Trail-loving Lonely Planet senior editor Melissa Yeager recently returned from a spectacular hiking trip from a lesser-visited park in Argentine Patagonia. She has a few ideas on why this should be on your radar to escape the crowds.
Shortly after Lonely Planet contributor Evan Ruderman took on the Chilean side of Patagonia, I visited the Argentina side. Lesser known and with fewer visitors, Parque Patagonia Argentina's landscape is starkly different from its Chilean counterparts. At first glance from the road of Hwy 40 that takes visitors through Patagonia, you really can't see what makes this area so special.
But enter the Portal Cañadón Pinturas and hike on the newly marked trails and you'll witness the spectacular beauty of this area and share it with very few others.
Over a five-day visit to the park, I put dozens of miles on my hiking boots and exponentially more pictures of wildlife and nature on my iPhone and DSLR.
I usually start the day in Parque Patagonia Argentina...
With a hike. Patagonia is a dream for hikers, and Parque Patagonia Argentina has put in 10 new trails ranging from 2-18 km with sweeping views of both landscape and wildlife.
My two favorite trails involved hiking down and up the Cañadón Pinturas as well as checking out the rainbow-colored oxidation seen at Sendero Tierra de Colores.
In Parque Patagonia, Argentina I stayed...
In the park. With the nearest town some 60 kilometers away, the best place to stay is within the park itself. The La Posta de los Toldos Refugio's rooms are rustic yet comfortable, but its charming common area, with hospitality as warm as its hearth, make it feel like a luxurious place to return to after a day hiking. Walking distance from the lodge is a heated observatory. The stone walls will keep out the wind as you stargaze.
If you'd rather camp under the stars, I spent one night experiencing the campsites, surrounded by walls to keep out the near-constant wind.
In Parque Patagonia Argentina, you must try...
Food and drink. The food and wine were as equally spectacular as the Patagonian landscape. You have to experience a traditional Asado, Argentina's take on barbecue. Sample the chorizo and other slow-roasted carne along with sipping the local beer and wine (which likely will come from the nearby Mendoza wine region).
The archaeological wonders of the area. You can't miss the colorful walls of Cueva de las Manos or "Cave of the Hands," which are a Unesco World Heritage site. Hike down to see handprints and rock paintings of wildlife that experts believe date back more than 9000 years.
You can also book a private tour to hike to an equally impressive site called Alero Charcamata. The paintings are located on private land, but guide Claudio Figuera with Zoyen Tourism has an agreement with the rancher to lead tours on the property. You'll need to be able to hike 2km to get there, but you'll have plenty of time to rest and enjoy lunch once you get there while Figuera tells you about the history of this site.
As a souvenir, you should bring back...
Photos and memories. You're going to see spectacular wildlife. Guanacos grazing, viscacha sunning themselves on cliffs, perhaps you'll even spot a puma. (You can book a tour with Falcuno Epul, the man who monitors pumas within the park, and learn about how he tracks the species as the park works to grow the predator's population.)
Take lots of pictures but observe the practices of Leave No Trace. Don't leave anything in or take anything from this fragile ecosystem. Leave it so others who come after you can enjoy its beauty.
The items I recommend bringing to Parque Patagonia Argentina are...
Nano-puff jacket and a hat. The locals describe the weather in Patagonia as "four seasons in one day," and I found that enormously true even at the height of summer. At the top of the canyon, I'd have my Patagonia brand nano-puff zipped with the hood firmly around my ears. (Yes, I did feel a bit like I was wearing a concert t-shirt to the concert – but Patagonia and North Face gear are prolific here due to the warmth and durability of the products.)
But make sure you layer as well. By the time we reached the bottom of the canyon, I'd ditched the layers and slathered myself with sunscreen. Returning to the top, with the ever-present wind whipping around us, I was back in my nano-puff.
Finally, the sustainable ecolodge runs on solar energy, which means it can handle hair dryers. Pack a hat to manage your wild locks.
Melissa traveled to Parque Patagonia Argentina at the invitation of the park, Rewilding Argentina and the Freyja Foundation. Lonely Planet does not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.