Patagonia is a region without fixed frontiers at the southern end of South America. It is characterised by dramatic and diverse landscapes.
The awesome Patagonian Andes, straddling the Argentine-Chilean border, change as you travel south. In the north you find snow-capped volcanoes, lakes and evergreen forests, while in the south soaring granite peaks, vast glaciers and deciduous forests predominate.
The South Patagonian Ice Field is the largest ice cap outside Antarctica and Greenland. It and the North Patagonian Ice Field are the source of huge glaciers which feed the Chilean fjords to the west and the Argentine lakes to the east.
The Pristine wilderness of Patagonia
Patagonia is packed full of wildlife too, boasting condors, pumas, guanacos, foxes, skunk, armadillos and the long legged flightless rhea inland, as well as colonies of sea lions, flocks of penguins and breeding whales along its coasts.
The Patagonian climate is more extreme the further south you go. October to March provide long daylight hours and are overall the best months to visit. Read our blog for more about seasons, weather and when to travel.
However Patagonian’s westerly winds are also strongest during this period, increasing the further south you go. For cold, crisp, relatively windless winter days, with few people about (and more chance of spotting the elusive puma), try our August departures.
Andean Trails’ Patagonian programmes get you to the heart of some magnificent and pristine wilderness.
Below we outline some of the top places to go and things to do in Patagonia, in no particular order.
Laguna Cisnes, Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Torres del Paine is one of South America’s most spectacular national parks, and famed for its Paine W hike.
A wonder of natural sculpture, it boasts many of the natural features so characteristic of southern Patagonia, sharp, soaring peaks, huge glaciers, turquoise lakes and dense Magellanic forest.
As for wildlife, Paine harbours colonies of many native and endemic bird and mammal species, including guanaco, rhea, condor and the elusive puma.
The Paine massif is the centre piece of the park. Its collection of frost-polished towers and spires averaging 3,000m (9843ft), surges dramatically skyward from a low-lying plateau, and is encircled by a hydrological system linking together lakes of various hues of blue.
The massif is the hub of the great Paine trekking circuit, a demanding but breathtaking loop which takes in the French Valley with its spectacular granite amphitheatre, the Torres (Towers) and a bird’s eye view of the Grey Glacier and the ice cap beyond.
You can choose to stay at cosy hotels and estancias and take day walks, stay in hiker’s refugios, try our Paine eco-camp or even sleep in yurts.
With a guide or self-guided, we are as flexible as your holiday needs.
Trekking into Argentina, El Chaltén & Fitzroy
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
The soaring granite spires and fissured glaciers of the Fitzroy and Torre groups offer some of the most awesome scenery and magnificent hiking and trekking in southern Patagonia.
Located in the Los Glaciares National Park immediately east of the southern Ice Field, the region is accessed via El Chaltén, Argentina.
A network of trails allows day hikes to spectacular viewpoints, including those for the Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy peaks.
Here the classic route is the Fitzroy M, and we have menu of treks to choose from.
We offer the classic M taking in Cerro Torre Glacier and Laguna de Los Tres at the base of Mount Fitzroy, and there is also an extended eight or nine day hike including all the M highlights plus the remote Pasa del Viento (Windy Pass).
Independent trekkers may wish to choose our self-guided trekking option, or we can help to design an individual tour combining walks, camping, eco-camps and hotels or estancias.
Or take them all in with our Patagonia Highlights trek.
Marconi Range, The South Patagonian Ice Field
South Patagonia Ice Cap, Argentina
The Southern Ice Field is the beating heart of southern Patagonia, generating the vast glaciers and extreme climatic conditions so characteristic of the region.
At 300km x 60km it is the third largest expanse of ice on earth and is exceeded only by Antarctica and Greenland. It lies around 1,500m above sea level and is punctuated by a dozen mountain massifs.
Access is usually via the Marconi Glacier, starting from El Chaltén, Argentina. Our stunning snow-shoeing and skiing circuits take you onto the ice field for up to two weeks. Our 10-day circuit passes the ice-clad west face of Cerro Torre and exits via the Paso del Viento.
Extreme weather conditions can make the going tough so previous winter experience is beneficial.
Participants are required to carry their own back pack, so a good level of physical fitness is essential.
Osorno Volcano, the Chilean Lake District
The Lake District, Chile
Chile’s Lake District is replete with snow capped conical volcanoes, emerald coloured lakes, fast flowing rivers and National Parks. The fine infrastructure and a whole host of outdoor activities make this area a firm holiday favourite.
