Patagonia is a massive region of southern South America, filled with beautiful landscapes, interesting wildlife, and mountain trails. It’s easy to spend months here, hiking, exploring, and making your way to the southernmost city in the world. But if you simply want to hit the highlights, here are the five best Patagonia experiences:
1. Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno is a massive glacier located in Los Glaciares National Park. It covers 97 square miles, and is constantly advancing. The jagged blue and white ice formations are photogenic, but pictures alone cannot capture the experience of visiting the glacier in person. The glacier is constantly cracking, sending chunks of ice cascading into the water below, amid thunderous noise.
Perito Moreno is easily accessible from El Calafate. A regular public bus runs to and from the glacier, taking just two hours. Tour companies run regular day trips, too. It’s also possible to don crampons and take a guided trek on the glacier, to see (and hear) the ice up close.
2. El Chalten
Though there are countless places to trek in Patagonia, El Chalten is one of the most popular. This is due in part to how accessible the trails are. After making your way to the town of El Chalten, you simply choose a trail and head off. In every direction lies stunning scenery, and the region is consistently ranked among the best Patagonia experiences. Trails lead through colourful flora, and past waterfalls and lakes, with views of snow covered mountains and glaciers in the distance.
There are several treks to choose from, lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days. Some trails lead to steeply upwards to miradors (lookout points), so make sure you pick a trail that suits your fitness level.
Ushuaia is located on the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, right at the southern tip of Argentina. It’s claim to fame is that it is the southernmost city in the world. But that’s not the only reason visitors flock here. Ushuaia is the jumping off point for almost every Antarctica cruise. Those who don’t want to splurge on a trip to this far flung continent can still take in a cruise around the Patagonian shoreline, spotting penguins. And, if the season is right, whales and orcas can also be seen here. Those who want to keep their feet on solid ground can explore the picturesque Tierra del Fuego National Park.
There are plenty of activities to keep visitors busy in Ushuaia. Nearby ski slopes are open during the winter months, and there are even opportunities to go dog sledding. The popular Maritime Museum is located inside an ex-prison, and the Museo del Fin del Mundo details the history of the colonisation of Tierra del Fuego and the native Yaghan people.
Or you could spend your time visiting the many bars that claim to be the “southernmost bar in the world” (unfortunately, the real title belongs to a bar on a research base in Antarctica).
4. Punta Tombo
Strolling amongst an endless sea of penguins at Punta Tombo is easily one of the best Patagonia experiences. The area is home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world. These tiny creatures are just 50cm tall, and burrow holes in the ground to shelter in.
Punta Tombo is located 68 miles from the city of Trelew, and 116 miles from Puerto Madryn. Day trips run daily from both cities, or it’s possible to rent a car for the day and drive. If you do choose to drive, be aware that the final stretch of road is unpaved, and quite isolated.
Penguin at Punta Tombo. Image credit: Ailish Casey
5. Peninsula Valdes
Peninsula Valdes is a wildlife reserve that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The peninsula is home to sea lions, elephant seals, and a large variety of birds. But the real stars here are the whales. Southern right whales breed in the shallow waters around the peninsula, floating calmly right up to the shore. Orcas can also be spotted here, and, in March and April, these incredible creatures launch themselves right up onto the beach to catch sea lion pups. But no matter what time of year you visit, Peninsula Valdes is still one of the best Patagonia experiences!
It’s possible to rent a car and drive around the peninsula, through many roads are unpaved so budget a lot of time to get from one point to another. Tours of the peninsula can be arranged in the city of Puerto Madryn.
Though most visitors to Peninsula Valdes stay in Puerto Madryn, you can stay in the small town of Puerto Piramides, located on the peninsula itself. Accommodation here is more expensive, though falling asleep to the sound of whale songs is worth the price!