An area that encompasses the southern regions of Chile and Argentina, Patagonia covers over 260,000-sq. miles (673,000-sq. km). It is for this reason that it’s difficult to see all of the ten highlights on this list in one holiday. Depending upon the length of your vacation, it’s wise to concentrate on one region or plan to take a number of long distance flights or bus journeys to help you cover the necessary distances.
1) Ushuaia and Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego Region
Ushuaia in the Tierra del Fuego region of Argentina claims to be the southernmost city in the world and is the gateway to exploring the ocean and coastline here. Large cruise ships navigate through the Beagle Channel – a stretch of water that took its name from the first voyage of the historic HMS Beagle. Others cross into Chilean territory to Cape Horn.
Hiking opportunities are extensive in the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park where astounding vistas of the Beagle Channel are guaranteed and the trekking trails pass through windswept, subantarctic forest recognized for its biological richness. Nearby Río Grande, a few hours north, also merits a visit. In this coastal city, world-class fly fishing is available for fishing enthusiasts and a short distance away, tourists can enjoy an Argentine asado (bbq) and learn about the gaucho way of life in the traditional estancias (ranches) situated in these southern Patagonian grasslands.
2) Perito Moreno and Los Glaciares National Park, Santa Cruz Region
Los Glaciares is a UNESCO World Heritage national park which contains the Patagonian glacier that draws the most crowds: El Perito Moreno. This enormous 97-sq. mile (250-sq. km) mass of ice is one of the few Patagonian glaciers that continues to advance. Boardwalks built at the foot of the glacier provide spectators with the perfect vantage point for viewing the chunks of ice which calve into the milky-blue waters of Lago Argentino. Boats also approach the terminus of El Perito Moreno to get spectators even closer to the action.
The Los Glaciares National Park is rated as having some of the best walking territory in Argentine Patagonia. Monte Fitzroy, located in the northern extremes of the park, is an extraordinary set of granite peaks towering over a landscape of sky-reflecting lakes and forests made up of species such as the lenga beech, ñirre and guindo trees.
3) The Valdés Peninsula, Chubut Region
Considered one of the prime locations for marine wildlife watching, the Valdés Peninsula near Puerto Madryn has sea lions, elephant seals and fur seals living in enormous colonies along its beaches and coves. The endangered southern right whale breeds along the coast and can be spotted in the main bay, the Gulfo Nuevo, while the pod of orcas that live here for some of the year has developed a unique hunting strategy that must be seen to be appreciated. Visitors watch as these killer whales beach themselves in order to capture their prey of sea lions and elephant seals.
Further along the coastline, over a million and a half Magellanic penguins return to the Punta Tombo rookery each year, which is considered the largest and most important Magellanic penguin breeding ground in South America.
4) Welsh Patagonia, Chubut Region
Nowhere is the migration of different nationalities to Patagonia more obvious and more celebrated than in the area surrounding Puerto Madryn. Here, towns are inhabited by the Welsh settlers who came to Argentina over 150 years ago and this region rose to fame in Bruce Chatwin’s pivotal travel novel, “In Patagonia”.
Welsh Patagonia includes the towns of Trevelin, Trelew and Gaiman, with the latter being the best example of how Welsh culture and ancestry have been preserved. A number of museums about the settlers grace the streets of Gaiman, and visitors come to sample traditional afternoon tea in one of the many cosy tea houses. These are made even more enchanting by the Welsh tea towels and other Welsh memorabilia which display the locals’ proud origins.
5) Bariloche and the Nahuel Huapi National Park, Río Negro
At the very northern tip of Patagonia, Bariloche is a city renowned for its chocolate and Alpine-style buildings – a legacy of the German-speaking immigrants who settled here in the late 1900s. Set in the picturesque landscape of the Nahuel Huapi National Park, the area surrounding the city is characterized by huge lakes and soaring mountains. A high level of snow falls here during winter, so the area encompasses a number of ski resorts open between June and October. Tourists are also attracted to Bariloche during the summer season when the ski runs become hiking trails with stunning views across the entire national park.
- How to get from El Calafate to El Chalten in Argentine Patagonia
- A Patagonia Trip Planner for Trhee Weeks in the Region