 6

Explore the San Martín lakes area.

Spend the day relaxing in this laid-back, low-rise lakeshore resort in Lanin National Park. Boat trips depart from the jetty for Lago Nonthué, visiting Chachin Falls and Hua Hum. You may opt to drive instead to the border crossing at Hua Hum along a picturesque 50km gravel road along the north shore of Lago Lacar.

With an early start (and a 4WD is best for this drive), it’s possible to do the rewarding trip to remote Lago Huechulafquen in the northern section of the Park. Half the 100km drive is on a rough gravel road and it takes 2-3 hrs. On a clear day you’ll be treated to views of Lanin volcano, just shy of 3,800m.

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Day 7

Self-drive to Villa la Angostura.

Drive to Villa La Angostura. This is a 110km drive back along the gorgeous Seven Lakes route (2hrs). Villa La Angostura is a picturesque mountain village set on the northern shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi. It has evolved since its early development in the 1920s into a small, upmarket resort with plenty of good restaurants and shops.

The border with Chile is just 20 mins' drive away.

Your accommodation for 2 nights, Hotel Correntoso, is set in the foothills of the Andes, at the mouth of the Correntoso river where it enters Lake Nahuel Huapi.

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Day 8

Explore the area independently.

Villa La Angostura is a fitting place in which to relax after the last few days’ driving. If you wish to explore, Los Arrayanes National Park, just outside Villa La Angostura is famous for its centuries-old forests of arrayán (Chilean myrtle) trees, in an idyllic setting on the Quetrihué peninsula. You can hike there (12km / 3hrs each way) or visit by boat from Villa La Angostura’s port of Bahia Mansa from where it is a 45min sailing.

Villa La Angostura

Day 9

Drop off car in Bariloche; fly to El Calafate, collect car, self-drive to estancia.

Drive to Bariloche airport (90km - 1.5hrs). The airport is conveniently located on the near side of Bariloche as you approach from Villa La Angostura, so there is no need to go into the city.

Fly to El Calafate, gateway to Los Glaciares National Park in southern Patagonia.  The town is on the southern shore of Lago Argentino. Tourism in the last 20 years has transformed it into a bustling entrepôt for access to the nearby scenery of glaciers, lakes and impossibly steep peaks. You will be met and assisted with collection of your hire car, a medium category 4x2 vehicle. You will receive a Fly and Drive kit with maps and useful information about the area and highlights to visit.

The self-drive adventure in the south explores one of Patagonia’s finest national parks: Los Glaciares, featuring Mount Fitz Roy. Besides scenic drives all round, each offers uniquely different experiences once you’ve parked the car. If the sun shines, Fitz Roy’s walking trails which offer glimpses of glistening glaciers and turquoise lagoons are an unforgettable highlight. Meanwhile, the walkways which face the Perito Moreno glacier offer ample opportunity to linger and observe a spectacle which, in itself, rewards the long journey to Patagonia. There’s about 700km of driving. Much of this is on paved stretches of the Ruta 40 highway but there are also some journeys on ripio (gravel) road.

Today, it’s 100km (2 hrs) to the south-eastern shore of Lago Viedma and your first overnight stop at Estancia la Estela, which has homely, if simple, rooms and great views towards the lake.

hiking Cerro Frias

Day 10

Self-drive to El Chaltén in southern Patagonia.

Drive to El Chalten (115km – 2 hrs), travelling along a recently paved road which skirts the entire length of Lago Viedma. On a clear day, on approaching El Chaltén the granite peaks of Fitz Roy massif come into view - a majestic sight. Your hotel, Estancia La Quinta is 5km outside town in the Los Glaciares National Park, which embraces the towering Fitz Roy massif.

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Day 11

Explore the area around the Fitz Roy massif.

