On South America’s southern frontier, nature grows wild, barren and beautiful. Spaces are large, as are the silences that fill them. For the newly arrived, such emptiness can be as impressive as the sight of Patagonia’s jagged peaks, pristine rivers and dusty backwater oases. In its enormous scale, Patagonia offers a wealth of potential experiences and landscapes.
Though now mostly paved, lonely RN 40 remains the iconic highway that stirred affection in personalities as disparate as Butch Cassidy and Bruce Chatwin. On the eastern seaboard, paved RN 3 shoots south, connecting oil boomtowns with ancient petrified forests, Welsh settlements and the incredible Península Valdés. Then there is the other, trendy Patagonia where faux-fur hoodies outnumber the guanacos. Don’t miss the spectacular sights of El Calafate and El Chaltén, but remember that they’re a world apart from the whistling solitude of the steppe.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Patagonia.
GlacierGlaciar Perito Moreno
Among the Earth's most dynamic and accessible ice fields, Glaciar Perito Moreno is the stunning centerpiece of the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Locally referred to as Glaciar Moreno, it measures 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high, but what makes it exceptional in the world of ice is its constant advance – up to 2m per day, causing building-sized icebergs to calve from its face.
National ParkParque Nacional Los Glaciares
Among the Earth’s most dynamic and accessible ice fields, Glaciar Perito Moreno is the stunning centerpiece of the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. It measures 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high, but what makes it exceptional in the world of ice is its constant advance – it creeps forward up to 2m per day, causing building-sized icebergs to calve from its face. While watching the glacier is a relatively sedentary park experience, it manages to nonetheless be thrilling.
MuseumMuseo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio
Showcasing the most important fossil finds in Patagonia, this natural-history museum offers outstanding life-size dinosaur exhibits and more than 1700 fossil remains of plant and marine life. Nature sounds and a video complement the informative plaques, and tours are available in a number of languages. The collection's most exciting addition is the Patagotitan, possibly the largest animal to ever walk the earth, discovered in 2013.
Unique and exciting, this gorgeous museum illuminates the world of ice. Displays and bilingual films show how glaciers form, along with documentaries on continental ice expeditions and stark meditations on climate change. Adults suit up in furry capes for the bar de hielo (AR$240 including drink), a blue-lit below-zero club serving vodka or fernet (an aromatic Italian spirit) and cola in ice glasses.
Celebrating the area’s unique marine ecosystem, this masterpiece brings an artistic sensitivity to extensive scientific research. There are exhibits on the breeding habits of right whales, dolphin sounds and southern-elephant-seal harems, a touch-friendly tide pool and more. The building includes a three-story tower and library, with the top featuring glass walls and comfy couches for reading.
Wildlife ReserveReserva Faunística Península Valdés
Lying on Argentina's barren eastern Patagonian coast, this oddly shaped peninsula is home to some of the country's richest wildlife. Elephant seals, Magellanic penguins, southern right whales, guanacos, armadillos and foxes are almost guaranteed sightings during their high seasons. Whale watching is also big. From February to April, orcas can be seen at high tide. They have been filmed snatching pinnipeds (the genus including seals and sea lions) off the beach here. Elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins are present year-round.
Archaeological SiteCueva de las Manos
The incredible rock art of Cueva de las Manos was proclaimed a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999. Dating from about 7370 BC, these polychrome rock paintings cover recesses in the near-vertical walls with imprints of human hands, drawings of guanacos and, from a later period, abstract designs. Of around 800 images, more than 90% are of left hands; one has six fingers.
Nature ReservePortal La Ascensión
An outstanding addition to Parque Nacional Patagonia, this historic estancia on Lago Buenos Aires has an information center, lakeside car camping and a 25km trail circuit that ascends the meseta following the course of a mountain stream. It's apt for backpacking too: there are two campgrounds and a dome shelter on the circuit with water, a cooking area and latrines.
Nature ReserveReserva Los Huemules
This private 56-sq-km reserve protects the endangered huemul deer. There's 25km of marked trails. Stop by the visitor center to check in. It’s 17km beyond El Chaltén, just after Río Eléctrico.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Patagonia.