Pucon and Lake Villarrica are the main draws in the northern lakes. Pucon itself lies on the Villarrica Lake shore and boasts a spectacular setting with many hotels and restaurants. Nearby one can visit volcanic caves, climb to the crater of Villarrica Volcano, white water raft on the Trancura river, bathe in the natural hot springs at the Termas de Huife or Termas Geometricas or take a hike in one of the surrounding national parks and marvel at the Araucarias (Monkey Puzzle Trees) in their natural setting.
Further south on the coast is Valdivia. This is Chile’s only city with navigable rivers. It is a great place to explore with nearby forts built as defence from the Spanish during the wars of independence.
Puerto Varas on Lake Llanquihue and Puerto Montt are the gateways at the southern end of the district. The Osorno Volcano dominates this area and hidden gems such as the Cochamo Valley are close. Outdoor activities include white water rafting, kayak, trekking, canyoning, canopy, horse riding, fly fishing and mountain biking.
This area is also a good staging point to cross the Andes into Argentina. Pucon links across to San Martin de Los Andes and Puerto Montt/Puerto Varas across to San Carlos de Bariloche.
There are strong Germanic influences in the architecture and cuisine (not to mention the beer!) as the area was colonized by German immigrants from Bavaria in the mid 19th Century.
Hiking near Bariloche
San Carlos de Bariloche lies on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi and is surrounded by mountains and forests, making for a stunning location.
It is a year-round destination, with skiing in the winter (May-Sept), and a whole range of activities in the summer months (Oct-April).
You can use your time to hike or go river rafting along dozens of waterways that bisect the ancient forests that surround. There are also tours on mountain bike or horseback to enjoy, and the city also has a lively nightlife with excellent restaurants and pubs.
Lakutaia, Puerto Williams, Tierra del Fuego
Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego
Like the rest of Patagonia, the Tierra del Fuego archipelago is divided between Chile and Argentina. You are now at the uttermost end of the Earth.
The south is wild and mountainous; Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, is dramatically set overlooking the Beagle Channel and surrounded by awesome mountain landscapes. The Beagle Channel’s inlets and islets host colonies of marine birds and mammals, which can be visited on boat trips from Ushuaia.
Following the Channel west and into Chile, the landscapes get wilder and the mountains higher as we enter the awesome Darwin Range. Among our Tierra del Fuego programmes are trekking and non-trekking itineraries. Trekking options include snow-shoeing in the Darwin mountains, or a three day trek above Ushuaia and to the summit of Mount Esfinge. Views over the Beagle Channel and to the Cape Horn islands are majestic.
Most Antarctic cruises embark and disembark in Ushuaia and we offer a variety of South Pole sailings to cap off your Patagonia experience.
Cruise in Patagonia
Much of Patagonia is linked by water and there are a variety of cruises to help link your Patagonia journeys.
You can sail the Beagle Channel in Charles Darwin’s footsteps, linking Ushuaia in Argentina and Punta Arenas in Chile from September to April.
On board a Cruceros Australis ship you spend time viewing spectacular glaciers, fascinating wildlife and imposing scenery and – weather permitting – stop at Cape Horn National Park.
There are more ferries linking Puerto Montt with Puerto Natales, as well as numerous day ferries. From Puerto Montt sail to view the San Rafael glacier. From Puerto Natales there are day sailings to Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers; and from Punta Arenas there is a ferry to Porvenir and day trips to Magdalena Island to see penguins.
In northern Chile you can sail to some of the country’s most remote areas. Our four- and six-day cruises aboard the Cahuella in the northern Chilean Archipelago take us in style away from civilisation to a land that time forgot. We sail through stunning Araucarian fjords, where waterfalls cascade from the steep forested walls and glaciated volcanoes pierce the sky, and navigate the channels of the Chiloé archipelago.
There are landings and we go ashore by zodiac launch to explore virgin Alerce forests, visit remote sea lion colonies and bathe in thermal pools.
Kayaking amongst sea lions, Valdes Peninsula
Peninsula Valdes, Argentina
Peninsula Valdes is a wildlife paradise and World Heritage site. This vast nature reserve sticks out into Argentina’sSouth Atlantic, flanked to north and south by two large gulfs.
Among the marine mammals found here are sea lions, elephant seals, killer whales (Orcas) and southern right whales. The whales can be seen in the Gulf of San Juan from June to December by taking a whale watching trip from Puerto Piramide. Valdes also boasts with an abundance of seabirds.
Nearby Punta Tombo, the continent’s biggest Magellanic penguin breeding ground, has approximately 600,000 penguins. Native land animals seen at Valdes include rhea (South American ostrich) and guanaco (wild llama).
