Scheduling an adventure at the tip of South America
It feels like you’ve ventured to the end of the world, but a trip to Patagonia – the vast region at the tip of South America – simply unveils a varied landscape dotted with rugged coastlines, massive ice fields and sprawling prairies. Northern Patagonia is bustling with tourists there to explore the area’s lowlands, lakes and national parks; Southern Patagonia is pure wilderness, a land dominated by archipelagos, glaciers and fjords but few people. Plan your trip early and wisely in order to avoid extreme weather, high costs and adverse travel conditions.
Highlights in Chile and Argentina
Patagonia is spread across Chile and Argentina, with the latter region largely featuring open pampas. The town of El Calafate serves as a hub for tourists exploring the Andes-based Los Glaciares National Park, home to glaciers, icebergs and Cerro Fitzroy, the iconic snowcapped mountain. Argentine Patagonia’s eastern seaboard offers jagged beaches and dense forests, and the Peninsula Valdes is teeming with wildlife.
Chilean Patagonia is comprised primarily of island-filled channels. It is home to Torres del Paine National Park, where 9,000-foot-high mountains give way to barren steppes. Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of southern Chile, is an archipelago with glaciers and green lagoons.
From sun to snow: Patagonia’s extreme weather
Pack plenty of layers. Patagonia features chilly winds, fluctuating temperatures and unpredictable Pacific storms year-round. Set in the Southern Hemisphere, Patagonia’s spring takes place from September through November. Daytime highs in the spring hover around the low to mid-50s, but overcast skies and winds make it seem colder. Summer is the warmest season as temps linger around the high 50s from November through early March. In the fall, temps from later March through May dip into the low 50s and mid-40s, but the winds are not as biting as in other seasons. Winter, which takes place from June through August, sees daytime temps reaching the high 30s, while evenings often drop below freezing. Prepare for winter snow in Chilean Patagonia, particularly in the northern Lake District and Torres del Paine.
Summertime in the Southern Hemisphere
Although the region is crowded and hotels are expensive, with its long days and mild temperatures, summer is one of the best times to explore Patagonia. Summer is also peak season to visit places like El Calafate, Los Glaciares National Park and Tierra del Fuego, especially in January and February, so make reservations months in advance. For great whale watching opportunities visit the Peninsula Valdes from July through September or head to Punta Tombo to see the Magellanic penguins between September and March.
Shoulder and off-seasons
Colorful flowers dominate Patagonia’s spring landscape from September through November, while March through May welcomes lush fall foliage. Both seasons feature mild weather, small crowds and affordable accommodations. Winter conditions are extremely harsh in Patagonia. Snow in the Lake District attracts skiers, but most attractions in southern Chilean Patagonia are virtually empty. It’s not uncommon for hotels to close in the summer as well.
Getting around the region
Whether you fly into Patagonia from big cities, such as Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina, or catch short local flights across the region, airfare in general is pretty expensive. Private tour bus companies offer more affordable options for travel throughout Patagonia.
Car rental agencies are common in populated areas, such as Bariloche, Argentina, in the Lake District and Punta Arenas in southern Chile. Well-maintained Argentine Patagonia highways include Ruta Nacional 3, which runs along the Atlantic coast, and Ruta Nacional 40, which travels inland through the Andes region. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for the Southern Highway, Chilean Patagonia’s main road. Ferries provide service among Chile’s chain of islands.
Leisurely excursions in Patagonia include a steam-powered train ride on La Trochita between the Argentinean towns of Esquel and Nahuel Pan and cruises from Punta Arenas to Cape Horn.