Southern Patagonia: glaciers at the end of the world

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We continue our Patagonian journey (see our previous article) by entering the glacier region. In a few kilometres, the landscape changes completely! The desert plains give way to forests, the burning sun to snow showers, the dry streams to huge lakes with changing colours...

The Ruta 40, straight and dusty on our last stages, turns into tarmac curves as the summits still drowned in the fumes grow on the horizon. At the bend of one of these curves, we see between two showers the village of El Chalten, a hiker's paradise and the gateway to the glacier national park. We will spend two days there before continuing - still by car - our road to Tierra del Fuego...

Our itinerary: one month in Patagonia

Stage 7: El Chalten and Glacier National Park (2 days, 2 nights)

From Gobernador Gregores: 5h45; 300 kilometres

Partially paved road; portions of tracks suitable for vehicles

If you missed it in our previous article, we loved our stay in Patagonia! And El Chalten was one of the most beautiful stages... And one of the most frustrating!

El Chalten is the meeting point for hikers who set off to climb Mount Fitz Roy, a majestic rocky peak in the heart of the Glacier National Park. With its peaceful yet friendly atmosphere of a summertime ski resort, we loved this little town... and its surroundings! The park is a natural jewel of forests, lakes and rivers against a backdrop of grey and black rocky masses: the kind of place that makes you want to go exploring and drown in this green setting... One of our favourite stops!

Glacier National Park

The only problem is that hiking here is hiking in the wilderness. In other words, it is difficult to venture out in a wheelchair on the paths that cover the mountains and that are too narrow, too steep, too rocky... In short, very impracticable, even with the best will in the world!

So we take advantage of the magnificent landscapes of the park by driving along the track that crosses it from one side to the other (1/2 day round trip with stops at the viewpoints), with an irrepressible desire to explore the wilderness that remains unfulfilled despite our numerous attempts...

Don't get me wrong: if we had to do it again, we would definitely go back! If our movements are limited (we were still able to take an accessible path that leads to the Chorrillo del Salto waterfall at the entrance of the park), we still enjoy the dazzling landscapes that the park offers and wouldn't miss it for anything... An experience in the middle of nature that is less immersive than expected but no less unforgettable!

Glacier National Park
Practical information
Where to sleep?

A meeting place for hikers means a tourist town... and the price of accommodation accordingly! El Chalten offers a wide range of accommodation of all categories, but at prices a little higher than elsewhere in Argentina...

As for accessible accommodation, it's more complicated! As in Esquel, we chose a hotel with an access ramp and a lift, but the use of the bathroom requires a lot of inventiveness (no grab bars and the shower door is too narrow).

The Chalten Suites hotel is nevertheless very pleasant and offers comfortable rooms, a quality breakfast and a breathtaking view of Mount Fitz Roy when the sky is clear (190€ per night for two, including breakfast)... We highly recommend it!

Where to eat?

When we were talking about the atmosphere of a ski resort... They have something to do with it! We make two wonderful culinary discoveries in El Chalten:

  • La Tapera (three steps to the entrance, waiting customers help us carry Pierre; toilets upstairs): traditional Patagonian cuisine, generous dishes by a huge wood fire (be careful, your clothes will smell for days afterwards... choose them carefully!)... And a warm, smiling welcome! We loved it! Please note: contrary to what's indicated in the window, the establishment doesn't take credit cards: you'll have to pay in cash. In the event of a problem, they'll give you credit: you'll be able to finish paying your bill the next day while you go to the only cash dispenser in town...
  • La Vineria (a short walk to the entrance, toilets not accessible): a lively restaurant where you can taste one of the many Argentine wines on the menu while sharing a platter of local cold meats and cheeses... A great address!

In both cases, no reservation is possible: don't hesitate to arrive early or wait patiently for a table to become available, either in the covered hall of the former or at the bar of the latter!

Means of payment

Here, many restaurants and activities (boat trips on the park's lakes, for example) must be paid for in cash, due to the lack of a proper connection and therefore of credit card terminals... You must therefore anticipate! Especially since the city has only one cash dispenser (behind the bus station at the entrance to the city), which is fed only once a week (on Thursdays during the day, with variable hours).

Plan to arrive with cash or withdraw cash as soon as possible once the machine is full: supplies usually run out quickly...