The area is also famous for its historic Welsh influences, settled by Welsh immigrants in the 1860s. Enjoy a cup of Welsh tea after a good day out.
Cyclists in Chilean Patagonia
Cycling in Patagonia
The Chilean Lake District lends itself to some great mountain biking. We have a variety of guided itineraries out of Puerto Varas (near Puerto Montt), taking us through the southern Lake District and around Reloncavi Fjord, in the northern Archipelago.
Biking days range from 20 to 70 kms per day, with a support vehicle in attendance at all times.
Sea Kayaking in Northern Patagonia
Sea Kayak and Raft in Patagonia
Our adventures in sea kayaks take in some of the most amazing and remote areas of Chilean Patagonia, many of these only accessible by water. We cater for all levels of kayakers, from beginners to advanced.
Consider an amazing four day kayaking trip to the heart of Paine national park via the iceberg-filled Serrano lagoon and Serrano River. Your destination is the remote Tyndall Glacier, with overnights at stunningly-located wild camps.
Some of the continent’s most rewarding sea kayaking is found in the sheltered fjords and channels of the northernArchipelago – ideal waters for those with no previous experience.
There are 2-9 day expeditions that see you paddling between islands and through fjords, where forested and snow-capped volcanoes plunge into the sea.
These trips take you to the Pumalín National Park with its deep fjords, hot springs, sea lions, dolphins and penguins. The Quintupeu, Cahuelmó and Comau Fjords that make up Pumalín are covered in lush temperate rainforest, with hundreds of cascading waterfalls.
For rafters the Rio Futaleufu in Chile combines clear waters and great rapids which rush through deep canyons and pristine wilderness. This is an explosive and untamed white water adventure unparalleled anywhere in the world.
With so much to choose from, where in Patagonia will your adventure be?
Wonderful views of the Perito Moreno
The Perito Moreno Glacier
One of the natural wonders of Patagonia and is reached by road from El Calafate. It is a must-see for any visitor to Patagonia with its almost constant display of huge icebergs calving from the glacier face into Lago Argentina.
Vast in scale (four miles wide and 60m high at its snout), it is set amid a labyrinthine system of iceberg channels in the south of the Los Glaciares National Park, and is backed by deciduous beech forests and snow peaks.
Unlike the region’s other glaciers, the Perito Moreno is still growing; every few years, its advancing edge reaches the near shore, damming up the southern iceberg channel until the ice is breached and a huge volume of water surges through to Lake Argentino.
The awesome northern iceberg channels of Lake Agentino, where the Uppsala (South America’s largest glacier) , Spegazzini and Oneli Glaciers calve, can be reached by boat on a day-trip from El Calafate via Puerto Banderas.
Driving south on the Carretera Austral
Chile’s southern Araucaria and Aysen regions make up a vast, sparsely-inhabited backcountry between the Lake District and southern Patagonia, as well as taking in much of the Archipelago.
The so-called Carretera Austral is characterised by mountainous forests, fjords and lakes. At the heart of this region is the North Patagonian Ice Field, whose spectacular San Raphael Glacier is probably its best-known landmark.
This is the road less travelled, off-the-beaten track – and spectacularly beautiful.
San Raphael can be reached by sea or by air, as a day trip from Puerto Montt. The approach by light aircraft from Coyhaique overflies the North Patagonian Ice Field. In clear weather, Cerro San Valentin (4,080m) can be seen – the highest mountain in Patagonia. On landing, we board a launch on the San Rafael Lagoon and weave between giant icebergs to the glacier’s snout.
The region offers much spectacular wilderness trekking, from the Aysen itinerary in the Cerro Castillo National Park which lies south of Coyhaique, to the San Rafael Glacier and Puyehue National Park.
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The highlight of our holiday was the amazing trek and being in such a remote location surrounded by the most majestic, beautiful mountains. It was absolutely awesome.
Accommodation: It was great in Lima and comfortable in Huaraz with a fantastic rooftop breakfast!
Food: The food on the trek was excellent - we are vegetarian and the cook (Estaban) provided us with delicious, creative and beautiful food throughout and plenty of it. He was like a magician, conjuring up the loveliest food whilst camping in a remote setting.
Guide: Our trek guide (Yunmer) was great. He was extremely informative, had a great sense of humour and was really enthusiastic. He helped carry Jane's water and bag at times - not that we asked him to. He insisted! I have recently had my collarbone plated and he was keen to relieve me of the burden of carrying anything to heavy.
