How to Choose Between the Argentine and Chilean Sides of Patagonia: El Chalten vs. Torres del Paine or Both

From remote, vast landscapes dotted with iconic peaks and bright glaciers to unique wildlife and historic haciendas; for nature and adventure lovers Patagonia is unparalleled. But all that makes it magnificent can also make planning Patagonia trips a bit overwhelming. This article breaks down Patagonia’s main locations, helping you navigate the choices in planning the perfect Patagonian journey for your travel style, time frame, and budget.



El Calafate

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El Calafate is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, and where you will fly into when visiting Argentina’s southern Patagonia region. The main attraction in El Calafate is the gorgeous and imposing Perito Moreno Glacier, whose massive face fringes Lago Argentino. Visiting Perito Moreno is a dramatic experience for many due to its incredible calving phenomena where huge chunks of ice regularly break off of the glacier, crashing into the lake below. After witnessing this from one of the various viewpoints above, taking a boat ride along the glacial wall offers a different perspective. For the more active and adventurous types, strapping on crampons to ice trek atop the glacier (and even into its caves and crevasses!) or hopping in kayaks to paddle along its face will only enhance your visit.

Besides Perito Moreno, El Calafate is also home to several authentic estancias where you can get a taste of rural life, learn more about the history of the region, and enjoy activities like horseback riding, hiking, traditional Argentine asados (BBQs), and more.

Some of our favorite properties in El Calafate:

  • EOLO Lodge • Luxurious 5 star boutique in remote setting with amazing food
  • Estancia Cristina • Extremely remote adventure basecamp and authentic Patagonian comfort
  • Posada Las Alamos • Convenient location in town walking distance to restaurants. Great for shorter stays to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier

If you’re interested in crafting a custom trip to Patagonia, reach out to our Trip Specialists at 612-315-2894 or [email protected] to begin planning today!

El Chalten

El Chalten Adventure Travel Fitz Roy

About a three-hour drive north from El Calafate is the trekkers’ mecca of El Chalten, Argentina — just across the Andes Mountains from Torres del Paine in Chile. This small mountain town is home to the iconic Mount Fitz Roy, one of the main allures of the area and also where the Patagonia® clothing brand logo comes from. While there is not as much infrastructure here, it’s a place from which you can do exceptional day hikes while staying in a quaint and charming town. El Chalten is a great option for more independent-minded travelers, since it’s fairly easy to incorporate some self-guided trekking in this area as well.

Two of the main highlight hikes can also be linked with a night of camping, allowing you to awake to extraordinary views of Fitz Roy at sunrise. To get further off the grid, combining a few nights in the town of El Chalten with one of the more remote lodges in the area, such as the cozy Aguas Arriba – only accessible by boat or 3-hour trek in – or Helsingsfor Lodge, where there is some first-rate horseback riding, can be an exciting combination. El Chalten mixed with El Calafate (see our Patagonia Explorer trip idea) makes for a killer Patagonia trip without having to ever leave Argentina.

Some of our favorite properties in El Chalten:

  • Hosteria Senderos • More basic but charming B&B in town great to return to after long hikes.
  • Destino Sur • Ideal location on outskirts of town next to trailhead for Cerro Torre. Clean and comfortable base for doing the iconic hike of El Chalten
  • Explora El Chalten • First world-class property in this lesser-known cousin to Chile’s Torres del Paine, Explora is ideal for those seeking a range of flexible adventures by day, and top food and lodging by night.
  • Aguas Arriba • North of El Chalten and accessed only by boat or hike, Aguas Arriba is a high-end hidden gem lodge with only five rooms and amazing views of turquoise Laguna del Desierto and the glaciers towering above the lake.

If you’re interested in crafting a custom trip to Patagonia, reach out to our Trip Specialists at 612-315-2894 or [email protected] to begin planning today!



Torres del Paine

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Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is considered by many to be the “crown jewel” of Patagonia. Here you will be treated to big mountain views with unique formations, windswept scenery, and open expanses of Patagonian steppe that elicit true feelings of remoteness, hanging glaciers, and more wildlife. The peaks of the Paine Massif are simply jaw-dropping. The best way to experience this remote natural destination is by staying at one of Patagonia’s inclusive adventure lodges, which are truly world-class in operation and serve as phenomenal base camps for taking in the vast and beautiful surroundings.

