Patagonia is a region located in the southern end of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile (no, it’s not just a very expensive clothing brand) and it is known for its surreal landscapes.
One day I was at home and my friend Cláudia came to me and said ‘Mafaldita, I have just been to this photography exhibition in Lisbon about Patagonia… Can we go there?’. I would never say no to her so I just said ‘Yes, let’s go!’. Three days later we had already bought the flights and there was no turning back.
This trip was mainly about Patagonia, but not only. We also spent some time in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. This was our itinerary:
London → Buenos Aires → Montevideo → El Calafate → El Chalten → Torres del Paine → Ushuaia → Buenos Aires → London
Every year British Airways has really good discounts when you buy flights around the first two weeks of January, so we bought the flights from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires exactly 10 months in advance. We got it for £388 return per person including two meals (and BA doesn’t refuse to give you another bottle of wine if you ask) and two carry-on bags. What a bargain!
If you work in Europe, you will find that Argentina is quite affordable, especially the city of Buenos Aires. The currency used is Argentinian pesos (ARS). Although the currency is cheap, withdrawing cash from an ATM has high fees like £8 per withdrawal, even if you use a card like Revolut.
In Argentina Mastercard often doesn’t work so I always used my Revolut card (VISA, be careful because some Revoluts are Mastercard) everywhere cards were accepted, but we still needed to have physical cash for smaller places and specially for Patagonia, where you will likely be unable to find any internet and phone signal in most places (so no ATMs also!).
The solution we found to get cash without paying a withdrawing fee from the Argentinian banks was to use the WorldRemit app, a service that you can use to send money to be picked up in a different country without the exorbitant fees. You can use most bank cards with WorldRemit and choose a cash pick up point which is usually a small convenience shop or money transfer service. In Argentina these money transfers are called Giros, and we used two of the “Giros More” (a local money transfer company) locations to receive our money. When you send money through the app it will be available within one hour. (If you want to use this service, get a bonus and free transfers, just ask for an invite in the comment section).
Buenos Aires is Argentina’s capital and it is a huge city. I really mean it when I say it’s huge. It might take you at least 40min to travel from one side of the city centre to the other side by car.
We stayed 4 nights in Recoleta on a very nice airbnb. There are a lot of nice neighborhoods in Buenos Aires so it’s very difficult to choose where to stay. Another nice place to stay is in Palermo, where all the nice late night restaurants and bars are located.
As there were 5 was us, we found Uber to be the cheaper, quickest and most convenient way to travel around the city. Sometimes it can be difficult to get it as there are designated pick-up points, especially at the airports. Unless you already have pesos and you want to take a taxi paying in cash, your only alternative is to take the “Micro” (bus) from the company Tienda Leon from the airport to Puerto Madero and then from there call a Uber. It costs around £4 pp.
If you are travelling solo, it will be cheaper to use Subte (subway) or buses to travel around Buenos Aires. For that you will need cash and you will need to buy a sube card and charge it with credit. You can get one at subte stations or at many kioskos.
We also used the electric scooter Lime. It is a bit expensive but is nice to roll in big avenues like from Floralis Generica to the Japonese Garden, for example. Lime in Argentina allows one user to book a group ride of multiple scooters, which is great for travelling in a group trip like we did.
Here are our top picks of what to do in Buenos Aires:
- La Boca (Caminito and La Bombonera)
- Bairro San Telmo
- Mercado de San Telmo on Sundays
- Mafalda Monument en San Telmo (Calle Chila con Defensa)
- Casa Mínima, the smallest house in Argentina
- Galería Solar de French
- El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookshop
- Palacio de Aguas Corrientes
- Vista desde Palacio Borolo
- Jardín Japonés
- Floralis Generica y Obelisco
- Calle Florida
- Avenida Corrientes
- Plaza Francia
- Centro Cultural Kirchner
- Galerías Pacifico
- Teatro Colón
- Galería Paul French
- Frida Kahlo Wall at the junction of Dorrego and Cabrera
- Watch a Milonga 💃🏻
- Centro Cultural Recoleta
- Cemiterio de Recoleta
- Puerto Madero
I simply loved wandering around Palermo. This neighborhood has so much life and color, with street art everywhere! I also loved Caminito, it is so genuine!
Buenos Aires is also a paradise for those who love to eat! The food is simply marvelous and there is a lot of variety.
