A Patagonia Travel Guide

Ever since Bruce Chatwin’s 1977 travelogue In Patagonia was published, the landscapes of this southern part of South America have enchanted travelers. From soaring granite peaks and turquoise lakes to forests, ice fields and dramatic coastlines, this is a region of breathtaking beauty.

Well-established tourism thrives in the lake districts of Argentina and Chile and around Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine national parks in Argentine Patagonia.

1. Getting There

The best way to get to Patagonia is by plane from either Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina. Most trips to Patagonia involve several border crossings, as you’ll likely want to go to places like Puerto Natales over to El Calafate and also onto the Carretera Austral, so keep your passport handy at all times!

The kaleidoscope color of the glacial lakes in the Los Glaciares National Park are surreal, as is hiking to Torres del Paine’s granite spires. But don’t forget about Parque Patagonica, the brand-new park brought into existence by Kristine Tompkins and late husband Doug, who dreamed of restoring their ranchland here to its former glory.

2. Getting Around

Patagonia is a huge region, and working out how to get around it can feel like a mammoth task. However, there are a number of simple ways to do so, depending on which side of the border you wish to travel.

A self-drive trip is a popular option, allowing travelers to explore at their own pace and bypass any bus timetables. Renting a car in either Santiago or Buenos Aires is fairly straightforward and costs are reasonable.

The best times to visit Patagonia are spring and fall, when the landscapes burst with blooming flowers and the lenga and southern beech forests turn a fiery mosaic of red and orange. During these months, crowds are fewer, so you can wander the trails of Torres del Paine and Perito Moreno with ease.

3. Hiking

Whether you prefer to visit majestic glaciers, panoramic lookout points, or explore historic estancias, Patagonia has hiking trails for all ability levels. In the laid-back hamlet of El Chalten, for example, hikes like the Viedma Lake Trek take you close to Fitz Roy mountain peak, while the Huemul Circuit is regarded as one of Patagonia’s most challenging hikes.

A month-long trip allows for the ultimate Patagonia experience, including a hike on the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, but short excursions are equally rewarding. Check out these one-week and two-week Patagonia itineraries for inspiration.

4. Camping

Argentina has a strong camping culture. During the summer, bus and train terminals are filled with backpackers loaded down with tents, folding chairs, and coolers headed to campsites. Ensure you bring enough food to last the length of your trip, as well as an emergency first aid kit.

From Buenos Aires, lace up your boots and head south on a Patagonia trekking adventure. Visit the Fitz Roy range on a hiking excursion from El Chalten, or explore Perito Moreno’s glacier treks. The region’s historic estancias—like Estancia Cristina and Nibepo Aike—are destinations in their own right, granting visitors opportunities to shear sheep and learn cowboy skills while experiencing Patagonian rural life.

5. Wildlife

Soaring glaciers, serene lakes, old growth forests and gaucho culture are just some of the highlights on offer in Patagonia. The region is home to a wide range of wildlife, too. Look out for guanacos, the strait of Magellan’s endemic elephant seals and the culpeo fox (the second largest native canid of South America) on your adventure here.

Guanacos, wild relatives of llamas and alpacas, can be seen in large herds across Patagonia. Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego are particularly good places to spot these creatures, since they are largely free from their main predator — pumas.

6. Weather

From the soaring mountains of Torres del Paine to the glacial lakes of Bariloche and the penguin-spotted channels of Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia is an adventurer’s playground. However, it’s not a place to rush.

Peak season (December through February) can be busy, particularly at places like Perito Moreno and Exploradores Glacier. It’s also a good time to spot wildlife, as humpback whales and South American sea lions gather in the waters off Patagonia’s coast.

Autumn is another great option for photography as the lenga and southern beech forests turn a fiery mosaic of orange, yellow, and red. It’s also less crowded, making it easier to enjoy the hiking trails without battling fellow trekkers.

7. Accommodation

For a luxury Patagonia travel experience, opt for a lodge, eco-lodge or traditional estancia. In Torres del Paine, a variety of comfortable lodges overlook the park’s iconic towers while in El Calafate grand lodges encircled by expansive lakes and mountains are found and in laid-back hiking hamlet of El Chalten a range of charming chalets are located.

In Bariloche, the stately Llao Llao hotel draws inspiration from Alpine architecture and features two wings of posh rooms that look out to a scenic lake and snow-capped mountain peaks. The hotel also offers a high tea in the Winter Garden and an extensive roster of excursions.

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