I traveled through Patagonia (the Argentina part) from November 2011 through December 2011. I visited Puerto Madryn, El Bolson, Bariloche, El Calafate, and El Chalten. This part of Argentina is absolutely beautiful and also filled with activities for outdoorsy and adventurous people.
I found the area to be quite safe and the people to be very friendly and helpful. Most businesses have English-speaking staff, since people from around the world travel here frequently.
Below I have listed general Patagonia tips, as well as location-specific tips for getting there, accommodations, food and drink, and things to do.
There are lots of domestic flights from Buenos Aires, however, as a foreigner you will pay almost double for your flight. Also, you will be taking the risk of an ash cloud delaying your flight.
Bus travel is the cheapest way to go. There are lots of bus companies and lots of bus routes, although it can be difficult to find out about them in advance. I found that some companies are either ignorant or straight-up lie about whether or not another company will have a direct route if they do not provide one themselves.
There is a website called Plataforma10 that has many routes, however, it often gives errors, and it does not include all routes. Use this to get an idea of routes and tickets. But the best bet is to buy your next ticket when you get to your destination. Go to every bus company in the terminal and ask. For each city I visited below, I share the company, route, and price for my ticket.
Class of bus ticket is also important. For long-haul routes, I suggest Cama class. It is worth the extra money. Remember that if you are traveling overnight, you are saving on the cost of lodging. There is also Cama Suite where the seat folds down to 180 degrees, but I found Cama to be very comfortable. This class also usually comes with servicio, meaning meals are included, but you will definitely want to have snacks with you. Check out my post about my 28-hour bus ride from Bariloche to El Calafate.
After living in Buenos Aires and using multiple banks to withdraw money for 6 months, I was surprised when I got to Patagonia and found that the same banks refused my card. It was hit-and-miss. I had the most luck with Banco Patagonia.
Very few hostels or restaurants accept credit cards.
Always have plenty of cash with you in case you get to a city and have trouble with the 1 or 2 ATM options.
Puerto Madryn is all about the nearby wildlife. I was there for about a week. Most people would probably want to spend 3-4 days here.
I took an Andesmar bus from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn. It took 18 hours and cost AR$485 (US$114) for class Cama Ejecutivo (one step below Cama Suite). It included merienda, dinner, and breakfast. Note that Andesmar is also known for serving wine with dinner
Where To Stay
The town is quite small, and there really is not much to do in town. Almost any hostel you choose will be within walking distance of the bus station, the beach, restaurants, etc.
I chose El Gualicho Hostel. It appears to be one of the newer hostels.
- It is very clean and spacious. Great common areas.
- Big kitchen for cooking your own meals. They serve a good breakfast.
- They also organize tours.
- The staff are very friendly too, which I always appreciate. Although the hostel accommodates a lot of people, it was still tranquilo.
- When I was there, they offer free bus terminal transfer when you arrive, but check their web page for current info.
This is not a cheap place. People go here to see the wildlife, which is not actually in Puerto Madryn. Unless you are with a group of people and can affordably rent your own car, you will most likely have to pay for tours. I didn’t mind because I enjoyed my tour days, learned a lot from the guides, and met some nice people.
Almost all tour companies will give you a discount if you pay in cash. Always ask the price first and then ask what the discount is if you pay in cash.
Favorite Restaurants/ Cafes
- I only went out to dinner one time, and it was fantastic. La Estela is right in the center of town. They have a huge menu and affordable prices. If you are sick of all the meat and bread in Argentina, order the veggies from the parrilla.
- I was having trouble with the wifi at my hostel, so I went to Balcarce, a café across from the beach. Their prices for food are a bit high, but I just ordered coffee and worked for a couple hours.
For all activities related to seeing wildlife, ask to make sure you are there during the right season. I recommend the travel and tour company Categoria Patagonia. They were friendly and helpful, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of my tours with them.
- Punta Tombo is a MUST. You will see tons of penguins up close and personal.
- Isla Escondida is a MUST. You will be able to walk right up to elephant seals. Note that if you go on a weekend, this is a public beach and will be filled with locals. During the week, you’ll have it all to yourself. Note that the only tour company that even offered this excursion to me was Categoria Patagonia, and they only do it sometimes. You’ll have to ask.
