Plan your South America tour between November and April and you’ll be visiting at the prime of Patagonia trekking season. Reason enough to pack your hiking boots? You bet! This is one of the world’s premier trekking destinations, a world filled with astonishing landscapes, iconic wildlife, colourful, glaciers, gorges and more starting mountain peaks than you could ever photograph in a single lifetime. Despite its expansiveness, Patagonia is also a place that’s best experienced on foot – there’s simply no better way to soak up the splendours of the magnificent landscapes. So leave that tarmac and hotel behind, pack some snacks, plan ahead and head off into the wilderness.
A few tips for trekking safely in Patagonia
Patagonia is not to be underestimated, even at the heart of summer: the weather is unpredictable, the winds ever-present and the trekking trails perhaps harder than you may imagine. It’s imperative that you head off fully prepared for your trek, even if you’re only planning to be outdoors for just an hour or two: dress in layers, know what to expect and take a local guide if you’re an inexperienced hiker, even along the easiest and best-marked trails. This is South America’s wildest region, one that is as unforgiving as it is unforgettable.
Here are the 10 best treks in Patagonia you need to know about!
- W-Walk – Torres del Paine NP
If Patagonia were to be one enormous hiking nation then consider the Torres del Paine National Park its most illustrious capital. The park is often dubbed the wildlife crèche of Patagonia and, given its magnificent landscapes, is as revered for its trekking options as it is for its animal encounters. The W Walk is inarguably the most famous trail to tackle here, a challenging 5-day-long trail (120km) that does a fine job of testing your stamina and delivering the most astonishing Patagonia wilderness experiences of all. But you need not be so hardcore to soak up the splendours of Torres: there are plenty of overnight and day-long treks that still offer plenty of WOW moments, minus the leg-crushing challenge of the W.
- Grey Lake Trek – Torres del Paine NP
The wonderful thing about the W-Walk detailed above is that it can be easily divided into sections, some of which you can do separately. It’s hard to pick a favourite (check out the French Valley while there, BTW) but our best recommendation for a day-long moderate trek is to follow the trail along the shores of Grey Lake. The lake is fed by the gargantuan Grey Glacier and boasts random ice floes as well as absolutely stunning views. This walk stretches between two lodges (Refugio Grey and Mountain Lodge Paine Grande) although if you’re not up for a rough-and-rustic overnight stay in either spot you can simply head to the ferry port at either end from your hotel and take the walk from there. Expect the walk itself to take about 5 leisurely hours (more if you love your photo stops) so best you set off straight after breakfast.
- Mirador Las Torres – Torres del Paine NP
It’s a long and somewhat strenuous trek up to the Torres viewpoint but all that fades into the recesses of your memory-bank the moment you cast your eyes on the jaw-dropping views of those magnificent peaks you’ve travelled halfway around the world to see. The Mirador Las Torres trail stretches for almost 20km and ascends over 900m – the latter making it a bit of a challenge – taking a whole day at leisure, with plenty of rest stops to catch your breath. Tough? Sure. Worth it? Without a shadow of a doubt!
On a sunny day, this is postcard Torres at its very best.
- Laguna Torre Trek – El Chalten, Los Glaciares NP
Torres del Paine might enjoy all the trekking hype in Patagonia but the small charming town of El Chalten, in the heart of the Glaciers National Park, plays no second-best. If anything, this spot offers more options for day-long treks and moderate as well as easy walks so we dare say it is a more suitable trekking destination for a greater number of visitors. What’s more, most walking trails start from the heart of the town, so El Chalten is not just beautiful but also immensely convenient. The Laguna Torre Trek, the most iconic trek here, meanders through a stunning beech forest brimming with birds, through the glaciated Fitz Roy River Valley, flanked by snow-capped peaks and glaciers and offering glorious views of the ultimate trekking challenges here: Cerro Torre and spectacular Mt Fitz Roy. This full-day trek (plan on at least 8 hours, return) serves up the kind of panoramic views that’ll blow your mind.