The only petrol station for miles around is at the entrance to El Chalten (a few hundred metres before the bridge that leads to the town). For more peace of mind, always have a full tank of petrol on hand: this will avoid any surprises in case of shortage! Note that the station does not take cards: here too, you will have to pay cash...

Glacier National Park

Stage 8: El Calafate, discovering the Perito Moreno (2 days, 3 nights)

From El Chalten: 3h45; 220 kilometres

Tarmac road

We leave El Chalten and head for a stage we have been looking forward to! El Calafate will be our starting point to explore one of the biggest glaciers in the world: the Perito Moreno! One of the most beautiful sights we have seen in our lives, without a doubt...

Located about 1 hour's drive from El Calafate (75 kilometres), this glacier is one of only three in South America that is not retreating at the moment... In fact, it is even advancing by 2 metres a day! But the pieces of cliff that break off with a bang to plunge daily into the Lago Argentino compensate for this advance, making a stable glacier...

perito moreno argentina
The Perito Moreno seen from the footbridges

While El Calafate is a nice town with a main street lined with shops and friendly bars/restaurants, it is not very interesting on its own and, like El Chalten, has become very expensive due to the high level of tourist activity. It's great for a walk along the lagoon at sunset, but it's mainly a dormitory town for those wishing to explore the region and its glaciers (the nearby airport makes it a simple and quickly accessible stopover from Argentina's major cities).

Practical information
Where to sleep?

All ranges are available in El Calafate and there is no lack of accommodation! But once again, for accessible accommodation... It's hard to find anything!

We stay at theAikendor hotel, slightly out of the way, which we appreciate for its breathtaking view of the bay. Not perfect in terms of accessibility (a small step in the shower), but almost (ramp at the entrance, wide circulation spaces in the room and the bathroom, grab bars...)!

A little advice: if you have a car, don't hesitate to go a little further from the centre to look for your accommodation! You will get better rates...

Where to eat?

The streets of El Calafate are not short of choice! Here is a small selection of our favourites:

  • La Zaina La Zaina : for its chalet atmosphere and its typical regional dishes,
  • Don Pichon for its incredible view of the bay at sunset and its grilled meats (if there are four of you, don't hesitate to order for two...)
  • Mako Premium Bar The Mako Premium Bar: for its sunny terrace at lunchtime,
  • La Zorra La Zorra: because enjoying a good beer is already good... But when it's in a pub with a warm and 100% accessible atmosphere, it's even better!
We recommend
1. Admire the Perito Moreno from every angle (1 to 2 days)

Perito Moreno is located on the Lago Argentino and can be admired in different ways. Whatever option (or options) you choose, you will have to pay the park entrance fee of 800 ARS (free for PRMs and accompanying persons on presentation of a disability card) payable at the entrance (in high season, allow for a waiting time at the park entrance).

a. Walk the footbridges (1 to 3 hours)

The easiest and cheapest way to enjoy the Perito Moreno, the metal walkways that cover the neighbouring mountain are ideal for an eye-opening walk! Depending on how much time you spend enjoying the view, the walk can easily last 4 hours (see map below). The walk can be done in either direction, from the Nativos de la Patagonia restaurant or from the upper car park (accessible by shuttle bus only, except for people with reduced mobility; shuttle buses leave from the lower car park near the restaurant).

By wheelchair: the two highest floors of the walkways are accessible from the upper car park (you can access them by car by showing your disability card to the staff on site). There are ramps to get down to the first floor, as well as a lift. The rest of the route contains steps and is therefore not accessible (although the stairs are equipped with handrails for standing if necessary).

b. Take a boat trip on the Lago Argentino

Catamarans leave regularly and allow you to enjoy the view of the glacier from the bottom of the cliff (1000 ARS for one hour)! For safety reasons, the boats do not approach closer than 400 metres, but this is more than enough to admire from the deck this immense 70 metre high white wall and the blocks that come off it to plunge into the lake with a thunderous noise... It is possible to book on the spot, but it is better to anticipate in high season on the Hielo&Aventura website (insert link: https://hieloyaventura.com).

c. Kayak paddling at the foot of the cliff

An unforgettable experience... And we weigh our words! This is the option we chose: 2 hours paddling in 3 degrees of the purest blue water we have ever seen... A huge happiness!

