trip report: Patagonia – final impressions, top 5, & budget, January 2019

At the end of our third trip to Patagonia, I feel that we’ve seen and experienced plenty of what Patagonia has to offer. It’s enough for me to call it my favorite region in the world I’ve traveled to so far. And also enough for me to publish a top 5 list. But at the same time I know I haven’t come close to experiencing all that is Patagonia, so I’m publishing my future trip ideas at the same time. Hopefully my experiences will inspire and help you in your planning to visit this amazing area of the world.

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This is the conclusion of my 2019 Patagonia trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below.

index

1 planning & research
2 trip report: getting in & Huemul Circuit
3 trip report: Ruta 40 & driving on the Carretera Austral
4 trip report: Marble Cave on General Carrera Lake & Glaciar Exploradores
5 trip report: Mirador Laguna Cerro Castillo
6 trip report: Parque Nacional Queulat & Ventisquero Colgante
7 trip report: Futaleufú
8 trip report: Parque Pumalín Douglas Tompkins
9 trip report: getting out via San Carlos de Bariloche & Mexico City
10 final impressions & budget
      10.1 trip impressions
      10.2 top 5 Patagonia hikes
      10.3 future Patagonia trip ideas
      10.4 budget
11 trip videos
      11.1 Huemul Circuit
      11.2 Carretera Austral road trip, part 1
      11.3 Carretera Austral road trip, part 2
      11.4 Carretera Austral road trip, part 3, Futaleufú
      11.5 Carretera Austral road trip, part 4

trip impressions

My first two trips to Patagonia were targeted at the very specific location of Torres Del Paine in Chile and Fitz Roy in Argentina. These two locations are what most travelers and hikers think about when planning a trip of Patagonia. The Fitz Roy motif is actually the logo of the Patagonia clothing company. Rightly so, they are indeed some of the best I’ve seen in Patagonia.

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still no where close to being sponsored by Patagonia

However with more time on this current trip, I’ve come to realize the vastness of Patagonia and how much more there are to explore as we road the bus up Argentina’s Ruta 40 and drove a large portion of Chile’s Carretera Austral. Not only are there plenty of trails through the mountains and valleys along the way, much of the vast region has yet to reveal itself. Specifically, we past national parks where there was only one or even no trail was established. I delve more indepth to this topic in my Carretera Austral impressions at the end of part 3 of this series.

Even after 3 separate trips including a half month long road trip, I haven’t come even close to seeing all exists in Patagonia now. So I look forward to returning to seeing more of that and more that will be revealed in the future.

The other aspect that drives me to want to return yet again to Patagonia are these aforementioned amazing hikes of Torres Del Paine, Fitz Roy, and my personal favorite hike in the world currently, the Huemul Circuit. And that brings me to a segway to the next section of this post, my current top 5 Patagonia hikes.

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current top 5 Patagonia hikes

This would be the first time I publish anything like a Buzzfeed style top X list on this blog. As I specified above I haven’t come close to seeing everything Patagonia has to offer, but I’ve done a decent amount that I can write a favorite list. This are of my personal opinions based on my actual experiences.

1. Huemul Circuit

The Huemul Circuit is not only my favorite hike in Patagonia a the moment, but my favorite hike in the world. Nothing to this date has compared to the “End of the World” feeling I had when Meg and I battled through the rain all day, crossing glaciers, and ziplining across a canyon without seeing a single other person to reach Paso Viento just as the clouds lifted to reveal the vast Patagonia Icefield stretched out to the horizon in front of us.

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While the increase in popularity of the hike ment we were nowhere near the only ones on the trail the second time around on this trip, everything about this hike was still so unique with neverending grand views all along the trail.

For details, see part 2 of this 2019 trip, our 2017 trip, or the video (youtube) of our hike in 2019.

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trail information

  • type: loop
  • distance: 43.1 miles (38.4 miles to Bahía Del Túnel)
  • elevation change: 9799 ft. ascent & descent
  • time: 4 days
  • location: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Santa Cruz, Argentina
  • view/experience rating: 5

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2. O-Circuit in Torres Del Paine

We got lucky the year we headed to the symbolic Torres Del Paine National Park, it was the last year where you didn’t need pre-booked reservation ahead of time at the campsites. The highlights of our hike was the perfect day at Paso John Gardner

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and the peaks of Torres Del Paine briefly saying hello from behind the clouds. The majority of hikers hike only the front side W-portion, but we found the O-circuit not only gave more spectacular views of glaciers and glacial stream, but also a more intimate friendship with other hikers who we shared camp with each night at the much less crowded backside of the park that persisted as we continued to the W portion.