Typical food from Argentina includes empanadas, choripan, asado and parrillas (the best barbecued meat ever), milanesa (like a schnitzel), pizza (from italian heritage), provoleta (grilled cheese) and, of course, dulce de leche!
Here are my top picks for where to eat good food in Buenos Aires:
- La Cabrera – for meat lovers. Needs reservation at least 1 week before
- La Carbonera – the best venezuelan empanadas
- Bistro Sur at the Faena Hotel – amazing a la carte fancy restaurant
- Aramburu – one of the best south american restaurants
- Chori – for the best choripan
- Don Julio – good parrilla
- Pizzeria Guerrin – best pizza in Buenos Aires with loads of egg and traditional empanadas
- Cadore and Freddo for the best dulce de leche ice-cream
- El Sanjuanino – cheap Argentinian empanadas
One of the best surprises we had on this trip was our dinner at Bistro Sur, located in the luxury Hotel Faena. It cost us around £30 pp and it was simply great. The food, the ambience… Everything was perfect! Check the photos below.
A lot of people have warned me about safety in Buenos Aires, but I found it to be a safe city. Of course you can notice some pickpockets in the most touristic areas and also need to beware for the ones on bikes or scooters. But nothing that I’m not used to see in Portugal or on any other places with tourists, to be honest. Don’t flash your wealth into others’ eyes and you will be fine.
From Buenos Aires we took a day-trip to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. We went with the ferry Buquebus, which usually departs from Puerto Madero at 7:15am and arrives in Montevideo at around 9:30am. The return journey departs at 7:30pm and arrives in Buenos Aires at 9:45pm. A same day return ticket usually costs around £80 pp. The boat is huge and very comfortable, you don’t even feel it’s moving. Always be sure to arrive on time as you will need to print your tickets at the counter and pass through the emigration office.
Montevideo is the capital city of Uruguay. It has been named the city in Latin America with the best quality of living. It is very easy to walk around the city.
We started our day with an amazing breakfast at Sometimes Sunday’s, just next to Mercado del Puerto. We then started to walk passing by Plaza Zabala and visiting the Cathedral and Plaza Constitución. Teatro Solís is located just next to Plaza Independencia and we have seen it from the outside, as you have to pay to go on a tour to see it inside. We then passed through the Old Citadel Gateway and were completely delighted by Palacio Salvo in Plaza Independencia.
On Sundays Montevideo has the country’s biggest market, La Feria de Tristán Narvaja. We had a good time there! Loads of juicy fruits and amazing vegetables and all sorts of handcrafted products.
If you visit Uruguay you will eventually ask yourself what are people drinking in the streets, holding something like a mug and a metal straw. You will also see people drinking it in Argentina but the Uruguayans take it to another level! It is called mate. Mate is an infusion made with yerba mate which contains mateine (an analog of caffeine). It can be drank hot or cold, but in Uruguay it is drank hot, and people carry thermal containers in the street with hot water so that they can have unlimited refills. It is very traditional and if someone offers you mate from their own cup you should drink it until the end, as it is considered a goodwill gesture.
We were sitting at Parque Rodó and there was this couple with a child drinking mate so I decided to ask what was it and why everyone in the street was drinking it. They were extremely nice telling us the story about it and offering to let us try from their own mug. I really liked it and managed to burn my tongue from how hot is was! This is what makes traveling worthwhile!
The highlight of our day was definitely our lunch at La Pulpería. Oh my god. All the good things in here! Amazing staff, the weather was perfect so we sat outside, the meat was tremendous and the wine great. I really recommend this place for lunch if you are in Montevideo. It was very cheap as well.
We then walked the Montevideo’s Rambla, which is an avenue that goes all along the coastline until we reached the Montevideo sign. It was a beautiful day and it was really nice to see everyone on the streets. It was a worthy single day trip but I’ll have to come back to Uruguay to visit Colonia del Sacramento, known for its Barrio Histórico lined with buildings from its time as a Portuguese settlement and Punta del Este, known for its amazing beaches.
After 4 days in Buenos Aires, we took a LATAM flight to El Calafate. The prices vary a lot depending on the season and how far in advance you buy them.
Patagonia is a wild place. You can experience the four seasons in just one day there, so be sure you have adequate clothing and gear for everything. We planned a few treks and if you want to do the same, it’s important to bring hiking poles, good mountain boots and properly waterproof clothes (water resistant is not good enough!).
