Patagonia, shaped by the Andes mountain range and the Patagonian Ice Cap, offers some of the best trekking in the world. From the Lake District in the North, to the iconic Torres del Paine National Park, to the wilds of Tierra del Fuego.
Day Hikes in Patagonia
On a day hike you can head out for 3-8 hours for a wonderful hike to some of the best viewpoints in the Andes with just a small daypack containing your waterproofs, camera and a snack, and return to the comfort of a private bedroom in a hotel, lodge or private eco camp each night.
Torres del Paine, from an eco-camp, estancia or hotel (Chile)
It's fair to say that the most dramatic views in Torres del Paine (like the mile-high towers ('torres') themselves) all involve a hike of 6-8 hours however you can do these hikes and return to a comfortable private bed each night. If you prefer shorter and easier hikes then you can still see the Paine Massif and its glorious lakes and glaciers.
Accommodation in the national park is limited and therefore expensive; however, do consider hiking from a comfortable base in Torres del Paine.
Mount FitzRoy, from El Chalten (Argentina)
There are three great day hikes that you can do from the lovely little mountain town of El Chalten. With hikes of 4-8 hours you can get to the best viewpoints of Cerro FitzRoy and Cerro Torre, and come back to town to a relatively well-priced hotel, and enjoy Chalten's bars and restaurants. These can be combined with a day of ice-hiking and a visit to the Perito Moreno glacier.
Tierra del Fuego Day Hikes
the port town of Ushuaia (the major hub of Tierra del Fuego), there are
several great day hikes. Some from the town itself, others in the
national park, and some further afield. These can be combined with some
kayaking, or 4WD excursions across the island.
There's also a wonderful luxury hotel situated up in the mountains above Ushuaia which has its own nature reserve. You can hike straight from the hotel into beautiful Andean mountains.
If you have 2-5 days in Ushuaia and want some suggestions for day hikes, then please get in touch.
You can also enjoy some great day hikes from this lodge on the Chilean island of Isla Navarino.
Chilean Lake District
those flying into Puerto Montt, or crossing the Andes from Bariloche,
there are several great day hikes for exploring the volcanoes, fjords,
and coastline. A 4-6 day hike around Volcano Osorno near Puerto Varas,
or along the Pacific coast of the island of Chiloe will offer a very
different perspective of Patagonia from what you might have seen down in
the south of Patagonia.
This area can either be explored with a self-drive trip (please get in touch to talk about routes) or you could base yourself out of a Lake District lodge.
'W' Trek, Torres del Paine (Chile)
Patagonia's most famous hiking route and for good reason. This is a
4-5 day route taking in the three main highlights of the national park:
the mile-high granite towers (the Torres), the hanging glacier in the Valle Frances and the iceberg-filled Lago Grey. The route takes its name from the shape on the map.
The huts are large and have lots of rooms for up to 6 people, hot showers, provide breakfast and dinner and a boxed lunche, and even a bar.
There are lots of different ways to dqo this route, and things you can do before and after. Find out more about W Trek Torres del Paine.
- Of all the treks in Patagonia, this is probably one that is best suited to more independent hiking, as the trails aer well-marked and there are plenty of people around to support should you need.
- Watch out: this route can be very busy over December and January, worth mixig in some of the off-the-beaten-track days if you can.
- Possible add-ons: a great kayak route out of the national park and back to civilisation, ice hiking, horse riding or mountain biking.
These hikes allow you to head on an 'A to B' hiking route, deeper into the Andes, sleeping in the shared rooms of a mountain hut (or Refugio) each night. Many of the Refugios provide food and bedding, so all you need to carry is your change of clothese, waterproofs and camera. On most hut-to-hut hikes a 30-50 litre pack will suffice (as long as you pack fairly lightly).
There are surprisingly few huts in good working order that provide beds and food, but those that do are very popular and help you access Patagonia's most iconic views.
Hut-to-Hut, Nahuel Huapi National Park (Bariloche, Argentina)
Up in the Argentine Lake District, accessed from San Carlos de Bariloche, lies patagonia's oldest national park: Nahuel Huapi. The landscapes feel more Alpinwe and the 4 day hut-to-hut route here has a couple of quite challenging days on more rugged terrain. The Refugios are more traditional and basic, and warm, friendly and convivial places to take shelter at the end of each day.
