Patagonia. It’s one of the last great wildernesses. When Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan explored the area in 1520, he described its mountains in vivid detail and glowing terms. It’s a tough place to get into even today thanks to its remoteness and weather extremes. You can have sunshine one hour and hail the next. Patagonia is an incredible collage of glaciers, lakes, rushing rivers and storybook spires of mountains. There’s nothing else quite like it.
Here we offer three ways to get into and see Patagonia (as well as many other great places at the tip of South America) including some great hikes, long and short, to the principal sights.
The all-round tour: Patagonian Highlights
This adventure ‘does’ Patagonia, and more: hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, a visit to Los Glaciares, Cerro del Torre, Ushuaia at ‘the end of the earth’ and of course bargain-priced, cosmopolitan Buenos Aires.
Begin in Buenos Aires with a walking tour of this lovely city whose architecture juxtaposes colonial-era flourishes with the modern. Pick what you’d prefer to concentrate on, be it art galleries or grass-fed beef and Malbec wine!
A short flight south to El Calafate lands us close to Los Glaciares National Park where we’ll set off the next day on a full-day hike to Cerro Fitzroy base camp, complete with incredible views of this towering spire. It’s a rugged day of walking, but totally worth it. The next day you’ll visit Perito Moreno, an immense jagged sheet of ice stretching over 3 miles across Lago Argentino and rising 200 feet out if its cold waters. When the glacier calves, there’s an incredible rumble as a wave spreads across the lake.
One of the biggest highlights of the trip is the hike up to the base of the Towers of Paine. The walk itself is beautiful, trekking through forests and offering some fantastic views across the park. After hikes in Paine, take a ferry across the Magellan Straits and down to Ushuaia for more hiking in the mountains and a tour of this charming outpost before catching a flight back to Buenos Aires, hopefully in time to catch one of the excellent tango shows in the old quarter of San Telmo.
The truck trip: Patagonia & Argentinian Overland
Overlanding is our name for truck-based trips. These trucks are rugged, self-sufficient vehicles that carry water, food, camping equipment, tools and everything that you need to get from A to B on the sketchiest of roads.
This trip takes the long way round from Santiago to Buenos Aires or vice-versa. It would be quicker to list what this trip doesn’t do, but here goes:
Wildlife on the trip includes a guided visit to the Valdes Peninsula to meet the elephant seals and sea lions, and the penguin colony at Camarones. There’s also whale watching off Puerto Madryn, in season. If tame animals are more your thing, try horse riding or mountain biking around the Argentinean adventure capital of Bariloche.
Hiking and major natural attractions are big-ticket items on this trip as well, starting with a full-day trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier. Next, spend 4 days trekking the rugged and awe-inspiring Torres del Paine National Park. Hike up a volcano (Mount Villarica) and across a glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. There’s lots more, including mountain treks at the End of the Earth.
As far as culture and cities go, we explore Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile and glide over to Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, for the day. There are also the outpost adventure capitals to explore, including Bariloche, Pucon and Ushuaia. What with city tours, museum visits and stops at culturally significant locations, the Odyssey would have trouble rivaling this adventure.
The trekker trip: Fitzroy & Paine
If trekking is your passion, or you imagine it might be, this is the trip for you. It’s a challenging trek in two parts that do a very good job of showcasing what the Patagonia region has to offer.
After a guided tour of Buenos Tours that’s over all too quickly, we fly to El Calafate and then drive across the border into Chile on the barren Patagonian plateau to Puerto Natales. Two days of short walks from Rio Serrano campsite, a place endowed with magnificent views of the Peaks, gets us geared up for the trekking ahead. On Day 5 we spend the day hiking to Torres Campsite, right at the foot the mountains, where we’ll spend the night.
Back down where there are roads, travel to the lovely little town of El Calafate on the shores of Lago Argentino. It’s from here that we can visit Perito Moreno, one of the few stable glaciers, calving into Lake Argentino.
Traveling to the Fitz Roy region, the star attraction is our hike to Fitz Roy Base Camp (Rio Blanco), Laguna de los Tres and Cerro Torre Base Camp, via Madre and Hija lakes. From our camp there, we climb up the Paso de las Agachonas and onto the ridge of the Pliegue Tumbado, with panoramic views of the Agujas (needles) and the whole massif. We ultimately ascend the Paso del Viento through some extremely wild glacial terrain for views down to the Viedma glacier, part of the vast Hielo Sur, the Southern Continental ice cap, and enjoy magnificent views of the Fitzroy and Cerro Torre ranges.
Whew! Spend a well-earned day of rest in El Chalten, then it’s back to El Calafate for our flight to Buenos Aires. If you have the time, add on a couple nights’ post-tour accommodation to really get to know this great city. After all, how soon are you likely to be back?
For more adventures in Patagonia, see our complete selection here.