Patagonia is a wild, windswept, and sparsely populated region that crosses the Andes between Chile and Argentina and spans from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. The unofficial border extends from the very farthest southern region of Tierra del Fuego all the way north to the Colorado River, encompassing the Chilean & Argentine Lakes Districts and the wildlife-rich Valdes Peninsula in Argentina. Deep blue lakes, dramatic glaciers, steep granite mountains, vast grassy steppes and rugged coastlines lend endless variety to the landscape.
Patagonia has been a beacon for explorers throughout the ages. The name Patagonia comes from the word patagón, used by Magellan in 1520 to describe the native people that his expedition thought to be giants because of the large footprints their animal-skin footwear left in the sand. It is now believed the Patagons were Tehuelche natives with an average height of 180 cm (5′11″), which was indeed giant when compared to the 155 cm (5′1″) average height for Spaniards of the time.
There are dozens of National Parks and Preserves spread across Patagonia, showcasing a variety of ecosystems and offering accommodations ranging from primitive camping and rustic mountain huts (refugios) to 5-star eco lodges. Hikers come to tackle the iconic dirt paths that lead to stunning views of Fitz Roy or to circumnavigate the Paine Massif. Birders and wildlife lovers hope to spot the magnificent endemic Magellanic woodpecker, the endangered huemul (South Andean deer), or soaring Andean Condors.
A trip to Patagonia can be as arduous or as comfortable as you wish, though the emphasis is 100% on the stunning scenery and abundant outdoor activities.
Patagonia’s seasons run opposite of ours in the Northern Hemisphere and travel generally occurs October-April. The most desirable time for travel coincides with the summer months of December, January, and February. Many properties are fully booked a year or more in advance for the holiday periods so planning ahead for holiday travel dates is essential. October and April can be a little cooler, but often are far less crowded. Late March and early April can reward travelers with beautiful autumn colors when beech trees turn vivid red and orange, contrasting nicely with Patagonia’s blue and green expanses.
How to get there?
Travelers from North America first fly to either Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina. Flights generally arrive in the early morning after a long red-eye schedule, so a day or two in the city is recommended before continuing south. Once in country, domestic airlines such as LAN and Aerolineas offer multiple connections daily to cities and towns that are relatively close (in Patagonia terms) to the most popular national parks and preserves.
How much time?
Patagonia is a big place that operates on its own time schedule; it is not a destination that lends itself to rushing or tight timelines. A minimum of 10 days is suggested between Torres del Paine and Los Glaiceres National Park only. Plan to take 2 or 3 weeks if you wish to embark on some of the extended treks or add on destinations like the Lakes District or Valdes Peninsula.
Who is it for?
Trekkers, adventure seekers, outdoor enthusiasts, photographers. Patagonia speaks to the soul of all people who love and find inspiration in wild, untrammeled outdoor spaces.
However, getting to Patagonia requires long flights (14+ hours) and long overland vehicle transfers (6-8 hours in some cases) along sometimes unpaved roads. For these reasons, as well as minimum-age requirements for select activities (like ice trekking and climbing), we recommend Patagonia for families with children aged 12 and over.
Only a valid Passport is required for US passport holders to enter the country.
How to get around?
The parks themselves are best experienced via human powered adventure; on foot, by bicycle or by canoe or kayak. Horseback riding is a great alternative as well, though it is not permitted everywhere. Traveling between parks requires road transportation via private vehicle or shuttle bus and longer distances are best covered by air or with long haul buses that offer first class overnight service.
Health and safety concerns?
There are no special vaccines or safety concerns for traveling to Patagonia. Tap water in Chile and Argentina is generally safe to drink and travelers are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottle and avoid the use of disposable plastic.