Trekking the Patagonia Circuit, Argentina and Chile

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14535A, International


  • Trek in Torres del Paine National Park (Chile)
  • Hike to magnificent Mt. Fitzroy in Glacier National Park (Argentina)
  • See massive Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina)


  • All meals, accommodations, entry fees, and gratuities
  • In-country flight, airport transfers, and on-trip transportation
  • Knowledgeable local guides


DatesFeb 23–Mar 8, 2014
StaffAngela White

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Patagonia is a remote, unspoiled, and untamed wilderness, and the southern part is where nature is at its wildest. Measuring about twice the size of France, the land ranges from towering granite peaks and turquoise glacial lakes to windswept steppes ending at "finis terrae" or the end of the world, Tierra del Fuego. This is the "Land of Fire," the island that forms the end of Patagonia and has a fascinating array of wildlife. Two countries, Chile and Argentina, share this sparsely populated, wide-open space, split by the Andes and bodies of water -- and we will see the best! Our trip starts in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern-most city in the world, and ends in Punta Arenas, Chile. The centerpiece of the Argentinian side of Patagonia is Los Glaciares National Park, where the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier is found in the southern part. This groaning, grinding ice field is vast and seemingly endless and, in fact, is one of the few glaciers in the world still advancing until the 1980s. In the north of the national park is the famous Mt. Fitzroy massif, named after the Beagle's Captain Fitzroy, who sailed Charles Darwin's expedition up the Rio Santa Cruz in 1834. The vertical granite fin of the mountain is 11,290-feet high and is surrounded by icy glaciers. To get there, we will hike through forests of lenga and nirre trees (deciduous beeches). The most beautiful area of the Chilean side of Patagonia is Torres del Paine National Park. Filled with stunning mountain peaks, brilliant turquoise lakes, and calving glaciers, it is considered by many to be the finest travel destination in Chile. The "W," one of the classic treks in Patagonia, winds along the edge of the mountains next to a chain of glacial lakes and ends with an awe-inspiring day hike to the breathtaking Torres, for which the Park is named. Hiking in Patagonia is "high altitude" hiking BUT at low altitude, which is often above tree line! Our days will take us between approximately 1,000 to 3,000' overall.


Day 1: Arrive in Ushuaia by midafternoon. Airport transfer to our hotel is provided. We will meet and get to know each other at a welcome dinner at a local restuarant.

Day 2: After an early breakfast, we are taking an all-day excursion to an uninhabited island on the Beagle Channel. We begin by canoeing down the Lashifashaj River, which flows into the Channel, then take a motor boat to an island that has a penguin rookery. From here we sail to another island, then disembark to take a two-hour hike to a picnic and to observe the flora and fauna. The Yamana Indians lived here and there is evidence of their long-gone fishing culture for us to see. (This day is dependant on good weather conditions. If necessary, we will change or modify the schedule to an alternative activity.)

Day 3: Today, we are hiking in Parque National Tierra del Fuego. This Park is mostly closed to the public, but offers some excellent trails for day hikes. We will hike along the Rio Pipo, with its lovely cascades, and keep our eyes open for local birds. We should see more evidence of the Yamana culture as grass-covered shell middens are found along this trail. The afternoon is free to explore the town. You may wish to visit the Museo Maritimo and Museo del Presidio (prison museums), which show the misery of penal life and a display on Antarctic exploration. Another option is to visit the museum "Mundo Yamana," a representation of Yamana life. Or else, the Museo del Fin del Mundo has excellent exhibits on Fuegian natural history, birdlife, the lives of the indigenous people, and the early penal colony. (6 miles, 200' altitude change)

Day 4: We take a flight to El Calafate on the banks of Lago (Lake) Argentina, where we eat lunch. Afterward, we're transported by private bus to Chalten, driving along the edge of the lake along the way. We stop at La Leona Petrified Forest to explore this strange, ghostly area of fossilized wood. Chalten is our home for the next three nights.

