Located in both Chile and Argentina, South America’s Patagonia region is the area of land that’s as far south as you can travel on this planet. The Andes Mountains create a beautiful natural boundary dividing Chile and Argentina through Patagonia. Characterized by its jaw-dropping and rugged scenery, one of Patagonia’s most popular destinations is Ushuaia in Argentina. Appropriately nicknamed the “End of the World“, it’s the gateway to Antarctica – whether you travel via ship or helicopter. Although both Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams in Chile describe themselves as the world’s southernmost city, Puerto Williams officially takes the crown by latitude.
I have traveled to the area on three different occasions and each time I am struck by the incredibly fresh air, the winds, and the region’s commitment to sustainability. The pure fresh air in Patagonia truly feels, tastes, and smells different depending on when you visit Patagonia, the wind can be strong enough to blow you over (this isn’t an exaggeration). In particular, during summer the winds can reach over 70 miles per hour.
If you’re looking to visit Patagonia, keep reading for the ultimate travel guide, which includes the best times to visit Patagonia and the region’s must-see cities and attractions. And I cannot say it too many times…bring your camera, or phone to take pictures. Every time you turn a corner you will see a new breathtaking site. Make sure you are fully charged at the beginning of each day and bring extra batteries or attachable chargers.
Best time to visit Patagonia
Patagonia’s peak season is summer, which stretches from December to February in the Southern Hemisphere. With up to 18 hours of daylight daily, another reason to visit in summer is that daytime temperatures usually sit in the 70s, with nighttime lows in the 50s. This is the perfect climate for hiking, which is definitely one of the most popular activities in Patagonia. Don’t forget that the wind-chill factor can be strong and it can also drastically reduce temperatures; even during the summer months. Other benefits of visiting in summer include being able to see a wider variety of wildlife and having access to all hiking huts and trails.
However, if you want to save money visiting Patagonia in the shoulder seasons is also worthwhile. In Spring (September to November), you can see wildflowers in full bloom, while gorgeous fall foliage takes over between March and May. Shoulder season temperatures are still manageable – you will just need to pack an extra layer.
What to pack for a trip to Patagonia
Speaking of packing… Besides the usual items you’d pack for any trip (important documents, medication, and toiletries), there are a few other things I recommend packing for a trip to Patagonia. This includes a day pack for hiking trips, well worn-in and waterproof hiking boots, a waterproof jacket and pants, and thermal underwear. And you simply cannot pack too many layers of all different weights for the weather known to change by the hour.
Must-see attractions in Patagonia
Torres del Paine National Park
My most favorite location to visit in Patagonia is Torres del Paine. It is undoubtedly Patagonia’s most well-known natural attraction. Located in Chile, it’s renowned for its breathtaking scenery, which includes bright turquoise lakes, glaciers, and towering granite peaks. A UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Torres del Paine National Park.
Hiking not your thing?
The first time I was in Tierra Del Fuego we took the End of the World Train through the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Take the 100-year-old Prisoner’s Train and recreate its historic journey in coaches with huge glass windows and beautiful landscapes. Enjoy spectacular views over the Beagle Channel as you take in highlights like Ensenada Bay, Laguna Verde, Beaver Dam and Lapataia Bay in about a half day tour. Great tour for all levels of fitness. Even if you are an athlete, it is worth the ride to get a great overview of the area.
Sail or kayak across Grey Lake to get up close to its colossal glacier and icebergs, and then go shooting wildlife with your camera around Pehoé Lake. You can see foxes, huemul, Andean deer, birds, guanacos, and the elusive puma (if you are very lucky) in Torres del Paine National Park.
Looking to hike in one of the world’s most beautiful places??
I have completed a number of one day hikes in Torres del Paine National Park. If you can walk, no matter how slowly, you can find a beautiful trail to walk on even for a very short period of time.
I hope to have enough time on my next visit to hike either the W Trail, or the O trail. The W Trail takes you around the park’s main tourist attractions for 46 miles. The OTrail actually sounds more interesting. It is somewhere between 76 and 85 miles long over a period of approximately 9 to 11 days. It is very appealing as they limit the number of hikers to 70 per day.
If you seek an incredible natural adventure in Patagonia, you must visit Torres del Paine National Park.
Los Glaciares National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Los Glaciares National Park is my second favorite place to visit in Patagonia (this time in Argentina.) It’s home to the jagged peak of Mount Fitz Roy, the mountain towns of El Chaltén, El Calafate, and Lake Viedma, the amazing Perito Moreno Glacier, and plenty of wildlife as well.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually maintaining a state of equilibrium because it continues to accumulate mass at a rate similar to that of its loss. There is a lot of debate in the scientific community as to the reason.
At 19 miles long, Perito Moreno Glacier is a natural wonder. It’s known for its glacial icefalls, which dramatically (and noisily) plunge from its front wall into Lake Argentino. I recommend making time to do both the available hikes and the boat tour. We took the boat tour through Civitas and were very pleased with the boat and service. The boat cruise gets you very up close and personal to the glacier. Make sure to wear lots of layers and bring a dry sack for your camera. It can be crazy windy and wet any time of year in this area. If you are lucky you will get to see the glacier calving.
There are walking paths that allow you to see the glacier from multiple vantage points, and there’s also the option to do a guided hike across the glacier using crampons as well. Other glaciers to see within Los Glaciares National Park include Upsala, Spegazzini and Viedma Glaciers
Experienced hikers will have quite the adventure tackling Mount Fitz Roy’s steep granite surface to reach its stunning summit. There are many day hikes around and nearby for those of us that are mere “mortals.” It is also easy to do a “drive by” of Mount Fitz Roy.
