5 unmissable Patagonian highlights
Every inch of the vast untamed wilderness that occupies the lower half of Argentina and Chile is incredible in its own right. But if time is short these are the spots you simply have to see…
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
The whole of Patagonia is incredible but the Torres del Paine National Park, with its fairytale peaks abundant wildlife and azure glaciers will redefine your understanding of the word ‘stunning’. The sheer granite pillars which are symbolic of South America’s finest national park are straight out of a hyper-realistic Pixar animation but they are no means its only drawcard.
With flocks of rheas (ostrich-like terrestrial birds) and flamingos and abundant guanacos (a wild relative of the llama), the park is a nature lover’s paradise. Whether you’re hiking its excellent trails, horse-back riding to its furthest corners or simply sheltering from the ever-changing elements in the luxurious comfort of your lodge, the memories of Torres del Paine will stay with you forever.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
No trip to Patagonia is complete without a visit to the immense Perito Moreno Glacier: an icy contrast to that other wall of water in Iguazu. The glacier is actually one of the world’s fastest-moving and every seven years or so it encroaches all the way to the opposite lakeshore, causing a difference in water levels which eventually results in one of the most deafening and explosive natural phenomena on the planet.
You’d have to be exceptionally fortunate to be there for the ‘ruptura’, but Perito Merino is amazing 365 days a year. Accessed via a two-hour drive from the windswept town of El Calafate, the glacier will take your breath away before your vehicle has even come to a standstill. Be sure to snap a few shots of it from the lakeshore before boarding the boat which will take you almost to the face of the glacier, where massive icebergs regularly calve into the lake’s icy waters. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can even walk on a stable section of the glacier in crampons.
The Lake District, Chile and Argentina
It shouldn’t even be legal for one small region to be home to such abundant picture-postcard perfection. Everywhere you look in the so-called Lake District there’s an extinct volcano or a glacier-fed lake; a soaring stand of conifers or a babbling brook that’s so clear you can make out every single pebble on the streambed.
If you visit from Argentina you’ll most likely arrive in the agreeable resort town of Bariloche on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, but I’d strongly advise exploring the surrounding lakes, valleys and villages. The ‘Route of the Seven Lakes’ has to be one of the most idyllic drives on the planet and the chocolate box charm of towns like San Martin de Los Andes and Villa la Angostura is hard to beat.
The main hub on the Chilean side is the slightly rough-around-the-edges port city of Puerto Montt – but all of our guests choose to stay in the delightful lakeside village of Puerto Varas, with its irresistible blend of colonial German heritage and contemporary Chilean adventure sports.
Peninsula Valdes, Argentina
A few miles north of the scruffy Atlantic town of Puerto Madryn lies Peninsula Valdes, the anvil-shaped peninsula which Gerald Durrell described as “a cul-de-sac into which all the wild-life of Chubut has drained and from which it cannot escape.” And with good reason: the peninsuala is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world.
The David Attenborough documentary of orcas wilfully beaching themselves while ambushing sea lions was filmed here and the area is also home to large colonies of fur seals, whales, elephant seals and penguins – although the largest penguin colonies are found to the south of Puerto Madryn. When I visited I was lucky enough to witness a pair of orcas zipping through the shallow water in search of a suitable victim...Who knows, maybe you’ll be there to see them taking things one step further?
At the very Southern tip of Patagonia lies Tierra del Fuego, one of the most evocative and otherworldly places you’ll ever go, and the gateway to Antarctica: