Looking for a great reason to start planning your next adventure? Here’s why you should visit Argentine Patagonia this year.
If you tell people you are headed to Patagonia, they may immediately assume you’re headed to Chile. And that’s one of the many reasons you should consider stopping in this under-visited spot in Argentina to see the massive – and exciting – rewilding effort taking place in this part of Patagonia.
Outdoors lovers tend to flock to the more popular, established parks in Chile. Meanwhile, my cab driver in Buenos Aires who was shuttling us to the airport was visibly confused, insisting I had confused Perito Moreno, the glacier, with Perito Moreno, the town in Argentina. (You’ll find the name Perito Moreno all over Patagonia, as it pays tribute to Francisco “Perito” Moreno, who donated land and helped spur the formation of the first of Argentina’s national parks.)
Yet what’s clear is the tremendous momentum happening on this part of the Patagonia steppe at the relatively new Parque Patagonia Argentina, which has a landscape vastly different from that of neighboring Chile. The views are equally stunning, and will enchant outdoors enthusiasts for entirely different reasons.
Parque Patagonia Argentina, part of which has been designated a national park since 2014, has included the land that includes the Cañadón Pinturas Portal section in 2019. Visitors have long been drawn to the area’s archaeological sites and this newest portal provides access to one of the most popular: Cueva de las Manos or “Cave of the Hands.” The colorful walls of this part of the Unesco World Heritage Site are covered in handprints and rock paintings of wildlife that experts believe date back more than 9000 years.
The area surrounding Cueva de las Manos was formerly ranchland, a use that drove out a lot of the native species in the area. Today, a massive rewilding effort, led by the Freyja Foundation and Rewilding Argentina, is underway. The project is gradually transforming the land back to its natural state by reestablishing wildlife, such as the area’s top predator: the puma.
The growing Portal Cañadón Pinturas area of the park has exciting new features, such as lodging and outdoor activities to help overnight visitors to enjoy the protected land. Volunteers have put in 10 new trails, including ones that will reward you with a breathtaking view of Tierra de Colores, or another that will have you trekking through the Pinturas canyon.
Other amenities include a lodge and new campgrounds. The Elsa Rosenvasser Feher Planetarium and Interpretation Centre is scheduled to open in November 2023, when the park opens for the summer season. The facility, which will include exhibits and activities for kids like a rock-climbing wall, is named after the Argentine scientist who donated the money for the facility.
The dream is eventually to have the parks on both sides of the international border stitched together into a larger wildlife sanctuary – but this dream is facing political headwinds from both the region and the federal government. Both would both need to pass laws to incorporate land acquired by this public-private effort into the national park.
Still, this is an area that many people used to speed past on Hwy 40 on their way to other protected parks in the area. With all the new trails and amenities, there’s a reason to slow down to make this growing national park a stop on your Patagonia road trip – and gain a new perspective on the area.
Where to stay
The nearest town, Perito Moreno, is some 61km away. As an alternative, you’ll save time (and gas) when you stay inside the park at Refugio La Posta de los Toldos. The food and hospitality make the rustic lodge feel luxurious, and you’ll wake up to wildlife like guanacos and lesser rheas casually strutting by. Since the sustainable lodge runs on solar power, you won’t be able to use your hair dryer – but I promise the guanacos won’t judge your wild locks.
If you’re more adventurous or have rented a camper van, stay at one of the park’s campsites (which have barriers to block out Patagonia’s near-constant wind). A small snack bar with beer and tasty post-hike snacks is located near one of the campsites.
What to see
Nightlife here means heading to the on-site observatory. Just a short walk from the lodge, the stone structure is heated and designed to keep out the wind. With no light pollution, this is a comfortable place to gaze at constellations like the Southern Cross from the perspective of the Southern Hemisphere.
The park is working to reintroduce pumas to the ecosystem – and a major contributor to this effort is Falcuno Epul, a former ranch worker who the park has retrained to help track, monitor and collect data on the pumas. Epul also works as a wildlife-watching guide. He will help you learn about his job and the park’s effort to reestablish pumas in the park. And if you’re lucky, you just might spot a puma in the wild during the trip.
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.