Arrive in Ushuaia at any time, transfer on your own, check into the hotel and enjoy the southernmost city in the world. Sitting on the shores of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia actually means 'the bay facing westward' in the language of the original Yamna inhabitants. Once a penal colony (the presidio was disbanded in the 1940s) for political prisoners as well as hardened criminals, Ushuaia is now a major tourist attraction, particularly for people such as ourselves cruising to Antarctica. The town of 40,000 is also a major ski resort area for both alpine and cross-country skiers and offers magnificent hiking in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, the only coastal national park in Argentina. Argentina is the second giant of South America, with a landscape nearly as varied as its people. Modern and sophisticated, cosmopolitan Argentina has much more in common with Europe than with the rest of its neighbours. If Buenos Aires is the heart of the country, Patagonia and the southern Pampas in Santa Cruz Province are its soul. This is the very region we explore, trekking within Glacier National Park for the grand rewards of the trail. We start our land exploration in the province of Tierra del Fuego and the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia, with a flight tomorrow to El Calafate, on the shores of Lago Argentino. The southern continental ice field, the second largest on the planet after that of Greenland, is the source of all the area's glaciers, including Moreno, Onelli, Viedma and Upsala. Moreno Glacier moves down from this massive river of frozen water, huge chunks of ice constantly crashing into the lake waters below. It is one of the most dynamic and only one of a few advancing glaciers left in the world. It is simply enormous: 1 km (half a mile) wide and 60 m (196 ft) high, it occasionally chokes off the narrow Canal de los Tempanos (Channel of Ice Bergs), creating a dam of ice, through which the lake water eventually bursts in a spectacular display.
A short flight takes us over the lofty peaks to El Calafate, home of the dynamic Moreno Glacier, within Glacier National Park. (Flight is included with this package). Then transfer to El Chaltén. El Chaltén, is located at the northern end of Los Glaciares National Park, where granite pinnacles spiral upward into the sky from the third largest ice field on earth. There is an included hike to Laguna de Los Tres where we hope to appreciate views of majestic Mount Fitzroy/Chaltén (3,441 m / 11,286 ft) on day 3. The weather in El Chalten is very changeable and therfore views of this spectacular granite mountain are not guaranteed! This is a full day's hiking of roughly 7-9 hours and approximately 25 Km (15 miles) round trip. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares has some of the most spectacular natural sights you will see in your lifetime. Hikers and climbers from around the globe congregate here, waiting for good weather, to undertake the challenges presented by nature. The atmosphere is laid back and the mountains and Beech forests here are very similar to Paine. The hike to Laguna de Los Tres and other hikes in the area traverse spectacular glacial valleys to obtain awe-inspiring views of these peaks of ice and granite. Day 3 Included Activity: Guided Hike to Laguna de Los Tres Approximate distance hiked: 25 km Estimate hike time: 7-9 hours Ushuaia to El Chalten Approximate Distance: 220 km Flight: Ushuaia to El Calafate (1 Hr) Public Bus: El Calafate to El Chalten (3 Hrs) Estimated Total Travel Time: 5-6 Hrs
We spend day 4 in El Chalten and there is an optional hike to Laguna Torre for awe-inspiring views of the magical peaks and glaciers. Alternatively, there is the opportunity of the optional activity of ice trekking/climbing on Viedma Glacier. A late afternoon transfer (3 hrs) returns us to El Calafate. We set off early in the morning to try and avoid the crowds at Perito Moreno Glacier. We transfer to the glacier in a private van, which takes roughly 2 hrs. We spend approximately 4 hrs making our way along the walkways in front of the glacier. We may spot condors, eagles, flamingos and rheas in this beautiful landscape. Moreno Glacier is the only glacier in the world that can be reached by road, and if you are lucky enough, you will long remember the sound of ice crashing into the lake waters below. Day 5 Included Activity: Guided Tour of Perito Moreno Glacier El Chalten to El Calafate Approximate Distance:220 km Public Bus: El Chalten to El Calafate (3 Hrs) Estimated Total Travel Time: 3 Hrs
