Gourmands have the south of France. Party-goes have the many islands dotting the south of Thailand. And beach-dwellers have no shortage of options in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific’s Polynesian stretch.
But for adventurers, one destination towers above the rest – literally and figuratively. Welcome to Patagonia, a geographical region spanning the Southern reaches of Argentina and Chile in South America. With one foot in the glacial ice fields and another in the desert, with mountains, fjords, lakes, and steppes in between, Patagonia is one of the most diverse regions on earth.
In this post, let’s explore Patagonia and understand where its name comes from and what makes this stunning destination the ultimate bucket list trip for adventurers, nature lovers, and antiquarians alike. So pack your hiking gear, grab your binoculars and book your ticket – let’s take a trip to the Southern tip of South America.
Where is Patagonia?
Patagonia is a plateau that spans nearly all of mainland Argentina’s southern landscape. The area is approximately 673 thousand square kilometers and includes a sprawling area of steppe and desert.
These areas are bounded together by four entities — the Patagonian Andes on the west, the Colorado River on the north, the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the Strait of Magellan on the south.
Where Did Patagonia Get Its Name?
One of the most fascinating things about Patagonia is the rumored origins of its name.
It’s said to be derived from the region’s original occupants, the Tehuelche Indians. Spanish explorers from the 16th century called them Patagones and were reportedly given that name by a Portuguese explorer leading the first European expedition to the region.
The story is that the Tehuelche reminded the explorer of a dog-headed monster in a Spanish romance called Amadís of Gaul, called Patagon.
Why Travelers Love Patagonia
Extending from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean, Patagonia’s desert and semidesert covers are sights to see. The plains are detailed and vast and offer tourists several unique features that they won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Let’s explore the significance of traveling to Patagonia and why it’s at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists.
Dramatic Scenery Is in No Short Supply
Tall waterfalls, expansive lakes, broad mountain ranges, pure-white glaciers, lush forests, and winding fjords: These are just a few of the scenic delights you’ll glimpse in Patagonia.
Sprawling clifts and vast dunes make up the costs along Patagonia. The region is home to several beautiful beaches, from Playas Doradas to Pico Truncado. Each beach is unique in its views and features, leaving something for every traveler. The region’s Atlantic coast is an accessible destination for visitors to access and provides expensive views of landscapes and sea life.
North of Bariloche is where you’ll find the beginning of Patagonia and combined mountains, sparkling lakes, and vast green forests for eager hikers or climbers. As you head south, you’ll reach the fjords and the southern islands of Chile, accessible from the north only by air.
To get the most viewing pleasure possible from this diverse landscape, it’s highly recommended to book a Patagonia cruise. You can try to traverse the region on a DIY trip, but it’s prohibitively challenging to get around on one’s own. With a quality cruise, you can navigate the hotspots without worrying about chartering numerous flights and arranging sparse accommodation.
Get the Blood Pumping on Sea-and-Sky Hikes
Finally, one of the great things about Patagonia is that you don’t have to be a passive admirer. The landscape affords innumerable opportunities for hiking, trekking, beach-walking, and – for the truly brave – swimming. It’s an activity lover’s paradise.
If you don’t know where you want to travel this year, but you know it needs to be adventurous, consider turning your attention southward. Take a Patagonia glacier cruise through Patagonia and see first-hand why it’s one of the earth’s most awe-inspiring destinations.
Catch a Rare Glimpse of Diverse Wildlife
Patagonia is home to an abundant array of wildlife. With their sky-high peaks and deep rivers, lakes, and broad forests, these regions are home to more than 500 species of wildlife. Even when you’re not actively looking, you’ll be able to spot a variety of unique, indigenous, and visiting wildlife.
Bird-lovers can witness the black-browed albatrosses and rockhopper penguins of Diego Ramírez Island. Sea lions, imperial cormorants, and the occasional dolphin dot the shores of Marta Island. South American terns and black-necked swans fly above the Torres del Paine National Park, as, nearby, sheep graze the grasslands of one of Chile’s historic farming areas.
Unsure where to begin? Start in the abundant region of Torres del Paine, which is home to the most species out of all the Patagonia regions.
In short, Patagonia is a natural wonder. As you round the fjords in an arctic vessel, there’s no telling what creature you’ll see on the other side.
Plot a Path Rich in History
It’s hard to mention Patagonia without also mentioning one of its most significant historical admirers: Charles Darwin. The famed naturalist was taken aback by the beauty of the glaciers and wildlife in Patagonia.
But Patagonia had a storied history long before Darwin washed up to its shores – long before any Western contact, in fact. Pre-Columbian Indigenous peoples have inhabited Patagonia for an estimated 12,000 years.
You can find evidence of at least one of these cultures at the Cueva de las Manos, where cave art dating back to the 8th millennium BC rests at the foot of a large cliff.
The Best Time to Travel to Patagonia
If you’re thinking of booking a memorable trip to Patagonia, the recommended travel seasons vary by region. For the south, October through November offers the most comfortable temperatures, with high reaching the 50s — ideal for exploring the region’s unique land and sea elements.
Summer temperatures range from December to February and are often the most popular time to visit. You’ll likely encounter many tourists looking to take advantage of Patagonia’s regions and natural attractions.
When it comes to booking your trip, whether you plan on driving, flying, or taking a boat ride around the regions, it’s best to book in advance. Patagonia has become one of the most popular destinations for explorers, and tours can fill up quickly.
Traveling to Patagonia? Here’s What You Should Pack
Packing for a trip can feel overwhelming no matter where you’re heading, but there are special considerations to be mindful of when planning a trip to South America.
A Quality Hiking Bag
A well-designed hiking bag is essential whether you’re hiking, biking, canoeing, or driving through Patagonia.
These bags are larger than a standard backpack and are designed with the compartments you need to carry your essentials and water, and healthy snacks for your trip.
These are especially important if you plan on taking multi-day hikes and will be moving around the regions — they’re designed with cushioned shoulder and back support which help evenly distribute the weight of the bag to avoid any potential injuries.
If you’re setting up camp and plan on taking smaller day trips, a day pack is best suited — it should be small enough that you can carry all day without pain but large enough to fit the essentials that you’ll need for the day.
Depending on the time of year you’re traveling through Patagonia, weather conditions can be unpredictable. When you’re hiking or reaching various altitudes, it’s important to pack layered clothing to avoid your body temperature rising or dropping rapidly.
Ideally, a handful of short and long-sleeve shirts will be enough to carry you through your trip. This way, you’re prepared for any weather changes.
Patagonia is known for its rainy seasons, so a waterproof jacket should be one of your priority items. Not only does a quality waterproof jacket keep you dry, but it should also be made with breathable material, which will help regulate your body temperature whether you’re hiking or on the water.
Waterproof clothing also applies to your pants since you may have to hike through puddles or during potential downpours. Quick Dry materials will become your best friend through your South American adventure.
If you’re considering traveling between September and November or March through May, you may want to consider packing thermal undergarments.
Temperatures across Patagonia can reach nearly zero degrees at night, and thermal materials allow your body to retain more warmth, which is essential to your overall experience.
Like any trip, the shoes on your feet can make or break your traveling experience. Traveling to a landscape with more rugged terrain like Patagonia requires sustainable and long-lasting footwear that will provide the comfort you need as you engage in long walks and hikes.
Plan on investing in hiking boots with proper ankle support and thick soles to ensure you’re as protected and comfortable as possible. It’s important to research the brand and materials you’re considering to ensure they’re as breathable and weather-resistant as they can be.