Patagonia remains one of the most iconic regions of the world. Utterly wild, constantly windswept and so unimaginably vast that it could easily encompass several countries, it inspires you to leave everything behind and start again. It has attracted explorers (Darwin), outlaws (Butch and Sundance), revolutionaries (Che Guevara) and writers (Chatwin, whose account leaves a lot unsaid). There’s so much of it to see, there’s a danger you’ll spend several days just travelling. Far better to choose one region, take time to really get under the skin of it, and let Patagonia work its magic.
The Andes form the western spine to Patagonia, which - geographically speaking - includes everything south of the Río Colorado (just south of Bahía Blanca). It measures 1,000km from north to south, and we believe its 3 most exciting constituent parts are Southern Patagonia, the Atlantic Coast and Tierra del Fuego.
If you're visiting the wider area, you may also want to view our separate guides for
The Argentine Lake District to the northwest and Chilean Patagonia across the border.
Southern Patagonia is glacier country: see the massive icy walls carve off with a deafening roar into the milky turquoise lake below, or even hike over the sculpted surface. Vast and pristine, this is an unforgettable experience unique to Argentina. There’s spectacular hiking country around the granite towers of Mount Fitz Roy, near El Chaltén. The hike up to Laguna de los Tres from El Chaltén, gives amazing views of Fitz Roy.
You can also make forays into the Southern Ice Field, go kayaking down the meandering Río de las Vueltas, or take a boat across Lago del Desierto. A great base for all these adventures is Los Cerros, which will take you on unforgettable excursions and then feed you fine food and wine.
A few hours further south is the marvellous expanse of the Perito Moreno glacier, one of the few advancing glaciers in the world. Put on crampons and hike the sculpted surface, take a boat under the towering glacier wall, or hike down fossil-filled canyons. Take on the ‘Big Ice’: 6 hours of walking with crampons on the glacier’s surface. Anyone can do it, and you’ll feel like Shackleton afterwards; mind-blowing fun.
El Calafate is the usual base for exploring, but we’ve avoided the touristy town and found Eolo, a hotel with an incredible setting and closer contact with nature. That said, it's worth a trip into town for Calafate berry ice cream: taste the berries and you’ll always return to Patagonia - or so they say.
The Atlantic Coast is home to an astonishing array of marine life and sea birds. Most miraculous, is the Península Valdés. This kidney-shaped splay of land, attached to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, is most famous for the southern right whales who come to breed here in spring. Head to Puerto Madryn town to take boat trips to view mothers and babies - you might even see them from the cliffs if you're lucky. Look out for sea lions and orcas, too. While in town, try the seafood with rice (arroz con mariscos) at Taska Belza. Although not on the seafront, the food is delicious and the atmosphere is very welcoming.
For some history, visit nearby Gaimán, the home of brave Welsh pioneers who escaped from religious persecution in 1865. Their legacy is a few quaint brick chapels and houses, both here and in Trelew. There's also a glut of tea rooms selling ‘traditional’ Welsh teas; Plas y Coed is the original and best, served by charming Marta Rees. Driving through the fertile valley which the Welsh irrigated for their crops, spotting brick chapels rising up from the wheat fields is a real highlight. San David is remarkable.
Tierra del Fuego, at the very end of the world, truly becomes a land of fire when the lenga forests carpeting the mountain slopes turn crimson in April. Start at the charming little pioneer town of Ushuaia, whose brightly coloured zinc buildings gaze out over the Beagle Channel, and nothing else beyond.
You’ll quickly tire of the ‘End of the World’ tag, attached to everything from trains to museums to sandwiches, but there’s much to enjoy. Take a Barracuda excursion (avoid the commercial catamarans) to 'Seal Island', for great views of Ushuaia from the water. Walk around the bay in the national park to Bahía Lapataia for serene views and a peaceful place to pause and reflect. In winter, there’s excellent skiing at Cerro Castor and husky rides in the valley; in summer, trips to the Antarctic start in Ushuaia.