Patagonia offers some of the world's best trekking, kayaking and horse riding.
Read our guide to find out where to go, how to get there, what to see and do.
Patagonia was recently described by the Telegraph as one of the world's "last great wildernesses". At the southern tip of South America it is remote, and its landscapes are dramatic, varied and on an almost Himalayan scale. Few places offer such variety; from the volcano and canyon country of the north, to the glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park and around Mount FitzRoy, to the wilds of Tierra del Fuego.
Swoop's guide to Patagonia
Patagonia is at the southern tip of South America and the Andes mountains, shared between Chile and Argentina. It stretches over 1,100 miles from the volcanic region south of Santiago down to Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn, and covers over a million square kilometres. Its most famous landmarks are the Patagonian IceCap, the National Parks of Torres del Paine in Chile and Los Glaciares in Argentina, Bariloche at the heart of the Lake District in the North and, of course, Tierra del Fuegoand Cape Horn.
Our interactive Google map of Patagonia gives you a sense of the region's geography, as well as showing you our top recommendations for your trip to Patagonia:
See also our summary of maps of Patagonia for further insight into the towns, regions and geographical landmarks of Patagonia, and which maps to buy.
The Patagonian IceCap or Hielo Continental is the 3rd largest mass of ice on the planet and it feeds dozens of glaciers in the region. The most famous, and most accessible, of these is the Perito Moreno glacier near El Calafate in Argentina. Others remain a reward for adventurous hikers or kayakers who spend several days crossing the wilderness to reach them; and a few climb up these glaciers to get onto the Ice Cap itself.
For more info on which glaciers you might want to see check out our guide to Patagonia's glaciers.
Places to visit
The most popular destinations in Patagonia are Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, and the Perito Moreno Glacier and Mt FitzRoy near El Calafate. However Patagonia has so much more to offer: the volcano region of the north, the Chilean and Argentinian Lake Districts, areas with a rich Welsh cultural heritage, the glaciers and Carretera Austral of the Aisen region.
Adventure Activities in Patagonia
As you’d expect with all this natural beauty the Chileans and Argentinians are great lovers of the outdoors and there are lots of different adventure travel opportunities. Patagonia is probably most famous for its trekking (especially at Torres del Paine National Park), and of course Horseriding. However there are lots of opportunities for kayaking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, mountaineering, mountain biking, glacier trekking and more. In fact, to visit certain spots you’ll have to try out new means of travel! Adventure Cruises also offer a great way to see Patagonia's fjords and glaciers.
There are many organised trips that allow you to try out a few different activities, and provide all the gear and training you’ll need. Typically you don’t need experience to enjoy these things, but a good level of fitness and a willingness to endure the weather that Patagonia will undoubtedly throw at you is important.
See our guide to Things to Do in Patagonia
Getting to Patagonia
Patagonia has at least 10 major airports across the region, and these are accessed via either Santiago or Buenos Aires. For Buenos Aires there is now a direct British Airways flight from London Heathrow taking 13-14 hours. Sometimes a cheaper option is to fly via Madrid or the US. As always there are ways of saving money but if you book a decent way in advance you should be able to get to / from Patagonia for around £800-£1200.
See our info sheet on Flights to Patagonia, with all the airports in the region.
In Patagonia a 'tour' doesn't mean sitting on a bus day-in-day-out! It's a good way to go hiking in, and experience, a few of the region's different National Parks with all the transport and logistics arranged for you, and guide to ensure you make the most of your time there. This is often a good option for people with limited time or limited Spanish, or those who don't relish the day to day realities of independent travel in Latin America.
If you've got 10-14 days then you might choose to go hiking in both Torres del Paine in Chile and around FitzRoy in Argentina. Longer tours might include Tierra del Fuego or the Lake District. If you want to include Patagonia as part of a wider visit then tours of Chile might take you to the Atacama desert and the wine region, and tours of Argentina might take in the Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires.
Luxury Holidays to Patagonia
Whether it's your honeymoon, a once in a lifetime trip, or you simply want to see Patagonia's wilderness in style there are plenty of options. When it comes to accommodation there are some wonderful Estancias, Eco Camps and Luxury Lodges situated in the heart of the National Parks that can act as a great base for day hikes and other activities. Or maybe you deserve a luxury Spa after a few days hiking. Cruises offer a great way to get amongst Patagonia's glaciers and wildlife in comfort and style. And if you want to get into the mountains and sleep under the stars then fully service camping with a guide and porters is probably the answer.
See some options for Luxury Holidays in Patagonia.
Patagonia's remoteness has helped to ensure that it's wildlife remains rich and varied. From the world renowned birdlife of the Falkland Islands, to pumas and guanacos in Torres del Paine, penguin colonies in the south and the whales off Peninsula Valdes. There's plenty of opportunity to enjoy Patagonia's wildlife whilst trekking in the mountains or on trips that are specially designed wildlife trips.
Patagonia History & Culture
Patagonia is more notable for its geography than its history but its heritage is rich, varied and unexpected. It has been influenced by, and itself influenced an extraordinary range of events and people: its Indigenous tribes, Magellan, Darwin, the Welsh, 19th century Argentine scientists, Bruce Chatwin, Pinochet and even Butch Cassidy.
Francisco 'Perito' Moreno is one of Argentina's heroes who passionate about the region. Find out more about Perito Moreno.
With the Pacific Ocean and the Andes dominating the environment the Patagonian wind is notorious and its weather unpredictable. The comparison we often draw is with Scotland although most areas of Patagonia are actually dryer. We've analysed data from the Chilean and Argentinian meteorological offices to give you an idea of wind and rainfall in different months and regions - it's a brighter picture than its reputation would suggest.
