In his 1977 book, English travel writer Bruce Chatwin described Patagonia as having an “effect on the imagination something like the Moon.” Indeed, the 490,000-square mile region, which swallows parts of Argentina and Chile, consists of ancient ice fields, massive glaciers, granite spires, windswept plains and turquoise lagoons. It appears as otherworldly as the moon, and for a long time, it was almost as unreachable.
But in the past two decades things started to change. In 1993, a luxury hotel opened in one of the national parks, and in 2000, a modern airport was installed in the region, which cut the difficult, daylong journey from Buenos Aires down to three-and-a-half hours. Patagonia was no longer just a journey for backpackers, mountaineers or ice climbers, but a destination for jetsetters and world travelers seeking adventure, wonder and luxury.
In the last several years, more upscale hotels have been constructed, and visitors can now experience the solitude and raw wilderness of Patagonia, while being treated to five-star amenities. The following itinerary outlines a 12-day journey from Argentinean to Chilean Patagonia, and includes must-see sites, exclusive resorts and bliss-inducing spas.
Day 1: Buenos Aires to El Calafate
Take a three-hour flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, a small town that borders the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and serves as the gateway to the 1.5 million-acre Los Glaciares National Park. To refresh, head to Eolo, a rustic lodge located on a 10,000-acre private estate in the golden La Anita valley. Request the Condor Suite (in advance), which offers sweeping mountain views from its two corner windows.
In the afternoon, mountain bike through the extensive trails, or ride a horse through the sweeping plains. “Here you can experience the feeling of having no limits,” says Roberto Raimondi, outdoor excursions manager at Eolo. “You can walk or horse ride to the horizon and beyond.” In the evening, have dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, which offers local and regional cuisine, and later, relax in the suite’s rain shower or oversized soaking tub.
Day 2: Los Glaciares National Park
Using Eolo as a base, explore Los Glaciares National Park, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981. The park is home to more than 50 glaciers, including Upsalla, Onelli and Spegazzini, but it is best known for the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few advancing glaciers left in the world. Ogle at the glacier’s icy 200-foot walls from a viewing platform on land, or opt for a cruise and see a close-up perspective from Lago Argentino, the surrounding lagoon that features floating icebergs and aquamarine “glacial milk.”
Day 3 to 5: El Chaltén and Mount Fitz Roy
Drive three hours north from El Calafate to El Chaltén, a village on the border of Argentina and Chile, and check in at Don Los Cerros, a boutique hotel at the foot of the Andes. The hotel is more rustic than luxurious, but serves as the perfect base for Argentina’s hiking mecca. Book an excursion through the hotel, taking the Cerro Torre trail through glacial valleys and lenga forests, or follow the Río Eléctrico to Laguna de los Tres, where you can relish in stunning panoramas of Mount Fitz Roy and its granite spires. In the evening, unwind in the hotel’s sauna or book one of its massages, with hot stones, lavender oils or chocolate cream.
Day 6 to 8: Lago Pehoe
Drive six hours into the center of Torres del Paine National Park, the heart of Chilean Patagonia. Bed down at Hosteria Pehoe, a cozy inn on a 12-acre island in Lago Pehoe, which is linked to the mainland by a wooden footbridge. The next day, take a catamaran ride around the lake and soak up the dazzling views of the Torres del Paine horns.
Or, alternatively, head to the nearby Explora Patagonia on the shore of Lake Pehoe. Request the Exploradores Suite (in advance), which offers breathtaking views of Macizo del Paine. Sign up for one of the hotel’s more than 50 guided hikes and horseback rides through the surrounding glaciers, lakes and mountains. There is also an option to take a boat ride to Grey Glacier, and on the way, drinks are chilled with 10,000-year-old glacier ice.
Day 9 to 12: Torres del Paine National Park
For the final leg of the trip, drive one hour to Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa, a luxurious retreat on Lake Sarmiento. Request a split-level suite (in advance), which features a cozy living room on the upper level, and is outfitted in handcrafted furniture and local textiles. The hotel boasts an “adventure spa philosophy,” and offers plenty of outdoor excursions and amenities. For an easy hike with stellar views, take the three-hour Mirador Cuernos expedition, which includes vistas of the Paine’s peaks, a visit to the Salto Grande waterfall and Lake Nordenskjöld. Follow up with a massage, facial, sauna or steam bath at the hotel spa.
Drive one hour back to Puerto Natales for the flight back to Buenos Aires—and the return to earth.