The Ultimate Road Trip from El Calafate to Mendoza

Argentina | © denisbin/Flickr
Argentina | © denisbin/Flickr
Photo of Will Lees
29 January 2018

If you’ve exhausted your list of activities in El Calafate but don’t want to wrap up your trip in Argentina, the wine region of Mendoza should definitely be your next destination. Though the two Argentine regions are days apart by car—one is located on the country’s southern tip and the other at its northern end—a road trip from El Calafate to Mendoza is the perfect way to get a feel for the enormity of not just Patagonia, but Argentina in general.

First stop: El Chaltén

Though you may at first feel extremely overwhelmed by the enormous distance you’re about to cover, those feelings will soon be replaced by an excitement for the journey. Your first stop is the mountain village and hiking hub of El Chaltén. Located in the Glaciers National Park, the town is overlooked by the most famous peak in all of Patagonia (and the peak that inspired the logo of the equally famous clothing company named after it)—the Fitz Roy. Anywhere you go in El Chaltén, you’ll enjoy terrific hiking trails of all levels, from short days hikes with fairly level ground to full day trips or multi-day loops in some of the world’s most stunning natural settings.


Cross into Chile’s Patagonia

Once your legs are begging for a rest, whether it’s after a day or week of hiking in El Chaltén, head back to your vehicle and continue north. There is a considerable distance of barren roads with stunning sights, but no one said anything about having to stay in Argentina, right? Fortunately, for the adventure seekers out there, the famous Carretera Austral that heads to Argentina’s northern region sits just to the west of the country’s border with Chile, so get your passports ready to cross the border and head to Villa O’Higgins—you are now exploring the Chilean side of Patagonia. Known appropriately as the Chilean Lake District, the road here weaves through mountain ranges and there are ferries to take you over the unavoidable lakes. You’ll be able to drive your car onto a ferry and cross Lago General Carrera further north, the largest lake in Chile which actually crosses back into Argentina. Once you’ve crossed its waters, head to the quaint mountain town of Coyhaique, where you’ll have plenty of exciting activities to do, places to explore or simply be able to enjoy the gorgeous town and take a day or two off from being on the road.

Roads of Coyhaique | © sergejf/Flickr

Visit the Chiloé Islands and Puerto Varas

From Coyhaique, continue north towards the blustery port town of Puerto Cisnes for your penultimate boat trip. Cruise overnight on the unforgiving waters between the mainland of Chile and the Chiloé Islands and on the following morning, you’ll get to explore the rustic fishing villages scattered across the main island and visit a couple of the 16 Churches of Chiloé, which were named Unesco World Heritage Sites. Your final ferry trip will take you away from the Chiloé Islands and will be much shorter than the one that brought you there. In less than an hour, you’ll be behind the wheel again heading towards Puerto Varas, your last stop in Chile. Spend the night in this picturesque coastal village and rise early to start heading back east towards Argentina.

Waters of Chiloé | © Jeff Warren/Flickr

Cross back over into Argentina

The only backtracking you will do on this trip is completely worth it in order to visit San Carlos de Bariloche. Like a piece of the Swiss Alps in Argentina, this mountain town is nearly aesthetically perfect and will be tough to bid farewell to. However, Villa La Angostura and San Martín de los Andes, your next two destinations, are a couple of gorgeous towns that are a treat for the eyes whether it’s a crisp, sunny day, a colourful fall afternoon or a frosty morning.


At last, Mendoza

As you work your way through this rugged part of South America, you’ll start feeling your proximity to the equator, its warmth and constant sunshine. Before reaching your final stop of Mendoza, you’ll travel through San Rafael, a town located between the mountains of San Martín and the desert of Mendoza, where you can enjoy a city that is meticulously lined with sycamore trees. After this last stop, the road trip of a lifetime will come to an end in the charming city of Mendoza, Argentina’s most famous wine region. The only truly fitting way to salute this incredible journey will be to relax with a bottle of Argentina’s finest wine. Cheers!

The mountains of Mendoza | © Jorge Gobbi/Flickr

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