For details see our 2015 trip report.

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trail information

  • type: loop
  • distance: ~80 miles (~130 km)
  • time: 7-8 days
  • location:  Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Magallanes, Chile
  • view/experience rating: 5

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3. Fitz Roy & Laguna Torres loop

Fitz Roy and Laguna Torres are typically treated as separate day hikes out of El Chaltén. However, it is easy to combine them to form a 1-3 day loop. The bonus of making it a backpacking hike is that the campsites are all free and no reservation is needed.

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The defining aspect of this hike are the symbolic granite towers of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres loaming over glacial feed lakes and embraced by those same glaciers.

For details, see our 2017 trip report.

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trail information

  • type: loop
  • distance: 24.7 miles (39.8 km)
  • elevation change: 6226 ft ascend & 6242 ft descend
  • time: 2 days
  • location: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Santa Cruz, Argentina
  • view/experience rating: 5

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4. Glaciar Exploradores

This guided hike based out of Puerto Río Tranquilo off the banks of Lake General Carrera is a stand in for the glacial hikes found in Patagonia. Whether you hike on Glacier Gray in Torres Del Paine or Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, the experience being surrounded on such large ice is mesmerizing. You feel like you are on dunes of ice with plenty of hidden caves and ponds that drop down into a blue abyss. With a guide, they were able to show us plenty of interesting structures formed by glacial melt as well.

For details, see our 2019 trip report from part 4 of this series.

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trail information

  • type: in & out
  • distance: 5.3 miles (8.5 km)
  • elevation change: 672 ft. ascent & descent
  • time: 6:40 hours (3:30 hours moving)
  • location: Exploradores Park, Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, Aysén, Chile
  • view/experience rating: 4

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5. Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo is the lesser know and less traveled granite peak in contrast to the towers of Torres Del Paine and Fitz Roy. While its peaks aren’t as articulated, the vista that it provides are no less grand. A caveat on my experience is that I only hiked to the viewpoint as a day hike. There are a couple backpacking options, as I outline in my report. It is one that I’ll have to return to in the future.

For details, see our 2019 trip report from part 5 of this series.

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trail information

  • type: in & out
  • distance: 8.5 miles (13.68 km)
  • elevation change: 3608 ft. ascent & descent (1100 m)
  • time: 5:42 hours (4:16 hours moving)
  • location: Villa Castillo, Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo, Aysén, Chile
  • view/experience rating: 4

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bonus favorite non-hiking activity – rafting Futaleufú

While this experience doesn’t qualify as a hike, it deserves to be mentioned on any top X list of Patagonia. The Futaleufú river, also call the Fu or Futa for short, is a beautiful river with water so pristine that you feel like your floating over the rock and boulders lining the river bed. That is even before the long and narly rapids that makes this river a destination even among raft guides.

For detail, see our 2019 trip report from part 7 of this series and the companion video.

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information

  • section: middle & lower Futaleufú, including bridge to bridge section
  • difficulty: class V+
  • Futaleufú, Los Lagos, Chile
  • view/experience rating: 5

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future Patagonia trip ideas

Now that we covered the portions of Patagonia I’ve visited, I have some ideas of future trip ideas to take me to other areas… get ready for a bookmark dump.

If you have any suggestions of places you’d recommend on these trip ideas or any additional itineraires, I would love to hear about them in the comments below or via direct message over email or social media.

Southern portion of the Carretera Austral

This roadtrip would start from Chile Chico/Los Antiguos or Coyhaique to O’Higgins with the possibility of crossing into Argentina via ferry and foot ending in El Chaltén (villaohiggins.com) depending on mode of transportation or time limit (more on that next). This would allow me to visit Tompkins other conservation project, Patagonia Park (patagoniapark.org; adventure alan). Other hiking possibilities along the Carretera Austral would involve trails out O’Higgins (besthike.com) or a revisit to Cerro Castillo for a multi day backpacking trip. Lastly, this region of Patagonia seems so remote and may be the least explored with plenty of possibilities such as the The Aysén Glacier Trail (jmeilander.wordpress.com).

