Most people that head to Patagonia are hikers…for me this is definitely not the case. Don’t get me wrong I love a Sunday walk or two, but spending at least one week in Patagonia, hiking for days in the wind, rain and sometimes snow & camping and cooking meals on a trangia on the way just isn’t my thing. I did DofE and I know how that shit goes…tears, blisters, trench foot – yeah no thanks. You guys that enjoy that stuff, you’re lucky. You go glen co co!
First…read more: A two week itinerary for Chile
HOWEVER I am obsessed with incredible vistas, colourful lakes, beautiful mountains etc and Patagonia is THE BEST for that. So, I decided I would head down anyway and see whether I could see some of it without having to hike / endure days of pain.
Just to say, of course if you do choose to hike you will see wayyyy more and of course have a way more enriching / rewarding experience. I envy those of you that like it! In my case A. I don’t like hiking and B. I only had a week in Patagonia before having to get to Ushuaia so I chose to do short day hikes & day tours instead. Very possible to do it this way too and you still see a lot.
One week in Patagonia itinerary: is it possible without hiking?
Where to start?
I started my Patagonia adventure in Punta Arenas (Chilean side) and got the bus straight to Puerto Natales which is what most people tend to do (unless they have loads of time in which case some people take the bus down from Santiago as there are a few similar stops along the way). Flights down to Patagonia are generally cheaper if you stick to flying into the same country. There are two main airports (Punta Arenas on the Chilean side and El Calafate on the Argentinean side).
Puerto Natales (Torres del Paine)
Puerto Natales is the city you need to head to if you want to do Torres del Paine. Not gunna lie, of course you will see wayyyyy more if you hike but it is also possible to take a full day tour. This involves a minibus for the day and lots of beautiful viewpoints. It’s also possible to do a full day hike (rather than 4 or 5 days) and hike to the base of the towers. If I had the time I would have considered this as well but only had a day in the end due to weather issues & commitments in Ushuaia.
See more: Torres Del Paine in a Day: a photo diary
El Calafate (Perito Moreno)
Probably the least wow factor of the three for me, but then again Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy literally blew my mind. They’re all up there and Perito Moreno Glacier is UNREAL, but I guess what I mean is you don’t need to spend as long in El Calafate as you do Puerto Natales & El Chalten. The main attraction is Perito Moreno Glacier and this can be done in a day. Rather than take a tour / the bus, a group of 5 of us rented a car for the day and turned it into a road trip which was way cheaper and more fun, plus gave us more flexibility. Your hostel / hotel should be able to help with that.
See more: Perito Moreno Glacier: a photo story
El Chalten (Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, Laguna Torres)
OH MY GOD anyone heading to Patagonia has to go to El Chalten and spend at least 3 nights there. It’s a quaint little town hidden between huge mountains every which way. There are loads of day hikes to do – Fitz Roy (INSANE VIEWS but really hard – for me anyway), Cerro Torre & Laguna Torre to name a few. I was literally ready to throw myself of the side of the mountain on the last hour of the Fitz Roy trek. It’s super steep and actually feels like you’re scaling the side of a cliff (bear in mind that I’m not that fit and not an experienced hiker at all, but other people that are good at hiking did describe that last hour as ‘f*cking horrendous). Some guys I was trekking with had done the Torres del Paine W trek just before and sped ahead. Regardless of your fitness level, it’s completely completely completely worth it. Do it. I had a tear when we got to the top, breathtaking – one of the best days of my whole 3 month trip.
See more: Trekking Fitz Roy: a photo diary
How many nights should I stay in each place?
If you only have a week like I did, and assuming you are staring on the Chilean side, I would recommend 3 nights in Puerto Natales, 1 night in El Calafate and 3 nights in El Chalten. If you have longer and are keen to hike, then you will need to factor at least 5 nights in for Puerto Natales and then definitely spend longer in El Chalten so you can do more of the day hikes. 🙂
Other posts you may enjoy if you’re planning a trip to South America:
The perfect itinerary for one week in Bolivia (including info on the Amazon)