Superlatives don’t do Patagonia justice: if you want to understand quite how spectacular this region is, you’ve no choice but to visit yourself. Now a firm bucket-list favorite, Patagonia is a part of South America characterized by mysterious stretches of wilderness and barely-discovered glaciers. This land of grasslands, mountains and ice is home to a jaw-dropping number of natural beauties, many of which you’ll probably never believe exist. Here are our eight favourites.
1. Laguna de Los Tres, El Chaltén
A strenuous hike from El Chaltén brings you to the spectacular viewpoint overlooking Laguna de Los Tres and one of the emblems of Argentine Patagonia, Monte Fitz Roy. Chunks of ice bob in the lake’s cobalt-blue meltwater providing the perfect setting for your own barely-believable shots of this otherworldly scene.
2. Glacier Alley, the Beagle Channel
While Patagonia’s famous for its colossal glaciers, few visitors have the chance to visit the region’s most impressive, which line the section of the Beagle Channel known as Glacier Alley. Cruise ships navigate between icebergs as large as houses, pausing for reflection to admire the tumbling meltwater that spills into the waiting sea below.
3. El Perito Moreno, El Calafate
The most famous of all Argentine Patagonia’s majestic natural landmarks, Perito Moreno Glacier barely needs introduction. As you stand at the base of this 19-mile (30 km) long body of ice, prepare to be overwhelmed by its majestic size and the huge chunks of glacier that crash from its terminus and into the aquamarine waters of Lago Argentino.
4. The Cave of Hands, Perito Moreno
Believed to have been a sacred site for the ancestors of the indigenous Patagonian Tehuelche people, the Cave of Hands is a series of rocky outcrops and caves plastered with hand stencils and paintings depicting guanacos and hunting scenes. A short tour around the site provides fascinating information about these unique images which are believed to date from between 13,000 and 9,000 years ago.
5. The Petrified Forest, Sarmiento
The Petrified Forest is Argentina’s most important fossil site, where the transformed trunks of petrified trees are scattered across the area. 60 million years ago, the twin geological influences of volcanic ash from a nearby eruption and the formation of the Andes Mountain range changed the climatic conditions of an area once comprised of lush vegetation and trees. Now, the trees appear made from granite and a visit here provides a fascinating insight into the natural forces that have shaped the remote Patagonian countryside.
6. The Marble Cathedral and Marble Caverns, Río Tranquillo
While the subtly-changing colors of Lago General Carrera’s waters are impressive enough, the Marble Cathedral and surrounding caverns are the real stars of the show. Formed over a period of 6,200 years by the wave action of the lake, the caves are wholly composed of marble, which ranges in colour from white, to gray and black and breathtakingly reflects the changing temperament of the water. Visit with a motorboat tour from Río Tranquillo.
7. The Magdalena Island Penguin Colony, Magellan Straits
One of the largest Magellanic penguin colonies in Chile, Magdalena Island hosts over 60,000 breeding pairs between October and March. While other colonies in Patagonia only allow visitors to admire them from a distance, on this island a path weaves between their burrows, providing ample photo opportunities with a friendly penguin.
8. Torres del Paine National Park, Puerto Natales
A source of extensive Chilean pride and the ultimate symbol of Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Although countless have taken photographs of its most impressive landmark, the monolithic granite towers, few have managed to do it justice. Hike the Circuit or “O” and “W” treks as the only real way of appreciating this untamed wilderness ruled by glaciers and piercing mountains.