Shared between Argentina and Chile and stretching all the way down to the end of the world, Patagonia is a wild land of unyielding winds, vast skies and endless scrub plains. It is populated by proud local communities and hardy wildlife, both of which have adapted over many years to the demands of this tough environment. But it is also a highly accessible region, luring travellers who are keen to see for themselves its immense glaciers, glistening lakes, and icy fjords and experience its singular way of life, centred around local traditions and with a strong connection to the land.
To give you a good starting point to your trip here, we present a selection of 5 must-visit places in Patagonia and the unique travel experiences that you can enjoy at each.
1. Lake District, Argentina & Chile
- Alpine scenery & snow-capped volcanoes
- Germanic heritage
- Cross the Andes by boat
Formed by the melting of glaciers many centuries ago, the Lake District is a spectacular region where snow-capped volcanoes, thick verdant forests and alpine towns stand watch over shimmering deep blue lakes. Once populated by the indigenous Mapuche people, who fiercely defended their area against outsiders, the towns have since attracted a number of German speaking settlers, giving the Lake District a distinctly European feel.
The region is intersected by the powerful Andes mountain chain, forming a natural border between Chile and Argentina, the crossing of which is just about the most spectacular way to travel from one country into another. The journey between the Argentine town of Bariloche and Puerto Varas, on the Chilean side, takes you on a memorable ride through a series of dramatic mountain pases and across three magnificent lakes, with breathtaking views throughout.
The Lake District can be visited as part of an organised tour or on a self-drive basis and offers excellent hiking, horse-riding, fly fishing and mountain biking opportunities, as well as a number of excursions. On the Argentine side you will likely stay in Bariloche and perhaps self-drive to San Martín de los Andes, gateway to the glacial lakes and mountain scenery of the Lanín National Park.
The main bases on the Chilean side are the adventure hub of Pucón and the town of Puerto Varas, to which Lake Llanquihue and the Osorno Volcano provide a stunning backdrop. From here you can visit the awesome Petrohué Waterfalls and the colourful fishing island of Chiloé, with its 16 UNESCO heritage wooden churches.
2. Peninsula Valdes, Argentina
- See Southern Right whales, penguins & sea birds
- Chance of seeing Killer whales hunt
- Rich Welsh heritage
Journeying around Patagonia, you are always liable to spot guanacos, 80% of which live in Patagonia, as well as foxes, deer, skunks, armadillos and perhaps the occasional puma. Up above might be a soaring Andean condor or a buzzard eagle, whilst thousands of Magellanic and King penguins live in colonies in Tierra del Fuego. However, the best place to see wildlife in Patagonia is the Peninsula Valdes, a rugged nature reserve on the Atlantic coast of Argentina and a perfect habitat for a range of fascinating marine and birdlife.
The highlight is undoubtedly the chance to venture out into the sea to watch endangered Southern Right whales, as they return to the sheltered bays of the peninsula to breed. The whales swim peacefully in the presence of boats and so are seen frequently between the months of June and December, before they continue south towards Antarctica. You may also be lucky enough to spot a giant killer whale here and witness their extraordinary hunting method, driving forward and beaching themselves spectacularly, in the hope of catching a sea lion pup unawares.
The peninsula also provides a home to penguins, flamingos, sea lions and elephant seals, whilst in-land live armadillos, guanacos, maras, burrowing owls and the Patagonian cavy. The skies above are brought to life by various seabirds, including albatrosses, cormorants and petrels.
3. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
- See huge chunks of ice crash into water
- Boat trip to get up close
- Visit a nearby condor viewpoint
Nowhere is the raw power of Patagonia better demonstrated than by the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. The numbers alone are mind-boggling; 3 miles wide, 19 miles long, up to 700 metres deep and with a surface area of around 97 miles. But these figures are not what brings so many visitors to this remote part of the world, they don’t even begin to explain the unique attraction of this huge wall of ice.
One of only three glaciers in Patagonia that are not retreating, the Perito Moreno is set amongst towering snow-capped mountains and verdant forests, in the immense Lake Argentina - the third largest reserve of freshwater in the world. Wooden walkways and viewing platforms afford sweeping panoramic vistas across the glacier, whilst unforgettable boat trips and glacier-trekking expeditions allow you to get up close and even on top of it.
