Laura Pattara | 21 July 2017
Your Best Patagonia Trekking Guide is your ticket to South America’s premier trekking destinations: rugged, wild and spectacular frontiers whose most iconic natural treasures offer an unforgettable sensory feast.
Patagonia is huge. Like really, really huge. South America’s revered southern region stretches over a mind-boggling 1,042,988 square kilometres, covers substantial portions of two countries (Argentina and Chile) and has a mind-bending way of playing with your senses, in every way imaginable. Here is where you’ll find it. A particularly enticing spot that looks ‘close enough’ takes hours to reach, and if something in the horizon grabs your attention and you think ‘Hmmm….I wonder…’ then forget it. It’s probably totally inaccessible. On the upside, however, you’ll certainly find plenty of treasures to distract you.
Your Best Patagonia Trekking Guide includes the 8 most sought-after trekking destinations in the region, as well as tips and hints on the best way to time your visit, how to get here, how to deal with Patagonia’s infamous climate, how to organize all the trekking logistics and, last but not least, how to pack like a boss.
Best Patagonia Trekking Destinations
Torres del Paine NP – Return trekkers have affectionately renamed this stunning place The Towers of Pain. But don’t let that be a deterrent. One of the largest and most successful biospheres in the world is just over 2500km south of Santiago de Chile and arguably the #1 trekking mecca in all of Patagonia. What makes this place unique is the variety of landscapes protected within its borders: spectacular forests, dramatic valleys, rivers and lakes interspersed between some of the most arresting mountains in the region, with the cuernos being the most titillating centrepiece. A flurry of wildlife also makes this a premier wildlife watching destination, so the golden visual feasts when trekking just keep on coming.
Los Glaciares NP – UNESCO listed since 1937, this icy wonderland holds the world’s second largest ice field. Trekkers head here for the startling and endless horizons of pure white, for the chance to walk on a glacier or spend hours on end watching one calve. The Perito Moreno glacier is one of the most captivating sights and sites in the whole continent yet it’ll fight for your attention among many others. Stupendous Mt Fitzroy, one of the most challenging mountain peaks on earth, will beg for a viewing, as will beautiful Viedma Glacier, Chorillo waterfall and the lagoons of Los Tres and Capri.
Villarica National Park – In many ways, Chile’s Villarica Volcano is the most ‘exciting’ highlight in Patagonia, simply because it’s so active you just never know if it’ll rumble to life during your visit. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of experts keeping their eyes firmly fixed on this bubbling beast, so take your full day trek to the crater and adjoining lava caves and run with it. At moderate speed, of course.
Huerquehue National Park – This temperate forest near Pucon is the most popular alternative to Villarica when said volcano is a little too hot to handle, although this is a fantastic trekking destination of its own accord. Least of all because the height and distance grants more than spectacular views, both of Villarica itself and the gorgeous Tinquilco Lake which, from this perspective, sits at the foothills of the picturesque snow-capped volcano. This treasured view is usually the first to assault your senses, before you move on to complete the Tres Lagos trek.
Tierra del Fuego NP – The first thing that strikes you as you reach the southernmost frontier of Patagonia is how incredibly colourful the landscape is. This fervently protected forest tumbles from the end of the Andes straight into the Beagle Channel, that frigid and enticing springboard that beckons visitors onto cruises to Antarctica. According to all climatic logic, nothing much should thrive here. But oh, how it does! The sub-Antarctic forest covers more than 60,000 hectares of superb wilderness, and boasts an array of wildlife and some of the hardiest cultures in the world. As you’d come to expect by now, the Tierra del Fuego NP is characterised by verdant forests, sparkling lakes, rivers, valleys and a very unique stretch of dramatic coastline. This is the beginning or the end of everything in Patagonia, depending on your travel direction. Ushuaia, the so-called City at the End of the World, is a vibrant city to explore and even a photo at the southern end of the famous Pan American Highway, which from here heads north to Alaska for almost 18,000km, is a must.
Nahuel Huapi National Park – We could lead our Patagonia trekking guide astray here by mentioning that this corner of Patagonia is home to the best chocolate in all of South America, but we won’t J Instead, we should probably concentrate on the natural trekking attractions: with over 1.5 million acres of the best Argentinian wilderness, Nahuel Huapi is the national park after which all others were created. As the first protected reserve in Patagonia, this is one revered place (also because of the chocolate, obviously) and is a stellar region literally carved from ancient glaciers. With deep blue lakes in all shades of sapphire, expansive valleys brimming with wildflowers, peaks reaching to the heavens, waterfalls, rolling steppes, meadows and an abundance of sportive options, this place is arguably the most varied of the lot. Bariloche, the best base town in the entire southern region, is a popular skiing hub for locals in winter, and offers plenty of culinary, shopping and relaxing diversions. Because no-one said a slow-paced ‘trek’ through a Patagonian town doesn’t count!