Travel by public bus from El Calafate to the small Chilean town of Puerto Natales. Travel time is roughly 5-6 hrs but often depends on time spent crossing the border. Be prepared for your bags to be scanned and searched by the Chilean officials. Make sure that you aren't carrying any fruit or vegetables into Chile as you may be subject to a hefty fine. On arrival to Puerto Natales, you should have the afternoon to do some last minute shopping before your next 3 days of hiking in Torres del Paine National Park. There will be a briefing in the evening in preparation for Torres del Paine El Chalten to Puerto Natales Approximate Distance:547 km Public Bus: El Calafate to Puerto Natales (4-6 Hrs) Estimated Total Travel Time: 4-6 Hrs
We head off early in the morning by private transfer (2 hrs) to Torres del Paine National Park. Hiking and camping in this spectacular park is a real treat. The things that you may have heard about the rough beauty of Patagonia will be affirmed by the breathtaking views of the three pink granite “Towers,” French Valley and its glaciers, as well as the region’s unique wildlife, such as guanacos, rheas and Patagonian hares. Travel by boat on Lake Pehoe amongst the icebergs of Grey Glacier, one of the most beautiful glaciers of the Patagonia ice field. Encompassing a narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the high peaks of the Andes, approximately 180 km (112 miles) wide, but with a coastline stretching over 4,300 km (14,104 ft), Chile’s “geografia loca” (as termed by Benjamin Subercasseaux) includes the driest desert, the Atacama in the north, the agriculturally-rich Central Valley, snow-covered volcanoes, forests and tranquil lakes of the near south, and the wild and windswept glaciers and fjords of the far south. It is within this last region that you’ll discover magnificent trekking country, where guanacos, ñandus (rheas), condors, pink flamingos and magellanic penguins abound. The region also boasts some of the world's finest salmon and trout fishing, and the cuisine at times rivals the natural setting. Hikes are moderate to difficult, along clearly marked trails. Participants should be prepared for hikes ranging in duration from 5-8 hours per day with unpredictable weather. A gold mine of undiscovered destinations and surprises, this country and its friendly and hospitable people will no doubt make a mark on your memories and leave you with a smile. The granite Towers of Paine National Park make a sudden and dramatic appearance on the horizon in the midst of a flat, dry, wind-swept plain. Despite the almost constant summer winds, this is some of the finest trekking in Patagonia. Endowed with severe mountains, sparkling lakes, waterfalls and glaciers, as well as herds of guanacos, majestic condors, flocks of pink flamingos and large Patagonian hares, the park’s international attraction is immediately evident. Once a large sheep estancía, the park was established in 1959 as the Parque Nacional Lago Grey. Prior to this, baqueanos (cowboys) grazed their flocks here and fires occasionally burnt out of control. The devastation wrought near Lago Grey with large areas of burnt forest and charred logs remains visible to this day. More land was added to the park in 1962 and the name was changed to its present one. It is said that the Towers and Park were named after an early Welsh settler named Payne, although Paine is also the Tehuelche word for blue. The Torre (Tower) Sur rises 2,900 m (9,512 ft) above sea level, the Torre Central is 2,850 m (9,348 ft) high and the Torre Norte measures 2,600 m (8,528 ft). As spectacular as the towers themselves are the Cuernos (Horns) del Paine, massive blocks of various rock layers, visible from great distances. Day 7 Private Transfer: Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park (2 Hrs) Included Activity: Hike to the Towers Approximate distance hiked: 16 km Estimate hike time: 6-8 hours Overnight in Campsite Day 8 Included Activity: Hike up the French Valley Approximate distance hiked: 24 km Estimate hike time: 6-8 hours (depending on how far you go into the valley) Overnight in Campsite Day 9 Included Activity: Hike to lookout of Grey's Glacier Approximate distance hiked: 11 km Estimate hike time: 4 hours Private Transfer: Torres del Paine National Park to Puerto Natales (2 Hrs) Overnight in Hotel in Puerto Natales
Today we have a full day's travel (13-14 Hrs) on a comfortable public bus as we return to our start point, Ushuaia. We cross Magellan Strait by ferry and cross back into Argentina on this long travel day. There will be some stops along the way but it is important to get IPods charged or have a good book on hand. We will arrive into Ushuaia in the evening. Puerto Natales - Ushuaia Approximate Distance:727 km Public Bus (& Ferry): Puerto Natales to Ushuaia (13-14 Hrs) Estimated Total Travel Time: 13-14 Hrs