El Calafate is named after the berry that, once eaten, guarantees your return to Patagonia, as the legend says. It hooks you with another irresistible attraction: Glaciar Perito Moreno, 80km away in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
We stayed at an amazing airbnb very close to the main avenue, Avenida del Libertador. We rented a car with Hertz Argentina and everything went fine. We got a nice Chevrolet with a big boot for all our backpacks. Unfortunately when we rented the car there was no options for SUV or a bigger car so we had to go with this one. To be honest, I would rather pay a bit more and make the car reservation way in advance so you can get a small SUV at least, as the roads in Patagonia have a lot of holes and in some place, there are simply just gravel roads.
As we were travelling across the border to Torres del Paine in Chile, we needed a special authorization from the rent-a-car company. I e-mailed Hertz Argentina 1 month before arrival and sent them all our documents and they handled it so when we arrived we just had to pick up the authorization from the main office in El Calafate. It costs around £25/ARS1815.
I would advise you to rent a SUV. If there is none available, any car will do, but you will have to be extra careful when driving as the roads are really poorly maintained in Patagonia.
Also, extremely important, download offline maps for the entire area in Google Maps in more than one phone, just in case. Frequently there is no signal and we spent 5 days in Chile without any network or internet.
Things in Argentina work differently from what you are used to in Europe, so if you have that in mind you’ll be prepared for anything. Some people don’t travel with an open mind and that will cause them anxiety. It really helps if you speak Spanish, but regardless everyone is very nice and polite.
We just went out for dinner once while in El Calafate, but we highly recommend Panko. Very cheap and good sandwiches with loads of meat and milanesas.
Perito Moreno is the world’s third biggest fresh water reserve and it’s one of the only glaciers that is still expanding. It’s also bigger in area than Buenos Aires! It is part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and we did the Minitrekking with Hielo y Aventura, which costs around £120 pp, allowing us to walk on top of the glacier. It was amazing! It’s a full day activity (around 10h) and they will pick you up from the hotel or from their office. It includes a boat ride next to the glacier, 1.5h hike on the glacier and a visit to the walkways. They will provide you with helmet and crampons. The only thing you need to bring is food for the day and a water bottle.
There is an alternative tour you can take called the Big Ice, where you would hike 3.5h on the glacier. If I had known better, I would have chosen this one instead of the Minitrekking, as you have more time to explore and feel the glacier. It can be very demanding though, and we definitely do not regret at all doing the smaller trek.
The entrance fee to the park is not included, so if you want to buy it online you can do it here.
Back in El Calafate, we drove around 2.5h until El Chaltén, our next stop. El Chaltén is the trekking capital of Argentina. We stayed in a very cosy airbnb right in the centre. Prepare yourself as there is almost no phone signal and even the wi-fi in the restaurants is extremely slow (usually less than 1mbps shared).
There are loads of nice (and also difficult) treks to do, like the Laguna de Los Tres (8h), Chorrillo del Salto (3h), Huemul Glacier (2h) and Cerro Torre (6h). We just had a full day so we decided to do the Laguna de Los Tres trek, also called Fitz Roy trek, because of its classic viewpoint of Mount Fitz Roy.
This trek is quite challenging. It takes roughly 8h to go and return and it starts in the parking lot at the north end of Avenida San Martin. The first 40min have a big incline until you reach the valley of Del Salto river. The trek is well signed so you can do it perfectly without a guide. The last 1km of the trek is very steep and it takes around 1h to climb until you reach the Laguna.
The view is really breathtaking! Unfortunately we couldn’t see the top of Fitz Roy as it was very cloudy and there was a snow storm. Once you’re there, just climb the small hill on the left so you can see Laguna Sucia, which is also very very beautiful.
Be sure to take snacks and a water bottle, which you can refill along the way in the small rivers. And layers! Layers are really important, because you may start the trek with 20ºC and reach the top with 5ºC.
After a long trek, we had a well deserved parrilla at La Oveja Negra.
TORRES DEL PAINE
The next day we drove all the way to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. It took us around 6h from El Calafate to Lake Pehoe where we were staying.
A big part of Ruta 40 is abandoned so the path is in a really bad condition. As we didn’t have a SUV we decided to skip that part so we took the RP5 until Esperanza and from there we took RP7 until the Chilean border. There are no gas stations in Torres del Paine, so be sure you fill your tank either on Esperanza or Tapi Aike if you are coming from El Calafate. Both are cash only.
