Vaya’s Top Picks for Patagonia Excursions
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Catamaran to Balmaceda Glacier / Zodiac into Torres del Paine
This is an exceptional and less commonly traveled way into Torres del Paine National Park. You start the day with a catamaran trip across the Last Hope Sound to Balmaceda glacier, where you will disembark and have time to explore the area on foot. Afterward, you will continue by zodiac into Torres del Paine National Park. Upon arrival in the park you will have a traditional Patagonian barbecue lunch before being transferred to your lodge.
Torres Base Trek
Setting out from your hotel, you will cross the Ascensio River and then walk uphill about 1.5 miles to Pasos del Viento, located about 1,575 feet above sea level. The pass offers a beautiful panoramic view of the pampa, the lakes to the south and the Ascensio Valley itself. From there you will descend to the Refugio Chileno shelter. Up to that point vegetation is that of the pre-Andean scrubland bioclimate; from then on vegetation changes completely and as you climb you will penetrate the ancient lenga tree forests until you reach the Torres Glacier moraine at 1,968 feet. Once out of the forest, there is a final push of around 45 minutes of continuous uphill climbing, which will take you to the Torres Base at 2,854 feet. Here, you will be directly in front of the three massive, iconic granite towers. Throughout the trek you will be able to observe fauna such as condors, mora eagles, caranchos and other birds of prey.
Difficulty: high / Duration: approximately 8 hours
Ferrier Viewpoint Trek
Starting out at Guardería Grey, this trek takes you to a point with privileged views of the Paine Massif, the Torres del Paine lakes system, and the glaciers Grey and Pingo in the distance. It is a two-hour continuous climb of about 1,805 feet in altitude, going through dense lenga tree forests inhabited by huemules, majestic Andean deer.
Difficulty: high / Duration: approximately 3 hours
Valle del Francés Trek
After crossing Lake Pehoé in a 30-minute boat ride, you will begin a hike lasting around two hours along a rustic trail in the midst of a notro and coihue tree forest. You will reach a suspension bridge, from which there is a spectacular view of the Glaciar Francés (French Glacier). Crossing the bridge, you will head toward the Italian Camp, located within an ancient lenga tree forest. The climb continues uphill along the trail to the Valle del Francés viewpoint, offering a 360° view of the spectacular valley and mountains.
Difficulty: medium-high / Duration: approximately 8 hours / Additional cost
This tour is available between November 1 and March 31.
Fauna Trail Hike
This trail passes through one of the most extensive bioclimatic areas in the park, the pre-Andean xerophilous scrubland. This is an ideal hike to observe wildlife, and you may encounter gray foxes, guanacos, and rheas. You may also see traces of the elusive Patagonian puma, which hunt in this area. You will be able to visit caves with prehistoric paintings dating back to before the Tehuelche period, or around 6,500 to 6,000 years old.
Difficulty: medium / Duration: approximately 3 hours
Mirador Cóndor Hike
The hike to the Condor viewpoint offers privileged views of the park. The trail begins at Lake Pehoé, from which you will climb for about an hour through the Sierra del Toro; along the way you can appreciate some of the local vegetation such as nothofagus trees, the area’s micro-wildlife, and the beautiful soaring condors. At the top you will have a panoramic view of Lake Nordenskjold, Los Cuernos del Paine, Valle del Francés, and the Patagonian Andes.
Difficulty: medium / Duration: approximately 3 hours
Full day Laguna Azul & Condoreras
Your excursion will start with a scenic 1.5-hour vehicle ride along the road to Bahia El Bote, arriving at the Condoreras, where the hike begins. After a gradual climb of about 30 minutes, you will reach a lookout with an incredible view of the Paine Massif and an unusual perspective of Sierra del Toro and Sierra Contreras. Your journey then continues with a 45-minute vehicle ride to Laguna Azul (blue lagoon), located in the northeastern area of the park. Once there, the 2.5-mile walk to Lake Paine is along a flat, easy trail, offering an open view of the Torres del Paine towers and the sweeping scenery of the park.
Difficulty: medium-low / Duration: approximately 8 hours
Playa Grey Hike
This excursion takes you through three striking and distinct environments. Beginning at Guardería Grey, you will cross a mature Lenga tree forest where you can observe forest birds such as Magellanic woodpeckers and cachañas. The hike continues along a beach at the far end of Lake Grey, with views of the icebergs breaking away from Grey Glacier. Finally, you will reach the peninsula, where you will have a spectacular open view of Grey Glacier and the surrounding area.
