Which Patagonia national park?
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A region of immense beauty and startling size, Patagonia is South America’s most enticing natural wonderland. But with nine national parks to choose from and a nearly infinite array of highlights…how does one decide which one to visit? Read on to find out!
South America’s southernmost region is considered the continent’s most outstanding natural treasure, home to nine national parks offering adventure and breathtaking beauty at every turn. Shared by Chile and Argentina and covering a mind-boggling one million square kilometres, Patagonia is where Mother Nature hides her best treasures: from stunning glaciers and fjords to the highest peaks of the Andes, glistening alpine lakes, semiarid tundra, unspoilt forests and a stunning collection of unique wildlife. Much of the flora and fauna in Patagonia is found nowhere else on earth and the sheer size of the region, and concentration of wildlife, make it an unrivalled playground for hiking, walking, sightseeing, wildlife-watching, cruising and overland exploring.
Yet given the natural diversity and the immense expanse, there comes a slight problem. How on earth does one choose where, in Patagonia, to travel?
Although Patagonia is primarily renowned as the ideal destination for very active travellers, the region is also well suited to slower and gentler travels, with incredible lodges, viewpoints and drives suiting those not keen on extreme hiking. Moreover, whilst overwhelming scenery, wildlife encounters and awe-inspiring experiences are a given no matter where in Patagonia you travel, there are certain national parks that are best suited for very specific travels. So choosing, in reality, is not nearly as difficult as it may appear. Those with a few more days up their sleeves will also be delighted to know that infrastructure, down here, is not as primitive as it once was, so squeezing visits to two or more national parks, in the one trip, is quite easy.
The Most Popular National Parks in Patagonia:
Most first-time travellers to Patagonia tend to hone in their sights on the three most famous national parks: Torres del Paine, Los Glaciares and Tierra del Fuego. The easiest to reach and most enjoyable to explore, this Patagonian trifecta covers an array of stupendous ecosystems and offers visitors some of the region’s most prized highlights, including the towering Perito Moreno Glacier, arresting Mt FitzRoy, the Southern Patagonian Icefield and the Beagle Channel.
Torres del Paine
Best for: sweeping views of stunning landscapes, multi-day hikes, wildlife
One of the world’s most coveted hiking destination, Torres del Paine attracts trekkers and mountaineers from all over the world, thanks to its collection of campgrounds and refugios which help adventurers cover considerable distances on foot. Although day hikes are indeed possible, they would require more planning and transfers, by road, to the start of various trail hiking routes. The imposing granite monoliths and glacial lakes of Torres are, in our opinion, some of the most magnificent highlights in the entire continent and this is truly a place everyone should visit, at least once in life. As the most visited park in Patagonia, Torres del Paine enjoys the largest crowds in the height of the summer season, although being so extensive, it never really feels overcrowded as such. The only thing you should ensure, if visiting in December and January, is that you book your accommodation in advance. Trekking in Torres is a multi-dimensional feast for all the senses, as here you’ll find arguably the greatest diversity in landscape and greatest concentration of wildlife. Day walks are certainly possible and there are still plenty of stunning viewpoints in Torres from where to enjoy the stellar views without having to gear up for a mega-adventure. Moreover, non-trekkers have the option to explore the park on horseback, by boat and, of course, by road.
Best for: glaciers, day hikes and feeling of remoteness
The incredible icy wonderland of Los Glaciares offers the added bonus of being serviced by the town of El Chalten, itself an excellent base for sensational day-long walks in the surrounding wilderness. Home of world-famous Perito Moreno, Los Glaciares is – in fact – much less visited than Torres outside of the immediate Perito Moreno viewpoints. Offering activities for visitors of all sorts of fitness levels, Los Glaciares is wonderful to explore on foot and by boat, with the two activities granting startling different viewpoints of the glaciers and their glorious surrounding forests. There’s a wide range of walks on offer here, which suit easy, moderate and serious hikers, both in difficulty levels and duration.
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Best for: foliage colours, dramatic coastline, sub-Antarctic forests
The park at the end of the world is shaped by the meeting of two formidable forces: the mighty snow-capped Andean Mountain range and the marine-life inhabited Beagle Channel. The ‘last’ national park of the continent is close to the town of Ushuaia, the most popular port for cruises to Antarctica and, aside from being sensationally beautiful thanks to a kaleidoscope of flora, it is also immensely convenient to visit. A multitude of day hikes into the splendid forest and up to sparkling glaciers offer the intrepid adventurer a bevy of options. With the proximity of Ushuaia, visitors have greater choice of accommodation and culinary delights, as well as plenty of sites to satisfy history buffs. Whether on foot or by boat, you can explore the remote bays and hidden corners of Tierra del Fuego, exploring islands overrun with unique marine wildlife and swarms of seabirds.
When choosing the right national park to visit in Patagonia, it’s important to remember that each of the above-mentioned parks offer beautiful scenery, plenty of wildlife watching and loads of hiking options. Moreover, dare we say it is impossible to make a bad choice here: Patagonia is bound to rate as one of the most magnificent destinations you will ever visit so don’t fear that choosing one park, over the other, will mean you’ll be missing out.
Nevertheless, if making definite choices is not your forte then you could always pick door #4: why not visit them all? With a little logistical help and a lot of experienced advice, you too can plan a whirlwind journey through Patagonia visiting its three most astonishing national parks.
How can I visit Patagonia?
Our 13-day Southern Explorer tour will see you soak up the delights of all three parks and dare we say two weeks is the minimum amount you ought to plan if you do indeed want to visit all there. If you only have a week at your disposal, then choosing two is a great idea: have a look at our 6-day Essential Patagonia to see how seamlessly we combine Torres and Los Glaciares, or simply add a 5-day Tierra del Fuego cruise to your Antarctica expedition itinerary. And if glaciers and fjords are what set your heart aflutter, then feel free to swoon over our 8-day Pure Patagonia tour, which combines the delights of Los Glaciares with the awe-inspiring highlights of the Chilean Fjords.
In this remote region of South America, small group tours reign supreme as the difficulty of organizing transport and accommodation can be considerable. The highlights of these tours are unforgettable and, having your own private guides and transport at your beck and call, means you get to see and do so much more in a short time than you would otherwise.
Visit our Patagonia tour page for more drool-worthy inspiration and, as always, contact us if you have questions or inquire about a specific tour or bespoke itinerary.
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