Patagonia is many things to many people. A land of gauchos, wide open spaces, wild rivers, soaring granite spires, heavy winds, changeable weather, a gigantic sky. It’s also a great place to check out wildlife that you’d be unlikely to see at home, other than at a zoo. There are birds and sea mammals, cormorants, brown-browed albatrosses, sea lions and fur seals, dolphins, and a little something for the biology geek in all of us.
When travelers talk about Patagonia, they tend to think of wide-open spaces, towering granite spires, milky turquoise lakes and the occasional glacier. But that’s not all Patagonia has in store for you. One of the richest spots for wildlife sightings in all of Argentina is accessed from the city of Puerto Madryn, in a part of the country that could be referred to as northern coastal Argentine Patagonia. Here you’ll see whales, sea lions, penguins, and several other types of animals you may not have heard of.
El Calafate is the entry point to the Patagonia of your dreams. Glaciers, bright blue glacial-melt lakes, craggy terrain and national parks are all easily accessible from this small city in windswept Argentine Patagonia. The unusual terrain makes El Calafate a great place to base yourself for adventure tourism. And while the city is remote, a healthy amount of tourism ensures that there are comfortable places to stay and world class food, including traditional Patagonian spit-roasted lamb. Have a glass of Argentine Malbec with your meal and toast to a memorable day.
Punta Arenas is the Chile’s farthest-flung city, nearly 2,000 miles south of Santiago, the capital. It’s perched on the straight of Magellan, and has a long history as an strategic place for Chile to defend its coastline from other countries. The city itself actually started as a fort (about 40 miles from its current location) and partially as a penal colony, but that closed, and it was moved to its current location. The city has grown first on the sheep industry, then on oil. And now it does brisk business in receiving tourists to Chilean Patagonia or on their way to Tierra del Fuego and large cruise ships frequently dock here on their way around Cape Horn or on their way to Antarctica.
Ushuaia is the southernmost city in Argentina, or in the world, depending on who you ask. Tiny Puerto Williams across the Beagle Channel also claims the distinction of southernmost, but one thing is for sure, which is that for tip-of-the-continent tourism, Ushuaia is the real deal, with cruise ships and souvenirs, many museums, day hikes, fancy hotels and backpackers and some of the finest hot chocolate known to the continent.
There are a few reasons you might find yourself in Puerto Montt, the southernmost city in continental Chile, the last city on the continent before the it splits into a maze of islands and fjords. The city, which lies along the Reloncaví Sound, is a starting point for explorations overland and by boat of Northern Chilean and Argentine Patagonia. It’s a spot from which to visit the turquoise and blue waters of the waterfalls at Petrohué, or a jumping off point to take the ferry to the large island of Chiloé. And it has one of the most picturesque markets for a big seafood lunch before you take off to your next destination.
Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier stands out for being one of the Patagonia’s only advancing glaciers. It’s 97 square miles of ice, measuring 19 miles in length, and is the earth’s third largest reserve of fresh water. It, along with 47 other lesser glaciers is fed by the Southern Patagonian icefield. Perito Moreno is also extremely accessible (as glaciers go), as it is just a few hours from the Argentine Patagonian outpost city of El Calafate. There are several ways to experience the towering glacier, which stretches some 240 feet from base to top at the lagoon below, accessed through Argentina’s Parque Nacional de Los Glaciares. We detail them all below.
If the United States has Montana as big sky country, Argentina has Patagonia. And the seat of adventure activities in Argentine Patagonia may well be Bariloche. This lakefront town has more outdoor activities than you could easily do in a week, so you’ll have to pick and choose carefully. And there’s something for everyone, from the most active, winter-sport loving ski aficionado, to hikers, to people who prefer to sit peacefully in nature and just watch it go by.
Stunning Ushuaia on the faraway island of Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America bills itself as the southernmost city in the world. Though there is a bit of back-and-forth about whether the Chilean town of Puerto Williams (which is south of Ushuaia on Isla Navarino) holds this distinction, Ushuaia is way more visited and set up for tourist visits. It’s also much easier to get to, with international flights, overland routes and many cruise ships, often on their way to Antarctica.
Pucón is the undisputed capital of adventure and outdoor tourism in Chile. High season is summer, and the area fills with mostly Chilean tourists, who come to enjoy sitting by the sparkling lake and the extremely long days of southern Chile’s summers. Near Pucón there are hotsprings and waterfalls ziplining, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking and […]