- Los Condores & Las Aguilas – El Chalten, Los Glaciares NP
If you spend just a day or two in El Chalten and end up falling in love with the place, we certainly wouldn’t blame you. Enjoying daily walks and returning to a lovely hotel every night has its perks, let alone the delight of having a myriad of different miradores (viewpoints) to reach within just a couple of hours’ walks. The most popular option, should you be here for just a day, is to enjoy an easy and short (2 hours) stroll to the ‘Condor and Eagle Viewpoints’ which won’t get you very close to those peaks but will get you jaw-dropping views nonetheless. This is probably the shortest and easiest trek in El Chalten so can also be a wonderful ‘warm-up’ if you’re here for a few days and just want to get those legs accustomed to trekking in this dramatic wilderness.
- Laguna de los Tres – El Chalten, Los Glaciares
On the opposite end of the day-long treks, you’ll find the ‘lagoon of the three (peaks)’, the longest and arguably the hardest hike to be done in a single day. If it’s any consolation, we’d rate the viewpoint as the very best in show for gobsmacking views of Mt Fitz Roy. If you do want to tackle this in a day then we suggest you only attempt it at the very heart of the southern summer, as you’ll need at least 10 hours of daylight to complete it. Better still, organise an overnight trek and you can enjoy a night of stargazing in a campsite along the way.
- Refugio Frey Trek – Bariloche
Bariloche and its mesmerizing glacial lake, Nahuel Huapi, is a titillating entrée into the Lakes Region of Chile and Argentina, just north of the invisible border denoting the Patagonian region. Bariloche itself still falls within the boundaries, however, so luckily for you it can be included on this list! Surrounded by pristine wilderness and boasting a multitude of very easy half-day walks (as well as more challenging longer treks) Bariloche is easily regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in all of South America. The wild peaks and valleys around Bariloche are littered with a host of glorious refugios (trekking huts) with a maze of trails linking them all. One of the most popular treks is to Refugio Frey, a rustic ‘hut’ that boasts one of the most remarkable settings in all of Patagonia. The hike is 24km long, return, and you can expect to take about 8/10hrs all up, so head off early or book a bed at the hut for the night if you want to stretch the enjoyment.
- Cerro Campanario, Bariloche
Some people call this the ‘cheater’s trek’ but we prefer to think of it as the ultimate excursion on a ‘rest day’. You can reach the peak of Campanario and its amazing viewing platform in just under an hour from town centre and – if you’re feeling so inclined – can actually skip the whole trekking bit and take the cable-car instead. The views over Bariloche, its forests and lakes are out of this world, so it really doesn’t matter how you get there…just make sure you do!
- Tierra del Fuego, NP – Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego
The southernmost city in the world and ideal gateway to Antarctica, Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia’s most spellbinding southern island. The namesake national park here is awash with fantastic day-long treks, so many in fact that recommending just one would be a travesty. Simply head into the park, grab a trail map at the visitor centre and choose from a collection of easy and challenging hikes, lasting from just an hour to a full day.
- Emerald Lagoon Trek, Tierra del Fuego
Outside of the national park, you’ll find plenty more hiking trails to follow in Ushuaia, the most popular of which is to the glacial Emerald Lagoon, as colourful and ethereal as the name suggests. This 4/5-hour return trek offers astonishing views and a wilderness experience that’s quite unique. Tierra del Fuego may be less-known as a trekking destination but the nature here is vibrantly coloured and wild as can be and this moderate trek will showcase the best of it all.
You certainly don’t need to be an experienced trekker to enjoy a wonderful day’s walk in Patagonia although, if you are an avid hiker, you may want to consider tackling the brand-new Patagonia Route of Parks Scenic Trail. At Chimu Adventures, however, we find that the most popular tours of Patagonia include a few moderate treks interspersed with sightseeing, wine-tasting and wildlife-spotting. This may well be one of the world’s most renowned trekking destinations but the region offers SO much to the discerning explorer.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”