Hiking in Southern Patagonia – Facts & Info
by Linda Pim
* Given these crazy COVID times, you won’t be travelling to Patagonia this April. But if you read Linda Pim’s first blog post, “Hiking Patagonia,” and would like to learn more about hiking I this part of the world, read on.
Patagonia is the huge area encompassing southern Argentina and Chile.
Caveat: I have been only to the southern portion of Patagonia and only once. Please do your own research too!
Where do we get information about hiking in southern Patagonia?
Patagonia has become a very popular hiking destination only since recovery from the 2002 collapse of the Argentine economy, so there is a dizzying array of hiking options, tours and packages to be found online. The Lonely Planet guides for Argentina and Chile go into useful detail about some of the top hikes (day hikes and multi-day treks). Think about your abilities and desires. If you are fluent in Spanish and have done lots of research about where you’re going, you could strike out on your own. That was not us. We wanted good, long day-hikes not back-packing, a bilingual tour facilitator and local guides. We weren’t interested in sleeping in refugios (back-country hostel) with a bunch of people we didn’t know.
G Adventures, a Canadian tour company, had the kind of trip we wanted. Called Hike Patagonia in Depth, it’s a 14-day trip (starting in and returning to Buenos Aires). It includes day hikes based from a couple of mid-range small hotels and a four-day hike (the famous “W Trek”), with three nights in tents and much of our gear carried on horseback and other means. Half the trip focused on Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina, half on Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine in Chile.
G Adventures has a few other tour options in Patagonia – check them out. All groups are 12 to 16 people, and all trip facilitators and local guides are fluent in English and Spanish. Going with a group of people you don’t know has real benefits (we had hikers from four countries), but always carries risks (we had one person who fudged her fitness level on the application, resulting in major impacts on the whole group during the W Trek).
I also like G Adventure’s social responsibility. In 2003, they established Planeterra Foundation, a non-profit that has contributed millions of dollars to projects around the globe in the areas of social enterprise, health care, conservation and emergency response.
When is the best time to go?
We hiked in early April. That’s when I’d recommend going (but look into November/December too) – it’s outside the summer season of January/February, when some trails can have traffic jams of hikers. Even in April, a couple of day hikes we did that are easily accessible by vehicle were busy enough. We chose April partly because we heard the ferocious Patagonian winds of summer have died down a bit by then – and in fact, we had no wind at all. The outdoor adventure season shuts down entirely on April 15 primarily because of shorter days.
Where are the best hiking locations and what’s the hiking like?
If I were to return, I would spend a full week in El Chalten, in the northern part of Argentina’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. You don’t need a guide and can walk to several trailheads right from your lodgings in town for day hikes, or arrange transportation to other trails nearby. There is little hiking close to the much larger town of El Calafate, so I’d use it only as a transportation transfer point.
There’s a reason for the high popularity of the W Trek – it’s just fabulous! – with the closest town for lodgings before and after the four-day hike being Puerto Natales, Chile. Backpacking options seem to be far more extensive than day hikes in Patagonia. Wherever you go, the hiking is strenuous, with considerable elevation gain and loss each day. Be prepared.
How do I get there?
From Canada, you can get a non-stop, 10-hour flight from Toronto to Buenos Aires, but routes with one connection are more common. Take a day or two to enjoy BA before you hop on the three-hour Aerolineas Argentinas flight to El Calafate.
What should I remember to take?
It is often said you can experience all four seasons in a single day in Patagonia, so whenever you go, remember to pack a warm hat, gloves, warm layers and long-johns. G Adventures provides a comprehensive trip checklist.
This close to Antarctica’s ozone hole, it’s especially important to protect yourself from UV exposure with a high-SPF sunscreen, lip protector, hat and sunglasses.
Don’t bother with much US cash. The best currency to use is domestic, with little use of credit cards. Beware: ATMs in some smaller Patagonian towns (e.g. El Chalten) can run out of cash, so stock up in Buenos Aires or El Calafate before venturing further afield.
How much did the trip cost, including flights (no points), insurance, tips (for drivers, guides, etc.), the works?
You’ll likely do a trip like this only once, so swallow hard: About $8,000 CDN for 16 days, including an extra day or two in Buenos Aires.
G Adventures did not provide Linda Pim with any freebies, nor did they review this post.