Enjoy this fabulous guest post by Gemma Dunn of EcoCamp Patagonia.
Discover the Top 10 highlights of Patagonia and maximise your experience at the end of the world, in the vast and diverse region covering the south of Chile and Argentina. Dramatic mountain formations, smoky volcanoes, flat barren pampas, expansive ice fields, Guacho culture and once-in-a-lifetime treks are all part of Patagonia’s enchantment.
End of the World Escape
Literally the end of the world, Patagonia is where South America peters out into islands, canals, inlets and fjords as the Atlantic and Pacific ocean unite. The region is vast and covers over 1,000,000 km² of land in southern Chile and Argentina, most of which is too wild to be inhabited. Untamed open plains, dramatic mountain groups, active volcanoes and colossal glaciers line the horizon.
Los Glaciares National Park
Home to the famous Perito Moreno glacier, Los Glaciares National Park covers an extensive 445,900 hectares of Argentine Patagonia. Aptly named given the large surface area covered by glaciers, the park’s hubs El Calafate and El Chaltén are popular with tourists looking to visit Mount Fitz Roy and the glaciers on Argentino Lake (Perito Moreno & Upsala).
Torres del Paine National Park
The undisputed highlight of Chilean Patagonia, UNESCO biosphere reserve Torres del Paine draws in increasing numbers of travellers each year who trek around the famous Paine massif with its jagged peaks and famous granite monoliths. The W trek and the Paine Circuit are the popular trekking routes, with many people also visiting for just a few days to experience highlights including the Torres, Los Cuernos, French Valley and Grey Glacier.
Patagonia is synonymous with mountaineering and climbing feats. Torres del Paine in particular has been the scene of many important mountaineering records – in 2011 the first Chilean group made it to the 3,050m peak of Cerro Paine Grande, the park’s highest peak, in a difficult technical assent. Only two groups had previously reached the summit, an Italian group in 1957 and French-Argentine group in 2000.
Southern Patagonian Ice Field
This whopping glacier is the world’s second largest ice field at 350km in length, covering approximately 14,000 km² in Chile and 2,500 km² in Argentina. Famous glaciers in the ice field include Viedma, Upsala and Perito Moreno in Los Glaciares National Park and Dickson, Tyndall and Grey in Torres del Paine National Park.
Right in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, EcoCamp Patagonia’s geodesic dome accommodation has gained a reputation for its sustainable design, exclusive use of green energy, sociable community environment and guided treks throughout the park. The first of its kind in the region, EcoCamp opened in 2000 and is the only hotel in Patagonia to date to have ISO14401 environmental management certification.
Patagonia’s rich heritage makes for an interesting read. Indigenous inhabitants including the Tehuelche, the Selk’nam, the Yaghan and the Kaweskars lived a happy, largely nomadic existence until the European settling in the 19th century which marked the end of the indigenous era and the start of scientific exploration and tourism.
Chilean & Argentinian culture
South America’s finest wines, tastiest barbecues, wildest rivers and bluest glaciers unite at the continent’s tip as the land peters out into tiny islands. Most people arrive in one country and leave from the other, crossing Patagonia just like the ‘Gauchos’ (Patagonian cowboys) who continue to roam the plains on horseback just as their ancestors did.
Patagonia is famous for its unique wildlife, with animals ranging from the red Culpeo fox and the friendly Guanaco to the rarely sighted Puma. Birdwatchers are also in heaven with a huge variety of wading birds, including flamingos, birds of prey like the Andean condor and large birds such as the flightless Rhea. Other well known species include the Patagonia Sierra Finch, the Austal Pygamy owl and the Magellanic woodpecker.
Patagonia enjoys a reputation as South America’s number one destination for world class trekking. Whether looping the Paine massif in Torres del Paine, climbing Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina or hiking in Tierra del Fuego, trekkers beam their way through sunshine, gale force winds and snow to reach Patagonia’s treasured peaks.
Cascada Expediciones runs Patagonia Tours from September-April every year, with lodging at EcoCamp Patagonia on all hiking trips.