A full day at leisure to explore Los Glaciares National Park. We recommend the magnificent 8hr hike along the Rio Blanco valley and through ancient lenga (sub-antarctic beech) forest, passing the Piedras Blancas glacier and the massif along the way.  It includes a steep 1hr climb to the beautiful turquoise Laguna de los Tres, situated beneath Mount Fitzroy, returning to El Chaltén via a more gentle path through the heart of the national park.

You’ll need help with transport to the trail head and the help of a guide is advisable for this trail (we can organise this in advance if you wish).

Shorter, easier options are also possible, such as Laguna Torre (6hr round-trip), and if you are less inclined to hike, the 38km drive to Lago del Desierto is a viable side-trip with the option of a boat ride on the lake or short, scenic walks.

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Day 12

Self-drive to estancia close to El Calafate.

Drive to Estancia Nibepo Aike (270km). Today’s route takes you back to El Calafate (215km – 3hrs), along the shores of Lago Viedma. With any luck, you’ll be treated to stunning glimpses of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre in your rear view mirror as you drive across the steppe, leaving the Fitz Roy massif behind.

Continue through El Calafate and into Los Glaciares National Park. In contrast to the soaring granite peaks of Fitz Roy or the bleak steppes around El Calafate, Los Glaciares is a sanctuary of glittering lakes fed by vast glaciers against a backdrop of velvet-green forests and bleak, frozen mountain ridges. It’s a further drive of 56km from El Calafate to your accommodation at the Nibepo Aike ranch, and the journey should take another hour by gravel road.

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Day 13

Opportunity to visit Perito Moreno glacier independently.

We highly recommend a visit to the Perito Moreno glacier, 40km from Estancia Nibepo Aike. It’s an hour’s drive on a mixture of gravel roads and paved highway to the walkways and viewing platform overlooking the glacier. The thundering shards of falling ice are a breathtaking 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 has a surface area roughly the size of Hampshire's New Forest in the UK and is 5km wide, standing 60m above the surface of the lake. Its ice masses are fed by the southern continental ice field from the west, and from other smaller surrounding glaciers. To stand and stare is the only way to appreciate its magnitude. You may opt to board a sightseeing boat for an hour-long cruise on the lake beneath the glacier.

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Day 14

Drop off car at El Calafate; transfer to Puerto Natales in Chile, overnight.

Drive to El Calafate and drop off your car at the rental office. You will then be transferred by road across the border into Chile, arriving at Puerto Natales on the shores of Last Hope Sound.

The single road carves a lonely path, passing the Straits of Magellan and across flat, ferociously wind-buffeted grasslands. Although you might spot a ñandu (rhea, or ostrich) the overall impression is of a bleakness that challenges the survival of any life form. As you approach Puerto Natales, a small town nowadays dedicated to tourism, the sight of the silvery waters of Last Hope Sound, from the shores of which tower jagged ice sculptured peaks and glaciers and where black-necked swans glide and cormorants dip will gladden the heart.

Day 15

Collect car, drive to Torres del Paine National Park. 2 nights at a lodge.

Collect your Chilean vehicle from the rental office and continue your journey to Torres del Paine National Park (3 hrs – approx. 150km), travelling via the desolate frontier settlement of Cerro Castillo and passing sheep-rearing estancias amid the windswept, tawny steppe.

Beyond Cerro Castillo the paved highway peters out into a gravel track and views unfold of the lakes Toro and Sarmiento as you approach the boundary of the park. At these turbulent, southern latitudes the clouds can part within minutes to reveal magnificent views of the iconic granite massifs of Torres del Paine. Arriving at the Laguna Amarga gate to the Park you will need to pay an entrance fee. From there, it’s another 30mins to Hotel Las Torres.

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Day 16

Explore the area around Las Torres (the towers).

The staff and guides at Las Torres can organise optional activities within the Park on foot or on horseback, payable locally. If you are in good shape the key attraction here is the all-day hike to the base of the Paine towers but there are shorter options too.

