Welcome to a different world. Patagonia is nature like you have never seen before. Mountains, glaciers, deserts, winds and four seasons in one day. We traveled the Argentinian part of Patagonia to find the best hikes.
Fitz Roy Mountain
Road to El Chaltén
Laguna Del Torre
VISIT EL CHALTÉN
El Chaltén is a small mountain village about three hours drive from El Calafate. It is the base for climbing the Fitz Roy mountain and Lagoon Do Les Tres. El Chaltén is really cute with lots of good accomondations and restaurants. And of course it is hiking paradise.
You find our full guide to El Chaltén here.
THE BEST HIKES IN PATAGONIA
Patagonia is a hikers paradise. These are the hikes you just cannot miss.
This is probably Argentina's most famous hike and if you only have time for one hike, this should be the one. The hikes takes around 9 hours (return) to complete from El Chaltén to the Laguna. The first 3,5 hours are relatively easy, but the last hour are pretty heavy.
Read here our full report of this once in a life-time hike.
The Piedra Del Fraile trek is the "hidden gem" of the El Chaltén hikes. The path starts 15min (by car) outside of El Chaltén and leads along the Rio Electrico to the Piedra del Fraile refuge and lake.
Since this trek is less known, it is much emptier than the famous hikes. And at the end it has a little surprise at the end : )
Read more here.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
GETTING TO EL CALAFATÉ
The easiest way to get to El Calafté is to fly from Buenos Aires. The flight takes around 3,5 hours. From El Calafaté Airport you can rent a car to drive to the city centre (about 20 min drive). Make sure you reserve the car in advance. There are also busses and taxis that can take you to the city centre.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY IN EL CALAFATÉ?
The main reason to visit El Calafaté is the airport and the Perito Moreno Glacier. Besides that the city has very little to offer. So I would stay maximum three nights. (max. 2 full days)
GETTING TO EL CHALTÉN
From El Calafaté is about 3,5 hours by car. If the winds are not too strong it is a very beautiful and easy drive. Make sure you stop half-way at the "La Leona" pit-stop for some fresh empanadas.
There are also busses going to El Chaltén, but we really enjoyed driving in our own car so we could stop from time to time for photos.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY IN EL CHALTÉN?
El Chaltén is amazing and even though some tour operators offer a one day trip from El Calafaté to El Chaltén we strongly recommend to stay at least 3-4 days. (We stayed here 4 full days plus arrival and leaving days). Also keep in mind that the weather in Patagonia can change every day and that you might have to schedule a "bad weather day" in between the hikes.
TORRES DEL PAINE (CHILE)
Many travelers also visit Torres Del Paine National Park in the Chilenian part of Patagonia. It is about a 3-4 hours drive (250 km) from El Calafté. Make sure you tell your car rental company that you are planning to take the car to Chile. They will give you special documents for that. For timing and schedule reasons we decided not to drive to Torres Del Paine (it felt a bit rushed) and instead stay a bit longer in El Chaltén.
Money Money Money
Money in Argentina can be pretty confusing. Due to the high inflation and the constant financial crisis, Argentina has developed a very unique system and depending on how you pay (cash vs. credit card) you get different exchange rates.
Here is how it works:
THE OFFICIAL RATE (Red Dollar):
The official exchange rate is what you see on sites like Booking.com. At the time of our travels that was around 190 Pesos for 1 US$. But don't worry, this rate will never apply.
It used to be that when you paid by credit card they would charge you the official rate. Which was the reason that no tourist ever used their credit card and tried to pay everything in cash. But in November 2022 the Argentinian government introduced a special tourist credit card rate to encourage people to pay more by card (which leads to more tax earnings for the government). At the time of our travel that was around 340 pesos for 1US$. It is still not as good as the rate you get for cash payments, but still much better than the official rate.
We noticed on our credit card statement that first they deducted the official rate but then refunded some of that money.
This also works for booking things online. As long as you use a Non-Argentinian Caredit card (Mastercard & Visa).
CASH (Blue Dollar):
Cash is king in Argentina but also pretty annoying. You can either take US$ and/or Euros (doesn't matter which one) with you from home and exchange them in Argentina or you can use the Western Union App to send yourself money and then pick up the cash in Argentina. (The WU app works very well and you can send the money within minutes. Just make sure you clear the identification process before you travel otherwise your limit is 1000€). At the time of our travel we would get around 390 Pesos for one 1US$ via the WU app.
HOW TO BOOK?
The easiest is to book through i.e. Booking.com but then choose "pay cash at location" as payment method. (BTW: Airbnb does NOT allow you to pay cash at location. You need to pay through the Airbnb system and therefor don't get the great exchange rate.)
TAKE A BIG WALLET:
Since the biggest bill in Argentina is 1000 Pesos (Which equals around 2,50€.) you will carry big bundles of cash. So make sure you take an extra pouch when exchanging money.