The book to get is Lonely Planet – Trekking in the Patagonian Andes. You will also need – South America on a Shoestring for all the info on getting around and other sights.
In an ideal world you want three months or longer to go, it’s an expensive air fare. Best time to go is Jan through to Mar. Do the Southern most treks first then work your way north. Ushuaia which is the southern most city in the world is 1300km further south than Hobart so summer is short and cool. In the north of Patagonia around the Lakes District/Araucania they get a lot of Horse Flies in January so your better if you get there in Feb, Mar to avoid them.
To plan this sort of trip I work out which treks we would like to do. Book the flights and maybe the first night. Then we make it up as we go. This way we can adapt to the weather and any local information we pick up, like cheap tickets to Antarctica. We usually stay in backpackers, they generally have a coupe of private rooms so you can avoid the snoring. To do it this way you need time. If your on a short trip you will need to be more organized and use planes and book hotels etc a lot more.
If your into cemeteries, were not, but we spent two days at the Santiago cemetery. It is huge, some of the plots have three story mausoleums, most plots have a basement. Well worth a look. There is also a huge market in Santiago that’s worth the visit.
The Marino glacier in Argentina is well worth the trip. It is on the way to/from Mt Fitzroy.
The jail tour in Ushuaia was also worth doing.
We flew into Santiago in Chile. Then flew south from there to Puerto Mont which is a fairly ugly port city. From here you can catch the Navimag ferry south to Puerto Natales. http://www.navimag.com/site/en This is a four day cruise through the fiords along the west coast of Chile. The ferry is primarily for transporting cattle/machinery etc. It also carries about 50 passengers. We booked it online well before we left Oz. Well worth it! Most other places we caught the buses which are excellent and cheap, better service than Oz.
Food to try
If your a meat eater then go to a Parilla (crucified lamb). Pronounced parriya. Its sheep roasted for hours over an open fire. Most big towns have at least one restaurant that does it, usually on display in the window. All you can eat for $10. Chocolate Ice cream is everywhere and really good quality. Chocolate in bars and eggs etc are also excellent, don’t miss Bariloche in Argentina which is the chocolate capital of South America.
Buying hiking food
Most big towns have a couple of supermarkets and a couple of bakeries. No big chains like Oz so if you find something you like buy a few of them as the next town will not stock it. The further you go south the poorer the fruit and veggies are as they have to transport them a long way. The Patagonians seem to eat a lot of meat with mayo, every supermarket has a whole isle of mayo!
Not sure on the restrictions on bringing in food to Chile and Argentina. I would guess no fresh fruit, veggies or meat. If we did it again then I would definitely take dehydrated food with us and be prepared to dump it at customs. We did this into Japan. You MUST declare it, however they probably won’t understand what dehydrated means and will just let you through. Not speaking the language is sometimes a help! This will save you a lot of searching supermarket shelves trying to decipher what the product is and how to cook it! Trying to translate the instructions on packaging with a Spanish-English dictionary is a waste of time.
Breakfast – I had Granola with powdered milk, Pauline had chocolate granola biscuits which were excellent. Powdered milk is available everywhere but is impossible to dissolve without lumps
Lunch – Cheese which is excellent, Avocados (which seem to be available everywhere) and biscuits.
Dinner – Pasta with tomato paste and spices which we bought separately.
Munchies – Chocolate and what ever we could find. No dried fruit anywhere. Limited nuts. Didn’t see any Cliff Bars 🙂
Other Hiking stuff
Most backpackers and Hotels will let you leave a bag with them while you go hiking. They figure you might stay another night when you get back. We never had any problems with doing this.
There are lots of national parks but they have no funding to do anything. Most upkeep is done by volunteers so some of the suspension bridges are suspect. There are also a lot of Refugios (huts), again maintained by the local climbing community. Some are manned and charge for a bed, other are unmanned and free. You really need to be able to speak some Spanish to use the manned ones, we didn’t bother.
Bring your own! There are some hiking shops in Patagonia but they are a long way apart and have limited stock. For Gas canisters you will need to find the local sports shop or hardware.
Don’t use your hiking pack for your luggage. The chances of a buckle being broken or the pack damaged by the airlines is too high. We normally take a large wheelie bag each for all our luggage and put the packs in it. We leave excess food etc in these at the backpackers while hiking. Big W have cheap wheelie bags at about $25 ea.
Internet access will have changed since we were there. I would be very surprised if you couldn’t get Wi-Fi in all backpackers and hotels.
For clothes we wore our hiking gear on the plane and took one full change of hiking gear. We didn’t bother with any street clothes. The less you take the easier it is. It is also cold even in summer in Patagonia, they get snow down to the sea in winter. Ushuaia is 1300km south of Hobart.
The Lonely Planet Trekking book is optimistic on times. Clive, the guy who wrote it is a lot younger than me and travels a lot faster. We usually added a day or two to his estimates of longer hikes.
We bought a couple of topo maps from the map shop in Santiago, some of them were just print outs of satellite images with contours. This is the famous map shop with the sandbagged machine gun nest out the front! Things have changed a lot since then. Now I would just use OpenStreetMap.org. On a phone or tablet the best app to access OSM maps that I have found is OSMAnd+. It has downloadable vector maps of the world so you can use it offline. The Lonely Planet trekking book maps combined with the OSM maps has enough detail to do all the treks.
Treks – I would do all of them again!
Tierra del Fuego (Island of Fire)
Sierra Valdivieso Cicruit
This is a route just to the north of Ushuaia. Remote navigation required, no tracks for a lot of the way. We got a taxi to the start and hitched back (about 16km). Remote navigation required. The book says 4 days. Allow at least 5 days (50km). Some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever seen.
8 day (104km) circuit of the Paine Massif. The view from Paso John Garner down on to the Grey Glacier is just spectacular. Lots of daily buses from Puerto Natales 115km to the start. There are Refugios along the way, usually booked out in summer. You can buy cooked meals at them, we didn’t bother.
Around Mont Fitz Roy
One of the best views in the world for the least effort! 3 Days, we spent 5 days there. The trek starts from the town of El Chalten.
Banos de Caulle
4 day 50km out and back trek to the top of Vulcan Puyehue and across the huge pumice field. Lots of fumaroles, some hot springs, great views of a lot of other Andean peaks from the top. Bus there and back from Osorno.
Nahuel Huapi Traverse
5 days 36km, very rugged pass hopping route near Bariloche. We went around the center section of this as it is extremely exposed. If your not absolutely confident with heights I would recommend the same. Local bus to the start and finish.
Paso de Las Nubes
3 days. Trek from Argentina across the Andes via Mt Tronador to Chile. Bus to the start in Argentina, boat to the finish from Puella to Puerto Frias. There is a long road bash to get to Puella. You also have to do Customs/Immigration to leave Argentina and when you arrive in Chile. The customs search was the most extensive we have ever had. We even had the first aid kit pulled apart. They did this to everyone.
4 days 42km out and back. We only did 3 days as the weather turned horrible, torrential rain. Exploration of a Lakeland plateau covered in Monkey Puzzle trees. So weird to see a native forest of them. You expect a dinosaur to appear around then next bend. Bus there and back.