One of the cornerstones of our trip, Patagonia was a must-visit for us. The mountains, the glaciers, the lakes, the hiking, the wildlife, the activities, the vastness, everything about it appealed to us. Located in the southern regions of both Argentina and Chile, it’s a region unlike any other in the world.
There are highlights galore in Patagonia, from one of the largest and still expanding glaciers in the world, Perito Moreno, to the multitude of hiking and climbing opportunities in and around El Chalten (one of our personal favorite places in Patagonia), to the wildlife viewing opportunities around Puerto Madryn and Trelew to the end of the world in Ushuaia. And that’s only Argentina.
Chile will be the next country focused on here at World Travel for Couples, and Chilean Patagonia is equally as impressive, with one of best national parks for hikers in the entire world, Torres del Paine, plus plenty of other highlights.
Highlights/Where to Go
Picking and choosing where to go can be a challenge, as there’s so much to see and do, the region encompassing Patagonia is massive and vast, and sometimes there’s simply not enough time to do it all. My advice to anyone wanting to visit Patagonia is to get organized and budget your time accordingly. Getting around is very slow, and this region is more expensive than the rest of Argentina and Chile, particularly during high season (December-February).
So where are the best places to go while visiting Patagonia? Obviously that is subjective, but here’s our take on where we went and why. Keep in mind this is just a short rundown of the area, and in the coming weeks there will plenty of posts and pages that go into more depth about each of the places listed below.
- El Calafate- Travelers flock to El Calafate for one reason, and that’s to see Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park) and the highlight of the park, Perito Moreno Glacier. The town itself is nothing to get excited about, but the glacier is worth it.
- Perito Moreno- The aforementioned glacier is one of the few in the world that is still expanding, and it’s just as impressive as everything you’ve heard. A day trip from El Calafate, tourists have tons of options when visiting, so make sure you check out the tips and a recap of Perito Moreno (and the picture post with plenty of pictures and videos!)
- El Chalten- One of our favorite places, the surrounding area of El Chalten may be the most naturally beautiful place we’ve been. If you’re a hiker, camper, and outdoorsman, then this is the place for you. Come during the summer and you get 16-18 hours of daylight, and with the plethora of hiking trails all around, you can trek for days or take day hikes and sleep in a bed every night. The options are limitless.
- Torres del Paine- This Chilean national park is a mecca for hikers and is one of the best places for trekking in the world (much more information can be found in the Chile section, including the most comprehensive guide on the web to trekking Torres del Paine).
- Puerto Madryn- The area around Puerto Madryn (and Peninsula Valdes) has seal colonies, penguin colonies, and whale watching. All wildlife viewing is best at different times of the year (whales-June-mid-December; sea lions-December-mid-January; penguins-September-February). NOTE: We did not go to Puerto Madryn, and it’s our policy only to review places we’ve been, but I did think Puerto Madryn was worth a mention to look into–our priority was seeing penguins, so we went to nearby Trelew instead.
- Trelew- About an hour away from Puerto Madryn, Trelew is a cool little town that is close in proximity to Punta Tombo, the largest single penguin colony in South America.
- Punta Tombo- An awesome site to see, massive numbers of penguins are literally everywhere in this nature reserve. Walk amongst these cute little guys from September through February, and see the chicks take their first swims January and February.
- Rio Gallegos- We just passed through Rio Gallegos on our way to Trelew from Chile, but they have the second largest penguin colony in South America nearby, Cabo Virgenes. Rio Gallegos is located about 4-5 hours south (by bus) of El Calafate and about 17 hours (by bus) south of Trelew.
- Ushuaia- Dubbed as the southern-most city in the world, Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego. A beautiful area that is heavily touristed and pretty expensive, even by Patagonian standards, this is also a jumping off place for cruises to Antarctica. NOTE: We did not visit Ushuaia. We heard great things about it, but it just wasn’t in our budget. It’s a popular place in Patagonia, so I at least wanted to mention it.
When to Go
December to February is summertime in Patagonia (but not summer as most people think it), and thus the most popular time to visit. Crowds are biggest during this time, accommodations, buses, and flights most expensive, and planning is necessary. Crowds are obviously thinner in spring and fall months, and weather is going to be colder, but weather at any time in Patagonia is unpredictable. October/November and March/April are good times to visit, but be prepared to possibly deal with delays and really cold temperatures. Skiing isn’t the most popular of pasttimes, but it is catching on. Winter months (June-October) are best for enjoying the snow.
Patagonia is a massive, vast area of Argentina and Chile, and weather here is quite fickle year-round. Ridiculous winds are common in summer months, where temperatures are warmer than the rest of the year, but still cooler compared to most other areas of Argentina. Shorts and t-shirts are not the norm during the summer. Precipitation can come at any time year-round, so be prepared, especially when hiking.
Bus travel in Argentina can be absolutely amazing, and while travel by bus is fine in Patagonia, it’s not nearly as nice as other parts of the country, and it’s typically more expensive. If you can afford a flight or two, it’s quite nice to avoid the 20+ hour bus rides in this part of the country, where roads are worse than elsewhere in Argentina. Here are the journeys, times, and cost of our journeys in Patagonia.
- Buenos Aires > El Calafate - Flight/3 hours /$165US/person
- El Calafate > El Chalten - Bus/4-5 hours/$19US/person
- El Calafate > Puerto Natales (Chile) - Bus/7 hours/$19US/person
- Puerto Natales > Rio Gallegos - Bus/4-5 hours/$18US/person
- Rio Gallegos > Trelew - Bus/18 hours/$80US/person
- Trelew > Bariloche (Lakes District) - Bus/~12 hours/$90US/person
It is more expensive in Patagonia, plain and simple, especially if you’re traveling during summer months. We ended up staying in 4 or 6 bed dorms for some of the time (both in El Calafate and El Chalten and parts of our hike in Torres del Paine in Chile). Some of the private rooms we had left a lot to be desired, while others were fantastic and amongst the best places we stayed. In Argentine Patagonia, we averaged $99/day for the two of us, and in Chilean Patagonia, we averaged $117.85/day total.