Each lodge has its own menu of excursions you can choose from daily so there is some flexibility in options, which tends to be an ideal set-up for families or groups of friends with varying hiking abilities or interests. The main activity in Torres del Paine is trekking, though horseback riding, scenic 4×4 rides, kayaking, and fly fishing can also be arranged. Wildlife lovers will also have opportunities to see guanacos (native camelid), South Andean deer, foxes, Rheas (flightless birds similar to ostrich), and even pumas.

Torres del Paine is also where you can hike the well-known W Trek, which is traditionally done staying at very basic refugios with bunk beds and shared facilities or camping. Many of the full-day hikes that comprise this multi-day trek can be experienced from the inclusive adventure lodges as well, allowing you to do challenging hikes that take you to the highlights but returning to a comfortable bed, great food & wine, and perhaps a jacuzzi at the end of the day.

We recommend a minimum of four nights in Torres del Paine area due to long travel days on arrival and departure, and to give you enough time to explore the various parts of the park. For those with limited time, making Torres del Paine the focal point of your trip, like in this Luxury Chile Adventure trip idea, in combination with Santiago and Central Chile, is an excellent option.

If you’re interested in crafting a custom trip to Patagonia, reach out to our Trip Specialists at 612-315-2894 or [email protected] to begin planning today!


Combining the Argentine and Chilean Sides of Patagonia

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Visiting both the Argentine and Chilean sides of southern Patagonia, like in this Argentina + Chile Adventure trip idea, will wow you as you watch the unique landscapes of the region unfold before your eyes. If you have 10 days or more available for your trip, there is no need to choose between El Calafate and Torres del Paine as they can easily be visited together on one adventure. It’s an amazing way to see both destinations, experience two different cultures, and transfer overland in Patagonia through the Andes Mountains and a remote border outpost. The Argentine side has incredible mountains, pampas landscapes, and the most massive glaciers of the region, while Chile has Torres del Paine National Park, more wildlife viewing opportunities, and Patagonia’s finest adventure lodges.

The land transfer between El Calafate and Torres del Paine generally takes between 6-8 hours including the customs and border crossing process, and many of the lodges include the transfer from Argentina. There are no commercial flight connections between the two sides, so a rather long land transfer is inevitable, though you will pass through some great scenery along the way.

For those who really love to hike, combining El Chalten, El Calafate, and Torres del Paine is great, but you will need more time. Three nights is the recommended duration in El Chalten to take advantage of the best hikes, which require at least two full days. Being a three-hour drive each way from El Calafate, it does add quite a lot of extra driving time too, so if you don’t have at least two weeks for your adventure, it’s usually best to choose between El Chalten vs. Torres del Paine (see more on this below) in combination with El Calafate to keep your trip pacing comfortable.

If you’re interested in crafting a custom trip to Patagonia, reach out to our Trip Specialists at 612-315-2894 or [email protected] to begin planning today!


El Chalten vs. Torres del Paine

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Both having their own allure, deciding between El Chalten vs. Torres del Paine can be a difficult choice that often comes down to time, budget, and interests. With El Chalten, you will be staying at a hotel in a small mountain town and go out on incredible day hikes with a private guide or independently. In Torres del Paine you will be staying at a remote inclusive lodge where you’ll have all of your meals provided and explorations at your fingertips, typically shared with other guests (Awasi Patagonia is the exception, where excursions and transfers are entirely private). El Chalten has cozy and comfortable accommodations but nothing especially luxurious, while Torres del Paine so beautifully marries luxury accommodations with adventure. For those with more limited budgets, staying in El Chalten can deliver on the big mountain views and amazing trekking for a fraction of the cost of the lodges in Chile, which have mega price tags to match the mega views.

It is always Knowmad’s goal that our travelers feel prepared for and excited about their adventure to Patagonia and South America. If you have any questions we can help answer, or if you’d like to discuss planning your own custom Chile trip or Argentina adventure, give one of our Trip Specialists a call today at 612-315-2894, or email us at [email protected] to begin planning your personalized Patagonia itinerary.


Que Disfruten La Aventura, Jordan

South America Travel - Jordan HarveyJordan is a Co-Founder of Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. He was recently honored as a Condé Nast Experience Maker for Patagonia, and has won Travel + Leisure’s prestigious Top Travel Specialist for Patagonia, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador/Galapagos three consecutive years. “Travel brings me incredible experiences and challenges, highlighting the world’s natural beauty while connecting me with inspiring people. I am convinced that travel makes us better people, and better people make a better planet.” Read Jordan’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.