We traveled along the east coast of Patagonian Argentina in January of 2020. We were struck by how vast and diverse the Patagonian region actually is, spanning from the Pacific to the Atlantic, across snow capped mountain ranges and desert-like steppes.
For ideas on where to visit before East Coast Patagonia, please read our post: Five Days in Buenos Aires (Over New Years).
- In Argentina, foreigners do not pay the IVA tax on hotels IF they pay with a foreign credit card. However, in at least one case, we were requested to pay cash and still not charged the IVA tax. This is a conversation to have with your hotel upon check-in.
- At the time of our visit, the best exchange rate we found was Western Union, who offered nearly the “blue dollar” rate. To explain concisely, the Argentinian economy is not doing well. Historically, the country has made efforts to match the value of the peso with the US dollar, which did not work out for various reasons. As a result, the US dollar has become a hot commodity! There is a bank rate (one you’ll get if you use your credit card…at this time around 60 pesos/dollar) and then there’s the blue dollar rate (what people are actually willing to exchange for dollars…Western Union gave us 75 pesos/dollar). Pro Tip: Expect to wait in line for some time to get your money and that there can be times when the system is down in more remote areas.
- Expect everything to be more expensive than it says in online resources, even direct websites for activities, museums, etc. With recent inflation, costs have risen across the board.
- In general, tours are excellent in this region but we found them to be cheaper to buy once in town and plentiful. For example, we paid 30% more for tours in Puerto Madryn through GetYourGuide.com and Argentina4U.com. That’s quite a markup!
We are not a paid sponsor for this company or anything, but we have found Skyroam to be a very useful device while traveling abroad. This company provides internet service via satellite and has worked nearly everywhere we’ve traveled. They have daily and monthly plans, but also ways to pay per use. For our long term travel in South America, we paid $99/mo for unlimited service.
In Argentina, we stopped seeing 2-prong American outlets, so be sure to bring a converter. We use a universal converter and have found it helpful no matter where we travel.
9:15am Arrive in Puerto Madryn via Night Bus/Breakfast
10:00am Drop Bags at La Tosca Hostel
5:00pm Return Rental Bikes/Dinner
We arrived in Puerto Madryn by bus from Buenos Aires via Bahia Blanca (a non-tourist town where we actually stayed a couple of days to break up the bus ride, though we recommend to just fly from Buenos Aires).
After a less than stellar bus ride with Tramat (seriously, don’t take a Tramat bus), we arrived in the super cute Puerto Madryn to begin our first real wildlife explorations as the city is a great jumping off point for visits to local reserves.
The only good thing about our bus ride was that we met a fellow traveler through our shared frustration with our bus ride and ended up at the same hostel as him! After getting settled in, we invited him to join us for a bike ride to a sea lion colony.
We rented bikes from Napra Club right down on the beach, a seamless experience. They have various bikes available for rent with prices according to the age of the bikes. We rented their oldest bikes (2014) for about 600 pesos each. Along the way, we stopped for a quick lunch at a boardwalk food stand to fuel up for the ride.
One misconception we had was that we understood that the Punta Loma Reserve was about 15 kilometers roundtrip, but it turns out that was only one way. Additionally, the road conditions were pretty rough for half of the ride on thick gravel washboard roads. I fell twice. However, the views of the water made the ride a bit easier.
Once we arrived, we were able to view the sea lion colony from two different platforms. The Punta Loma Reserve boasts that they are the only permanent South American sea lion colony. The reserve is also home to a colony of Rocker Cormorants.
To rejuvenate our already tired bodies, Tomer made us some amazing Turkish-Israeli coffee before we rode the 15km back to town.
On the way back, we also stopped along one of the beaches and took a dip! It was actually kind of gross water with giant kelpy bulby things, but I wanted to say I had gotten into the Patagonian Atlantic.
Upon our return, we dropped off the bikes and enjoyed a drink on the SUPER BUSY beach, where a giant group dance party had formed.
Considering how many more seals we would see even closer the next day in the Valdes Peninsula, we may have opted for a different activity, but are still very glad for our adventure with our new friend Tomer, who I’m sure will think more carefully the next time he’s invited along for an outing! If you’re not into difficult bike rides, you can also travel to the colony via taxi or tour company.
