Best Things To Do in Argentine Patagonia
Argentine Patagonia caters to the adventurous traveler. Whale-watching and horseback riding are just some of the ways you can get acquainted with this striking region. But Argentine Patagonia isn't just for diehard nature-lovers. Culture hounds and intrepid hikers alike will take pleasure exploring Cueva de las Manos, Punta Tombo, and Perito Moreno Glacier. Just be sure to savor the scrumptious traditional cuisine and to relax in the charming lakeside villages along the way.
Updated July 26, 2016
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Stretching across northwestern tip of Argentine Patagonia sits the picturesque Lake District. Sandwiched between the Andes mountains with Chilean Patagonia to the west and Atlantic Patagonia to the east, the Lake District contains breathtaking vistas from nearly every angle. San Carlos de Bariloche, known simply as Bariloche, serves as the region's major hub. Towering over the immense Nahuel Huapi Lake and the surrounding national park, Bariloche provides a tranquil setting for lounging outdoors, savoring local cuisine, and admiring the picturesque scenery. But Bariloche boasts more than natural beauty. Venture into Bustillo, the heart of the city, and you'll discover European architecture infused with local hardwood accents, which create a lofty urban setting. During July and August, you'll find idyllic skiing conditions, and, in January, you'll relish prime hiking and river rafting weather. We suggest visiting during November or March, when you can soak up the fresh air, marvel at postcard-perfect views of the Andes, and relax at a tucked away mountain retreat without heavy crowds.
From Bariloche, it's easy to travel to Cerro Catedral's luxurious ski retreat. It's also worth checking out Villa La Angostura (a lakeside village 50 miles north of Bariloche) and San Martín de los Andes (a scenic town 112 miles north of Bariloche). Both feature local craft markets and panoramic views.
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This beautiful Patagonian region (which skirts the Atlantic Ocean and sits just east of the Lake District and above Southern Patagonia) consists of wildlife havens and quaint Welsh villages. Here, you'll spot tea connoisseurs flocking to towns like Trelew and Gaiman in search of the perfect brew and throngs of visitors congregating to Peninsula Valdés during whale-watching season. The easiest way to reach Peninsula Valdés is via bus or car from Puerto Madryn or Trelew, Atlantic Patagonia's main cities. Mar y Valle, a reputable bus service, offers transportation to Peninsula Valdés from Puerto Madryn for about $16.50 ARS (roughly $3.75) each direction.
Punta Tombo wildlife sanctuary, located about 154 miles south of Puerto Madryn, is also worth a trip. Here you'll find dozens of charming Magellanic penguins mingling along the shores. To reach Punta Tombo, drive southbound on RP 1, which leads to the sanctuary.
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Boasting jaw-dropping sights—including Perito Moreno Glacier, Mount Fitz Roy, and Cueva de las Manos—Southern Patagonia attracts culture-hounds and nature-seekers alike. Sitting beneath the Lake District and Atlantic Patagonia at Patagonia's southernmost tip, this rustic district sits to the east of the Chilean border, sprawling downward to the verge of Antarctica.
Most visitors descend upon El Chaltén or El Calafate to experience Patagonia's rugged backcountry. From El Calafate (a remote desert town that serves as the base to journey across Perito Moreno Glacier), you can relish the towering ice fields and far-stretching verdant forests. Daring hikers trek up jagged peaks and trek across the area's immense ice fields. Near El Calafate lies El Chaltén, a small town neighboring Mount Fitz Roy. From El Calafate, you can take an excursion to survey the Cave of the Hands' ornate and enigmatic cave arts.
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At the southern tip of Glacier National Park in Southern Patagonia sits one of the region's most magnificent glaciers, Perito Moreno. Unlike 95 percent of Earth's glaciers that are gradually disappearing, Perito Moreno continues to grow. Every year, thousands of visitors come to marvel at Perito Moreno's towering crystal mass.
Recent visitors suggest mini-trekking (a type of hiking excursion) along Perito Moreno's southern border. "Mini-trekking on the glacier ice was an unforgettable experience. The viewpoints and trails that have been set up just to see the glacier are excellent," raves one TripAdvisor user.
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Roughly half a million Magellanic penguins flock to Punta Tombo every year to mate. Located about two hours south of Puerto Madryn by car in Atlantic Patagonia, Punta Tombo contains a variety of trails that visitors can follow into penguin habitats and observe their interactions. Recent visitors agree that this remote reserve is worth the trek and not just for flourishing fluffy-feathered penguins. Other native bird species, including cormorants and oystercatchers, nest across the region. If you visit between September and March, you may even catch sight of lounging seals and guanacos.
However, recent travelers warn that the distance from Puerto Madryn is farther than you might expect. "Very interesting for nature lovers but [it's] quite a trip to get there from Puerto Madryn […] you have to drive for hours," explains one TripAdvisor user.