The other hut in the region, famous for its food amongst other things, is the wonderful Otto Meilling hut on the side of Mount Tronador.
Swoop Says: combine with kayaking (or rafting) the
beautiful lakes and rivers of this region; or fly-fishing and
horse-riding from and authentic Patagonian estancia.
Piedra del Fraile, FitzRoy area (Argentina)
This is a charming spot to the north of FitzRoy and El Chalten and a good base for hikes into a remote glaciated valley. A 2 day trek staying here overnight is a great complement to soe of the day hikes mentioned above and giving you the chance to explore the area with no one else around.
Swoop Says: combine this with day hikes or independent treks. Find out more about trekking around Mt FitzRoy.
Those with good experience of hiking for several days and prepared to camp out can access the more remote glaciers, valley and mountain passes that show off Patagonia's most dramatic landscapes.
A guide will not only provide safety and navigation if conditions or visibility deteriorate, but you'll also have full support at each camp so that you can sit back and relax at the end of a long day of hiking. Generally speaking guides and their assistant will carry group equipment (tents, food, fuel and safety equipment) so that you hike with your personal clothing, sleeping bags and sleeping mats.
Torres del Paine Full Circuit (Chile)
The Full Circuit of Torres del Paine (or O circuit) is a 7-9 day route, where you'll need to camp for at least three of the nights. The rewards are spectacular. You cover the 'W' route but also get to more remote parts of the national park where fewer people get to tread, and it includes the notoriously windy but truly awe-inspiring John Garner Pass with its views out towards the South Patagonian Ice Field.
Multi-Day Treks around Mount FitzRoy (Argentina)
you're prepared for a few nights of camping then you can get to see
much more of the FitzRoy massif, including a mountain pass that
overlooks the ice cap 'Paso del Viento' and some of the more remote
Find out more about multi-day treks around FitzRoy.
Tierra del Fuego Treks
Cochamo and the Chilean Lake District
Cochamo is sometimes described as Patagonia's answer to Yosemite; that intense combination of granite mountains and lush forest. A great option for those wanting to combine the famous hikes of southern Patagonia with trails where you're likely to see few other hikers.
Plan a 3-7 day hike up here, you can also combine it with a multi-day kayaking adventure. Find out more about trekking in the Chilean Lake District.
Patagonia Trekking Expeditions: Off the Beaten Track
These routes are definitely for those people who not only have plenty of experience but also want to add a bit of an edge to their 'holiday'. Some people describe it as 'Type 2' fun - the kind of experience that might well be a little too challenging physically ad mentally at the time but you know you'll look back on with glee and satisfaction.
Patagonia Ice Cap
Arguably the most quintessential of Patagonian experiences. This is the third largest mass of ice on the planet and, bordered by Cerro FitzRoy and the Andes, the landscapes are truly unique. The ascent is a long challenging day and conditions on the ice cap itself can be very tough indeed; but when the skies are clear you'll have a view like no other.
Find out more about Patagonia Ice Cap expeditions.
Off the Beaten Track Routes in Torres del Paine
The main trails of the 'W' and the 'Full Circuit' have been on the map for decades now and they are well-marked. If you want to get unique views of the Pain]e massif, explore mountain passes, valleys and glaciers that no one else knows about then you'll need to head out with a local mountaineering guide that has been exploring the area for decades himself.
Find out more about off the beaten track treks in Torres del Paine.
Crossing Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego remains more wild and remote than many of the national parks to the north. Trails are not maintained and terrain is tough whether on the lower ground or up through the mountain passes. This 7 day crossing of Tierra del Fuego is a real wilderness experience.
There are also opportunities, for larger groups with more time, to trek through the seldom explored Darwin mountain range in Chilean Tierra del Fuego.
Trekking in Patagonia: Questions and Answers
What's so special?
Patagonia is shaped by huge forces of nature: the Patagonian Ice Cap, the Andes, a fault line, the confluence of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the bottom of the Americas. This makes for both dramatic and varied scenery in a part of the world that is relatively unpopulated and unexplored.
You can hike to (and even over) glaciers, witness some of the world's most dramatic peaks, and experience some of the world's most remote and wild landscapes; all without any altitude sickness (it's rare that someone hikes above 2,000m / 6,000 ft.).
Who's it for?
In Patagonia, there's something for everyone who loves walking in the mountains.