Difficulty: low / Duration: approximately 2.5 hours
Navigation in Lake Grey
A five-minute walk through a Lenga tree forest will take you to the pier for your boat ride on Grey Lake, one of the iconic areas of the park. The boat tour will let you view a unique landscape created by the combination of vegetation, mountains and icebergs, and will give you outstanding close-up views of the gigantic ice walls with their vivid blue coloring.
Difficulty: low / Duration: approximately 3 hours / Additional cost
Horseback riding in Serrano area
The horseback ride begins in the village of Rio Serrano and runs along the Serrano river. During the ride you will see where the Grey River meets the Serrano River and an amazing natural phenomenon occurs: the formation of a perfect line dividing the color of each river, gray and blue, about 1,970 feet long. You will cross the Nutria River and ride up to the Serrano waterfall, climbing to a viewpoint overlooking the Serrano valley, other rivers and the stunning Paine massif.
Difficulty: low / Duration: approximately 2-3 hours / Additional cost
Trekking on Grey Glacier
Rather than viewing the glacier from below, do some trekking directly on the ice. Crampons and ice equipment will be provided. This is done as a small group excursion, and you will spend around 2.5 hours walking on top of the glacier. During this time you will see the glacier’s cracks, rivers, lagoons and tunnels with their spectacular and varying tones of blue ice.
Difficulty: medium / Duration: approximately 4-5 hours (2.5 hours on the glacier) / Additional cost
Kayaking in Lake Grey
After an expert guide takes you through a briefing and outfits you with your equipment, you will set out to paddle among the giant floating icebergs in Lake Grey. You will be able to view the ice from up close, and will have the majestic Paine Massif in the background as you go.
Difficulty: medium / Duration: approximately 2-3 hours / Additional cost
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno is one of the few Patagonian glaciers that is still growing, and its progression causes frequent “calving,” where massive chunks of ice break off the crystalline front and fall to the water below. Rather than viewing the glacier from a distance, you can get up close via boat ride or by doing a mini-trek on the glacier itself. (Crampons are provided for the mini trek, which is a non-technical and non-strenuous walking excursion on the glacier.) After your boat ride or trek, you will visit the traditional viewing sites for the glacier, which offer spectacular panoramic views of the ice and the lake.
(More challenging and strenuous hiking options exist on the Perito Moreno Glacier; if interested please let us know.)
Hike to Laguna de los Tres
You will have a privately guided excursion into Los Glaciares National Park, where you will set off for your strenuous but rewarding hike to Laguna de los Tres. This is arguably the best viewpoint in the national park, and ‘los tres’ refers to the 3 peaks that you’ll be able to see: Fitzroy, Poincenot, and, further in the distance, Cerro Torre.
Difficulty: high / Duration: 7-9 hours / Distance: approximately 14 miles
Hike to Laguna Torre
On this hike you ascend a glaciated valley up to the the Laguna Torre, which offers excellent views of Cerro Torre and the glacier. It’s a slightly easier hike than the Laguna de los Tres, but still offers spectacular vistas of the park.
Difficulty: medium / Duration: 5-6 hours / Distance: approximately 12 miles
Hike to Lake Capri
For a more relaxed hike, you can trek out to beautiful Lake Capri, where you have a great view of the massif and can see Mount Fitzroy reflected in the crystal clear water.
Difficulty: low / Duration: 3 hours
Visit to Estancia Cristina
With a remote and spectacular location next to Los Glaciares National Park, this lakeside historic home offers an ideal base for exploring the 35-mile-long Upsala Glacier, the largest glacier in South America. You will cross Lago Argentino by boat, a navigation of about 3 hours, to reach the estancia. There, you will have a variety of excursion options, including a driving out to the Upsala Glacier viewpoint and trekking through Patagonian terrain, including ancient rock formations and beech forests.
Visit to Nibepo Aike
Nibepo Aike is a functioning historic ranch with a privileged location inside Los Glaciares National Park. The estancia offers easy access, on horseback or via hiking, to places with magnificent, off the beaten path views of the surrounding glaciers and mountains. Available activities include horseback riding, hiking, and excursions to the Perito Moreno glacier. You can also see and participate in traditional farming activities such as cow milking and sheep sheering, a great way to get a better sense of what life might have been like for the first settlers of the area.