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The other side of Lake General Carrera looks like fun.

return to El Chaltén

El Chaltén is one of my favorite towns in the world. You can literally walk out of town to a trail that takes you to some of the best views in the world. While there is plenty of great trail for me to return to and enjoy again, there is also plenty of hike that is lesser traveled north of El Chaltén toward the border with Chile. These would include hiking to overlooks of O’Higgins and El Chico Glacier (Stingy Nomad)Laguna del Diablo (wikiloc)Cerro Eléctrico (wikiloc), and Glaciar Marconi (wikiloc). Ofcourse, this could be a continuation of the crossing from Villa O’Higgins and the southern tip of the Carretera Austral as mentioned above. Lastly, I’ve never visited El Calafate (only their airport) and the Perito Moreno Glacier.

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loop around Bariloche, El Bolsón, return to Futaleufú, & Puerto Varas

While we were riding the bus traveling through the towns of San Carlos de Bariloche, El Bolsón, & Puerto Varas, we saw plenty of amazing looking lakes and mountains. Bariloche was the original staple in the Argentinian Patagonia with plenty of easy access to the mountains such as the Nahuel Huapi Traverse (besthike.com) or Refugio Otto Meiling Trek (trekbariloche.com). Just down the road is the town of El Bolsón, described as a bohemian counterpart to Bariloche, but still in the mountains. Since I’m heading down that way, I might as well cross into Chile here and revisit the rushing rapids of Futaleufú and perhaps get to raft the upper portions of the river. Lastly, just across the border from Bariloche in Chile is Puerto Varas. While I don’t know much about the exact hikes there, it was the town where plenty of hikers I ment on the trail choose to make their home and they were very happy with what’s available to them.

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Next time, we’ll go hike them rather than just watching them pass from the Ruta 40 bus.

Islas de Tierra del Fuego

At the very southern tip of Patagonia is the Islas de Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, and the Beagle Channel. I admit I don’t know too much about the hiking here other than the Dientes Circuit (besthike.com), Sierra Valdivieso Circuit (Patrick’s New Zealand Weblog), and the few others in the Lonely Planets Trekking in the Patagonian Andes book (Amazon Affiliate link).

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budget

Our total out of pocket cost was USD$6252.93 in addition to 50k Delta Skymiles, 15076 Southwest Rapid Reward Points, and 10k IHG points for 2 people making this a hefty trip. The total valuation of the trip based on Frequent Miler’s 2019 Reasonable Redemption Value chart was USD$7170.99.

We traveled for a total of 31 days from takeoff to landing which brings the total per person per day to USD$100.85 dollars out of pocket and USD$115.66 valuation.

During the process we were able to earn 45828 Delta Skymiles, 4534 Hilton points, 2931 IHG points, and 590 Southwest Rapid Reward Miles equivalent to USD$686.96. Business Class flights earn points very well. Of Course this doesn’t include credit card earnings, which was typically 4.5 cents per dollar in Chile from the combination of US Bank Altitude Card and mobile pay (see Frequent Miler’s guide) as most credit card machines had contactless technology.

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The overall cost was higher than expected. A post trip analysis of the high spending costs were due to two specific factors. The first was the higher transportation cost, especially the unexpectedly costly ferry crossings, last minute bus plans, and a very expensive replacement of a busted tire. We also drove a pretty long distance leading to higher gas costs. Favorably the rental SUV was very reasonable in price and saved us a good amount of housing costs throughout our roadtrip.

However, it didn’t save us as much housing costs as we anticipated because of the second main factor, which was throwing money at problems we encountered on the trip to make them go away. The major problem we throw money at was for our own comfort because of sinus infections or some sort of illness we picked up at the beginning of our Carretera Austral roadtrip. We opted for housing more often leading to higher costs there, but it was needed. The previously mentioned replacement tire also required money to make the problem and worries go away.

The compounding stress and issues early on in the roadtrip portion lead us to be a bit more loose with our money as we decided to do what was necessary to enjoy ourselves. We were on vacation after all and this was the reason we are tight with our money during our everyday lives.

A detailed breakdown of our budget is listed below.

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