People were very nice in both of the borders, Argentinian and Chilean. We brought some food and snacks for the camping and it is ok unless you bring fruits. Fruit from Argentina are not allowed into Chile to isolate some diseases. It doesn’t take long to cross the borders, but it can depend on the time of the day, so prepare yourself for that. Be sure you have with you the passport, driver’s license and the crossing authorization from the rent-a-car.
You have to pay an entrance fee to enter Torres del Paine National Park, although as we arrived very late there was no one at the rangers office so we actually didn’t pay at that point. There are three entrances: Rio Serrano, Lago Sarmiento and Laguna Amarga. In high season (October-April) they open at 7am and close at 10pm. We also left the park very early so there was no one as well. You can find all the detailed prices here. It’s cash only and they accept chilean pesos, US dolars and euro. There is a small supermarket and there is also Cafeteria El Ovejero Patagonico just after the Chilean border where you can convert your euros or USD into chilean pesos. As there are no ATMs there, this is the best option to have chilean cash.
Torres del Paine is a living dream and a trekking paradise. It is well known for its W and O circuits. During these circuits, you can stay at the Refugios, where you can pay for breakfast, packed lunch and bunked beds or bring your own camping equipment. Reservations have to be made in advance, especially during high season. The Refugios are owned by different companies, so you have to contact the three of them if you want to make a reservation: CONAF, Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia.
Some of us didn’t want to camp or trek with backpacks so we decided to stay based at Camping Pehoe and walk some of the possible day hikes. This camping site is amazing… It has a lovely view over Lake Pehoe and the staff are really nice. It was the most affordable alternative we found. They have cabins, domes, erected tents and spaces for tents available. It was all very clean, the water was hot enough for a good shower and the breakfast was good. I found it quite difficult to get a reservation as they took a while to reply to the messages… But don’t give up! The easiest way to contact them is via whatsapp on +56974991958 or e-mail Omar at [email protected] I would definitely stay here again.
It was always a dream for me to stay at EcoCamp Patagonia, and it has finally come true! World’s first dome hotel, EcoCamp has earned a lot of awards, especially for being 100% sustainable in the middle of the wilderness.
They get sold out 1 year before and they don’t usually take B&B reservations, unless someone cancels from one of their adventure packages. If they have availability, they will advertise it 1 month prior to the available date. So I kept checking on booking and messaging them on their instagram until there was one night available for 2 domes, so we took it! I have contacted Melissa from Cascada Expediciones and she dealt with our reservation ([email protected]).
It was one of the best experiences of our lives… The domes, the comfort, the sustainability, the yoga classes, the staff, the environment… Everything was just perfect! I wish we could have stayed longer. The breakfast was great with a lot of variety buffet style. The dinner was just amazing as well, with good food and wine. You can choose between three options what you want to eat for dinner every morning.
From there, we did a day hike to Mirador Base Las Torres. The hike is 20km round trip with 1km of elevation gain, much of it at the end over loose rocks. About halfway through the hike you will see Refugio Chileno where you can grab a nice hot chocolate, beer or coffee. There are plenty of streams at this point to refill your water bottle and all the water is safe to drink right out of the stream. Be sure you bring some food and snacks with you. Unfortunately, we caught a lot of rain throughout the way so we quickly discovered that our waterproof gear was not that waterproof… Luckily we could dry ourselves at the fireplace in Refugio Chileno.
Because of this, we lost a lot of time so we were in a bit of a hurry to get to the mirador before 4pm, when the ranger closes it. Be sure you do all the hikes as early as you can because of the weather and also because of the closing times. It was very overcast so we couldn’t see the three Torres. Fortunately enough, I had woken up at 5am that day to watch the sunrise over the Torres at EcoCamp so I have seen it in the early morning. It should take you around 8h return or less if you are very fit. There was a lot of muddy paths along the way, so be sure you bring good shoes and gear, especially hiking poles. I found this trek harder than the Fitz Roy trek, unlike my friends, especially mentally as it was very demotivating not to see the Torres when we got up there.
After a very long day, we came back to Camping Pehoe where we stayed for 3 more nights. There are a lot of things to see in the park. Here is a link for some detailed information about day hikes. We did the Mirador Condor, Mirador Cuernos and Salto Grande and Lago and Glacier Grey.