Queulat National Park – A grandiose hanging glacier is the main reason people choose to trek in Queulat yet it’s the kaleidoscope of flora in the park’s evergreen forest that end sup captivates their imagination the most. The juxtaposition of an unforgiving icy horizon, framed by some of the most luscious and verdant wilderness, is truly startling. They call this the Enchanted Forrest and enchanted you certainly will be: by the forest trek, the aquamarine glacial lake and the crown jewel, the ventisquero colgante. It may not be the biggest glacier, the most famous, nor the most blue, but by golly is it a stunner. One of the lesser-visited parks, Quelat is a phenomenal trekking stop on any small group tour of Patagonia.
Parque Patagonia – A newcomer to the Patagonia trekking scene, Parque Patagonia is the blossoming lifelong legacy of dedicated conservationist Doug Tompkins (who died tragically in Patagonia in 2015) founder of the North Face outdoor gear brand. This privately purchased land has been protected for years and now that it’s open to the trekking public it has swiftly garnered worldwide attention. What you’ll find here is over 60,000 acres of unspoilt Patagonian wilderness that has been barely seen by outsiders, let alone trekked. Private tailor-made trekking tours of this vast and uncharted playground would surely suit discerning trekkers who want to explore Patagonia way off the well-trekked-path. You can read about the Tompkins’ priceless contributions to Patagonia conservation right here.
Patagonia trekking options
Each destination within Patagonia offers multiple trekking options, ranging from easy strolls to short moderate hikes and even multi-day, hard-core slogs to satisfy the inner Lionel Terray within us all. All these options offer exceptional experiences and breathtaking views, so don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out!) push you far outside your physical capabilities. Whether you trek for a couple of hours, a whole day, or 5, your rewards will always be priceless.
On Patagonia small group tours, your guide will thoroughly brief you on all options available, if there are any timely considerations (oh look, the volcano just blew!) how long each trek roughly takes and the (always relative) level of difficulty. Moreover, multiple guides allow even the smaller groups to splinter once more, ensuring each guest is placed with like-active people. Never rush, never fear and never give up! Trekking in Patagonia is just as much about the trail as it is the final viewpoint.
Best time to go trekking in Patagonia
Patagonia offers unique experiences no matter what time of year you choose to visit although for dedicated trekking trips you should travel here between October and April. The region’s infamously unpredictable weather means that even in these months, at the heart of summer, you’ll likely experience extremes in temperatures and a sudden onslaught of crazy winds and freezing temps. That’s just Patagonia! Although winter normally boasts less windy conditions, the temperatures really are unmanageable for trekking, so summer months are the way to go. Besides, many trails are closed and inaccessible in winter due to ice and snow.
The tail ends of trekking season (October and May) offer sensational rewards, such as fewer visitors, lower prices and outstanding colours (in April, primarily), so do consider those if you don’t mind dealing with some discomforts.
How to get to Patagonia
It may be remote and it may be huge, yet Patagonia is still one of the most coveted destinations in all of South America so getting there is (almost) a piece of cake. That is, as soon as you set foot in the continent. The most popular base towns for small group Patagonia tours are Ushuaia, El Chalten, Bariloche, El Calafate, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Puerto Madryn and Puerto Valas, with each town acting as a base-point for Patagonia trekking jaunts through their respective surrounding regions, and each place easy to reach from the main capital cities of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Santiago (Chile).
If you have time up your sleeve and are the type of trekker who enjoys an all-encompassing travel experience, then consider overlanding through Patagonia. On a 27-day Santiago to Ushuaia adventure, for example, you could tick off almost all of the above-mentioned destinations, all the while discovering even more treasures along the way.
What to pack for Patagonia trekking
Check out our Patagonia Packing List before you start packing all the wrong things!
Patagonia is to trekkers what Bariloche is to chocoholics: simply the ultimate dream destination. So dust off those hiking boots, polish the hiking poles, tell the kids to water the plants and feed the cat, and come join us in Patagonia. We’ll take you on a once-in-a-lifetime trek you’ll never forget.
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