Hiking Chile and Argentina

Eleanor Hughes


Southern Chile and Argentina’s national parks offer stunning landscapes of glaciers, granite towers, volcanoes and lakes providing numerous hikes with ‘take your breath away’ scenery. A fair level of fitness is required, but not a lot of experience needed, to hike the following.

W-Walk, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

One of the most popular multi-day hikes in Torres del Paine National Park is known as the W-Walk, due to the ‘W’ formation of the trail. The walk of around 80 kilometres requiring at least four days, can be made year round, but is most popular in the summer months, December to March. Gale-force winds may need battling during November, December and January. Days can be long over undulating track with some steep sections.

A ferry from Pudeto, at the park entrance, takes visitors across turquoise Lake Pehoé to Paine Grande. Trail sights include Grey Lake where chunks of blue ice bob and Grey Glacier from Grey Lookout. Closer views of the glacier, which appears to flow like icing around rock and into the lake, can be seen from Grey Lodge. French Glacier is not so spectacular but the gunshot sounds from cracking ice are. At the end of French Valley, Británico Lookout is a 360° theatre of granite spires zigzagging and plateauing across the skyline. Views over several topaz and aquamarine-hued lakes with backdrops of snow-covered mountains are numerous. Walk swing-bridges above cascading rivers which provide sparkling water to refill drink bottles. The leg to Base de las Torres lookout culminates with the famous vista of Patagonia – Torres del Paine back-dropping a brilliant blue lake. It’s a ‘wow’ moment after a steep climb.

Torres del Paine National Park is remote. Flights are available to Punta Arenas (direct from Santiago) then a 3 hour bus journey to Puerto Natales is required. Alternatively, fly to El Calafate, Argentina and take a 5-6 hour bus journey crossing the Argentinian/Chile border, to Puerto Natales. From Puerto Natales it’s a 2.5 hour bus journey to the park. It is worth it!

Many guided tours include transport from Puerto Natales, lodge or pre-pitched tent accommodation and meals. Alternatively, the W-Walk can be hiked independently with accommodation/campsites requiring advanced booking and all food having to be carried in.  

Laguna de los Tres Trail, El Chaltén, Argentina

Located in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, the Laguna de los Tres trail is a 10 kilometre hike accessed by foot from El Chaltén and easily walked independently. An early start can avoid later crowds. From a steep beginning, the trail levels out through open forest where red-headed woodpeckers drill away. Piedras Blancas Glacier is visible from the trail and two-thirds of the way along, the orange-tinged spires of Mount Fitz Roy.

The final steep, rocky, two kilometres, where the wind may belt, is rewarded with another ‘wow’ moment as the spires of Mount Fitz Roy appear beyond the trail and then turquoise Laguna de Los Tres. More incredible scenery can be viewed if hikers walk down to the lake and then climb to the left. Almost rectangular, Laguna Sucia is tucked deep between cliffs of rock.

An early rise can allow time to also hike the Laguna Torre Trail, which would result in a 35 kilometre hike, taking around 12 hours. Connecting the two trails, the Laguna Madre e Hija trail is fairly flat offering changing vistas of Mount Fitz Roy, lakes and snow-topped pinnacles.  

Laguna Torre Trail, El Chaltén, Argentina

Located in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Laguna Torre Trail is a twenty-two kilometre return trip from El Chaltén. Hikers gain views over Rio Fitz Roy carving through a ravine before the trail undulates amongst forest and grassland. Eventually it comes alongside the brownish river which runs quite strongly over orange, rust, and white-coloured rocks. At pale brown Laguna Torre, almost encircled by ice-tipped peaks, blue, white and brown icebergs float.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier is breath-taking. Its striking blue ice cliffs can be viewed from boardwalks on the lakeside opposite. Endless gunshot and thundering sounds echo as ice cracks, and lucky visitors may see it calve.

Tours give the opportunity to trek on the glacier. Winter-clothed hikers don crampons and stamp their way across the ice, over pale blue streams and lagoons, peering down deep blue cracks and crevasses, and up at ice-white pinnacles resembling whipped meringue.

The Perito Moreno Visitor Centre and boardwalks are approximately 1½ hours bus ride (as part of a tour or done independently) from El Calafate. The town is serviced by flights from main cities in Argentina and buses from Puerto Natales, Chile, (a five-hour trip) or Rio Gallegos, Argentina, (four hours).

Mount Villarrica, Pucón, Chile

One of South America’s most active volcanoes, cone-shaped Mount Villarrica, rises 2,847 metres above sea level, not far from Pucón in Chile’s Lake District.

Tours to hike to its crater last approximately 8 hours with normally a 6a.m. start. Hikers are provided with thick pants and jackets, gloves, boots, crampons, ice pick and gas masks.

Commencing the trek, a chairlift is available to save an hour’s scoria path climb. Once ice is encountered an ice pick is required, more as support and to stop any slides down slippery slopes. Progress is slow and hard work, taking around five hours to zig-zag up the volcano with guides occasionally having to cut paths into the ice. Sulphur fumes which emit from the crater in drifting clouds are quite strong at times and require a gas mask to be used at the summit. In the distance Pucón and Lake Villarrica can be seen surrounded by greenery.

The descent is fun and fast, sliding down the slope along body-wide channels in the ice on plastic overpants or plastic board. Speeds can get out of control, and the ice pick is used as a brake.

Buses travel to Pucón from Santiago taking around 11½ hours with overnight journeys available.

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!