- Whale watching at Peninsula Valdes is a MUST. You can do a tour of the whole island where you will see penguins and elephant seals, but they will be very far away from you and nothing compared to the two places above. If you do not want to tour the whole island, you can get a bus to Puerto Piramides. Once you get there, you will see lots of companies that offer whale watching boat trips. Categoria Patagonia organized my tour with Southern Spirit Cruises. Whichever you choose, make sure they have the boats that allow you to be closer to the water.
- Scuba diving/ snorkeling with sea lions is an activity I did not do but sounds absolutely amazing. You can coordinate this with Aquatours. I found out about this company because I did a bike rental. They were professional and helpful, and they seem to be the main company for all scuba activities.
Many bus companies will tell you it is not possible to go directly to El Bolson. That is a lie, my friends. Whether they tell you that out of ignorance or because they want to take your money, bus companies lie. I took a Mar y Valle bus (part of the Don Otto companies) from Puerto Madryn to El Bolson. It took 12 hours and cost AR$320 (US$75) for class Cama.
Where To Stay
The town is quite small. I chose to stay a 5 minute walk from the center of town at La Camorra Hostel. I absolutely loved it, however, I know that the people running it have left. That could mean things have changed.
- Felt like a cozy log cabin.
- Decent kitchen for cooking meals.
- Good-size bathroom with a lot of showers.
- They serve a good breakfast, usually with homemade bread (this may have changed, since it is being run by new people).
The great thing about El Bolson is it is all about hiking, and hiking is free. The surrounding area is filled with refugios. You can choose to do day hikes or multi-day hikes.
Favorite Restaurants/ Cafes/ Bars
- I only went out to dinner one time, and it sucked. If you go out to eat, try to get a recommendation. They say the cordero patagonico (lamb) in this part of Argentina is delicious, but I did not have a good first experience.
- El Bolson is known for its micro-brews. Coming from the US and loving beers with lots of flavor, I did think they were great. However, they certainly taste fresh and clean because of the quality of the water and lack of extra chemicals. It is definitely worth checking out the Araucana and El Bolson breweries.
This place is all about relaxing, enjoying the beautiful setting, and hiking.
- Weekend Market – You will find interesting, quality crafts and some tasty snacks at the weekend market. Also, this is an opportunity to try a few more micro-brews, including Piltri, Parapoto, and Rupestre (my favorite roja).
- Hike up to the mirador and then down to Rio Azul.
- Hike to the Bosque Tallado.
- Lago Puelo is a nice day trip, however, there are lots of hikes so you may want to actually stay here for a couple of days.
My sole purpose for visiting Bariloche was to re-new my tourist visa. Unfortunately, that was a mess. So I really did not get to see much in Bariloche besides ashes.
I was in El Bolson before, so it was a quick 2-hour bus ride to get there.
Where To Stay
I stayed at La Bolsa del Deporte. It is a quirky, interesting, comfortable hostel with a laid-back crowd. Biggest and best-equipped kitchen I have ever seen.
Favorite Restaurants/ Cafes/ Bars
- My only goal in Bariloche was to visit La Cruz Cerveceria, which was highly recommended to me by a beer-brewer in Buenos Aires. It was awesome! I finally find a great IPA!
I was in El Calafate for about 6 nights in total in December of 2011. The drive into El Calafate is absolutely gorgeous. The small-ish city is in a beautiful location. However, it is super-touristy and doesn’t have much character in my opinion. People come here to go to Perito Moreno Glacier and then go to El Chalten. A couple of days is plenty.
I took a bus from Bariloche 28 hours to El Calafate. It cost AR$648 (US$150) for class Cama.
Where To Stay
I stayed at Hostel de Las Manos. It is one of the reasonably-priced options in El Calafate and not too far from the town center. It is a bit of a walk from the bus station but not too bad. Note that the map they have on their website is not accurate. I cannot remember exactly what was wrong, but I know a turn was missing.
During the part of my tour that was sponsored by Adventure Center, I stayed at Posta Sur Hosteria. Very nice, comfortable accommodations.
On my way out of El Chalten, I stayed a night at Las Cabañitas Hosteria. It is a very comfortable place just a few blocks from the bus station. The owner is very friendly and helpful with booking tours. They also have a restaurant on-site that serves dinner.
This is not a cheap town. Everything, including hostels, is expensive. If you are planning to go hiking in El Chalten, I recommend buying some food in El Calafate to bring with you. There are two shops not too far from the bus station that carry bulk-priced nuts and dried fruits and many more healthy food options.
