Highlights of Patagonia

Patagonia is a wild and rugged land filled with breathtaking landscapes and eye-catching wildlife. There are few other places in the world where you can feel such a great isolation and vast emptiness, and yet see waters teeming with wildlife; visit huasos (Chilean cowboys) living on windswept estancias; and get so close to ancient glaciers that you can actually walk inside these ice cathedrals. With an area that spans over a million square kilometers between Chile and Argentina, be prepared to gasp at the majesty of the Patagonian wild.


The Patagonia ice field covers much of the southern end of the Andean mountain range, straddling the Argentina–Chile border. The glaciers that spill off the high-altitude ice field are basically rivers of slow moving ice and snow that grind and push their way across the mountains, crushing soft rock and sculpting granite peaks.

Most of Patagonia’s glaciers spill into lakes, rivers, or fjords. Chunks of ice calve off the face of the glacier into the water, a dramatic display of nature’s power that you can view at several locations. There are multiple options for viewing these majestic icebergs, whether by strapping on a set of crampons for a trek, horseback riding over the pampas, boating, 4x4 driving, or kayaking through the fjords. Some are accessible only through boat tours or by helicopter, though the stunning rugged scenery makes the travel time more than worthwhile.

Glaciar Grey, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile. Perhaps the most stunning of the many glaciers in this must-see national park, Glaciar Grey, with its fragmented icebergs, is an easy and rewarding site to hike to here.

Glaciar Martial, Ushuaia, Argentina. In a mountain range just above Ushuaia, this glacier can be reached by a panoramic ski lift. There are lovely hikes all around the glacier with great views.

Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina. One of the continent's most awe-inspiring sights, this majestic glacier is renowned for its sparkling blue facade, accessibility, and the blocks of ice that spill dramatically off it into the nearby lake.

Upsala Glacier, El Calafate, Argentina. Part of the Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, the Upsala Glacier is the largest glacier in South America, and one of the most visually impressive. It is accessible only by boat.

Mountain Trekking

In Patagonia, mountains mean the Andes, a relatively young range that stretches for more than 4,000 miles down South America. Some of the most breathtaking summits are in southern Patagonia. Glacial activity has played an important role in chiseling the most iconic Patagonian peaks. The spires that form the distinctive skylines of Torres del Paine and the Fitzroy range are solid columns that were created when rising glaciers ripped away weaker rock, leaving only hard granite skeletons that stand rigid at the edge of the ice fields. There is no shortage of paths in the region that will get you up close and personal with these impressive peaks, and provide you with unobstructed views of the spectacular scenery.

Mt. Fitzroy and Cerro Torre, El Chaltén, Argentina. More than a dozen well-marked routes are available here within the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Awe-inspiring views of this massive granite structure, the highest mountain in the park, are well worth getting up early for.

Osorno Volcano, Lake District, Chile. Visible from every point in Osorno, the volcano reaches a height of 2,661 meters (8,730 feet) above sea level and takes six hours to ascend, usually in an organized group with a local guide.

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile. This national park offers wild rock climbing and no shortage of wildlife-spotting, including condors and guanacos, a smaller cousin of the alpaca and llama.

Penguin Colonies

The best time to see penguins is from November through February, which coincides with the best weather in coastal Patagonia. Most of the penguins you'll see in Patagonia are Magellanic penguins, black-and-white color birds that gather in large breeding colonies on the beaches here in summer and retreat to warmer climes during winter. They're smaller than the Emperor penguins in Antarctica, standing about 30 inches tall and weighing between 15 and 20 pounds. Due to oil spills and the effects of climate change, Magellanic penguins have been classified as a threatened species.

Some of the most convenient and impressive penguin colonies to visit are:

Isla Magdalena, Chile. Home to 150,000 Magellanic penguins, this one-square-kilometer island is the site of one of the largest such colonies in southern Chile. It's an easy boat ride away from Punta Arenas.

Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile. Southwest of Ancud in Chiloé, the three small islets of Puñihuil are home to an abundant colony of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins.

National Parks

There is no better place to experience the majesty of Patagonia than in a national park. The most spectacular national parks include:

Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Los Glaciares National Park is home to stunning lakes and natural scenery. About 40% of it is covered by ice fields that contain nearly 50 glaciers.

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Accessible by car or train, this is the southernmost national park in the world. There are breathtaking wildlife refuges, mountain-ringed lakes, strikingly green lagoons, peat bogs, and wild cherry forests.

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile. Chile’s most popular national park offers classic hikes with spectacular views of waterfalls and glaciers, and unusual wildlife like the guanaco and the ñandú (rhea). Its most spectacular attractions are its lakes of turquoise and emerald waters; and the Cuernos del Paine ("Paine Horns"), the geological showpiece of the immense granite massif.

Wildlife Spotting

Other than Magellanic penguins, animals you might see in Patagonia include whales, Andean condors, pumas, Albatross, and sea lions. Be sure to pack a good pair of binoculars, sunglasses, and sunblock to protect yourself from the glare of the sun’s rays.

Torres del Paine. The elusive puma isn’t as shy as you’d think and can often be spotted in this Patagonian national park. Ask your hotel about specific puma tracking tours.

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