EXPLORE PATAGONIA 13 days
Your trip begins and ends in cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, considered to be Latin America's most European city, with its wide boulevards, colonial architecture and café society. Fly onto the Alpine-style resort town of Bariloche in the lake district, where you can explore the snow-dusted mountains, lakes and evergreen forests along gentle walking trails. From here you continue south to the windswept landscape of Patagonia, where you get up close to the vast Perito Moreno Glacier, which calves huge chunks of ice into the water below. El Chaltén is the jumping off point for explorations of the Fitz Roy region of Patagonia, which offers you the chance to admire some of the most dramatic mountain scenery on the continent.
Day 1 Arrive in Buenos Aires. Transfer to your hotel.
Transfer to your hotel in Buenos Aires. The capital is an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills. The centre of town is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches, as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic Parisian feel.
The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.
Day 2 Biking tour of stylish quarters of the capital.
A fun and exhilarating way to get a different perspective on Buenos Aires is to explore this multi-facetted city by bike. It would be a daunting prospect to launch off into the labyrinth of streets and grids on your own, but this tour is fully accompanied with English-speaking guide leading the way safely from one top sight to another. Although these tours aim to avoid to the worst of the traffic, and you walk across busy intersections, you'll feel more confident if you have some experience of cycling in an urban setting.
This tour takes you through the aristocratic districts of Palermo and Recoleta, with their wide tree-lined boulevards lined by French belle époque mansions. You'll ride through Palermo Woods with its rich rose garden, pedestrianised at weekends; and Barrio Parque, home to stately embassy buildings and aristocratic residences. En route, you'll pass at a leisurely pace through Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Perón is buried and the Botanical Gardens. The Fine Arts Museum, National Library and polo fields are also on the check list.
Day 3 Fly to Bariloche, lake district (northern Patagonia), transfer to hotel.
Fly to San Carlos de Bariloche, the main town in Argentina's lake district, on the southern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi. The town is a centre for skiing in winter (July and August), and a walking in summer - set against a stunning backdrop of glacial green-blue lakes framed by the mountains of the Andes.
Day 4 Guided excursion to Cerro Otto.
You'll be met at the hotel by your English-speaking guide and taken to the base of the funicular which transports you up to the Cerro Otto viewpoint for breath-taking vistas of Bariloche and Lake Nahuel Huapi. There's time to admire and photograph the panorama, before you begin this low intensity 3hr trek along the ridgeline, appreciating the vastness of the surrounding landscape.
As you enter into the Patagonian old-beech tree forest - characterised by huge lenga trees and amancay flowers carpeting the hillsides - you'll no doubt spot a variety of interesting birds. The route leads to the Piedra de Hapsburgo viewpoint where you'll set eyes on the impressive Cathedral Mountain, glistening Lake Gutierrez and the expansive Andes mountain range to the west. Then you'll head back to the funicular via a different path. Enjoy a picnic lunch en route.
Day 5 At leisure in the lake district.
At leisure in the Bariloche region. There’s plenty to choose from here from mountain hikes to cycle rides, car tours and kayaking on the lakes.
Day 6 Fly to El Calafate (southern Patagonia), transfer to hotel.
Transfer to airport and fly to El Calafate in southern Patagonia (2hrs), a small tourist resort with a frontier feel situated on the banks of milky turquoise Lago Argentino. This is a one high-street town, but it is growing fast, brimming with hotels, cafés, tour agencies, delicatessens, sweet shops and excited travellers. There's not a huge amount to do, but it's a nice place to unwind and a wonderful base for excursions into the area.
Argentina’s southern Patagonia is a remote land of endless grassy plains, granite mountain peaks tipped with eternal snows, cool blue lakes dotted with icebergs and immense blue-tinged glaciers. Transfer to your hotel.
Day 7 Visit Perito Moreno glacier; boat cruise on the lake.