Favorite Restaurants/ Cafes/ Bars
This is not a cheap town, so I only went out a couple of times.
- Antares is a good bar if you like good beer. The Scotch Ale is delicious.
- Don Pichon is a nicer parrilla with a gorgeous view.
- There is a great wine shop on the same street as the bus station (cannot remember the name).
The main reason to come here is a trip to Perito Moreno Glacier. I trekked on the glacier as part of a sponsored tour with Adventure Center, so I do not have details for how you can go on your own. However, it seemed that during high season, it is important to book at least a few days in advance.
There is also some sort of glacier museum/ ice bar. I found the price of entry and the shuttle transfer ridiculously expensive, so I opted out. Everyone I talked to said it was really cool though.
Hiking near El Chalten has been the highlight of my travels in Latin America. Such beautiful landscapes, and it’s great hiking (not too difficult, not too easy). And the town is pretty cool too. I was there for almost 2 weeks! I suggest spending a minimum of 4 days here because there is enough hiking to keep you busy, and you never know what the weather is going to be like.
From El Calafate, there are a few buses that run everyday to El Chalten. They are expensive for the distance traveled (maybe around AR$35). At my hostel in El Calafate, they were advertising a cheaper price, so it is worth asking around to say 5-10 pesos.
Note that I could not find any other way to get to El Chalten that did not involve going to El Calafate and then taking another bus.
Where To Stay
I stayed at Hem Herhu Hostel, and I do NOT recommend it. Although it was one of the cheaper options, I had a bad experience related to the other people staying there. The reason I fault the hostel is because the owner said nothing to the rude people who were not following the posted hostel rules.
An excellent hotel with a great breakfast, good wifi, and a comfortable lounge is La Aldea.
The restaurants were not as expensive as I was expecting. The two I listed in the Favorite Restaurants section offer the best value. The grocery stores do not have the best food options, but if you catch them on the right day, you might actually find some decent produce. El Gringuito seemed to have the best selection of groceries and produce.
Hostels are not cheap here, but there is at least one camping area in town (not sure what they charge), and of course, you can camp at the designated grounds on the hiking paths.
Favorite Restaurants/ Cafes/ Bars
The quality of the bars and restaurants in this tiny town really surprised me. There were lots of vegetarian options too. Here are my favorites.
- For the biggest, tastiest, and cheapest empanadas in town, check out La Brasserie.
- For a good value and large salads, soups, and sandwiches, check out Patagonicus.
- For good pizza, go to La Cerveceria.
- Ritual del Fuego is a nicer restaurant with a gourmet menu. Prices are reasonable. The lamb and curries are excellent!
- La Vineria has an excellent beer and wine selection. Gulmen is one of my favorite craft-brews in Latin America, and their IPA is wonderful. This is the perfect spot to go have a few beers after a long day of hiking. Also, there is a discount for takeaway purchases. They also serve food.
This place is all about the hikes. I prefer day hikes, but there are nice campgrounds for those who want to camp and be able to get up early to catch the sunrise over Fitz Roy. Here are my hiking suggestions:
- Laguna de Los Tres/ Fitz Roy – About 5-6 hours round-trip including stopping to eat lunch when you get there. I suggest taking a taxi to Hosteria Pilar and starting the hike from there. You get different views and do not end up hiking back the exact same way. This is pretty common, so you should be able to find people to split the taxi with you.
- Laguna Torre/ Cerro Torre – About 5-6 hours round-trip including stopping to eat lunch when you get there.
- Pliegue Tumbado – Beware the wind! About 4-5 hours round-trip including stopping to eat lunch when you get there.
- Laguna Sucia – This is a hike that is no longer on trail maps. Start out towards Laguna de Los Tres. After you cross the river, start looking for a trail to your left that is blocked off with fallen tree branches. You will have a trail for about 20 minutes, and then it ends on the rocky river bank. This is a tricky and somewhat dangerous hike because you are walking on rocks. It is best to go with someone as the odds of another person being out here are pretty low.
- Las Aguilas Mirador – This only takes about 2 hours round-trip, so it’s a great hike when you first arrive to town. Plus, you get great views of the town and the other places you will be hiking.
- I really wanted to do the Paso del Cuadrado hike, however, this requires taking a transport part of the way, and then you have to pay somewhere along the way because it is private property. If I had more people with me to cover the transport cost, it would have been feasible. Also, this is a more difficult hike, so it is best to be with others.