Other activities to enjoy in Los Glaciares National Park include horseback riding, mountain biking, cruising along Lake Argentino, and bird watching.
Perito Moreno National Park
My third favorite recommendation in Patagonia (also in Argentina), is the Perito Moreno National Park. It is often described as Patagonia’s wildest park. With only 1000 annual visitors, it’s definitely a hidden gem in Patagonia. For adventurers only, prepare to be spellbound by the Sierra Colorada’s snowcapped mountains and the turquoise lakes nestled in their foothills.
Dramatically sitting on the shores of Lake Llanquihue in Chile’s Los Lagos región, Osorno Volcano features a year-round towering snowcapped peak and green slopes. The locals say that Mt. Fuji looks like the Osorno Volcano. And they are right! it marks the beginning of Chilean Patagonia. While skiing is a popular activity on the volcano’s slopes in winter, hiking up the volcano’s roads is one of the best things to do in Patagonia in summer. I went hiking there this winter (their summer) and it was one of the best days of the trip. Again, if you are not a hiker, you can take a cable car to the top.
You will find Petrohué Waterfalls near Osorno Volcano, inside Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. Located along Petrohué River and surrounded by lush green mountains, the waterfalls’ water gushes over basaltic lava rocks, which coincidentally come from Osorno Volcano. There are guided tours available from nearby Puerto Varas that take you to both the falls and Osorno Volcano in one day. The colors are incredible shades of blue and green.
Punta Tombo is a narrow and rocky peninsula jutting just over two miles into the sea on Argentina’s central coast. It’s where Patagonia’s rocky dry landscape meets the wild Atlantic Ocean. Punta Tombo is well-known for being home to the world’s largest Magellanic Penguins colony. In fact, over one million of them visit Punta Tombo annually between September and March to breed. However, the best time to visit Punta Tombo to walk among the friendly animals is from November to March. Although the penguins may get close to you, it’s worth remembering this is a National Fauna Reserve, so touching or pestering the animals is strictly prohibited. I promise you that you will spend the day smiling and laughing. The penguins are very entertaining. Wear sturdy shoes and lots of layers. It can also be crazy cold and windy. If you are not up for walking, take a cruise around the peninsula. You will still see lots of penguins.
Another place to spot Magellanic Penguins during this breeding season is Magdalena Island in Chile. This is further south than Punta Tombo, near Ushuaia.
Cruise the Beagle Channel
The Beagle Channel is the name given to the 150-mile long strait separating the Tierra del Fuego archipelago from a series of smaller islands. It’s located on the southernmost tip of South America between Chile and Argentina. Today, it’s commonly visited by cruise ships sailing to Ushuaia or onwards to Antarctica. Surrounded by dramatic jagged and snowcapped mountains, as well as Tierra del Fuego National Park’s sub Antarctic forest, you, fortunately, don’t have to cruise to Antarctica to enjoy the Beagle Channel. There are half-day tours available from Ushuaia, which often include additional excursions to either the iconic Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse or Martillo Island.
The best cities to visit in Patagonia
I’ve already mentioned Ushuaia on a few occasions. Argentina’s southernmost resort town, it’s located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. Perched on a hill, Ushuaia is surrounded by the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel. Although most people head to Ushuaia as the last point on the way to Antarctica, there are plenty of things to do in the surrounding area as well. This includes visiting Tierra del Fuego National Park, trying authentic Patagonian cuisine at Kalma Resto, and seeing the penguins on Martillo Island. If you want to embrace Ushuaia’s quintessential touristy activities, you can also send a postcard from the End of the World and get your passport stamped at the tourist information center.
If you end up with extra time or an extra day in Ushuaia hike or walk the Martial Glacier. Martial Glacier is a 3.9 mile out and back trail located near Ushuaia, that offers scenic views and is rated as moderate. It is a short and inexpensive cab ride to get there.
Officially called San Carlos de Bariloche, Bariloche is another Argentinian resort town nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Bordering a beautiful glacial lake and the picturesque Lake District, Bariloche is known for its alpine architecture and hiking and skiing opportunities. A visit to Patagonia’s most charming town isn’t complete without strolling down La Calle Mitre, which is lined with a serious amount of chocolate shops. Also a good place to shop if you need to bring home some souvenirs.
Located in southern Chile’s Lake District, Puerto Varas sits on the banks of Lake Llanquihue. Defined by its German-style architecture (a reflection of the city’s colonial past), from Puerto Varas you can take in sweeping views of both Osorno Volcano and Calbuco Volcano. Puerto Varas is also known for its striking three-towered Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. The lakeside city is a great place to base yourself to visit the Osorno Volcano and Petrohué Waterfalls.
Back in Argentina, El Calafate is primarily known for being the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, which is where you’ll find the Perito Moreno Glacier. Besides this main attraction, other things to do in El Calafate include visiting the Glaciarium, which is home to The Glaciobar – a bar made entirely of ice. You can also follow the self-guided trail around Laguna Nimez Reserve, visit the nearby village of El Chaltén, and do a guided tour of the unique La Leona Petrified Forest. I We stayed at the Kol Aiken hotel. It had beautiful views and handled all the details perfectly.
Patagonia is not just for adventurous hikers
As I have mentioned above, you don’t have to be physically fit or an avid hiker to enjoy Patagonia. Although hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Patagonia, there are plenty of other activities waiting for you. Furthermore, alternative ways to experience Patagonia include flying between destinations, organized group tours, and self-driving.
Patagonia is an incredibly beautiful place and worth the time it takes to get there – depending on where you are coming from in the world, of course! I hope you enjoy your Patagonia adventures as much as me!