A Trip to Patagonia!
Impressive glaciers, deep blue lakes, and a backdrop of surprisingly steep mountain peaks: every year, more and more travellers are seeking out the near endless expanses Patagonia has to offer in order to get lost in the picturesque natural panoramas. The southern tip of South America is not considered a paradise for fans of the outdoors for nothing. There is a plethora of national parks with innumerable walking routes just waiting to be explored.
After that, you can take a small detour to the infamous End of the World, which would be the perfect “end” to your trip. Even if the weather is a bit of a dampener (no pun intended), we assure you that the spectacular scenery will make you forget about that in no time!
It doesn’t matter if you’re already knee-deep in your trip planning or are simply searching for some inspiration for your next adventure, in this article, we will offer an overview of the most important information regarding the southernmost tip of South America. Oh, and of course we will share our three highlights that you simply cannot miss when visiting this corner of the world.
A Few Facts
Where exactly is Patagonia?
Let’s start with a bit of geography: Patagonia itself is not actually a country, but a region in South America. It contains the southern tip of the great continent, including parts of Chile as well as Argentina. The northern rivers Río Bío Bío in Chile and Río Colorado in Argentina act as natural borders for the region, and the Andes also reach into Patagonia. The South American mountain range runs south, loosely, along the two countries’ borders.
Right at the base of the South American tip, is the so-called Tierre del Fuego. This group of islands is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, which is also mysteriously known as the “End of the World”. Due to its remote location, this area is often considered separate. However, since we want to cover the entire region in this article, we will be including this beautiful wonder of nature. Overall, the temperatures in this part of South America are moderate to cool. Strong winds blow all year round, creating somewhat rough conditions. In the southern areas, the average temperatures lie between 6 and 10 degrees Celsius, and there is rainfall more than 300 days a year. However, there are also months when the temperature is high, so don’t let that scare you off!
The Best Time for a Trip
The prime time for a trip to the lower tip of South America is between December and February. This is the summer in Patagonia, and the temperatures often climb to 20 degrees Celsius, even in the temperamental southern regions. Furthermore, the weather is generally more stable and there is much less precipitation. So, if you’re planning a trip to Patagonia and wish to take part in as many outdoor activities as possible, we recommend this time frame.
The off seasons are between the months of October and November and from March till April. Here you have the advantage of knowing for sure that there will be considerably fewer tourists around, but the weather during these times is mostly very unpleasant, especially in the south. Since some national parks and areas are completely off limits during the off seasons, we only recommend travelling here during these months to a certain extent.
Overall, however, you must always be prepared for weather that can change at the drop of a hat. They don’t say that in this region, you can experience all four seasons in a day for nothing! Therefore, one of the most important things to always think about is weatherproof clothing. A little rain never hurt anyone, right? When possible, plan your trip for a few days longer than necessary, just to be sure. Then you don’t need to worry in case the weather forces you to postpone your camping trip a little.
Getting Around the Area
A few more days are also worthwhile when it comes to getting around Patagonia. The bus is a great means of transport, and should the travel time take a little longer than expected, the famous Chilean Carretera Austral and the Argentinian Ruta Nacional 40 are attractions in their own right. Both motorways traverse through a wild landscape of volcanoes, lakes, mountains, and glaciers, and are among the most popular panoramic routes in the world.
Rental cars are also a popular option. Should you choose to go by car, keep in mind your route and the condition of the car, as the borders between Chile and Argentina are not always easy to cross.
Last, but not least, you’ve got flights. The most popular routes connect the cities of Santiago de Chile with Punta Arenas and Buenos Aires with El Calafate or Ushuaia.
Whichever means of transportation you choose will depend on the time you have available, your route, and how much you’re willing to spend.
A Paradise for Fans of the Outdoors
As you’ve probably noticed from the descriptions of the landscape, the highlight of Patagonia is the astounding natural beauty that leaves everyone to stand in wonder. Whilst the west is overwhelmingly dry, and the landscape mainly consists of extensive and desert-like steppes, the nature in the south is considerably more extravagant. It is jam packed with spectacular backdrops and is always poised for unforgettable photo opportunities.