You might be asking what we ate while inside the park. Unless you bring your own cooking gear and food, you will have to eat on one of the few restaurants. Camping Pehoe has a very nice barbecue restaurant and there is also Rio Pingo restaurant next to Lago Grey. Bear in mind that everything is very expensive inside the park.
After 4 days in Torres del Paine, we headed back to El Calafate, where we took a LATAM flight to our final destination: the end of the World, the nickname of the city of Ushuaia.
Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica e Islas del Atlántico Sur. It is the southernmost city in the world, that’s why it has been nicknamed of “End of the World”. It is the gateway to Antarctica cruises and tours to nearby Isla Martillo, known as “Penguin Island” (Pingüinera in spanish) for its penguin colonies.
We stayed two nights on this nice airbnb with lots of space, amazing views over the city and close to the city centre, which I really recommend! The hosts were also really nice and let us leave our luggage after the check out.
Ushuaia is not a big city but has a lot to offer, especially nature! There are a lot of amazing day hikes to do:
- Laguna Esmeralda (9.5 km | 4 hours)
- Sendero Costera (7.5 km | 2-3 hours)
- Cerro Guanaco Trail (15 km | 5-6 hours)
- Martial Glacier (7 km | 3 hours)
We hiked to the Laguna Esmeralda on the first day and it was so much fun! We drove until the start of the path which is located on Valle de Los Lobos, at about 17 km east of Ushuaia, along Ruta 3, where you’ll see a small parking lot and a very clear blue sign pointing to the trail. You’ll have to follow the blue marks to get to the lagoon, which was quite easy to get there but coming back we got a bit lost as we tried to escape the mud. This trek is easy but really, really muddy, even if you go on a sunny day, so bring appropriate shoes and be careful when walking. The laguna is just beautiful and its colour is really green. It was really worth the walk.
Later on that day, we took a trip with Patagonia Adventure Explorer around the Beagle Channel and we got to know a lot of the local fauna and flora. We were able to observe cormorants, sea lions and a elephant seal in their natural habitat, amongst other species. We also saw the Les Eclaireurs lighthouse. I really recommend this tour as it is a half day tour (around 4h) and the staff are really nice. They’ll explain a lot about biology and history with the added bonus of getting to munch on some nice biscuits and hot drinks. It costs AR$2800 per person plus AR$40 to pay in cash at the harbour.
Unfortunately we didn’t had time for a full day tour and since this tour didn’t cover the Pingüinera, we weren’t able to see penguins as they don’t usually get past it so they don’t get eaten by sea lions. Piratour has the same tour but with an extra walk with the penguins in the Pingüinera, but this is a full day tour.
On our last day, we took a train trip inside Tierra del Fuego National Park called Tren del Fin del Mundo. The southernmost train in the world was originally built to transport timber to the prison in Ushuaia. It’s a one hour return journey to the national park from the station located 5 miles (8 kilometers) outside of town. It was a beautiful trip, but this is a total tourist trap. I don’t recommend it if you are short on time.
Tierra del Fuego National Park has a lot to offer, but unfortunately only a small section of it was open to the public. Another beautiful place to visit is Bahia Lapataia, which is the farthest south you can drive in the Western Hemisphere and where National Route 3, the last leg of the Pan-American Highway network, ends.
We also drove to the Garibaldi Mountain Pass, where you have a beautiful view over Lago Escondido. It was really windy there, so be careful when you go!
I wish I could have had more time to explore Ushuaia. The city centre was really nice and we had really nice food at Paso Garibaldi Restobar. Had a delicious Chilean seabass and seafood risotto, and their sommelier spent some time with us chatting about Portuguese wines. Highly recommended! Other restaurants recommended by locals are: Kalma, Maria Lola, Christofer Grill & Cerveza, Casa Olmo, El Mercado or BarDPizzas at Goleta Florencia.
After two amazing days in the End of the World, we headed back to Buenos Aires for our last night in Argentina. We took an Aerolineas Argentinas flight which took us 3h30. We stayed at Hotel First Palermo, right in the middle of the buzz of Palermo, next to all the bars and late night restaurants. It also had an amazing rooftop pool. The bedrooms were quite big and clean. It was noisy at night though, but that was expected given the location.
He still had time for the last empanada of the trip at La Carbonera.
After 16 marvelous days in South America it was time to come back to the UK. This continent is simply amazing, full of people who are genuine, humble and just nice. I hope to come back soon to explore what’s left of it!