Whichever vantage point you observe the glacier from, the defining memory of your trip is likely to be the visual and audio spectacle created when a huge chunk of ice slowly detaches itself from the great mass, before crashing with a thunderous roar into the icy waters below. It is a hair-raising moment that draws gasps of awe and excitement from anyone experiencing it for the first time.
The Perito Moreno glacier is best accessed on day trips from the ramshackle town of El Calafate, 50 miles away. Nearby is El Calafate's Balcony, one of the best places in South America to see the Andean Condor.
4. Torres del Paine, Chile
- Glorious lakes, glaciers and mountain views
- Stay in luxury lodges or yurts
- Multi-day trek option
The first thing you need to pack when heading for Patagonia is a good set of walking boots, because the hiking opportunities here are amongst the best in the world. The remote and unspolit wilderness of the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, with its 150 miles of walking trails, encompasses turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains and enormous electric-blue glaciers. The enduring image of the park is of the majestic horn-shaped peaks of Los Cuernos rising out of dense Patagonian forest, whilst Lake Pehoé shimmers in the foreground.
There are a multitude of hikes to undertake here, of varying lengths and difficulties. These range from one day trails, up to the famous self-guided five night W Towers trek. Whichever path you follow, you will be rewarded with panoramic views and close-up encounters with the extraordinary features of the Patagonian landscape, as well as possible sightings of the various wildlife that live here, including guanacos, foxes, pumas and numerous bird species.
When visiting Torres del Paine, it is preferable to stay inside, or close to, the park itself, so as to allow more time to explore. There are a number of interesting options here, including luxury yurts, villas, a former estancia or a lodge on the edge of a lake, overlooking the Glacier Grey.
5. Tierra del Fuego, Argentina & Chile
- Expedition cruise at the End of the World
- Remote penguin colonies
- Historic islands, Magellanic forest and huge glaciers
Diced up by a myriad of straits, channels, bays and lakes at the end of the world, Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) is a largely inhospitable and mysterious frontier. However, specialist expedition cruises depart the frontier towns of Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina, carrying small groups of adventurous travellers on voyages of discovery to some of the most inaccessible parts of the continent, seen by relatively few.
Just north of Punta Arenas is the small Magdalena Island, where a remote Magellanic penguin colony breeds in their thousands, but most of the action actually takes place further south in the archipelago. One of the highlights is sailing through the Glacier Alley in the Beagle Channel, where sheets of compacted snow come tumbling down the steep mountainsides, to form huge masses of ice, each named after a European country; Espana, Italia, Holanda and Francia.
Much of southern Tierra del Fuego is dominated by the Darwin mountain range - the last vestiges of the Andes before it breaks up and disappears into the sea. It is also here where we find some of the region's most dramatic glaciers; Garibaldi, Águila, Marinelli and Pia, perhaps the most impressive of all. In the middle of the windswept Magellanic forest is the astonishing sight of a beaver dam, whilst a colony of giant lumbering elephant seals also lives nearby.
In the extreme south of Tierra del Fuego lies Wulaia Bay, where visitors can hike through the forest to a lookout point over the bay. There is also an archaeological site here, thought to date back some 10,000 years when the indigenous Yaghan people settled in the area. At the very end of South America is the legendary Cape Horn - the meeting point of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A visit here is a rare privilege for those who come and brave the strong winds, choppy waters and freezing temperatures. This is about as remote as travel gets, a million miles away from the cosier confines of the Lake District in the north of Patagonia, and an expedition cruise to see the lonely lighthouses, jagged rocks and crashing waves of Cape Horn is a truly once in a lifetime experience. The only thing that lies beyond here is Antarctica.
Better with experts
Travelling in Patagonia can sometimes be a challenging and unpredictable undertaking for even the most well-versed globetrotters. With our vast experience and expertise, Veloso Tours will carefully create the perfect itinerary for you, handling all the tricky logistics, negotiating the best prices, liaising with local suppliers and ensuring everything flows perfectly during your time here. All you have to do is decide where to go! Our collection of local guides will help bring these wonderful places to life, giving you their inside knowledge and offering an authentic and personal perspective, that will leave you both informed and inspired.
The Veloso Tours website has all the ideas and inspiration you'll need to get you started on your Patagonian adventure. Our expert staff would be delighted to work with you to craft an unforgettable journey, full of memories that last a lifetime. Get in touch today and start planning your dream trip to Patagonia with Veloso Tours.
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