Almost all tourists come here for the walking tours and other activities such as glacier climbing, kayak tours, or horseback riding. South America’s tip is considered the ultimate paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, a playground of adventures for all who visit. In the next section, we will give you an overview of the three sightseeing opportunities that are absolute must-sees for your trip.
Torres del Paine in Chile
We’ll begin with perhaps the most popular travel destination in the whole of Patagonia: the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in Chile. This UNESCO biosphere reserve harbours many attractions all at once. The hiking trail will lead you by turquoise-blue lakes and through deep green forests to wonders of nature such as the Torres del Paine mountain. This fittingly translates to the “Blue Sky Towers” since the craggy peaks extend almost vertically into the sky.
A further spectacle that can be seen in this national park is the Glaciar Grey. This impressive glacier calves into the lake of the same name, Lago Grey. It is not without reason that this sight is one of the most popular photo opportunities, and on a boat tour across the water, you can get an even closer look at the ice formations.
There are a few different options if you want to explore Torres del Paine. Most travellers opt for the popular “W”, a five-day walking tour. It will take you in a W-formation past all the park’s most remarkable spots. If your thirst for adventure is still not quenched, the “W” route can be extended to the circular hike, “O”. This route is almost 50 km longer and takes around seven days all in all. The biggest advantage of this is that away from the “W” route, the paths are much less crowded, so you can marvel at the scenery in a more peaceful environment.
Arrivals and Overnight Stays in the Park
During the peak season, there are several daily bus connections which take around two and a half hours from the Chilean city of Puerto Natales to the entrance of Torres del Paine. If you want to spend several days in the park, reserve a camp site or a place to sleep in one of the refugios ahead of time, as they are usually fully booked way in advance due to their popularity.
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina
Yes, you guessed it, the next destination on your trip is yet another national park. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is home to the world-renowned summit of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, a challenge in the eyes of even the most experienced climbers. The colourful El Chaltén is known as the hiking capital of Argentina and will be your starting point for hikes to these peaks.
It’s recommended to pack a tent for this portion of the journey, as the tours can easily turn into two to three-day excursions. That way, you’ll also be able to drink your morning coffee in front of the beautiful mountain lakes of Laguna de los Tres or the Laguna Torre. This will help you forget all about the struggles you experienced the day before. Another sightseeing opportunity at Los Glaciares lies three hours south, El Calafate. From this quaint town, there are day tours to the popular Perito Moreno, the only glacier that’s still increasing in size, which you will be able to watch from wooden walkways. Sometimes you can even witness when parts of the glacier break off and crash into the water – an impressive display of nature.
Ushuaia: The End of the World in Tierra del Fuego
Finally, you absolutely cannot miss the Argentinian city of Ushuaia. It is the capital of the treacherous Tierra del Fuego region and is the southernmost city in the world! It offers many excursion opportunities, and although it is known as the “End of the World”, it has quite a bit to show for. A small train will take you from the aptly named Estación del Fin del Mundo (Station at the End of the World) to the national park, Tierra del Fuego, where beautiful hiking routes and largely empty campgrounds await.
From Ushuaia’s port, you can take part in tours of the Beagle Canal which showcase a glimpse of the wildlife in Patagonia, including sea lions, a colony of penguins, and cormorants. Weather permitting, you might even see Faro Les Éclaireurs, a desolate lighthouse at the “End of the World”.
But if you don’t fancy a boat tour, the port is also home to a very popular part of the city, the “fin del mundo” sign (perfect for a photoshoot!). One thing’s for sure, your family and friends would be delighted to receive a post card from the “End of the World”.
If we listed all the things worth seeing in the southern region of South America, we’d be here all day. The sheer size and diversity of the area makes it impossible to squeeze everything into one article. Nevertheless, we hope that we’ve passed on some of our enthusiasm for Patagonia and given you a bit of inspiration.
Who knows, in the near future you might be pitching your tent in one of the beautiful national parks or snapping a quick selfie at the “End of the World”. In any case, if you decide to experience the wonderful spectacles of nature Patagonia has to offer for yourself, we hope you have a great time, and we wish you a journey full of adventure!