Patagonia is a natural wonderland, with a multitude of valleys, canyons, mountains, plateaus, plains, glaciers, rivers and lakes. The region, which spans the southern tips of Chile and Argentina, also serves as a gateway to Antarctica. Most visitors come to Patagonia to explore these scenic areas, but the region also offers towns and villages with local culture, as well as abundant wildlife. In fact, the Valdés Peninsula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its importance as a nature reserve.
Adventure seekers will find plenty to do in Patagonia. Among the popular areas is the Andean Corridor of Lakes, which spans both countries and offers activities like paragliding, skiing, sailing, trekking, horseback excursions, fly fishing and rafting during summer (starting in November). Several towns are also located in this sub-region, including San Carlos de Bariloche, known as the American Switzerland.
Patagonia is home to 10 national parks. Among them is Los Glaciers National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 356 glaciers, including the giant Perito Moreno Glacier. Bus excursions into the park depart the nearby town of Calafate. Calafate is also close to ski areas, which are open from mid June to late September. Tierra del Fuego, the most southerly part of Patagonia, is separated by the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, with Cape Horn at the southern tip. Cruise ships rounding Cape Horn or voyaging to Antarctica typically call at the town of Usuaia.
In Chile, Patagonia has two sub-regions: the northern Aisen, home to Laguna San Rafael National Park, and the southern Magallanes, home to Torres del Paine National Park and the city of Punta Arenas. Surrounded by a mountain range that shares it name, Torres del Paine National Park features waterfalls, glaciers, lakes and lagoons.
Cuisine in Patagonia reflects the cuisines of both countries. On the Argentina side, staples include grilled meats. Culture also influences the food here. For example, the Bariloche area offers Alpine fare like fondue, and Welsh communities feature tea rooms. On the Chile side, local dishes include empanadas and choclo, the Chilean version of shepherd’s pie. In addition, a cornucopia of seafood is available throughout Patagonia.
Patagonia offers several airports in cities and towns like Punta Arenas, Chile, and Bariloche and El Calafate, Argentina. These airports are served by South American airlines that connect with international flights. Major cruise lines and tour companies meet their passengers at the airports and take them to the departure points. Travelers on their own who want to visit Torres del Paine National Park can take a bus from Punta Arenas’ airport to Puerto Natales, where they can take another bus into the park. There is also ferry service through the fjords from Puerto Montt or Chaiten to Punta Arenas. In addition, visitors can reach Bariloche via any of several bus companies from cities throughout Argentina and Chile.
Patagonia’s climate varies, but generally, it’s cooler and wetter in the west than in the east. Punta Arenas has a semi-arid climate, with average daytime temperatures in the mid to high 50s in January (summer). The town’s rainy season is April to May, and snow season is June to September. It’s also windy, especially during summer. Bariloche has a temperate, mountain climate with wide variations in temperature from day to night. Rain is heaviest from May to August, and winds are strong in October and November. The best time to visit Patagonia is summer (December through March). Visitors who love fishing should go during spring, while skiers should go during winter.