Stunning Mountain and Lake Adventures in South America
Covering a territory with over 2500 km from north to south, the region of Patagonia rises as one of the most dramatic compilations of beautiful landscapes in the world. This region is shared between Argentina and Chile, and both countries count with different destinations that allow travelers to explore it in many different ways.
The idea of this article is to describe three of its main hubs, which give access to different geographical features of Patagonia, from the perspective of those who prefer outdoor activities as their main travel style. Therefore, if you like trekking or adventure, this is the right post for you!
Bariloche and the Lake District
Situated at the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, San Carlos de Bariloche stands as the capital of the Lake District in Argentina. As a result, it’s a great hub to connect with other cities and villages either in Argentina or Chile.
This part of Patagonia has a lot of similarities with the European Alps, not only for the picturesque villages, but also because is an area with mountains, forests, rivers, and many, many lakes. It’s totally versatile during the four seasons of the year, with attractions that are visited in many different ways. During spring, summer, and part of the autumn, the main outdoor activities are trekking, rafting, kayaking, standup paddle, canopy, horse-back riding, mountain biking, climbing, mountaineering, and camping.
Regarding trekking, there are different trails to follow with different kinds of difficulties. The combination of all the trails that go across the Lake District is known as “Huella Andina”. Despite the fact that it would take probably weeks to do all the “Huella Andina”, hikers usually opt for walking only just parts of it, through multiday hikes that join different villages or shelters across the mountains. There is a very popular one called “Trekking 4 Refugios”, which is a two days hike joining the shelters “Frey”, “Lopez”, “Jakob”, and “Laguna Negra”. It starts and ends from Bariloche, and it’s about 45 km of trekking surrounded by incredible mountain landscapes!
During wintertime, traditional sports as Ski are at the top of the list, with Cerro Catedral as the main ski center of South America. Besides the ski centers, there are many spots to do ski off-piste, offering the chance to slide across virgin slopes surrounded by volcanoes, sculpted peaks, and amazing snowed forests.
The list of attractions in this area continues with El Bolson, Lago Puelo, Los Alerces National Park (UNESCO site), Villa La Angostura, San Martín de los Andes, and many other destinations. On the other hand, Chile has its pair “Lake District” on the other side of the Andes, with Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas as the main hubs. The good thing is that both districts can be joined through different ways, crossing the border across lakes and mountains!
El Calafate, El Chaltén, and Torres del Paine
About 1500 km south of Bariloche and 2800 km from Buenos Aires, stands El Calafate (Argentina), which is the Argentinean gate to the land of the Glaciers and the most epic Patagonia trekking tours.
El Calafate is right in the middle between El Chaltén (Argentina) and Torres del Paine (Chile). These three destinations are part of a natural corridor of 400 km that is very special: in between both countries (above the mountains), it lies an ice cap which is the third largest ice field after Antarctica and Greenland. From this humongous block of ice descend most of the famous glaciers of Patagonia: Glacier Perito Moreno, Upsala, Grey, Spegazzini, Pio XXI, etc..
Besides the presence of these amazing glaciers, this area counts as well with some of the most amazing trails in the world. These trails are in El Chaltén and in Torres del Paine.
El Chaltén is the capital for trekking in Argentina and a village that lies at the feet of the Mount Fitz Roy and the Cerro Torre. These two massive granite mountains can be seen from different viewpoints, and there are plenty of trekking circuits to be followed, with different lengths and difficulties. We could divide it into full-day hikes (from the village) or multiday hikes (with overnights in rural campsites).
The most popular full-day hikes in El Chaltén are “Laguna de los 3” -a 10 hours return hike that leads to a lagoon with a fantastic view to the Fitz Roy Mount- and “Lago Torre” -8 hours return, to a lake at the feet of Cerro Torre. Regarding multiday hikes, the most popular ones are “Ruta del Huemul” and the different kinds of expeditions to the Continental Ice Cap. These expeditions lead right away to this colossal and endless ice field: an unforgettable experience!
On the other hand, there is Torres del Paine: the capital for trekking in Chile. This National Park it’s home to one of the most remarkable trekking circuits in the world: the “W trek”. This is a 4 days hike that leads to the 3 main valleys of the park, which seen from a map look altogether like a “W”. These valleys are Rio Asencio (highlight: Base of the Towers), Francés (highlight: Horns of Paine), and Grey (highlight: Grey Glacier). You can also walk along just one or two of them, in case you don’t have the time to visit them all.
The W trek can also be combined with a longer hike called the “O” trek, which is an extension of the previous one with some days on the other side of the mountains. The Park counts with different kinds of facilities, offering to the guests the chance of staying in shelters, campsites, hotels, or cabins (depending on the sector, naturally).
Besides trekking, there are other kinds of outdoor activities very popular in this area. For instance, kayaking among ice chunks in front of the glaciers Grey or Perito Moreno, or hiking on top of the ice, are some of them. Also doing rafting in El Chaltén, kayaking in a river in the middle of the steppe, horseback riding, mountain biking, climbing, mountaineering, etc..
Last but not least, photographers all over the world come to this region to catch the best sunrises and sunsets you can ever get, contemplating at the same time the local wildlife. Puma encounters are becoming more and more frequent!
Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego and Puerto Williams
Right at the southernmost tip of the world, Ushuaia works as a great hub to discover and explore the nature of Tierra del Fuego. Even though Ushuaia (Argentina) is not anymore the Southernmost city in the world (the “title” belongs now to Puerto Williams in Chile), the truth is that both places are quite close and it’s even possible to combine them on the same trip. This means that there is a lot to see and explore at the End of The World!
You can reach Ushuaia by air (from Buenos Aires and other destinations), land (along the famous Route 3, crossing the Magellan Strait by ferry), or sea (Cruises). Puerto Williams is a little bit more complex in a matter of logistics, but you can reach either from Ushuaia or Punta Arenas.
Ushuaia combines the sea (Beagle Channel) and the mountains (in the only area where the Andean Cordillera lies from west to east) in a very interesting way. The presence of peat bogs is also something very characteristic, which in winter are covered by a white snow cap that allows all kinds of activities.
The Beagle Channel is home to different kinds of species, particularly penguins, and it’s possible to walk among them! On the other hand, besides the classic navigations along the channel, it’s important to highlight that it’s possible to dive and explore the interesting ecosystem that exists down the water there.
Apart from the sea, Tierra del Fuego counts with mountains, rivers, and lakes. Adventurers all over the world come every year to explore it in many different ways: trekking, kayaking, off-road (4×4), skiing (winter), etc.
Puerto Williams is part of a very similar geography, and probably the most iconic highlight of this area is the trekking circuit known as “Dientes de Navarino” (a mountain chain which looks like teeth). This circuit is a trail that takes around three days and leads to wild and virgin areas.
Like these destinations, Patagonia counts with many other places and areas to visit and explore, such as Península Valdés, the Chilean Fjords, or the Carretera Austral. We invite you to continue learning about this magnificent region, until having an overview that allows you to choose the destinations for your next trip. Patagonia will be waiting for you!
Santiago Tur from Beyond BA LATAM
Beyond BA Latam is a full-service Destination Management Company (DMC) that provides tailor-made trips in Argentina and Chile.
We have knowledgeable experts for each and every one of our destinations with an expertise that comes from living there or explored many times by traveling. Our Team will design a trip around you, explore your interests, your traveling style, and show you the highlights in a different light, introducing you to places and experiences that others might miss.