- if you want to hike for 2-3 hours to see the wildlife, glaciers and mountains then you certainly can. Those that want to do some longer hikes by day and then return to comfort and luxury by night can also enjoy day-hikes.
- if you're up for a longer hike and want to tackle a couple of big hills but hike with just a day-pack of waterproofs and spare clothes, you can. For those who are in good shape and wanting to really make the most of their first trekking holiday, see hut-to-hut.
- if you've done some multi-day hikes in the US or Europe and want to set out on a multi-day trek in a more wild and remote landscape, and camp out under the stars deep in the Andes, then you can.
- Patagonia offers those looking for a challenge, and to walk routes that few have experienced have plenty of extraordinary options in Patagonia.
When to go
The main trekking season runs from mid-September to mid-April in most destinations. For hiking more remote routes, those closer to the snowline and those down in Tierra del Fuego, the best time is from November to February.
March and April last year were superb months in Torres del Paine for weather conditions and visibility.
Watch-out: Patagonia is a popular destination, and especially so mid-December to mid-January, so if you want to hike the most famous routes then try to visit outside the busiest period, or consider the more off-the beaten-track roues at this time of the year
Winter in Patagonia (May-August) offers less daylight and colder temperatures. In the Chilean Lake Disstrict and Tierra del Fuego there's a lot of rain, however in the south and east of Patagonia there's generally less rain and visibiilty can be better than the peak of summer.
Winter in Torres del Paine offers hardier hikers the chance to see the national park with no one else around.
How long do I need?
For most people, the flights to Chile and Argentina are long and so it's rare that customers come to us with only a week; however if you wanted to hike the most famous trails of Patagonia in a week, you could.
Most people have 2 to 3 weeks and we typically advise allowing one week per destination / national park.
How to get there:
You'll need to fly into Santiago (for Chilean National Parks) and Buenos Aires (for the Argentine National Parks). Here you can read more about Travel to Patagonia.
What to expect from the weather:
In short, "four seasons in one day" and lots of wind. The most important bit of kit to take to Patagonia is the Goretex jacket. You'll certainly have some clear blue days but you'll need to be ready for snow (on higher ground), rain and wind.
Here you can find out more about Patagonia weather.
Where to go - which national parks?
The national parks of Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares are famous for a reason and naturally have the best logistics, but the lesser known destinations like Cochamo and Cerro Castillo will definitlely reward those that go the lengths to get there.
Do I need a guide?
The famous trails of Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares are well-marked and well-suited to independent hiking for those with experience. Guides can help you access the more remote and lesser knwon spots that in many case are equally dramatic.
Having spoken to over a thousand people who have visited the region, our view is that guides bring so much more than safety and navigation - a richer awareness of the region's wildlife, ecology history and cultural identity.
For those on a tight budget, self-guided hikes on the main trails of Torres del Paine and FitzRoy will be a tremendous experience. Thos who are experienced and fiercely independent might do well to mix some guided days with some independent days.
What can I do before my hike?
Besides the dramatic mountains and glaciers, patagonia is blessed with friendly people and more gentle and beautiful landscapes. Furthermore, Patagonian tourism has developed significantly over the last 15 years that we've been exploring it. So this means that there's plenty to see and do, and some pretty spectactular hotels;
- our favourite Patagonia hotels
Trekking Patagonia: the National Parks, and map
Patagonia Trekking Tours
Swoop Patagonia can help hikers in a few different ways:
1. We work with our trekking guides and operators in Chile and Argentina to run small group (max 8 people) hikes on all of the routes above. Please get in touch to help us understand which treks you might like to join.
2. Solo travellers looking to join a hiking group can get in touch with the routes they are interested in and their preferred dates and we'll talk with our networkn of local trekking guides and operators, and other hikers, to find a like-minded group to join.
3. We can arrange fully packaged trekking holidays for couple and groups of friends to visit two or more national parks for couples and groups of friends; either privately or joining groups for selected parts of the trip.
4. We also work with the larger global trekking companies who run trips down in Patagonia. So if you'd like to join one of their larger groups, then we can advise on the most sutiable tours.
About Swoop Patagonia
We've spent 15 years exploring Patagonia, and we've arranged holidays for over a thousand customers. We have a network of trusted guides, lodges, and local operators across the region and delight in helping people plan and arrange a great holiday.
You can book directly with our local partners in Chile and Argentina, or with our ATOL certified company here in the UK.