This option will cost you 8,000 ARS per person (about 140€ if you buy in their shop in El Calafate, online bookings are a bit more expensive) with MilOutdoor, including the equipment (kayak for two, paddles and special cold water suit) and the guides, who will take you slaloming between the icebergs while telling you the history of the glacier... We highly recommend it!

In a wheelchair

You need to have full use of your arms for this activity and good balance (the backs of the kayaks are about 40 centimetres high). The guides can help you get to the beach (dirt road and then sand) and get you in and out of your kayak. Ideally, it's best to go in the quieter seasons (so not in the middle of summer) as a guide is fully dedicated to the safety of your kayak: they will paddle alongside you throughout the trip. Your chair is kept safely in the boat shed near the beach. Remember to contact them in advance (their WhatsApp number is available on the website and they are responsive) to confirm that conditions are right for you to enjoy this adventure!

kayak perito moreno
Kayaking at the foot of the cliff

d. Walking on the glacier

If you like to climb, this is the solution for you! It is possible to explore the glacier from above with day trips, I hear it is an incredible experience! No access for people with reduced mobility though...

Don't hesitate to combine several of these solutions! The glacier deserves to be seen from different angles and you can enjoy it in one day if you are in a hurry... Or in two if you want to come back!

Good to know if you are in a wheelchair: the Nativos de la Patagonia restaurant is accessible through the staff entrance (on the left when facing the restaurant, access ramp) and has adapted toilets.

perito moreno glacier argentina
The blue ice of Perito Moreno
2. Learning about glaciers and the impact of global warming (1/2 day)

Admission: 600 ARS per person, free for PRM

For us, the glacier museum(Glaciarium) is a must-see when visiting El Calafate (and yet, you know us, we are not very museum-minded)!

Open every day from 11am to 7pm (times vary according to the year/season apparently), this museum is particularly instructive on the Perito Moreno and the history of the scientist from whom it takes its name, but also and above all on the functioning of glaciers in general... And the impact of global warming on them!

You can spend 2 to 3 hours between models, explanatory panels and videos (in English and Spanish). Don't miss the report on the Perito Moreno ice bridge! For the record: every year, the Argentine Lagoon is cut in two by the advancing glacier, whose ice eventually touches the ground... With the pressure of the water and when the temperature rises, a channel is eventually dug at the end of the glacier, allowing the water to pass through and seep higher and higher. An ice bridge is gradually created, linking the land to the glacier... Which gradually disintegrates before collapsing completely into the water with a bang. The time lapse on the big screen is magical to watch if you are not lucky enough to see it live (which is unlikely to happen, as the final fall is unpredictable and never happens at exactly the same time).

In a wheelchair 

The museum is fully accessible (including toilets). The only place where you can't get in is the ice bar, in the basement, where you can have a drink in an igloo equivalent... We didn't particularly miss it!

On the Ruta 40

Stage 9: Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine (2 days, 2 nights)

From El Calafate: 3h30 via Paso Rio Don Guillermo (border crossing); 275 kilometres

Partially paved road; portions of tracks suitable for vehicles

We cross the Chilean border again and head for Puerto Natales! The town itself is not very interesting (despite a disused jetty that is very photogenic with the mountains in the background), but we wouldn't miss the Torres del Paine park for anything in the world, a natural wonder!

Torres del Paine is one of Patagonia's hikers' paradises: the meeting point for trekkers in search of breathtaking landscapes, since its treks are among the most beautiful in the world... Numerous paths criss-cross the park, its forests, its lakes... And its glaciers! For the amateurs, it is thus easy to spend 5 to 7 days there without getting bored... Even 10 for the most experienced hikers! Given the options available, we will only spend one day there.

Practical information
Where to sleep?

The city is full of hostels and hotels of all kinds! For hiking enthusiasts, the best option is to sleep directly in the park or in the surrounding area, in one of the hostels or on camping pitches... But prices can get out of hand and it is better to book several months in advance!

Puerto Natales is therefore a good base camp for exploring the park, which is about an hour's drive from the city.

We choose theAlcázar hostel (55€ per night for two, breakfast included), which, although not really accessible, at least has the advantage of a ramp at the entrance...

Where to eat?

