Patagonia is believed to have been the final frontier of human settlers in the Americas some fifteen to twenty thousand years ago. Today, it is still aptly named as the last place on earth. The region covers vast swathes of Southern Chile and Argentina and extends from latitudes 37° S to 51° S. Its two- hundred and sixty- thousand square miles are mountainous in the Andes Mountains and to the west the landscape rolls away to forests, lakes and scrubland. Westward leads to Puerto Madryn and southerly to Tierra del Fuego and the storied promontory of Cape Horn.
Across eons of time Patagonian frontier lands have had a magnetic draw for countless people wishing to start life anew. Today, Patagonia still retains that magical attraction of heavenly big skies and an alluring natural austerity. The modern daily life of humankind is increasingly spent in a labyrinth of technological gadgetry. Conversely, Patagonia serves to allow the traveller time and place to regain a true visceral affinity with the natural world.
How to Plan the Best Vacation Itinerary to Patagonia
Patagonia has so much to see, it can be challenging for the untrained eye to decide how to best uses one’s time. Our decades of experience of living and working in these lands will help create the very best experience and so let’s consider the following:
If you wish to gain the deepest insight to the region, we recommend trips as long sixteen days and more. But of course, you can do shorter excursions of eight to ten days. Distances are large and for example a flight alone from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia near Tierra del Fuego is about 3h 35m, so continental proportions. The bare minimum you need at each destinations is four days, otherwise you accrue a vacation compiled of airport lounges, which is less than ideal.
Reaching Patagonia is via access corridors of Buenos Aires, Trelew, Mendoza, Cordoba, El Calafate, Santiago and Punta Arenas. Flight routes are complex and change, season to season and even week to week dependent on airlines. Your travel adviser can offer honest advice on the layout of the itinerary to best maximise your time. Do not overlook the importance of a logistically well-planned route, click here to learn more.
Weather & Time of Year
At any time of the year Patagonian weather is unpredictable with strong winds and rain always possible. As a broad guide, the further south you travel the more you need to stick to the summer and shoulder months of November to April. Certainly, Tierra del Fuego and Torres del Paine usually need summertime for the best freedom to explore. An exception being a cruise we can recommend around Cape Horn, this opens some year-round options, even this far south. Further north east at Peninsula Valdes it is the marine life that decides the best months, those are typically June to December. As we venture up to the Lake District and consider Bariloche and Puerto Varas then the season is more expansive. You can ski in Bariloche from the end of June to early October. Outside of these winter months pretty much all else is open here. The ability to consider how the multiple regions change over the year is key to unlocking the potential of the best planned itineraries.
Your prime reason to come to Patagonia may be hiking, fishing, boating, solitude or a combination of the above. We suggest you rank them out and your first one or two will decide your months of travel (you can learn the best months from the previous paragraph).
Which Are the Best Regions to Visit in Patagonia?
Lake Region – Bariloche Argentina to Puerto Varas Chile
The Lake Region is a perennial favourite, near the northern reaches of Patagonia and straddling the border of Argentina and Chile. The Argentine side holds the gem of Nahuel Huapi National Park on the hinterlands of Bariloche. The region is popular with Argentines escaping Buenos Aires and the country landscapes are stunning. The region is far warmer in summer than windswept Patagonia and can reach about 75 F (24 C) by day. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in a region of Bavaria Germany or alpine Switzerland as log cabins abound especially out at upmarket Villa La Angostura.
This region is all about the outdoors from hiking and driving The Seven Lakes Route, river-angling at Junín de los Andes, discovering palaeontology at Neuquén or winter skiing on Cerro Catedral. The list is endless.
The lake crossing from Bariloche Argentina to Puerto Varas Chile is a great way to cross the border but do be prepared for a busy outing. This is a full day outing of about twelve hours in duration with multiple boats trips, short hikes and of course the border formalities. Logistically it is a great way to cross from Argentina to Chile and vice versa.
At Puerto Varas, Chile there are some great excursions available. Many travellers come and just stay for a night and fly onward but that is not the best option. There are a host of activities and we recommend three to five days here. Pueto Varas is on the shores of the beautiful Lake Lanquihue with many boating options. There are also local trips of hiking and even helicopters to volcanoes like Calbuco with a superb mountain biking descent. Cochamo too has one of our favourite accommodations and can be a great step onward to explore Alerce Andino Park, amazing angling options here too and family excursions. The Mari Mari Hotel and Natural Reserve out on the Pacific Coast is an excellent destination to take in the fresh salt air of this unspoiled haven of Chile. It is only a two-hour drive from Puerto Varas. The ocean tours include up close and personal trips to see penguins, sea lions, dolphins and whales. In essence the Lake Region of Chile offers great outdoor activities but also great access right out from Argentina to the Pacific Coast. This means it fits well to routes that begin in Buenos Aires and may end in Santiago, and vice-versa.
Click this link for more luxury Patagonia vacation ideas, and view our epical itinerary which includes the Lake Districts of Chile and Argentina.
