If you've ever visited the mighty Patagonia region of South America, you're aware of the powerful weather systems and wild experiences you can have traveling through here.
Our ten days in Patagonia in 2019 were no different!
The first time our excursion in Patagonia to see the penguins on Magdalena Island was canceled due to bad weather, my Argentine friend Nacho told me:
“Patagonia es así. El clima es el jefe”.
“Patagonia is like this. The weather is the boss.”
He wasn’t joking. We quickly learned that Patagonia was a mighty and unpredictable place, and we were not in charge. All we could do was be flexible and make the most of what was available to us during our time in this incredible part of the world!
If you're planning a visit to this region, you can use this itinerary to plan your own adventure in Patagonia, and learn from our wild experience!
10 Days in Patagonia: The Mighty & Unpredictable
- 10 Days in Patagonia: The Mighty & Unpredictable
- About Patagonia & Our Ten Days There
- Day 1: Buenos Aires to Puerto Natales
- Day 2: Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine
- Day 3: Torres del Paine
- Day 4: Torres del Paine
- Day 5: Torres del Paine to El Calafate
- Day 6: El Calafate
- Day 7: El Calafate
- Day 8: El Calafate (Again)
- Day 9: El Calafate to Punta Arenas
- Day 10: Punta Arenas
- 10 Days in Patagonia: Final Thoughts!
About Patagonia & Our Ten Days There
Patagonia is a region of Argentina and Chile that encompasses over 400,000 square miles. Located in the middle to the bottom half of South America, it’s a hiking paradise filled with incredible mountain peaks, ice-blue glaciers, wide-open spaces, and national parks galore.
This area is huge and has become a backpacker hot spot for any avid outdoorsy hiker or nature lover. We knew it was definitely on our round-the-world trip itinerary.
Once we began planning, my sister-in-law Lindsay expressed a strong interest in joining us. An avid hiker and runner, Lindsay’s independent spirit and desire to travel made us realize how wonderful it would be to have Lindsay be there too!
She reached out to a work friend, Brianna, who also wanted to join. Within a few weeks, we had a plan for the four of us to meet in Punta Arenas, Chile, and travel to Torres del Paine, El Calafate, and El Chaltén for about 10 days.
The trip to Patagonia was filled with exotic landscapes, special experiences, and unexpected moments. It was a lesson in patience, in letting go, and learning to roll with the punches. We definitely weren’t in charge and Patagonia let us know that right off the bat!
Day 1: Buenos Aires to Puerto Natales
Buenos Aires, Argentina
After an amazing farewell dinner, Dylan and I wake up at 4 AM to fly out of Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. We had a connection to Punta Arenas, where we would meet Lindsay and Brianna. We take an Uber for forty minutes to Ezeiza Airport, only to realize our flight was leaving from a completely different airport called El Palomar.
There were tears of panic for sure. All from me.
Dylan did the quick thinking in that situation and the problem was solved fast. We had enough cash to get another taxi to the second airport. It was only 4:30 AM and our flight didn’t leave until 7:30. The other airport was 30-40 minutes away. We flagged down a taxi and I tearfully explained our mistake in Spanish. He told me not to worry and he’d get us there.
Less than 30 minutes later, we arrived at El Palomar Airport safely and with plenty of time to spare. My sigh of relief could have been heard for miles. Luis the taxi driver, you are a gem. ¡Mil gracias!
Our flights were fine and we landed in Punta Arenas in the late afternoon to find Lindsay and Brianna waiting for us. Together we grabbed the bus to Puerto Natales and were on our way!
We later learned from my friend Mike in Buenos Aires that there had been strikes at almost all the airports in Buenos Aires that morning. Flights were delayed for 4-6 hours. The only airport that didn’t strike was El Palomar. What luck!
Day 2: Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine
Today was a big preparation day- we needed to buy groceries for the next few days because where we were staying had no supermarkets or real restaurants. We picked up our rental car and looked up any last-minute details as our Refugio would also not have WiFi. Then we began the bumpy journey to Torres del Paine.
After a long drive (3-4 hours) on rocky roads, we began to see the amazing view that is the Torres del Paine. It was worth the stop to get this photo!
With some more rocky paths, a bunch of sheep, and some guesswork, we arrived at our Refugio and settled in. The mountain views were jaw-dropping – we could see the Torres from the windows!
Our accommodation for the next few days had a wood-burning stove, farm animals everywhere; and a homey feel. There was even a little orphaned calf named Federico who let the owners know when it was time for his dinner! It was a complete disconnect from the real world and it was so refreshing.
Since it was too late to head into the official National Park, we opted for a walk around the town and the lake. The weather was agreeable. Since it was summer and we were so far south, it didn’t get dark until at least 10 PM. We passed horses on the road and explored the lake while marveling at the beautiful mountains.
We had high hopes for hiking the Mirador de las Torres the next day and prepared sandwiches & snacks for our hike after dinner.
Day 3: Torres del Paine
Our first experience with the weather being the boss in Patagonia was Saturday morning. I slept like a baby but awoke to the windows and walls of the Refugio shaking. There was also a persistent howling coming from right outside.
It took me a few minutes to realize it was the wind.
We got ready and had a delicious breakfast prepared for us by Gisela, our host. As we ate, I nervously listened to the intense sounds coming from outside. There weren’t many trees, but you could tell the wind was really moving. Plus, the mountains we so clearly could see the night before were completely obscured with dark gray clouds that looked like rain.
These were not ideal hiking conditions for a 12-mile round trip trek!
We quickly made a game-time decision that we’d save the Mirador las Torres Hike for the next day and just do smaller hikes instead. It was a good thing we did.
The small hikes proved to be extremely challenging – not because of elevation or distance, but because of that same wind.
At our first stop, to view a waterfall, the park ranger hut had the following sign:
“Wind gusts of 80-90km/hour.
Be really careful!”
The wind was unbelievable! Mighty Patagonia was living up to its name.
Never mind about your hair whipping back and forth (cue music) or your jacket inflating, but there were times you were being either pulled or pushed in one direction (cue more music). It was the most intense wind I had ever experienced in my life!
We managed to do two smaller hikes that day and the sun even came out later!
We had a relaxing evening at the Refugio with another delicious meal of the Patagonia Special and slept comfortably. The wind was still going until we went to bed!
Day 4: Torres del Paine
The next day I awoke to the sounds of the rooster crowing outside and thankfully, not the wind! We considered that a win based on yesterday’s blustery forecast and made the drive to Mirador las Torres.
And so we began the 12-mile round trip hike we had planned to do yesterday.
It was foggy and humid all the way to the viewpoint. You are supposed to have a chance to see the Torres del Paine in all their glory overlooking a glassy ice-blue lake once you reach the peak.
Except what we saw was this:
Expectation vs. Reality, am I right?!
This hike was especially challenging for me. Over the last few days, I had noticed how tight my calves were feeling. I think it was a lot of lactic acid build-up from the Inca Trail and a lack of stretching!
The biggest “wow” moment came on our way down toward the very end of the hike. As we returned to flat ground just about a mile from the parking lot, the sun came out. Any guess as to what were we able to see completely clearly?
The Torres. Patagonia was the boss once again and we just had to be grateful for what we could get!
Day 5: Torres del Paine to El Calafate
Today was another driving day. It took us about six hours total to reach El Calafate. The roads are not all paved and though they say speed limits are suggestions and not enforced, you have to be really careful. Wind gusts like the ones we experienced in Torres del Paine will knock you back on your heels, or in this case, make your entire car move. Patagonia does not mess around when it comes to the wind!
Upon our arrival, we checked out this cute backpacking town and made plans to do mini trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. We had dinner and called it an early night.
Day 6: El Calafate
Today we woke up with intentions of going kayaking with Santa Cruz kayaks. We had a day free before our hike on the ice so decided to walk to town and see what times were available.
There were none! The entire kayaking expedition had been canceled due to, can you guess?
The wind. Patagonia once again showed us who's boss! So we had lunch at a cafe and planned to go horseback riding instead.
The wind was still going strong and we bundled up the best we could. We were picked up by a local gaucho (Argentine cowboy) who drove us to the ranch where we’d have our ride. We all had tea in the warmth of the restaurant there and made our way down to the horses.
What made the trip was the unforgettable panoramic view of the open fields. It was like being in The Sound of Music! We walked through white flowers to a lake where the horses took a drink, then later a spot near the woods at our halfway point. It was still really windy but the sunshine helped keep us warm!
At this time our guides helped us demount and led us over to a fire where our gaucho driver appeared. He was cooking fresh Patagonia lamb for us and had red wine to share! We finished the ride and headed back to El Calafate for the night, considering our backup expedition a success, despite the wind!
Side note: Brianna is a very talented equestrian and was extremely helpful in navigating these Patagonia horses. They are not like American horses and were a bit tricky to manage. Thanks, Brianna for your advice and patience with me & Tonto, my caballo that day!
Day 7: El Calafate
Today was our mini trekking day and it was awesome!
We had breakfast at our hostel and prepared our sandwiches & snacks to bring with us. After an easy drive to Los Glaciares National Park, we were shocked at how mild and comfortable the temperature was.
It was the most beautiful weather we had the whole trip!
Patagonia was being so generous with the sunshine and we were so grateful. It made for an awesome day trekking the glacier with Hielo y Aventura.
We were able to get a full view of the Perito Moreno Glacier from the boardwalks. The craziest aspect of seeing the immense size of this glacier was that you could hear it!