For a champion breakfast with a warm welcome in a cosy setting, we recommend the Patagonia Dulce!

For the rest, we had a little trouble finding nice and affordable addresses in Puerto Natales... Despite a very appreciated reunion with sushi at El Caminante...

For Torres del Paine, it is recommended that you bring some food and enjoy a picnic at one of the many sublime viewpoints in the park! A mini-market/cafeteria is available at the entrance to the Lago Grey trail, but it is not very satisfying for the wallet or the taste buds!

Torres del Paine: what to do?

Park entrance: 21,000 CLP (free for PRM on presentation of disability card)

The Torres del Paine park is notably known for its W circuit, a 3 to 5 days trek that offers sublime views on the park's glaciers and its three iconic towers... We passed on this one, so we won't talk about it in detail here. But know that many blogs exist with all the details to prepare it well! Novo Monde 's blog seemed very complete and has the advantage of being regularly updated...

There are several options for a one-day visit:

  • Take a boat to see the glaciers
  • Drive through the park, stopping regularly for mini-hikes...

After seeing the Perito Moreno, we thought that the comparison with the other glaciers might not be flattering (and rightly so, considering the feedback from other travellers who have done both)... And we wanted to explore different landscapes without the time (and price) constraints of a boat! So we opted for the second option, and we were not disappointed! Even from the road (or in the immediate vicinity), the landscapes that pass by are exceptional!

Our stop at Lago Grey with its blue icebergs will remain the highlight of our day.

In a wheelchair

The only disadvantage of this park in our eyes is its very low level of accessibility! The Lago Grey hike starts with an accessible section (a hard but very steep path) before getting lost in the pebbles of the beach, which are difficult to walk on (if you venture there, favour the space before the mound to walk on, the pebbles are more compacted there and it is easier to move around). As for the rest, there are many occasions when you come up against steps, rocks and narrow paths in crumbly soil... Fortunately, many viewpoints are located on the roadside and are therefore passable.

For people with reduced mobility, Wheel the World offers guided tours of the park... Don't hesitate to go and have a look at it for an immersion in nature!

Stage 10: Punta Arenas, the end of a continent (2 days, 3 nights)

From Puerto Natales: 2h45; 250 kilometres

Tarmac road

For our last step in Chile, we head for Punta Arenas, the southernmost city of the continent (excluding the islands, of course). A first taste of the end of the world under a grey and low sky and many showers... The setting is set!

At the end of the Ruta 9
Practical information
Where to sleep?

We stay at theHostal Patagonia Mística, a stone's throw from the city centre, a great customer service and perfectly affordable (80€ per night for two, breakfast included)!

Where to eat / drink

It's hard to find the best restaurants in Punta Arenas... So we'll just give you a few addresses that we thought were nice:

  • Mesita Grande (Italian cuisine): for a quick lunch in a friendly and accessible setting!
  • Shackelton Bar (Hotel Jose Nogeira): to enjoy a cocktail in one of the city's historic buildings (several steps to the entrance),
  • Café Inmigrante Café Inmigrante: for a (very) sweet break or lunch on the go (narrow entrance with a short walk).
The penguins of Isla Magdalena
We recommend

If the city can be avoided, the Punta Arenas region is beautiful and offers incredible landscapes! Two days are more than enough to discover them, with a few must-sees:

  1. Walk to the end of the world lighthouse (1/2 day)

Follow the Ruta 9 and its magical landscapes southwards until you see the sign "Fin de Camino": that's it, you're at the end of the continent... Or almost! You'll need to walk another 4km to reach the lighthouse at the end of the world (the dirt road is only passable for a few hundred metres before it gets lost in a beach of pebbles and sharp rocks).

On the way, stop at the Strait of Magellan Park (entrance fee: CLP 16,000 per person, free for PRM) to walk the coastal paths and visit its fort and museum.

  1. Visit the penguins of Isla Magdalena (1/2 day)

A small islet a few kilometres off the coast, Isla Magdalena is home to a huge colony of penguins (up to 14,000 individuals)! Solo Expediciones offers half-day excursions (departure at 6:30 am for a return around 11 am; 100 USD per person): a joy to see them busy building their nest!