Tierra del Fuego Chile
At the ends of the Earth lie the lands of fire or Tierra del Fuego aside the city of Ushuaia. The National Park of Tierra del Fuego includes a host of treks and of course the Train at the End of the World. Along the shoreline of the Beagle Channel they are wonderful boating opportunities to see penguins, sea lions, birdlife and a host of fishing including giant crab. The Escondido and Fagnano Lakes are also well worth a visit for a great day from Ushuaia over the Garibaldi Pass. Ushuaia is also connected by an excellent cruise which runs for typically five days across the cape into Punta Arenas Chile. The route includes The Garibaldi Glacier, Cape Horn, Wulaia Bay, Beagle Channel and the Straits of Magellan. The end of the peninsula consists of many hidden isles and islets and this cruise, with zodiac tours, is the best way to access them.
Punta Arenas Chile is a great starting point for expedition cruises to the Antarctic continent. Our own personal favourite is an Eleven Day Fly & Cruise into the Antarctic Circle. This is a pricey option but is truly an opportunity of a lifetime. We like it because you fly across the infamous Drake Passage and avoid that potentially rough crossing. Then get a full Antarctic experience right down through the Antarctic Circle on a wonderful expedition cruise vessel with just 132 guests. It is beyond compare, click here to speak to your luxury Latin America Travel adviser for full details and the best rates.
Valdes Peninsula Argentina
The Valdes Peninsula in Chubut Province is a little-known area of Argentina and yet has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. It consists of 250 miles (400 km) of pristine coastline from the Northern Golfo San Matias to Golfo Nuevo at its southernmost extremity. The airport at Trelew is the usual route from Buenos Aires or El Calafate. One of our own favourite lodges is Estancia Rincón Chico, some 2 hours 45 minutes from the airport and 10 miles (16 km) of pristine coastline to explore. Almost ubiquitously people come here for the marine life. Its hidden coves away from the roaring Atlantic Ocean swells are key breeding grounds for large marine mammals. Schools of Right Whales come right up to the shoreline along with, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, orcas, elephant seals and a host of avian visitors. June to December are good months for marine life with peak months being September to November. The lodges too in this region are laid back and can be a welcome break from the masses. One tip, booking twelve months and more in advance is the norm for the best lodges. For those with more time available you can also explore further south to the Bahia Bustamante region which contains a host of sleepy fishing villages and white sandy beaches. It is an ideal destination for those seeking solitude in a non- touristy setting. Our top tips for including The Valdes Peninsula in your itinerary are to, ensure you travel in the right months and dedicate sufficient time to the logistics of getting down here and returning. It is not a destination for two days, minimum four to five. A great tour which includes the Valdes Peninsula can be seen by clicking here.
Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine National Parks Argentina
These regions of Los Glaciares National Park and Torres del Paine National Park can be visited on their own or in a combined trip. Access from Argentina is via flights from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (3h 15m), Ushuaia to El Calafate (1h 20m). Access from Chile is from Santiago to Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales (3h 25m). Other routes by air, sea and overland are possible, speak to your travel adviser.
Los Glaciares is home to the immense Perito Moreno, Uppsala and Spegazzini Glaciers among others. For those of reasonable fitness we highly recommend doing the ice-trekking routes (preferably morning) as a great way to immerse yourself in wild glacial landscape. Failing that, the tours to the walkways and lake navigation by boat are still great days out. Estancia ranch visits can be combined with glacier visits and options on 4 x4 excursions, hiking, farm visits, Asado barbeques, kayaking on the lakes and so much more.
An additional famed hiking region at the northern bounds of Los Glaciares Park is the region of El Chalten. This village is the gateway to the Fitzroy and Cerro Torre Massif. It is about 4 hours’ drive from El Calafate and so it is best to take accommodations locally to explore Fitzroy. Fishing for trout and Chinook Salmon is also a popular activity. Wherever you venture be sure when back in El Calafate to visit the private home restaurant of our friend Gabo at Rancho Aparte.
Torres del Paine National Park is the most popular destination in Patagonia and the drive from El Calafate (Argentina) into the National Park takes about four hours. From the Chilean side Puerto Natales is about 1h 40m and Punta Arenas is about 4h 45m by road. We do recommend you choose a hotel within the park as it lessens travel time each day to begin activities. This park contains the iconic three Towers of Paine in their picture postcard setting. Many trekkers embark upon the famed W Circuit trek of 44 miles (71 km) over 4 -5 days, but others prefer day and half day hikes in the regions. Our favorite day and half day trips are the trek to the Base of the Tower of Paine, Laguna Azul, Lago Grey boating/ kayaking, horse-trek to Lake Nordenskjold and The French Valley. From December to February it can get very busy. The number of hotels actually within the park bounds is limited and so booking long in advance is well advised. The shoulder months of mid- October- November and March to April are chillier but less crowded. Patagonia is never warm so once you are prepared these shoulder months can be an even more inviting option.
Nourish your soul and re-connect with nature. Discover Patagonia with our Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine travel itinerary.
Your individual interests, physical capability, vacation duration and time of year will decide what and how much you can see and do. There are a lifetime of routes possible across these lands and so do not try to visit all destinations in a short timeframe. If you have eight to ten days then choose just one or two destinations, preferably in geographical proximity such as El Calafate and Torres del Paine/ El Chalten. As mentioned at the outset, Patagonia offers solitude and natures finest mountain secrets. Maximise your time in both by investing time in planning the route carefully. Wherever you visit in Patagonia you are sure to leave this place irrevocably changed!
Follow your destiny and begin planning your very own Patagonian escapade – contact the Latin America Travel Experts.
“There are those who believe destiny rests at the feet of the Gods, but the truth is that it confronts the conscience of man with a burning challenge.” (Eduardo Galeano).
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