The magic that is Patagonia, and the best places to visit in Patagonia.
We drove into the park just as the sun was setting, creating an ethereal glow on the dusty road and vast landscape. As we turned a corner, I got my first glimpse of the infamous Torres peaks. This was the reason why I wanted to visit Patagonia.
I had initially seen an image of the peaks in National Geographic and became fascinated with this remote area in the southern part of the world. I couldn’t believe where I was standing.
We had been traveling since 5am and all I wanted to do was arrive at our final destination. However, like most adventures, it’s more about the journey, and Patagonia is full of the in-betweens. Full of peaks, glaciers and lakes. Guanacos, pumas and penguins. Rainbows, waterfalls and volcanos. History and culture.
It’s remote and wild. Vast and diverse. Full of beauty and mystery.
Can you imagine being the first Spanish explorers and settlers to set eyes upon such stunning landscapes and extreme weather? Or those initial interactions between the indigenous nomadic tribes and European settlers?To have these foreigners come and take your land, disturbing your way of life? Or how difficult it must have been to live in such a remote and extreme region, making it difficult to survive and live. Above all, it very much feels like the end of earth.
The beauty is what initially drew me there, but I discovered there’s so much more to this area than pretty peaks. This trip was the perfect introduction for planning my next visit, to uncover more of the mystery. The best places to visit in Patagonia may not be where you expect.
G Adventures and National Geographic Journeys
During my two-week tour with G Adventures and National Geographic Journeys, we got a broad introduction to this roughly 300,000 square mile area. Located at the southern end of South America, it’s shared between Chile and Argentina. We visited five main areas, traveling from north to south and crossing from Argentina to Chile and back again.
We started and ended in Buenos Aires, spent roughly 2 days in each location, including travel days. I cannot imagine planning this trip on my own, or attempting to do it without experienced guides and drivers. I previously went on a safari to Tanzania with them so knew I could trust them for a good trip and show us the best places to visit in Patagonia.
The area is so remote, the roads are not always clear and the extreme wind makes driving difficult, which is why I highly recommend this tour for experiencing Patagonia for the first time.
Starting in Buenos Aires, we made our way to northern Patagonia, flying to a city called San Carlos de Bariloche. This area is known for beautiful lakes and mountains. After 2 days there, we made our way south to Puerto Varas in the Chilean Lake District. This took an entire travel day including 4 buses and 3 boat rides. After that we flew to Punta Arenas with a stop in Puerto Natales, the last town before Torres del Paine National Park. We stayed there for two days.
From there we drove to El Calafate, the closest town to Perito Moreno Glacier. It’s one of the world’s few “advancing” glaciers. After that we flew to Ushuaia, the most southern city in the world. Here we took a cruise along the Beagle Channel. There we saw seals, whales, dolphins and an island full of penguins. Finally, we flew back to Buenos Aires, where we explored the city and took a tango lesson before ending the tour.
- Buenos Aires
- San Carlos de Bariloche
- Puerto Varas/Chilean Lake District
- Torres del Paine National Park
- El Calafate/Perito Moreno Glacier
- Buenos Aires
The 5 best places to visit in Patagonia
Bariloche is often referred to as the start of Patagonia in the north. It is incredibly scenic with mountains and lakes in every direction. Often compared to European alpine resorts, I could see it in the architecture, mountainscapes and high quality cuisine.
Known for nature activities like biking and hiking, we went horseback riding with Los Baqueanos in Nahuel Huapi National Park. We passed through scenic valleys, lush forests, and mountain peaks. Bariloche was the perfect starting point to start off the Patagonian experience.
Puerto Varas, Chile and the Chilean Lake District
To get from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Varas in the Chilean Lake District required multiple buses and ferries. One of the 3 boat rides, “Cruce de los Lagos”, is considered one of the most scenic ferry cruises in the world.
After a long day of travel, we arrived in Puerto Varas just in time for sunset.
Our hotel overlooked a beautiful lake with a volcano in the distance. The Chilean Lake District is known for its spectacular scenery—pale green mountain lakes, snow-capped volcanoes and lush forests. In addition, it is also known for lake-side resorts, outdoors activities, and traditional folklore, handicrafts, and legends.
The next morning we woke up early and boarded a speedboat that brought us to a black sand beach, which was the entrance to our rainforest hike. I had no idea Patagonia had so many different terrains!
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Perhaps the most popular park in Patagonia, Torres del Paine is stunning. It is translated as the blue towers–torres mean towers in Spanish and paine is an indigenous word that means blue. The famous towers are made up of Torre Sur, Torre Central, and Torre Norte. They all rise more than 2,600 meters above sea level.
We spent our second day exploring the park with an expert guide. Driving around in a private van, we passed by turquoise lakes and constant views of the mountains. Every so often we would see a group of guanacos crossing the road. We also spotted Patagonia hare or mara, foxes, and luckily (and from very far away) two pumas, which are the local mountain lions. This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Patagonia.
We didn’t have time to do any major treks, but there are many shorter hikes to do all over the park with incredible landscapes like this one.
With only five hotels inside the park, we stayed in one near the Grey Glacier that had incredible views.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
It was difficult to leave Torres del Paine, but I was just as excited to visit Perito Moreno Glacier. It is the second largest contiguous icefield in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, it may be the most famous glacier in world because it’s so easily accessible. Only an hour drive from the nearest town of Calafate, this stable glacier is consistently expanding.
We first saw the glaciers from viewing platforms across from the ice fields, then we boarded a boat that brought us to the glacier for our trekking adventure. I definitely recommend going on the trek if physically able. It’s one of the “coolest” experiences and worth the extra journey.
Our last stop before heading back to Buenos Aires was to the port city of Ushuaia, or the southernmost city in the world. We took a catamaran through the Beagle Channel, passing by an island full of seals and another with all birds before arriving at Martillo Island, home to a penguin rookery. With almost 1,000 nests, we explored the island with a naturalist guide and got up close with gentoo and Magellanic penguins.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Patagonia is a vast region that is diverse and full of history. With so many places to visit within the area, it would have been difficult to plan a trip of this sort myself. Not surprisingly, this was the perfect introduction with G Adventures and National Geographic Journeys. We saw a wide array of areas and discovered the best places to visit in Patagonia. In addition, we did it in a short amount of time, comfortably and with a group of like-minded individuals from all over the world!
Thank you to G Adventures for hosting me on this adventure to the end of the earth and showing me the best places to visit in Patagonia. As always, all opinions and photos are my own.