El Calafate is most famous however as the stopping off point for visitors to the Perito Moreno Glacier. On today’s guided tour the road follows the lake before turning up a wooded valley, dense with beech and birch, and then continues alongside shimmering lagoons, bordered with bright crimson heather lichens. The park authorities have been sensitive about keeping the site as natural as possible, and there are no shops or cafés within close proximity of the wooden viewing platforms, which are tastefully landscaped into the cliff.
Just looking at the front-edge of the glacier, which towers 60 frozen metres above the water level, and is an extraordinary 5 km wide, is awe-inspiring in itself. But after a time you hear the unforgettable sound of the glacier calving a vast wedge of ice the size of a tower block and sending it smashing it down into the lake, where it divides and floats away as an iceberg.
After lunch (not included) in the nearby cafeteria, board the Safari Nautico or Moreno Fiesta for an hour-long cruise on the lake beneath the glacier, with a commentary. Alternatively, you can just walk and contemplate, away from the other visitors.
Day 8 By bus to El Chaltén; assistance to your hotel.
A 3hr journey from El Calafate bus station takes you deep into Los Glaciers National Park. Wildlife to look out for includes guanaco and the ostrich-like rhea. The road skirts the turquoise waters of Lago Viedma, with views of the Viedma glacier. On a clear day, an hour before arriving in El Chaltén, the whole of the Fitz Roy massif comes into view - a fantastic taste of what lies ahead. Transfer to your hotel.
El Chaltén is a small town about 220 km NW of El Calafate, with the southern Patagonian icecap right on its doorstep. Since it attracts climbers and hikers owing to its proximity to Cerro Torre, as well as the Fitzroy and Viedma Glaciers, it has expanded in recent years on the back of a boom in this style of tourism. While the settlement itself is unattractive, it has a superb setting and there are some exhilarating walks, hikes and excursions in the vicinity.
Days 9-10 At leisure in the El Chaltén district, optional activities.
At leisure in the El Chaltén area. Explore this region of extraordinary natural beauty on foot, along one of the national park's many trails. You hike through dense forest and across glacial brooks with the vertical peaks of the Fitzroy Massif, too steep to shelter snow, providing a mesmeric backdrop. All trails are undulating but not strenuous. Be sure to take warm clothes as the weather in the south is notoriously unpredictable.
Choose from a number of hikes and other outdoor activities available locally (or book them before departure).
Day 11 Return to El Calafate by public bus.
Day 12 Transfer to the airport and fly to Buenos Aires. Transfer to hotel.
Day 13 Transfer to airport.
EXTENSION: IGUAZU FROM BUENOS AIRES (3 days)
One of the continent’s most awe-inspiring attractions, the Iguazú Falls – which straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil – is a vast basalt amphitheatre veiled by a curtain of foaming water which crashes through tangled sub-tropical jungle. This is one of the great must-see highlights of Latin America, indeed the world.
Day 1: Fly from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú and continue to Hotel Sheraton, a luxury resort inside the national park, just a short walk from the falls.
You’ll have a private guided tour of the falls from the Argentine perspective. A little train takes you to the Upper Walk. a sequence of causeways which links dozens of tiny, basalt islands at the top of the rock face. Myriad streams of the Iguazú river cascade over the lip of the precipice, and a succession of lookout points allows your gaze to follow the water as it plunges onto the rocks below.
The train continues to a passarelle leading you across the river to the thunderous Garganta del Diablo with a spectacular vantage point over the thundering vortex below.
Day 2: Guided tour of the Brazilian side of the falls. At the entrance to the national park you'll board a shared service to continue to the water’s edge. There's a 1km walkway with viewpoints - you get a panoramic view of the whole sweep of the cataracts, an entirely different experience from the Argentine side. Towards the end of the walk, there's an observation tower and a walkway at the bottom allows for a closer,(and much wetter) look.
Day 3: Transfer to the airport for your flight back to Buenos Aires to continue your holiday or to connect with your international flight.