Patagonia’s 10 Most Breathtaking Sights

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Stretching from the midlands in Argentina and Chile to the tip of South America, Patagonia is about as close to the end of the world as you can get—just 500 miles from Antarctica. Imposing, craggy mountain peaks; icy blue rivers and lakes; sprawling glaciers; and endless expanses of wind-whipped grasslands—the region’s landscape is nature at its most sublime. Few places on Earth can match Patagonia for its diversity of scenery. —Abbey Chase

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Nahuel Lake

WHERE: Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina

Nahuel Huapi National Park is in the northern part of Patagonia, surrounding the popular and lively mountain town of Bariloche. The eponymous lake dominates the area, with seven branches that spread out through the surrounding mountains. Glacial runoff turns the lake a uniquely beautiful milky blue color, with several small islands scattered around its more than 200 square miles. There are lots of ways to enjoy the lake, from scenic hikes along its shores to sunbathing on a warm summer day. If the conditions are right, don’t miss the chance to take a sailboat out and explore the lake’s nooks and crannies.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

Abbey Chase

Cerro Benitez and Laguna Sofia

WHERE: Outside of Puerto Natales, Chile

Cerro Benítez is by no means the tallest peak in Patagonia, but its viewpoint over Laguna Sofia makes it one of the region’s best short hikes. An easy two-hour hike from the trailhead (an hour outside Puerto Natales) takes you along the edge of the steep drop-off, perfect for condor viewing. Enormous Andean condors, with wingspans that can reach 10 feet, nest in the crevices of the rock face. You’ll often see them gracefully soaring through the valley, gliding on the thermal currents and remaining motionless save for tiny movements in their wingtips, used for stability and steering. Below is the huge, mirrorlike Laguna Sofia.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

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Laguna de los Tres

WHERE: Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy are two of Patagonia’s most famous and menacing peaks. Fitz Roy is arguably the most challenging climb on earth, thanks to its unusual shape and sheer granite faces. Luckily, you don’t have to be a world-class climber to take in the amazing peaks. A tough 16-mile hike circuit out of El Chaltén, a good base for exploring the region, ends at the base of Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres. A slightly easier hike from El Chaltén leads you to another lagoon with a fantastic view of Cerro Torre.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

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Peninsula Valdes

WHERE: Chubut Province, Argentina

Similar to Bariloche, Peninsula Valdés’s location in northern Patagonia makes it much more temperate—perfect for the region’s unique wildlife viewing. Several species of seal make their home along the coast, and southern right whales are often spotted in the gulf along the peninsula. The entire region is a UNESCO protected area for its unique marine life and ecosystem. On land, look for penguins and guanacos, similar to llamas, and found all over Patagonia. The town of Puerto Madryn is a good base for exploring the region.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

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Beagle Channel

WHERE: Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia sits at the edge of Tierra del Fuego, the Argentinian island at the tip of the continent, separated from South America by the Strait of Magellan. This is the typical departure point for trips to Antarctica, but the area itself has plenty to offer. The Beagle Channel, which separates Tierra del Fuego from a group of Chilean islands, is a great place for whale watching (Charles Darwin traveled through the passage on an expedition in 1833). In Tierra del Fuego National Park, a huge network of trails will take you for a day or two weeks past the region’s glaciers, mountains, and subantarctic forests.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

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Perito Moreo Glacier

WHERE: Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

The 97-square-mile glacier is one of Patagonia’s most intriguing sights and it does not disappoint. Perito Moreno is one of the rare glaciers today that is actually expanding and is perhaps best known for its rupturing phenomenon. As the glacier moves farther down the valley and across Argentino Lake, it naturally dams the lake. Every 4 or 5 years, the pressure causes an enormous rupture in the ice wall, a spectacular and rare sight if you’re lucky enough to see (and hear) it. Otherwise, trekking on the glacier is open to the public on a limited basis but a must-do to experience the unique sounds of the ever-moving ice block. The viewing platforms opposite Perito Moreno are great for photo ops and taking in the entire expanse, stretching for nearly 20 miles into the valley behind the lake.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

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Laguna Azul

WHERE: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

One of the park’s easier hikes is also one of its most overlooked and affords another excellent view of the towers. The trail along Laguna Azul takes you through open grass fields and up a gentle incline for a picture-ready view over the lagoon with the three towers in the distance. On calm days, the unmarred reflection of the landscape in the water is surreal. This is also a stop on the W Circuit for more serious hikers.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

Abbey Chase

Base de los Torres

WHERE: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

If you’ve ever seen a picture of Patagonia’s dramatic mountain landscape, odds are it was taken in Torres del Paine. Chile’s most famous national park hugs the Argentina border and is named for its razor-like peaks that form the Cordillera Paine. The park’s 935 square miles are covered with trails of all levels of difficulty, including the W Circuit, a 5­–7 day trek that takes you past all the park’s highlights. For something shorter, the rigorous day hike to the base of the towers is not to be missed. Beginning at the Hostal Las Torres, follow the trail through the steep valley, cross through wooded areas, and finally scramble through a boulder field to reach the stunning vista at the end.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

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Refugio Otto Meiling

WHERE: Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina

For one of the area’s more challenging day hikes or hut trips, Refugio Otto Meiling should be the first stop. The daunting Tronador mountain is, in fact, an extinct volcano with eight glaciers clinging to its surface, dominating the surrounding valley at nearly 11,500 feet. Overnighters will find a warm bed and a lively terrace at the Refugio Otto Meiling, while day-trippers can use this as a lunch spot. Begin your hike in Pampa Linda, about 60 miles from Bariloche. There is a small hostería near the trailhead if you want to explore the area further. Four-wheel drive is necessary to reach the starting point.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide

Abbey Chase

Eolo

WHERE: El Calafate, Argentina

Part of what makes El Calafate so dramatic is not so much what is there as what isn’t. The vast expanses of barren pampas stretch for miles, in some areas going on as far as the eye can see. Framing the massive valley on the other side are mountains that reach into Torres Del Paine across the border. To best take in the profoundly empty landscape, book a stay at the Eolo. The 17-room lodge offers a cozy, charming blend of French and native Argentinian design elements, with staggering views of the landscape at every turn. Several small libraries and sitting areas with floor-to-ceiling windows make it the perfect place to curl up after a day of exploring. Another great hotel in the region is The Singular Patagonia, located near Torres del Paine National Park and a Fodor’s Hotel Award winner in 2014.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Patagonia Travel Guide