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Day 17

Self-drive to Lago Grey, 2 nights’ accommodation on the lake shore.

This is perhaps the most scenic road trip of all. The 60km (2 hrs) gravel road meanders through the heart of the national park, skirts the shores of the finger-shaped lakes Nordenskjold and Sarmiento, Lago Pehoe with its cobalt waters and backdrop of the Cuernos del Paine and offers a grand finale: arrival at your hotel overlooking the iceberg-dotted shores of Lago Grey.

With regular stops to absorb the exhilarating scenery (there are a number of viewpoints en route), you could easily spend much of the day enjoying the journey.

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Day 18

Explore the area around the Cuernos del Paine and Grey glacier.

Hosteria Lago Grey is a good base for walking through native Patagonian forest and along the Rio Pingo: you can spend anything from a couple of hours to a full day exploring on foot. The highlight here is a boat trip across the 11km long lake to the foot of the magnificent Grey glacier which should not be missed.

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Day 19

Drive to Punta Arenas: drop off car, fly to Santiago, overnight at airport hotel.

Leaving the national park along a different route, you’ll drive south via the Serrano gate and take the recently built gravel road which skirts the western shore of lake Toro.

From Lago Grey it takes about 1½ hours to reach Puerto Natales (108km). It’s another 4 hours (250km) to the city of Punta Arenas (18km / 30mins beyond the airport) where you’ll need to fill up the car before returning to the airport to drop it off. Your hotel is at the airport.

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Day 20

Transfer to airport.

Essentials

Tour info

Transport

3 domestic flights (longest 4hrs); self-drive in the lake district and southern Patagonia in Argentina and Chile.

Accommodation

This holiday offers economical mid-range accommodation in Buenos Aires, Santiago and in or close to towns. In the countryside, we’ve selected accommodation in Argentina at an unusual variety of rustic estancia-style properties. Whilst not luxurious, what they lack in contemporary comfort is repaid with regional flavour. In Torres del Paine, Chile, you will be based at comfortable, good quality lodges at 2 different locations so you get the most out of your visit.

Meals

Breakfast daily.

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.

Summary Of Nights

20 days, 19 nights: Buenos Aires 2; Bariloche 2; San Martín de los Andes 2; Villa La Angostura 2; Viedma 1; El Chaltén area 2; El Calafate area 2; Puerto Natales 1; Torres del Paine National Park 4; Santiago 1.

Budget

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$80 per person per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks, national park entrance fees and the odd souvenir. In addition you should budget a total of US$300 to cover the cost of fuel.

Currency

The unit of currency in Argentina is the Argentine peso; in Chile it is the Chilean 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, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). 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.

There are few ATMs or main places to exchange cash outside the towns in Patagonia so stock up in advance. Some rural lodges accept credit cards as payment for meals and excursions but cash is always more convenient and it is best to bring cash to buy petrol.

For our latest currency advice for Argentina please see our FAQs section.

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.

Insurance And Documents

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Car insurance:
Argentina (your trip is based on a medium category 2WD vehicle): Limited collision damage waiver and vehicle theft protection (CDW/TP) cover is included, with an excess payable. Additional CDW/TP cover with zero excess can usually be purchased at additional cost. Please check the level of your coverage with us when making your booking. We strongly recommend you consider buying your own car hire excess waiver insurance policy before you travel: these are widely available from insurance companies in the UK.  All incidents involving collision, robbery and theft must be reported to the police and a report obtained.

Chile (based on a 4×4 vehicle): your vehicle hire includes limited CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance with an excess payable of approx. US$1,000 in the event of loss or damage. Limits and certain exclusions do apply. Please contact us for further details.

Let us know if the transmission (automatic or manual) is important to you, or if you prefer a different type of vehicle: although we cannot guarantee availability we will do our best to help.

An international driving permit (IDP) is officially required for Argentina. Since 2015 new regulations have applied concerning the paper counterpart of UK driving licences. Please check https://www.gov.uk/government/news/driving-licence-changes for further details.