Day 5: Our first full day of walking, we will hike to Laguna Las Tres, a gorgeous glacial lake with views of glaciers and mountains. The trail passes through meadows, through forests and then the glacial moraine, before dropping down to the lake.  (12 miles, 600' up, 600' down)

Day 6: Today is a day of strenuous walking as we'll be hiking for 14 miles (round-trip) to Laguna Torre, which has breathtaking views of Mt. Fitzroy and Glacier Grande. On our hike on the well-marked trail, we'll pass through several ecosystems, maybe see the Magellanic woodpecker, which is endemic to Southern Patagonia, and be treated to incredible views of the mountain range. The trail up to the base of Mt Fitzroy is steep for the last mile, but the view at the top makes it all worthwhile. (14 miles, 2,000' up, 2,400' down)

Day 7: In the morning, we'll return to El Calafate by bus, and after lunch we'll visit the Perito Moreno Glacier to watch it calving and creaking as the ice forms react to the environmental changes of snow, air, and water. Tonight we'll stay in El Calafate.

Day 8: This will be a free morning in El Calafate to explore or relax. You can visit the Museo de El Calafate, which has displays of arrowheads, natural history, and early photographs, or go birdwatching at Laguna Nimes, north of town. After lunch, our bus will drive us through the steppes to the border where we say "Adios" to Argentina and "Hola" to Chile and our new guide. The bus takes us to Torres del Paine National Park and the ecocamp, our base in Chile. Tonight we stay in the yurts at the ecocamp, where we'll also return the fourth and fifth nights of our stay here.

Day 9: After a hearty breakfast, we'll assemble our gear for the three-day trek, then drive to the far side of the Park, the start of the "W." We cross Grey Lake by boat to Grey Glacier, then hike out of the valley with views of the Glacier, the Patagonian icecap, and numerous mountain peaks. After hiking six miles (less than 1,000' elevation change) we arrive at Refugio Pehoe, our home for the night. The Refugio is a rustic lodge with dormitory-style rooms, six beds per room. Mixed gender rooms are quite possible here and we may have to share with two people from another group. (6 miles, 950' total up and down)

Day 10: Today we hike from Refugio Pehoe to Refugio Cuernos, which has delightful cabins (double occupancy) by a waterfall. Our walk takes us along Lake Nordenskjold, with outstanding views of the black-tipped mountain peaks of the Cuernos (horns) and the lake. This hike is 10 miles with 1,000' gain and loss. There is an optional (and well worth it) side hike after five miles up French Valley (weather permitting). This adds another five miles onto the day and another 1,500'. But you will hike into an enormous granite bowl, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, hanging glaciers, and pygmy forests on the way to the French and British camps, which were the base camps for the climbing expeditions that were exploring the nearby peaks. (10 miles, 1,000' elevation change)

Day 11: From Refugio Cuernos, we'll hike over Los Cuernos Pass and continue along the edge of the lake to the Cascada Expediciones Ecocamp, where we will stay for the next two nights. (8 miles, 1,000' elevation change)

Day 12: Today's hike is to see the magnificant Torres (towers), the namesake of the Park. The hike to the base of the Torres is on a well-maintained trail that gains 1,500' over about five miles. The sixth and last mile is a steep trail along the side of a rocky talus slope. It isn't very difficult -- there is no rock scrambling, but it is steep. But the view at the top is worth every step. The Torres are vertical monoliths, part of a high-walled bowl that has a crystalline-blue glacial lake at its center, and breathtaking from every aspect. (12 miles, 2,200' up, 2,200' down)

Day 13: After breakfast, we get on the bus for a leisurely drive to Punta Arenas. We will stop at various spots to look for wildlife and birds, especially flamingos, then go to the Cuevo del Milandon (Cave of the Milandon) the focal point of Bruce Chatworths book "In Patagonia." At Punta Arenas, we will check in to our hotel and, after some free time, meet for a farewell dinner at a local restuarant.

Day 14: After breakfast, we are taken to the airport for our plane back home. Some of these activities are weather permitting. If the weather is inclement, making the planned activity dangerous, we may change that day's itinerary to a safer one.



