The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Patagonia

Torres del Paine, Chile

Sprawling along South America’s southernmost tip, Patagonia – spanning more than a million square kilometres of Chile and Argentina – evokes images of snow-tipped Andean peaks, dazzling blue lakes, enormous glaciers and swathes of virtually untouched grasslands. You could easily spend a lifetime exploring it, but with some planning, you can be well placed to sample the best of the region. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Patagonia.

How to get to Patagonia

Qantas flies direct to Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city, from Sydney in about 16 hours. From there, hop on a flight with airline partner LATAM to Coyhaique in northern Patagonia (two and a half hours) or Punta Arenas in southern Patagonia (three and a half hours).

When to visit Patagonia

Torres del Paine, Chile

To make the most of the region’s outdoor adventures, head to Patagonia between November and March. During the peak summer season (December to February), expect long days, strong winds and mild temperatures that rarely exceed 22°C.

In Torres del Paine and El Calafate, most hotels close from early May to mid-September with a few year-round exceptions such as Explora. Intrepid skier? The best time to hit the slopes in Tierra del Fuego is July to August.

Getting around Patagonia

Flying is by far the quickest and easiest way to traverse Patagonia’s vast terrain. In Chile, Sky is the main domestic carrier, with smaller-scale DAP offering short hops like Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams, the world’s southernmost settlement. Aerolíneas Argentinas links cities like Bariloche, Ushuaia and Trelew, among others. LATAM operates flights in both countries, but there are no cross-border flights in Patagonia.

The region’s towns are connected by a network of reputable bus companies – Turbus and Bus-Sur to name two – but the road between Chile’s Puerto Natales and El Calafate in Argentina can take more than five hours depending on the time spent at customs. Rather than crossing the Andes by car, road trip down one of the two main arteries on either side: the 5,000km Ruta 40 and the 1,200 km Carretera Austral.

If you’re spoilt for time, book the four-day Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt in Chile’s Lake District to Puerto Natales. Primarily a cargo ship, the cabins are basic but the epic views of fjords, glaciers and tiny islands en route are second to none.

Where to stay in Patagonia

Awasi, Chile

There’s no better place to appreciate the full glory of Torres del Paine’s granite peaks than from your rustic-chic villa at Awasi Patagonia, one of just 14 on the immense property. Ideal for a luxe couples getaway, perks include outdoor hot tubs, wood-burning stoves and a private guide and 4WD for exploring the area.

Overlooking Sarmiento Lake nearby, Tierra Patagonia caters to adventure-loving groups with excursions ranging from sailing past glaciers on Lake Grey and horse-riding with local Chilean cowboys to any number of scenic walking trails. Plus, there’s a gorgeous glass-fronted indoor infinity pool and an extensive massage menu for soothing tired muscles post-hike. Another family-friendly option is Llao Llao in Bariloche, a stately 1940s resort with 205 rooms and suites, five restaurants, an 18-hole golf course and an action-packed kids club.

Things to do in Patagonia

Hike Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine, Chile

South America’s most famous national park has plenty to offer hikers of all experience levels. Camp along the 4-day, 70-kilometre W trek, which takes in highlights like the French Valley’s hanging glaciers (bright blue ice formations stretching between two mountain peaks), or head out on day trips from the comfort of a luxury lodge. Either way, Swoop Patagonia has you covered.

See Perito Moreno Glacier

Over 60 metres high and 30 kilometres long, Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually advancing rather than melting. There’s a series of steel catwalks for marvelling at the immense wall of ice – you might witness a house-sized iceberg shatter off its face – or take a boat tour from El Calafate to see it from the mirror-like lake.

Spot penguins at Punta Tombo

Between November and March, Punta Tombo is home to some half a million Magellanic penguins, making it the world’s largest colony. It’s a three-hour drive south of Puerto Madryn, but well worth the trip during December and January when the nature reserve is brimming with fluffy, raucous chicks. 


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SEE ALSO: The Most Amazing Experiences in Patagonia

Image credit: Sernatur/Chile Travel, Awasi Patagonia

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