With its fierce and howling empty steppes, jagged Andean peaks, lurking, hulking glaciers and voiceless deep-navy lakes, Patagonia is a wilderness of majestic beauty, gargantuan proportions and perfect stillness. Trekking across this stark and wild land makes you feel like an ancient proto-human exploring and pushing deep into a new and untouched territory.
Patagonia’s achingly remote cities, towns and settlements huddle along the Atlantic coast in the east or snuggle in the foothills of the great Andes in the west. Its interior is almost totally devoid of human life.
Due to its deliciously unsullied natural beauty, Patagonia is a dream location for nature lovers and adventure holiday enthusiasts. The hiking, horse-riding, whale-watching and diving are excellent and the scenery is a feast that your lucky eyes will never forget.
To make your time in Patagonia as unforgettable as possible, take a look at our top recommendations for what to see and do while you’re there and don’t forget to add your favorites to your BUCKiTDREAM planner.
Meet the Majestic Whales Golfo Nuevo at Puerto Madryn and nearby Península Valdés are two of the premier whale-watching locations in the world. You’ll get remarkably close to these huge, friendly mammals in what will be a beautiful and humbling experience. Bottazzi Agency is a good local tour company.
Explore El Chaltén on Horseback Saddle up and explore the prime horse-riding country around the foothills of the Andes.
Travel Deep into the Past at the Palaeontology Museum at Trelwe Patagonia has given us some of the world’s most spectacular and intriguing dinosaur fossils. This museum has many outstanding life-sized dinosaur exhibits and more than 1700 fossil remains in total. The guided tours are a fascinating journey back in time, along a cool nature trail past exposed fossils dating as far back as 40 million years ago!
Visit the Penguins at Punta Tombo Take a full day tour with a knowledgeable guide to see the vast colony of Magellanic penguins go about their business. You’ll really feel like an outsider in this penguin metropolis, which is great!
See the Ancient Cave Art at Cueva de las Manos The cave of the hands is a UNESCO-listed ancient art gallery on the Patagonian Steppe. The iconic 9,000-year old wall of red hand prints is the main attraction, but the site also has drawings of guanacos and abstract designs. Free guided walks are given every hour by the knowledgeable staff.
Dive into the Depths of Puerto Madryn and the Península Valdés These have become Argentina’s diving and snorkeling capitals, so change into trunks and take a diving trip to explore the shipwrecks and rocky reefs and hopefully get a chance to meet the cordial and curious local sea lions.
Trek through the Wilderness at Torres del Paine National Park On the Chilean side of the border, this is (arguably – it has serious competition!) the most popular area for trekking in Patagonia. This national park has imposing granite peaks and spectacular glaciers. There are plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track and discover some incredible sights that are seen by very few others.
Cruise the Chilean Fjords Skorpios offer 3 – 5 night cruises through the beautiful fjords on the western coast of Patagonia.
Over the past twenty years, a raft of tasteful hotels have opened in Patagonia. The more touristic areas around the National Parks all have several, as do the larger towns along the coasts. There are also some spectacularly scenic camping grounds, as well as lots of friendly backpacking hostels.
Hotel Piren in Puerto Madryn is a beautiful hotel in central Puerto Madryn, looking out over the sea. This is a good base for whale-watching and diving and not too far from the Palaeontology Museum at Trelwe.
Estancia Rincón Chico is an Estancia (South American ranch) on Peninsula Valdes, to the north of Puerto Madryn, and it offers beautiful lodge accommodation on the wild and windy shores of the Atlantic. This rustic, traditional ranch sits smack-bang in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Los Ponchos Apart Boutique is a good hotel with beautiful, bright pine-floored rooms and a wonderful Patagonian view, situated in the nearest town to Parque Nacional los Glaciares, El Calafate, and also relatively near to Torres del Paine National Park.
All the National Parks have designated campsites, making Patagonia full of great places to camp. Be sure to stock up on food and other necessities at the nearest town before to arrive. For those who don’t fancy sleeping in a tent but don’t want to shell out too much cash, all of the towns that you’ll be staying in also have backpacker hostels.
The staple foods in Patagonia are grilled meats and pasta. Due to the large amount of farming that takes place here, there is extensive use of fresh local ingredients. Lamb is the traditional meat, typically grilled for many hours over open fire. Trout and centolla (king crab) are also popular. Local parrillas (grills) are always a safe bet for some juicy and delicious grilled meat after a long hike.
Patagonia has some superb food festivals. The most popular of these are Comodoro Invita and Madryn al Plato, both in the province of Chubut, Cocina por los Siete Lagos in Neuquen, Bariloche a la Carta in Rio Negro, and Ushuaia a Fuego Lento, the southernmost food festival in the world.
Drinks and Nightlife
Let’s face it, you aren’t going to Patagonia for the clubbing scene. However, most decent sized towns and cities have a few good bars selling tasty craft beers and excellent local wines to thirsty trekkers.
The local wine is often very good and the provinces of Neuquen and Rio Negro in northern Patagonia have some wineries that are well worth a visit, should you get the time; the Pinot Noir, Semillon, Merlot and Malbec are especially celebrated. Bodega del Fin del Mundo in Neuquen is a well-respected winery that offers various tours and tastings. Their wine is also available throughout the area’s bars and restaurants.
Tips and Culture
The best months to visit Patagonia are during the southern hemisphere summer from November to March, when the mean daytime temperature hovers around the seventies in the north and the fifties in the south. On the east coast in Argentina the wind is strong year-round and on the west coast in Chile the Pacific Ocean tends to supply plenty of rainfall.
Most people travel to Patagonia on tour packages, which means that tour operators will take care of such boring details as bus tickets, internal flights and itineraries. There are lots of 10-14 day package tours available that concentrate on a specific region. The Latin American Travel Association is a good resource to find tour companies ranging from budget to high-end.
If you prefer to work to your own schedule, Patagonia is well served by buses and internal flights. Hiring a car is often your best bet, as the roads are decent and the highway running along the east coast is long, smooth and straight.
English is widely spoken, but a few Spanish phrases will always come in handy.
Gaze in Awe at the Creeping Goliath, Glaciar Perito Moreno Parque Nacional los Glaciares is a stunning National Park located just before the Chilean border in Western Argentina. This area is home to Glaciar Perito Moreno, an immense, jagged sky-blue glacier. It measures 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high and, incredibly, is constantly advancing! It creeps forward up to 2m per day, causing airplane-sized icebergs to break off from its face. The nearest town to the park’s southern sector, El Calafate, is 80 km east of the glacier by road.
Patagonia is a beautiful wilderness like no other and definitely a destination for the bucket list. So while you’re hiking its ragged, silent trails, or sipping its scrumptious local Merlot on a cozy Estancia porch and admiring the roaring Atlantic, why not inspire your friends by sharing your dream Patagonian experiences on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?