As South America narrows to a slender cone, pointing the way toward icy Antarctica, the climate and landscape change dramatically. Rather than the lush tropical rainforest of the Amazon or arid Andean desertscapes of the Pacific Coast, this is a glacier carved wilderness more akin to Northern Europe or Alaska than the rest of this rich continent.
This is Patagonia, divided between Argentina and Chile; it is relatively easy to visit both nations while you’re down here, so consider flying into Buenos Aires and out of Santiago (or vice versa) when you plan your adventure. Keep in mind that distances are huge; Patagonia is slightly larger than France.
No matter what route you choose through this glacier-carved expanse of snow-capped granite peaks, ice-blue lakes and wildflower-strewn wilderness, you’ll want to time your visit carefully. Most travelers visit during the relatively warm southern summer (December through March), when hiking, camping and other outdoor activities are at their peak. Regardless, you should still prepare for cold, windy days; though the average temperature is 50°F – 61°F (10°C – 16°C), depending on what part of Patagonia you’re visiting, it can get much cooler.
The shoulder seasons (October to December and March to May) are still quite temperate and usually much less windy—a boon for climbing, biking, kayaking and other activities. May and June are the rainiest months, so be prepared.
Winter is surprisingly temperate, considering how close to the Antarctic Patagonia is, thanks to the mitigating effects of the surrounding oceans. Winter temperatures average 28°F (-2°C) in most of the region. Keep in mind that winter days are short at this latitude, and ice sheets advance. Ski resorts usually open by mid-June.
Some travelers will want to plan around the annual whale migrations. In Chilean Patagonia, humpback whales arrive in December, and can usually be seen through April. Whale watching season on the Argentine side runs from May to December, peaking during September and October. Contact tour operators and local hotels in advance about the species you’d like to see.
If you’re here to play with the penguins, the season runs between October and January, with chicks hatching in November and December. Enormous elephant seals come ashore to mate in early spring, September and October.
No matter when you decide when to go to Patagonia, you’ll find a world of adventure awaits.