Patagonia - A Journey to the World’s End, and Back Again

Patagonia. The name alone conjures images of explorers, windswept plains, craggy glaciers, and reflective lakes. Stretched across Chile and Argentina, the region offers a wealth of activities, sights, and accommodations for even the most discerning travelers. Here, some travel tips for enjoying a three-week trip through Patagaonia.

The vast majority of international flights to Argentina land in Buenos Aires. A brief stay in this stunning capital (1 to 2 nights) offers time to recover from jet lag before heading South to Patagonia. Intimate boutique hotels abound, offering the latest in design styles and trends. Classic chains, such as the Park Hyatt and Four Seasons hotels, provide their trademark service and central locations. After a first afternoon strolling Buenos Aires, stop by a steakhouse to taste Argentina’s quality meat and a renowned Malbec wine, such as Alta Vista, Rutini, or Catena Zapata.

While in the “Paris of South America,” take time to explore some of the Buenos Aires’s major attractions, from Evita’s grave at the Recoleta Cemetary to the bohemian San Telmo district. A bicycle tour is an active way of visiting many sites on one tour. In the evening, join a dinner show at one of Argentina’s best tango theaters…or show up after midnight for an insider’s view of a milonga, or tango salon, where locals and visitors of all skills strut their stuff ‘til 5 a.m.

On day three, it’s time to head to Patagonia! The first stop is Puerto Madryn, to explore the Peninsula Valdes and its stunning array of wildlife – from seals to sea lions, the Magellan penguins, and more. From May to December, the endangered right whales arrive for mating season. A pre-arranged boat navigation takes travelers into the Magellan penguins’ natural preserve, to observe the birds’ activities and nesting habits up close. In the afternoon, nothing warms the spirit quite like a spot of tea and delicious homemade pastries, brought to the region by Welsh descendants.

Another full day excursion takes in the Peninsula Valdes reserve, declared a UNESCO Heritage Site, giving more wildlife spotting opportunities. On the way, check out salt marshes and the local wildlife, from ostriches to armadilloes. And don’t miss Caleta Valdes, the largest southern sea elephant colony.

On day six, board a flight to El Calafate, where a winter wonderland awaits. This is where some of the world’s most important glaciers are located, including the renowned Perito Moreno. Settle in, acclimatize to the brisk cold, and prepare for the following day’s excitement – trekking along the surface of the famous Perito Moreno Glacier. A boat takes guests across the Iceberg Channel, along the south wall of the imposing ice. For two hours, travelers walk across firm surfaces of endless ice fields, with the aid of shoe clampons. The sensation of feeling the glacier beneath one’s feet is unparalleled.

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate
Perito Moreno Glacier, near El Calafate, Argentina’s Patagonia region.

While in Calafate, don’t miss a day trip to an estancia where typical ranch activities of this region include sheep-shearing, herding with kelpie dogs, traditional afternoon tea, and more. All part of the frontier feel of this southern town. Of course, evening meals here would not be complete without savouring the Patagonian lamb, roasted on a spit, ideal for chilly nights.

After three nights in Calafate, the journey to world’s end begins. Ushuaia, the world’s most southernmost city, is also the gateway to the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego National Park, and Antarctica. The waters here are rich with history, and there’s no better way to make like old-fashioned explorers (including Darwin and Magellan) than to spend a few nights sailing through these Southern shores on a custom yacht or catamaran. Back on land, a tour of the town’s former penal colony heightens the sense of isolation one feels in Patagonia. A trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park on day eleven is terrific for hikes through peat bogs and kelp beds, though don’t forget to make it back it out before sundown – camping is the only lodging option in the national park. For a hearty dinner, culinary delights come from the surrounding seas, including fresh shellfish and ravioli stuffed with spider crab.

Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Tierra del Fuego - the “End of the World” - and the Southernmost point in Argentina.

With stomachs and senses full, guests can now turn north. No tour through Patagonia would be complete without a visit of the Lake District. Leaving coastal wildlife behind, we move into the foothills of the Andes and the spectacular lakes that ring this area. Renting a car is a fabulous option for travelers interested in independently exploring this region. A week’s leisurely drive along the “Route of the Seven Lakes” can easily include highlights such as San Carlos de Bariloche, Villa La Angostura, and San Martin de los Andes. Summer months are ideal for lake activities like kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and sailing while winter months bring the mountain slopes to life with avid skiiers and snowboarders. Moutainous European heritage is reflected not only in the architecture but also in the food – Patagonian nouveau cuisine showcases delights like wild boar prosciutto, venison basted in honey and balsamic vinaigrette, artisanal chocolates, and micro-breweries. To end one’s adventure in Patagonia, thermal spas to soothe the mind, body, and soul await.

Concluding this three-week holiday to Argentina, it’s back to Buenos Aires with two days left to wrap up last-minute shopping (check out the elegant Recoleta district or funky Palermo Soho) and re-pack. With sightseeing out of the way, these last moments in this grand capital can be used to stroll boulevards, wander down leafy side streets, and indulge in the city’s café culture (try the famous Tortoni or La Biela). All too soon, the private car arrives to transport visitors to the international airport – spirits lighter, bags heavier, and a portfolio of stories to share from the magnificent journey to world’s end…and back again.

About the author: Maren Lau is managing partner at Inspira Travel, a Buenos Aires-based travel agency offering customized trips for visitors seeking to engage in - not just observe - the destinations they visit. Inspira specializes in Argentina, Uruguay, Patagonia, and Antarctica. Contact Inspira at info@inspiratravel.com.

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