In a wheelchair

The company's boats are not accessible and the pontoons are not very accessible, but if you let them know in advance the crew will help you / carry you to the boat and then out. On the island, the path is steep and rocky (but again, no problem to help you if necessary, but bring cross-country tyres and a third wheel): partial development work is planned in 2020 to improve accessibility of the place!

lake patagonia
On the road to Ushuaïa

Stage 11: Ushuaïa, three days in Tierra del Fuego (3 days, 4 nights)

For this last stage in Patagonia, we leave our car in Chile where we rented it to take a bus to Ushuaïa.

  • The Bus-Sur company offers three trips per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) from Punta Arenas.
  • The Buses Barría Ghisoni company serves Ushaya from Punta Arenas on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The journey takes between 11 and 12 hours depending on the waiting time at the Paso San Sebastian (border crossing) and costs 35,000 CLP (about 40 EUR) including the ferry crossing to Tierra del Fuego.

In a wheelchair

These coaches are not accessible but the drivers are happy to help passengers with reduced mobility... as far as they are able! A manual wheelchair is essential and beware in high season: negotiations can be more complicated if the hold is full! If you are travelling at that time, don't hesitate to write to the company in advance to check that you won't have any problems when boarding...

Practical information
Where to sleep?

A bit far from the centre (about 2km) but the only perfectly accessible hotel we found in town: we choose the Balcones del Beagle! A very nice hotel with a nice view on the bay (135€ per night for two, breakfast included)!

Where to eat?

The local speciality: king crab! You can taste excellent ones at Kaupe, a slightly stuffy restaurant perched on the hill (a very vertical slope and several steps at the entrance but the waiters are happy to come out to help... Provided you can call them, as they can't see the street from inside).


If you are not a fan of seafood, don't hesitate to go and enjoy a piece of meat or a salad at the Tante Sara, a modern brasserie which is also very pleasant to have a coffee and work in peace...

terre de feu park ushuaia
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
We recommend

Many boat trips can be made from Ushuaïa (booked in huts on the harbour), but the disadvantage of the end of the world is that the prices go up quickly!

Considering the prices and the weather, we decide to concentrate on the Tierra del Fuego Park (560 ARS per person, free for PRM and accompanying persons), which offers pleasant hikes for all levels!

There are several options for getting there:

  • Shuttles leave from the bus station and drop you off at the park entrance (30 ARS per person round trip),
  • If you negotiate with a taxi, it can take you to the start of the hikes you are interested in, or even wait for you until you return from them if they are short (if not, it is possible to walk back to the park entrance to take the shuttle),

Several car rental agencies offer vehicles if you want to be more independent (which also means that you will have to return to your starting point after each hike). Beware, in high season cars go quickly: better to book if you can!

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego

In a wheelchair

The Tierra del Fuego National Park is partially accessible, but not as much as we would have liked!

At the far end of the park, two paths are available:

  • The "beaver trail" (about 400 metres), where you can see a dam built by these little creatures (or even the beavers themselves if you are lucky),
  • The last path in the park with wooden walkways leading to a viewpoint of the lakes at the end of the world... before turning into a staircase to reach the last observation platforms. From these walkways, a path leads off to the right, which begins with two steps. If the ground is dry and you manage to pass this first obstacle, you can ride for a few hundred metres between the bushes (cross-country tyres and a third wheel are essential).

The park is easily accessible by car and part of the trail can be used on foot (i.e. by wheelchair). Accessible toilets are available at the far end of the park (at the entrance to the trail indicated above).

In our next article

With a heavy heart, we watch the wild expanses of Patagonia drift away through the window. Along with Easter Island(see our article), this region will remain our biggest favourite in South America! From the dense forests on the snowy peaks of the Cordillera to the arid deserts populated by guanacos, this month spent in an omnipresent nature will have marked us for life. We will have experienced the vertiginous solitude of the great spaces and the ephemeral pleasure of encounters on the road; this feeling of humility, submerged by the sand that falls on us in a storm or at the foot of the glacier whose muffled cracking is reminiscent of the rumble of thunder; the simple happiness of having reconnected with the essentials, lost in the middle of nowhere, and this feeling of total freedom...


It's now time to go back to the heat of the north of Argentina and the bustle of the big cities... A contrast that worries us despite our desire to discover our next destination, its lively neighbourhoods and its legendary tango... Head for Buenos Aires!

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