8:00am Picked Up for Valdés Peninsula Tour
6:00pm Return to Hostel/Dinner
Valdes Peninsula is a couple of hours away from Puerto Madryn, which makes for a long day in a minibus, but the ride is broken up over by various stops at museums and viewing points for wildlife. One of the best parts of the tour is how knowledgeable the guide was and how willing the driver and he were to stop and explain things we saw and offer photo opportunities.
The tour officially began at the Visitors Center/Museum where we were able to learn about the various flora and fauna we would encounter that day. Pictured below is the skeleton of a Southern Right Whale, who breed in this region.
We saw such a diverse array of animals over the course of the day and learned so much about them from our guide!
Here’s the rundown…(apologies on the poor photos).
And…our first MEGELLANIC PENGUINS!!
The visit ended with an opportunity to hike at our leisure after lunch along the stunning seashore.
Upon return from our day, our guide recommended a great spot for food with beach views and we enjoyed a delicious seafood parilla!
9:00am Pick Up for Punta Tombo National Reserve Tour
5:00pm Return to La Tosca Hostel/Dinner
We actually booked this through GetYourGuide.com and did not travel with Flores, but wish we had because the tour guide for our company, Argentina Vision, was not as engaging as was our previous guide.
For this tour, expect to spend most of the day in a bus, 2 hours there and 2 hours back…and all just to spend an hour or so with the penguins…BUT…it’s worth it. They’re so cute! In January the chicks are growing and starting to walk around in all their fluffy cuteness. You’ll get a chance to walk around with THOUSANDS of little penguins.
9:00am Check Out/Transport to Airport
10:00am Arrive at Airport
12:30pm Flight to Ushuaia
2:40pm Arrive in Ushuaia
4:00pm Explore/Visit Museo del Fin del Mundo
From Puerto Madryn, you can fly out of Trelew, about a 45 minute drive away. You can take a taxi, but we found it simplest to arrange for a driver through Viator since it would be about the same price and we had a guaranteed English speaking driver at the time we wanted. Our driver was actually a certified tour guide and provided us with many insights that made the ride go quickly.
Once at the airport, we had fun taking selfies with the random dinosaurs they have on display before taking the quick 2 hour flight to Ushuaia. The best part was seeing the change in topography as you fly in over the dramatic Andes!
Once settled at the Yaghan Hostel (which we honestly don’t recommend for multiple reasons not worth going into here), we set out to explore the over the top cute little mountain town at the “End of the World.” Technically, Ushuaia is no longer the most southern city in the world, but they continue to claim the title. Port Williams, in Chile, is the very most southern establishment.
We made sure to visit the very small Museo del fin de Mundo before they closed, as well as the Visitors Center and End of the World Sign. Pro Tip: Do stop into the Visitors Center. They are happy to provide information about local hikes and can provide cost comparisons for various forms of transport in the city (mini-bus vs. taxi). Also, they have free Wifi!
We wrapped up the day with a visit to a small grocery store near the hostel for some supplies for the next few days!
8:30am Hike to Glacier Martial from Town
5:00pm Visit Museo Maritimo
We chose to spend our first day hiking up Martial Glacier, which you can access by walking from town (as we did) or taking a taxi to the base of the climb. The walk from town adds about 7km to the hike. It isn’t super picturesque, but if you want a longer hike or you want to save money, it’s a nice option. However, be careful to stay on the “marked” path. There are many trails in the area once you enter the park. We got “lost” and ended up doing a kind of loop through the forest en route to the start of the trail. It turned out pretty cool though and added a few miles to our adventure.
The hike itself is only about 4 miles, but we found that the distance for trails in Patagonia are measured in time, which confuses us because we are much faster than the average hiker and it’s a very subjective way to measure distance. It is suggested the trail will take about 4 hours roundtrip, but we completed it in 1.5 hours with a break at the top for lunch.
Though the first section on a gravel road isn’t very exciting; the route quickly becomes quite picturesque as you cross streams with views of the glacier ahead to motivate your pace.
After returning to the trailhead, we opted to take a taxi back to town instead of walking the extra 7km.