>> Read our guide to the weather in Patagonia
When to Visit
The main season runs from September through to March as the days are longer, and temperatures kinder to outdoor pursuits. However there are some excellent winter tour options when you're likely to enjoy some of the world's finest National Parks without anyone else around. In late December and early January lots of Argentinian and Chilean tourists descend on the region and certain places can get very busy. Springtime (Sep-Nov) provides hikers and flora-lovers with a beautiful variety of flowers, for example in the valleys of Torres del Paine National Park.
The professional guides speak excellent English and if you travelling in an escorted group you'll have no problem at all. However most restaurants, bus drivers, refugio owners and even hoteliers speak very little English. However, they do respond very well to attempts to speak Spanish. Learning some Spanish before you is a great idea - bear in mind the Chilean and Argentinian pronunciation is very different to that of mainland Spain.
About Swoop Patagonia
We've spent 15 years exploring Patagonia, and arranged holidays for over a thousand customers. We have a network of trusted guides, lodges, and local operators across the region and delight in helping people plan and arrange a great holiday.
You can book directly with our local partners in Chile and Argentina, or with our ATOL certified company here in the UK.
10 things About Patagonia
...that you probably didn't know
1. Big Feet
The name "Patagonia" most likely comes from Magellan's exploration in 1520. The myths of the time talked about a land of giants at the end of the world and it's possible that Magellan and his crew came across what seemed to be giants' footprints (pata gones). In practice they were probably the prints of feet enlarged with furs and skins to provide warmth. Magellan also gave his name to the tidal waterway that separates Tierra del Fuego from the mainland, the Magellan Straits, and the Magellanic Penguins that you can see in Patagonia.
2. Butch Cassidy
Butch Cassidy came to Patagonia in 1902 when they fled North America as outlaws. Butch, the Sundance Kid, and Etta Place briefly made a new life for themselves in Cholila, Argentina, now the gateway to the wonderful Los Alerces National Park. Unfortunately they couldn't resist one last heist and were eventually tracked down and killed by the Bolivian army. Or so the story goes! You can visit their supposed ranch, just a short ride from Esquel in the Chubut Valley.
Often the object of puns from exhausted trekkers in Torres del Paine National Park, Paine (actually pronounced Pie-nay) may well have derived its name from a welsh climber, Paine. It also happens to have meant sky blue (a fitting terms for its lakes, if not always its skies!) to the Araucanians who had connections the Tehuelche indians who inhabited the region. Whatever its etymology there's no doubt that the vast granite Towers of Paine are one of Patagonia's most dramatic and unique spectacles.
4. Charles Darwin
In 1832 the HMS Beagle, under Captain Fitz Roy sailed to Tierra del Fuego and the ship's naturalist remarked: "It was without exception the most curious and interesting spectacle I ever beheld: I could not believe how wide was the difference between a savage and civilized man". The naturalist was a 23 year old Charles Darwin whose experience of the region profoundly influenced him and his great work The Origin of the Species that was published two decades later. Captain Fitz Roy went on to explore Patagonia further and one of Patagonia's great peaks is named after him: Cerro FitzRoy.
5. The Welsh
In 1865 about 160 Welsh settlers in search of a new life and land of their own arrived in Argentina near, what is now, Puerto Madryn. Their new homeland was the Patagonian Steppe: barren and harsh, made even more so by the fact that they landed in July, mid-winter. It took many years for them to establish themselves however the struggle to survive, and then thrive, helped forge a strong sense of community. That community still exists today across the Chubut Valley and in towns like Esquel, Trelew, Gaiman, and Puerto Madryn, where the Welsh language continues to thrive.
6. The Ice Cap
40km wide, 400km north to south and over a kilometre deep in places, the Southern Patagonian IceCap is the 3rd largest mass of ice in the world. It has a volcano in the midst of it, a peak of over 4,000 metres rising from it and it feeds dozens of glaciers some of which are still advancing. It was crossed west-east for the first time from the Pacific Ocean in 1956 by the legendary (and highly understated) English adventurer Bill Tilman. It wasn't until 1998 that it was first traversed unsupported north-south. Expeditions on the Patagonian Ice Cap last 3 days to 3 weeks; you can also set your eyes on the Ice Cap from Paso John Garner in Torres del Paine, and a few of the passes in Los Glaciares National Park.
7. Ruta 40
The infamous Ruta Cuarenta runs the full length of Argentina, but it is at its most wild, remote and dramatic as it runs through Patagonia where it passes through over 20 different National Parks. Much of the road is now paved but whilst this particular road trip may have lost some of its drama and adventure it hasn't lost any of its dramatic scenery. Chile's equivalent, the Carretera Austral runs from Puerto Montt to Villa o Higgins and much of it remains unpaved. Find out more about trips on the Ruta 40 and Carretera Austral.
The forces of nature that have made Patagonia's landscape so unique and dramatic are also at work behind Chile's 3,000 volcanoes. Around 500 of these are geologically active with Chaiten erupting in 2008 and Puyehue, in the Cordón Caulle range, erupting in June 2011. You can explore Patagonia's volcanoes in a number of ways eg kayaking, ski touring, ice Cap Expedition.
9. Lamb or Steak?
Argentina is famed for its beef, but a traditional Patagonian dish is the delish Lamb or Cordero. You should definitely take the opportunity to enjoy an Asado (traditional barbeque) in a local Estancia while you're in Patagonia.
Bruce Chatwin's classic novel In Patagonia starts with his quest to find out more about a piece of dinosaur skin that his grandmother gave him. Numerous fossil fields have been discovered in the last decade, especially in the Neuquen province and around El Chocon, including Giganotosaurus (the largest dinosaur carnivore) and Argentinosaurus (the largest herbivore). You can visit the Mylodon cave Chatwin went to on a trip to Torres del Paine or Puerto Natales.