Getting There

This trips starts and ends at different locations. It begins at Ushuaia in Argentina and ends in Punta Arenas, Chile. You will need a "multicity air ticket," which can be purchased from many discount sites, such as Orbitz or Travelocity. You may wish to spend time in both Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile. Not only are both capital cities wonderful, they're the changing point for the flights to Ushuaia and from Punta Arenas. United States citizens entering Argentina or Chile by air must have a valid passport (good for six months AFTER you leave either country) with at least four empty pages, and a visa, known as a reprocity fee. This costs $131 and is purchased at the airport on arrival. This visa is good for the life of your passport.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying in hotels, refugios, and an ecocamp. The ecocamp is made of geodesic, yurt-like domes: private, double domes with bathrooms for sleeping, and larger domes for eating and socializing. The domes each have wood stoves. All structures are built on raised wooden platforms, which are dismantled and removed at the end of the season to further protect the fragile environment. The toilets are composting, and solar panels and wind turbines produce most of the energy for the ecocamp. We will be sleeping at refugios on days 9 & 10, with common eating areas and shared bathrooms. We will be sleeping in dorm rooms (shared) on day 9 and small cabins on day 10. The rest of the time we will stay in local hotels that have double rooms with private bathrooms. All meals are provided in the trip price. Patagonian food is fabulous, fresh, and mostly local. It is very meat based -- Patagonian lamb and beef are outstanding, also with delicious fish and shellfish choices. Salads and vegetables are served with all meals and the guides will go out of their way to take care of vegetarians. Breakfasts are simple (cereal, toast, eggs) and lunches will be either a sit-down lunch or a box lunch.

Trip Difficulty

This is a moderatly strenuous trip and participants should be in good physical condition. All our gear will be carried for us and you will carry water, lunch, and rain gear in your day packs on the hikes. It is essential to take part in a regular exercise program (running, hiking, biking, swimming) several months in advance to prepare for the trip. We will have some long hiking days but none of the hikes are at high altitude. The most difficult hike on the Argentina side is going to the base of Mt Fitzroy. It is 14 miles round-trip, 1,000' up in the first 4 miles and then 1,200' over the last two miles to the top. The most difficult hike we will do in Chile is the hike to Las Torres in the National Park and is 12 miles, 2,200' up and 2,200' down. Both trails are well used, have some rocky parts and a small scree field at the end of each destination. Remember, the fitter you are, the more fun you will have.

Equipment and Clothing

The weather in Patagonia is very unpredictable. We can get extreme wind, torrential rain, brilliant sunshine -- all in the same day. Clothes made of a wicking fabric are essential as are good rain clothes and warm layers. You will need a good pair of broken-in, waterproof, over-the-ankle hiking boots, and hiking poles are highly recommended. A detailed equipment list will be sent to participants.



  • Chatwin, Bruce, In Patagonia.
  • Yates, Simon, Against the Wall.
  • Bridges, E. Lucas, Uttermost Part of the Earth.
  • Any guidebook e.g. Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Frommers etc.
  • Jaramillo, Alvaro, Birds of Chile. The leader will bring her copy.
  • Patagonia: The Wild, Wild South. National Geographic, January 2004.


A more extensive reading and movie list, plus details on maps, will be sent to participants at a later date.


Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad. Patagonia has one of the world's greatest water reserves due to its glacial lakes, powerful rivers, and two very large non-polar ice fields. However, this makes it of great interest to hydroelectric companies as the demand for and price of energy keeps increasing. In Chile, a multi-dam project is planned that will threaten several pristine rivers, flood rural areas, and overall, have a devastating effect on many ecosystems. This is a serious issue, being challenged by many international environmentalists. We will be updated with the latest developments nearer the trip departure dates.



Angela White is English but has lived in the mountains of California with her two dogs for many years. She likes to hike and backpack with her dogs in the Sierra Nevada and cross-country skis in the snowy winters to stay fit. She has led international hiking trips in Central and South America for several years, but her heart belongs in the wild places of Patagonia. She is on a never-ending mission to become fluent in Spanish and takes immersion classes whenever possible in the countries that she is leading in.

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