You will need to return the car to the specified office at the end of the rental period. If you are leaving on a morning flight we advise you to do this the day before you depart.

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 predominantly self-driving holiday is for independent-minded clients seeking the freedom to explore without the support of local guides and drivers but with the security of pre-booked accommodation. You should be confident to navigate along roads outside the UK, driving on the right. Some Spanish as well as mechanical knowledge, for example the ability to change a tyre is highly recommended. We advise you to let us know if you have a strong preference for automatic or manual transmission as vehicles supplied can vary. GPS equipment is not normally available but you will receive basic written directions and we will send you our Rules of the Road document with helpful tips specific to driving in Argentina and Chile.

Driving is along a mixture of paved and ripio (gravel) roads.
A 2-wheel drive vehicle is sufficient to complete the Argentine routes but a 4X4 will be more comfortable (and is recommended) if you would like the flexibility to go off the beaten track or deeper into the national parks. Please speak to us if you wish to upgrade to a 4×4 in Argentina. We have already included a 4X4 for the Torres del Paine (Chile) section of this holiday.

Petrol is usually easy to come by in the main towns but be sure to keep an eye on your fuel tank as, this being remote Patagonia, distances can be deceptive and petrol stations few and far between. You’ll want to take it slowly anyway as the scenery unfolds before you. In the Chilean section there is no reliable fuel supply after Puerto Natales: be sure to fill up with petrol in town as you head north in order to have sufficient to get you back.
During your down time in the national parks we think it’s a good idea to park the car and explore on foot: there’s no better way to save fuel and appreciate this primeval wilderness at the end of the Earth. In Torres del Paine, we recommend you book any organised activities as soon as possible after your arrival at the hotels, especially in high season (Dec-Feb).

Climate

Owing to the extremities of the weather in Patagonia in winter, this holiday is only available between October and the end of March, the southern summer.

In Buenos Aires and Santiago, October to November and March to April see temperatures between 15 and 25°C and a good deal of sunshine. January to February is hot, with temperatures over 30°C.

In the summer in the lake district (Dec-Mar), and in the two capital cities during the shoulder seasons, the weather should be similar to a good British summer. The shoulder seasons in the lakes are more unpredictable, with possible cool periods and rain in April and October.

Southern Patagonia’s summer (Dec-Feb) has long, usually mild days, although you can be subjected to 4 seasons in one day and occasional snow flurries are not uncommon. Mar/April or Sep/Oct can be sunny and clear, but it can be windy.

Clothing And Special Equipment

In the southern hemisphere summer it will be hot in Buenos Aires so take loose-fitting light clothing for maximum comfort. An umbrella offers good protection from tropical showers. You will need sunglasses and head protection.

The further south you travel into Patagonia, the more unpredictable the weather, so you will need layered clothing including wind and waterproof outer shells.

If you plan to go to good restaurants or out on evening entertainment trips, you might bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required).

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: 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.

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

What's included in the price

  • Services of our team of experts in our London office
  • Services of Journey Latin America local representatives
  • All land and air transport within Latin America
  • Accommodation as specified
  • Vehicle hire with limited insurance as specified
  • Meals as specified
  • Excursions as specified

Included Excursions

  • Buenos Aires: Guided walking tour along the Avenida de Mayo

What's not included in the price

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

Real Latin America Experts

  • Mary Anne Nelson
    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.

  • JimAshworth
    Jim Ashworth - Travel Consultant

    Jim first caught the Latin American travel bug in 2001 when he decided at the last minute to join a friend travelling around Central America – he hasn't looked back since.

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

  • Ben Line
    Ben Line - Travel Consultant

    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.

  • Hannah Waterhouse
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Consultant

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

  • Chris Rendell Dunn
    Chris Rendell-Dunn - Travel Consultant

    Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our Sales team.

Meet the team