Why: Patagonia is one of the most beautiful regions on earth.  I wanted to see penguins and hike the legendary trails in “el fin del mundo” or the end of the world.

Flights/Car: Look for flights on skycanner.com.  You will most likely be avoiding the winter season.  I found flights from California to Santiago and then purchased separate tickets on LATAM from Santiago to Punta Arenas.  This allowed me to choose exactly what time I got the flights from Santiago on down as LATAM has several reasonably priced options each day.

I wanted a rental car that I could sleep in the back of to be able to better access the national parks and remote areas.  I found a great deal with Recasur, which had a white utility van for much cheaper than a van would cost with many other companies.  This van was key to not having to “get to a town” every night.  Make sure to get the needed papers to cross the borders between Chile and Argentina.

Exploring the cemetery in Punta Arenas

Day 1: I enjoyed spending a day in Santiago.  It’s already a long flight down to Chile so a day in Santiago is really a nice way to go.  I stayed at Hostal Forestal which is a nice, centrally located spot.  In Santiago hike up to San Cristobal Hill for great views.  Make sure to walk around the Plaza de Armas and La Moneda Palace.  Try some of the local hot dogs and street food.

Day 2: Catch a flight on LATAM down to Punta Arenas.  If you can get away with just a carry-on bag do so as LATAM will charge for every checked bag.  Pick up your car in Punta Arenas and head in to the city of Punta Arenas.  We stayed at Hospedaje Costena, which has a nice homey feel to it.  Load up on groceries for the next few days in Torres del Paine National Park.

Getting some company on my way out to Mirador de los Cuernos, Torres del Paine

Day 3:  Drive up to Puerto Natales.  Check out the famous old bridge at the entrance of the town.  Load up on gas before heading up towards awesome Torres del Paine.  You can reserve the campgrounds to do the world-famous W or O Circuits in Torres del Paine.  Most people choose this option.  I don’t plan my trips that far in advance.  By talking to the rangers I figured out that we could do two or three fantastic sections of the W via day hikes.  In the evening of this day we drove up to Laguna Azul and the waterfall on the way.  You can sleep in your car at either park entrance and at Pudeta.  All three of these locations have bathrooms with running water.  Stay at the main entrance at Laguna Amarga.

Torres del Paine National Park is as good as it gets!

Day 4: Get up early to day hike the premier hike in all of Patagonia up to Mirador de las Torres.  If you start before 8 a.m. you will be ahead of all the buses that come into the park and you will avoid most of the crowds on the trail.  This is a spectacular hike with world-class views, hanging bridges, and glacial streams all over the place.  In the late afternoon drive through the park towards Pudeta and stop wherever you please at the gorgeous lookouts.

Mirador El Condor, Torres del Paine

Day 5: Catch the 1st catamaran at 9 am from Pudeta to Paine Grande.  If the weather look good head to the middle part of the W, up the spectacular French Valley.  Hike to at least Mirador Frances, and if you are feeling good and moving along you may be able to get up to Mirador Britanico.  Make sure you make it back to Paine Grande to catch the last boat back at 6:30 p.m.  Spend the night in the car at Pudeta.

The world class view at Torres del Paine

Day 6: Take the catamaran back across to Paine Grande. Hike all the way up to Glacier Grey for awesome views of this infamous glacier.  Even if the weather is turning this is still going to be a good hike to do as you don’t need to see the big peaks to enjoy this hike.   Spend the night again at Pudeta.  In the evening if you feel like walking a little more check out Salto Grande and Salto Chico.

Salto Grande, Torres del Paine

Day 7: Hit up the shorter hikes in the park.  Go out to Mirador de los Cuernos, Mirador Condor, and Lago Grey.  In the afternoon leave the park and drive up to El Calafate where there are tons of hostel options for a place to stay.  Stay at America del Sur Hostel.  Get a good dinner in the town if your tired of camping food!

Awesome shades of blue, early morning Perito Moreno

Day 8: Drive out to Perito Moreno Glacier.  Walk the 3 miles of easy catwalk trails which face the world-famous glacier. All these trails offer fantastic views of the glacier.  We enjoyed talking the boat to the other side of the glacier in the afternoon.  The boat ride offers super close views to Perito Moreno and small floating icebergs in the water.  Come back for a meal in El Calafate and load up on gas before driving up to El Chalten.  Get in to El Chalten in the evening and stay at any one of the plethora of bed and breakfast and hostels in this gorgeous mountain town.

Epic views at Laguna de los 3, near El Chalten

Day 9: El Chalten is awesome.  The trails leave right from the town.  Head out for the best hike in the region to Laguna de los 3, a 13 mile round trip hike.  I always like going out early.  There are fewer people and the weather in the morning is usually better.  We drove a mile or two across town to the trailhead.  This is an absolutely awesome hike.  It is really not that challenging except the last mile which is a steep uphill.  Because we started early, we decided to add on Laguna Torre.  This pretty lake has a large glacier behind it.  If the weather is good the views are stunning.   Come back in the evening and cook dinner or head out to one of the local diners.

Near Fitz Roy out of El Chalten

Day 10: Although you can drive south passing by El Calafate again, we wanted to make a loop, so we headed over towards the coast and Rio Gallegos.  A local had told us that there was a massive penguin colony at Cabo Virgines, about a 2 hour drive outside of Rio Gallegos.  This was a big driving day.  The gravel road out to Cabo Virgines is not a short one, however spending New Year’s with a colony of 100,000 Magellanic penguins was a real highlight of the trip.  Once again, having the car and camping stuff was ideal.  Spend the evening walking around with thousands of these cute penguins!

New Year’s Eve with the penguins!

Day 11: Spend another couple hours in the morning hanging with the penguins in this remote corner of Patagonia.  Buckle up for a big drive down to Tierra del Fuego.  You’ll cross from Argentina to Chile to Argentina, so have cash in both currencies for gas along with your international insurance from your rental car company handy.  You’ll take a ferry into at Punta Delgado.  Drive all the way down to Ushuaia, and the official end of the world.  There are lots of options here.  We stayed at Los Comorones Hostel.

Hanging with the penguins for their sunrise swim at 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day

Day 12: Drive 20 minutes outside of Ushuaia to hike the easy 7 mile round trip hike to Laguna Esmeralda.  This is a beautifully blue lake ringed with snow-covered peaks.  Come back to Ushuaia and spend the afternoon visiting the arts and crafts shops down by the water and be sure to stop by the “El find del Mundo” sign.

Hitting the streets in Ushuaia at the end of the world!

Day 13: Spend the morning in Tierra del Fuego National Park.  This park can be explored by doing short hikes and driving through it in the car.  You can also chose to do longer hikes if you wish.  We headed out of Ushuaia by noon to be sure to get to Parque Penguino Rey.  Parque Penguino Rey has the only colony of King Penguins on mainland South America.  Although you can’t get as close to these penguins, it seems like a no-brainer to stop here if it is only 20 minutes out of the way on your way back up towards Punta Arenas.  Take the ferry again and finish up the drive to get yourself back to Punta Arenas.  Stay at Hospedaje Costena again.

Visiting Parque Penguino Rey

Day 14: Spend the morning relaxing and getting your things together.  Return your rental car before your LATAM flight back to Santiago.  I got my LATAM flight to back up perfectly to my flight from Vantiago- Mexico City- San Francisco back to the U.S. after an epic Patagonia trip.`2