Pieces of it were breaking off as we sat and ate our peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches. The sound was incredible. We later learned that the Perito Moreno Glacier is stable- it is not shrinking or expanding!
At 4 PM our trekking experience was set to begin. We drove to the port area and had a short boat ride across the lake to where we met our guide, Walter. At the glacier we were given various safety instructions, learned about the landscape; and got our crampons attached to our hiking boots. They felt heavy! Then it was time to walk on an actual glacier!
It was like being on a giant toasted marshmallow.
Parts of the glacier looked completely blue in color but for the most part, it was white and frosty. Gloves were required to help protect our hands in case we fell. We walked up and down in a full loop and got to taste fresh water from the glacier. At the end of the hike, we were given chocolates to enjoy and a glass of whiskey cooled with glacier ice.
We went back across the water, drove to El Calafate, and got a delicious asado dinner at a local parrilla. Our friend Nacho joined us and gave us an awesome itinerary for our next day.
Our plan was to take a drive to El Chaltén for some epic views of Mount Fitz Roy and more hiking. Nacho had fantastic tips and suggestions and we wrote them down eagerly with plans of getting up early to beat the crowds.
Day 8: El Calafate (Again)
Around 11:30 PM on Wednesday night, after our awesome mini trekking experience and our dinner with Nacho, we made plans to get gas in the car before going to sleep. The town of El Calafate has only two gas stations, so it seemed prudent to get gas the night before.
The gas station down the road had run out, so the only option was the gas station next to our hostel.
The line to get gas stretched for blocks! We told Brianna and Lindsay to go back to the room and get some sleep while Dylan and I got in the car and joined the line.
It took three hours to get gas. Oh my goodness!
By the time we got back to the room, it was 3 AM. Brianna and Lindsay were worried about us and didn’t get any sleep since it was taking so long. We weren’t in bed until close to 4 AM.
With only 2 hours of sleep, it wasn’t a wise choice to then drive 3-4 hours to El Chaltén and hike, then drive 3-4 hours back. We wouldn’t have been in good shape. Unfortunately, this meant we had to change our plans and stay in El Calafate for the day.
Day 9: El Calafate to Punta Arenas
Today was another driving day which included a 3-hour delay when our rental car wouldn’t start!
AH! The mighty Patagonia strikes AGAIN!
We got in the car at 9 and by the fifth try with no car starting, I started to panic. We spent the next three hours texting the rental car company in Chile, looking up car manuals and translating them to English, and borrowing tools from our hostel owner.
After three hours of trying to get it to start, the car finally decided that on the umpteenth time, it would start. We were flabbergasted!
When we finally arrived in Punta Arenas, we got dinner at a karaoke bar, which was an entertaining experience that made us laugh and forget our frustrations from earlier that day. We went to bed late but prepared to get up early to catch the ferry to Magdalena Island to see the penguins the next day.
Day 10: Punta Arenas
Our attempt to see the penguins at Magdalena Island was canceled due to the wind. Lindsay and Brianna went home that afternoon, but Dylan and I weren’t set to fly to New Zealand until Monday night. So we tried two more times on different days to see the penguins.
And still, no dice!
The weather really was king in mighty Patagonia, just like Nacho said. We assumed it was for the best, chose not to risk it by going with another company, and relaxed in Punta Arenas until our flight for New Zealand.
10 Days in Patagonia: Final Thoughts!
What lessons did we learn during our 10 days in Patagonia and on this portion of our round the world trip?
Patagonia does not mess around.
The wind gusts, the small towns with limited gasoline, canceled activities/excursions, unpaved roads, rental cars that don’t cooperate (haha) and constantly changing weather made this trip a challenge in many ways!
If you are going to visit Patagonia, whether for 10 days, a few days, or a fe weeks, be prepared & have a backup plan. Have a backup plan for any hikes, drives, walks, and activities you have planned. Driving takes a lot longer than Google Maps will tell you- these roads are rough and you don’t want to go too fast! Bring snacks, and always have a plan B!
Despite the obstacles Patagonia threw at the four of us, we still had an amazing time. Patagonia has tons of great hiking spots, incredible blue lakes, and more! We loved the adorable Refugio in Torres del Paine and that let us disconnect from the outside world, horseback riding through the meadows of flowers, and trekking the Perito Moreno Glacier. Those were some of our favorite memories from this two-week experience.
Special thanks to my sister-in-law Lindsay & our friend Brianna for joining us on this epic adventure! Thanks for your awesome cooking of the Patagonia special & for making the trip such fun.
Also big thanks to my Argentine friend Nacho for all of his recommendations & for meeting us for dinner in El Calafate. ¡Un abrazo!
Until next time Patagonia – stay mighty!