Trek staff: Our donkey / horse driver (Gusman) was brilliant, hard working and quietly helped around camp, setting up, taking down and moving us from one home to the next. The trekking team as a whole were exceptional, really supportive and kind and worked really well together.
Overall organisation was excellent. We felt we were in good hands and looked after well both before and after the trek.
Acclimatising: Acclimatisation walk around Huaraz with Rodolfo was a perfect start to the holiday. Rodolfo is extremely reliable, efficient, well informed and a lovely person. It was great to gain a little insight into the people and culture of the region.
The acclimatisation walk to Laguna Churup with David was another fantastic day. David has been living in the mountains for many years and shared some of his experience and knowledge with us as we surveyed the landscape of peaks, glaciers and lakes.
Benefitting local communities: The local people benefit from the presence of tourists as we provide them an income. Visiting tourists encourages everyone to look after and help maintain this pristine environment- those in the remote communities and also our own trekking team. Visiting tourists also need to respect this. The local people were very grateful that we visited them and also very grateful to Andean trails for their support. They encouraged us to return or send other friends and family. We had some great interactions with our little team and a lot of fun. Sharing our time with these lovely, charming people was very special and we felt that they benefitted as well as us.
Overall: We would strongly recommend anyone who loves nature, being outside and has a sense of adventure to do it.
It is a very special, magical place. Having seen people undertaking the trek unsupported, we felt that having a supported trek was perfect for us as we could really enjoy just being there.
Jane & Greg Windsor, Aus, Sep 2019
» Cordillera Huayhuash Trek, Circuit Walk
We had an absolutely amazing trip and everything was perfect.
Highlights – there were loads of highlights. We loved Quito – especially the morning we went up the Teleferico. We could see for miles over the city to snow capped Volcanos beyond. Our Equador guide and driver were brilliant – Miguel and Memo. They went out or their way to make sure we saw as much as possible – we wouldn’t have seen or learned as much without them. We saw humming bird, toucans, tangers and a fantastic bird of prey sanctuary that wasn’t on the original schedule.
The Galapagos Islands were amazing. Again we saw so much and the guides were brilliant. They were so enthusiastic about their islands, the animals and conservation.
Accommodation etc – the hotels were all excellent. We loved the quirkyness of the hotel in Quito. The staff were very helpful and friendly. The Septimo Paraiso eco lodge in the cloud forest and the Hacienda Las Palmeras near Otavalo were great – the food at Las Palmeras was really excellent. The airport hotel was spotless and friendly but the set meal of Spaghetti bolognese wasn’t great to be honest. We ate in some lovely restaurants and the guides picked some lovely places to stop for food.
Sol y Mar on Santa Cruz was lovely too.
We loved Hotel Albemarle on Isabela. It was a perfect place to spend 5 nights. The rooms were comfy, clean with lovely balconies and views. There were some really good local restaurants, especially Coco surf, recommended by Tania, our Isabela guide.
The company that did our trip to Los Tuneles were fantastic. The guide was so enthusiastic and determined that we would see loads of wildlife. He took loads of photos with his gopro then downloaded them all for us for free when we got back. The lunch on the boat that day was chicken and rice which all three of my kids said was the best lunch they’d had all holiday. It might have been because they were all cold and knackered – they even took the hot sweet tea on offer.
I hope we benefitted the local communities. We enjoyed our trips to the coffee plantation and the chocolate factory and certainly brought plenty of chocolate and coffee back with us. I would like to think that the money we spent goes in someway to help conservation efforts and to keep the cloud forests and the Galapagos Islands as special and unique as they clearly are.
We picked Andean trails because you are based in Scotland and seemed to understand out requirements and came up with a perfect sounding itinary. Flying from Galsgow via Amsterdam worked well and for us was definitely the quickest and easiest way to get there.
Everything worked out perfectly. We had a totally brilliant time. I think it is all still sinking in...
L. Keany, UK, Aug 2019
» 4-day Ecuador Family Holiday
South America Travel Special - mailchi.mp/cad4bbf7fc36/south-…
1st November, 2019 3:14 pm
If you are wondering what to eat in Buenos Aires you might wish to consider a tasting menu. Alan was recently in Buenos Aires and this is the account of his personal experience of a a tasting menu evening. He writes: Tasting menu – a lot of small “funny” dishes designed to confuse and challenge your palate. Well, that’s what I have always thought and as such they have never appealed to me. On a recent visit to Buenos Aires I was invited to go to a seven course tasting menu, paired with wine, at Casa Coupage. …
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