Santa Cruz Argentina has the best of Patagonia – the raw natural beauty, the breathtaking landscapes, incredible unique wildlife, singular ecosystems, and some of the best adventure sports to boot.
The province has a tiny population (which is known to be very hospitable) but it is vast. It has seven national parks and 27 protected areas in its varied expanse of 243,943 sq km. Because of these immense distances, it is wise to plan your itinerary well ahead.
We have selected two routes through the province – Ruta 40 and Highway 3. We have listed just a few of the highlights along these major arteries, but there are many more to discover.
Along Ruta 40
Many of the famous sites in Argentina and Patagonia lie within Santa Cruz province. And many of these are accessible from the symbolic Ruta 40 highway, which runs north-south through Patagonia along the Andes.
Cueva de las Manos
Heading south on Ruta 40 from the top of Santa Cruz, a must-see stop is Cueva de las Manos (‘Cave of the Hands’), a UNESCO World Heritage protected site. The cave paintings are more than 10,000 years old, and the oldest found in Argentina to date.
Further south are two essential detours west off ruta 40. El Chaltén is the national capital for trekking. From here, hard-core hikers can access the famous and stunning Cerro Fitz Roy peak, as well as trekking routes such as the well-trodden Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Capri and Laguna Torre trails. Do not miss a trip to nearby Lago del Desierto – a glorious and unusual lake inside the crater of an extinct volcano.
Further south still, is El Calafate. This is the setoff point to visit one of the best national parks in the country, Los Glaciares national park, with its more than 350 glaciers. And Perito Moreno national park, known for its glacier and namesake, plus its variety of lakes. More glaciers, archeological sites, rivers and ancient cave paintings. Check out the weather in El Calafate and best times to visit here.
National road 3
Running along the eastern side of Santa Cruz, this tourist route along highway 3 is called the Ruta Azul. It gives access to an incredible coastline, and special national parks with some amazing marine life colonies.
This is an oil town, not worth visiting so much itself, but the coastline is spectacular, with stark cliffs and an emblematic colony of sea lions.
Petrified Forest of Jaramillo
This is a worthwhile detour inland off the national road. The amazing petrified forest of Jaramillo is a stark landscape but heaven for geologists and fascinating to laypersons with its more than 200 petrified trees that are extremely well-preserved from the Jurassic era when this now-desert existed as a lush verdant forest.
Detour east to Puerto Deseado to explore the beautiful estuary of the river Deseado and witness dolphins and penguins and other birdlife. Explore the waterways by kayak to see the local sea lion population, or visit Punta Cavendish with its seven caves (there are loads of crabs, star fish, sea snails and other creatures in abundanc). Puerto Deseado is also the setoff point for Isla Pinguino National Park, a marine reserve for Rockhopper penguins – the ones with the spiky black and yellow hairdos that look like they come with attitude.
Puerto San Julián
Magellan discovered Puerto San Julian in 1520, spent the winter there, faced a mutiny and executed several mutineers. It is also the first recorded use of the name ‘Patagonian’ applied to the local inhabitants, which was given by Magellan’s fellow sailor Antonio Pigafetta.
Makenke Marine Park
Next to Puerto San Julián is this marine park featuring the largest reproductive colony of Red-legged cormorants as well as colonies of elephant seals and sea lions.
Further south, Rio Gallegas, is the provincial capital and access point for the Cabo Virgenes Natural Reserve where you can see the Strait of Magellan and the largest Magellanic Penguin colony on the South American continent. It’s also the start point for the famous ruta 40 highway through Patagonia.
This is the southernmost point on mainland Patagonia. Continue south to visit the amazing sub-Antarctic landscape of the End of the World… And, consider spending some time in Santa Cruz Argentina: awesome.