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This jagged, granite-walled mountain towers 11,000 feet over El Chaltén in Southern Patagonia. Mount Fitz Roy, which typically stands obscured in a haze of clouds, was originally named "Chaltén," meaning "smoking mountain" in the ancient Tehuelche tribe's dialect. Today, its title commemorates Sir. Robert FitzRoy, the sailor who guided Charles Darwin into South America aboard the HMS Beagle.
Visitors find the mountain striking as it's the highest mountain peak in Glacier National Park. But they also warn of the exhausting hike and harsh weather that can hinder even the most adept hikers. One TripAdvisor user explains, "Bringing your trekking shoes is a good idea, and be aware that the weather is tricky."
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This bizarre Patagonian cave remains shrouded in mystery. Its walls exhibit three distinctive styles of cave art linked to a hunter-gatherer society that flourished in Argentine Patagonia around 10,000 BCE. Archeologists speculate that the small handprints etched on the cave walls belonged to the predecessors of the Teheulche tribe. Detailed murals predate hunting scenes with native guanacos and ostriches predate the handprints, complicating the cave's history. Today, the Cave of the Hands, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site stands as one of the most significant cultural sites in South America.
"I felt the presence of very ancient people, by the painting of their own hands [...] It's worth the hundreds of km of dirty roads to get there," remarks one TripAdvisor user.
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Skirting Atlantic Patagonia's eastern coast line, Peninsula Valdés is a marine wildlife refuge for endangered species such as orcas, elephant seals, Magellanic penguins, sea lions, and guanaco. Lined with powdery beaches and staggered cliffs, this natural reserve has garnered attention as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. For optimal wildlife-watching, you'll want to visit Puerto Pirámides.
Recent travelers praise their close encounters with Magellanic penguins at Peninsula Valdés. "Puerto Pirámides is a spectacle of sea species, with sea lions, sea wolves, whales and penguins. It is impossible not to fall in love with them," says one TripAdvisor user.
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Founded in the early 1900s by English pioneer and cattle farmer Joseph Percival Masters, Estancia Cristina offers both impressive views and excursions. Sitting next to Glacier National Park in Southern Patagonia, this lakeside historic home serves as an ideal platform for exploring the immense 35-mile-long Upsala Glacier, the largest glacier in all of South America. If you would prefer a more relaxing adventure, you can embark on a fishing expedition from the Caterina River to the tranquil Lake Anita.
Recent visitors highlight Estancia Cristina's particularly amiable staff. One TripAdvisor user raves, "Amazing trip to this Estancia last month […] could not have been more impressed with the views from our room, the activities, and the genuine pleasant nature of the staff."
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This paleontological museum transports visitors to pre-historic Patagonia with four galleries that display over 1,700 fossils. Named after Egidio Feruglio—an Italian paleontologist who studied Patagonia's ancient Cretaceous, Tertiary, and Mesozoic plant fossils—the facility is also the primary Patagonian research institute. Here, you'll find rare relics like a 150-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton and a 60 million year-old meiolánidos turtle fossil. During the week, paleontologists diligently clean recently unearthed fossils.
Recent visitors praise the museum's impressive exhibits. One TripAdvisor user describes the museum's collection as an "incredibly rich trove of paleontological finds from the area with greater depth of information than I've found in larger museums in the US."
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If you come to Patagonia to ski, this buzzing Andes resort in Argentina's Lake District boasts experienced instructors, spectacular vantage points and an array of outdoor trails. But downhill skiing isn't the only reason to visit Cerro Catedral: You can also test your stamina along the cross-country ski trails or tackle the powder by sled and snowmobile. If you visit between December and February, you'll find ample opportunities to hike and mountain bike in the summer season.
Travelers love the spectacular views at Cerro Catedral, but note one drawback: Winter crowds trigger long queues and steep prices. "It is really very nice to go in winter, but in summer [it's] a good choice for trekking. You take one of the chairs, and go up, and walk," explains one TripAdvisor user. You also won't want to miss Cerro Catedral's festive music scene or après-ski lounges.
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Some say there's no better way to navigate Patagonia than on horseback. Ever since guachos (cowboys) first steered their sturdy steeds through Southern Patagonia's rugged terrain, horseback riding has been a romanticized mode of transportation. Several superb horseback riding services operate throughout Argentine Patagonia.
If you're planning to explore the Lake District, you can surround yourself with the breathtaking natural scenery of Nuhuel Huapi National Park on horseback. Travelers suggest booking a horseback riding expedition with Huara Viajes y Turismo, a trusted riding service that takes passengers through Patagonia's spectacular backcountry. To learn more about their excursions, visit Huara Viajes y Turismo's website (written in Spanish). If you're staying in Atlantic Patagonia, take a half-day ride along Puerto Madryn's scenic coast. Travelers also recommend Nativo Adventure, a horseback riding company that services the Atlantic district's eastern coastline. Find out more about Nativo Advenure by visiting their website.
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