After a quick siesta and shower, we headed back out to explore the Museo Maritimo, the old provincial prison that’s been converted into an insanely random collection of historical artifacts in each of the old jail cells. Ushuaia was actually founded as an Argentine prison colony, modeled after Australia. This old prison housed many types of prisoners, from violent serial killers to political dissidents. It is currently very overpriced for foreigners ($20 a person) in my humble opinion.
After our visit to the museum, we treated ourselves to some salads and ice cream at a restaurant with views of the ships that leave Ushuaia for adventures in Antarctica, wishing we could be on one some day…
8:30am Take Taxi to End of the World Train
9:30am End of the World Train
10:30am Explore Tierra del Fuego National Park
5:00pm Take Minibus Back to Town
One of the best places to visit in Ushuaia is the Tierra del Fuego National Park. You can even camp there for free with your entrance and we kind of wished we had chosen that option so we could spend two days in the park hiking the beautiful trails!
Instead, we opted for a day trip. In my research ahead of time, I read about the “End of the World” train that transports you from Ushuaia to the park and it seemed like a neat experience, so we bought tickets in advance, which cost the same as in person. Pro Tip: Arrive early because the check in process is time consuming and don’t expect the train to leave on time.
The train is actually the old prison train they would use to transport prisoners for logging in the forest. It s.l.o.w.l.y. chugs along from the train station about halfway into the park with one stop at a waterfall along the way. As you traverse the park, there is an English audioguide that provides interesting historical context for passengers.
What we wished we had realized was that the train drops you off in the middle of nowhere. We assumed it would take us to the Visitors Center, but no. Most of the passengers were on day tours or only doing an in and out. Fortunately, there was a map and we quickly got our bearings and formed a plan!
A short 2km walk down the road brought us to the famous “End of the World” Post Office, where we bought some postcards to send home.
From the post office, you can pick up the 8km Coastal Trail that works it’s way along the coast right to the Visitors Center!
Along the way, we met some local birds: Magellanic Woodpeckers and Upland Geese.
Once at the Visitors Center, a kind ranger suggested that we should continue to the very end of the Transatlantic Highway by taking a combination of trails in the southwest part of the park. So, we literally walked to the “end of the road.”
Another option for getting into the park is to take mini-buses from Ushuaia, a much cheaper and quicker option than the train. There is a mini-bus stop at the “end of the road,” so we opted to pay a half-fare to return to the city and forego a return on the train.
8:00am Beagle Channel Canoeing
6:00pm Return to Ushuaia/Dinner
One of our favorite activities in Ushuaia was our day tour with Canal to Gable Island. We felt fortunate to get a spot because they were all booked up when we tried to reserve a month in advance, but then we were able to work with them to rearrange our schedule and fit it in on our last day.
We really wanted to get out on the Beagle Channel but wanted something more adventurous than a basic half day boat tour, which are plentiful if that’s what you’re looking for. This small group tour includes a visit to Estancia Harberton, a zodiac cruise to a penguin colony, a hike on Gable island, and a “canoe” experience near the channel. It also included food, water, and snacks. While that sounds like a lot, it was actually a very laid back day and not very strenuous at all.
We began with a pickup at our hostel and a drive to the original home of the missionary Thomas Bridges, the first permanent European inhabitant of Ushuaia. He has a very interesting history that you can learn about with a visit to the Estancia.
From the main house, we were provided water and trail mix for a snack before hopping on a zodiac to cruise to a local Magellanic Penguin colony. Mas Pinguinos!!
Next, we traveled to Gable Island, a remote uninhabited island in the Beagle Channel, where we disembarked for a hike across the island with our knowledgeable guides. They offered two different hiking options, a long and short route.
Along the way, we visited beaver dams and learned about the local flora. We were also treated to a coffee and truffle break!
After our hike, we arrived at the other side of the island and a refugio where a delicious three course lunch and wine was waiting for us!
Upon finishing our meal, we were provided with muck boots, waterproof pants, and life vests for our “canoe” (really, they were inflatable rafts) trip alongside the island. The paddling wasn’t very difficult, so we had an opportunity to ask many questions of our guides and get to know our co-tourists a bit more.
After about an hour of paddling, we returned to the zodiacs, then to the Estancia, then to town, saying goodbye to all our new friends!
From Ushuaia, we continued on by bus to Punta Arenas. Stay tuned for our blog posts and videos about our adventures to the western side of Patagonia!