Are you thinking of heading off to Southern Patagonia?
Kathy, Andean Trails' director, has put together some suggestions of places to see and things to do in southern Patagonia for first time visitors.
What should I see and do in ARGENTINEAN PATAGONIA?
1. EL CALAFATE
Most trips to the Argentinean side of Patagonia will include a visit to El Calafate. El Calafate is a small town of some fifteen thousand inhabitants. It was, for several decades in the early 20th century, a staging post for the wagons transporting wool between remote estancias (sheep stations) and the coast. El Calafate lies on the shore of the vast, turquoise lake Argentino and is the gateway to the natural wonders of the Los Glaciares national park. El Calafate is 2730 km south of Buenos Aires and there are regular flights between the two cities.
Top sights from El Calafate are the full day guided trip to the immense Perito Moreno Glacier and the full day boat trip to the Upsala and Spegazzini Glacier.
We also recommend a visit to the ice-museum, an evening walk along the lake shore, for excellent bird-watching followed by a slap up evening meal of Patagonia lamb, steak or home-made pasta and Malbec.
A day or two in El Calafate is probably enough for most people.
2. EL CHALTEN
El Chalten, just 3 hours by road north from El Calafate, is jumping off point for the stunning Fitzroy and Cerro Torre peaks. It has been named Argentina’s trekking capital. I'd recommend at least 3 days here.
Laguna Torre lies at the base of Cerro Torre and is an easy 3 hour walk (6 hours return) from town on a well-marked trail.
Getting to the base of Fitzroy Mountain involves a four hour hike (8 hours return) to the magnificent Laguna de los Tres.
The third classic walk out of El Chalten is to Loma de Pliegue Tumbado - a personal favourite of mine as the views you get, albeit on a clear day – are simply stunning, and you’ll see numerous marine fossils underfoot.
If you have a day to spare then it is well worth a bike trip or day tour to Lago del Desierto, plus the boat trip or a hike along its shores.
The large blue-green lake Viedma is fed by the Viedma Glacier, and there are short boat trips and glacier walks (if conditions permit) to enjoy this marvellous chunk of ice.
3. USHUAIA and TIERRA DEL FUEGO
At the very end of the South American continent lies the town of Ushuaia. The location on the Beagle Channel, the historical significance and the marine wildlife put this on our list of must sees.
There are trekking options, from half a day to three days, or more. The museums and the food are also excellent, and a boat trip onto the Beagle Channel to enjoy the albatrosses, numerous cormorants, sea lions and southern fur seals, plus lighthouses and sometimes penguins is a must. I would suggest 2 or 3 days in the area.
What should I see and do in CHILEAN PATAGONIA?
1. Torres del Paine
Without a doubt the highlight of Chilean Patagonia is TORRES DEL PAINE national park. Paine warrants 4 to 9 days depending on how much hiking you are up for.
Within the park the most dramatic, beautiful places to visit are the Ascencio Valley and base of towers, the French Valley, Lake Grey and glacier Grey, Lake Pehoe and the Cuernos view point.
Theer are there are two well known multi-day walks that are a must for trekkers and that will visit those highlights: the Paine W (5-7 days) and the Paine Circuit (8-10 days). On the Paine Circuit you must camp at some point, whereas the Paine W you have more options (refugios, camp sites) . Paine also boasts a number of variations on the Paine W, such as the shorter 5-day Paine W, a series of day walks as in our Patagonia Highlights.
It’s not all trekking though – there is a choice of day tours that can include walking, photography, horse riding, kayaking and more if you stay at a hotel, such as the luxury Tierra Patagonia.
2. PUNTA ARENAS
If you fly into Southern Chile you might well end up spending some time in Punta Arenas. There isn’t a huge amount to do here but some options include a visit to Magdalena Island and the King Penguin Colony on Tierra del Fuego, or take a day trip to Fuerte Bulnes or a hike up into the hills beyond the ski station. A wander along the sea front is also worth doing, with plenty of marine wildlife.
3. PUERTO NATALES
This small town is Gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. There is a supermarket and numerous places to stay, a bus station, cafes and restaurants and fabulous views across Last Hope Sound.
It is worth taking a short hike out of town along the sea front where you can see black necked swans, cormorants and plenty of other sea birds. If you have a bit longer take a half day up Cerro Dorotea behind the town. For full day trips it is well worth the zodiac ride to the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers, and for a bike adventure head north to the Milodon Cave. There are kayaking, horse riding and longer trekking options too. The sea food in Natales is justifiably famous and the salmon generally superb.