Patagonia is one of the world’s largest, remote places on the planet. Its breadth is a mind-boggling 700,000 mi2, the size of Alaska and Utah combined.
Yet, like many other places in the world, travelers usually manage to squeeze themselves into one tiny fragment.
In this case, the revered hub is Torres del Paine, earning every ounce of its popularity. But, while it may be worthy of its recognition, it receives 250,000 visitors every year in a space that includes just 3% of Patagonia.
Not to mention, Ushuaia, the popular southernmost city has one of the most quickly expanding populations in the world. While it’s still a minimal 150,000 residents, it’s size has multiplied eleven times in the last 50 years.
When planning a trip to one of the most pristine, remote places in the world, it’s necessary to ask ourselves: Are those the kind of stats we are looking for?
Surely, you aren’t heading to Patagonia to see a quarter of a million tourists and the fastest growing city in the world.
The solution is simple, head north, with the 6 reasons below to back it up.
6. It’s a Secret Way to Experience Patagonia Devoid of Other Tourists.
Heading north means you are going where most others haven’t gone before.
Tourism marketing tactics are heavily weighted towards major destinations near the tip of the continent, which explains why 97% of travelers are going south instead.
This certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do in the north. Regional and local tourism providers offer a plethora of remote sites and adventure activities. And it’s not necessary to book ahead for most. In fact, for many reasons, you probably shouldn’t. At least not through second and third-party tourism affiliates in your home country.
The best way to experience Patagonia in the authentic way you’re dreaming of is to stay in small, privately-owned lodges and campsites, or inside national parks. Also, book your outlying adventures after you arrive with true local experts who have lived their entire lives in the remote landscapes. Such adventurers can be easily found in the many small towns and villages throughout the region.
Traveling this way means you’ll be far less likely to get funneled into tourist traps, and more likely to explore places devoid of other tourists. Besides, you might be surprised how easy it is to do everything independently.
For added oomph, go in early Spring, before the official onset of Patagonia season. November is an incredible time to get ahead of the rush, and it a prime time to witness the remarkably undocumented spring bloom boom.
5. It’s the Kid-Friendly Part of Patagonia
Heading to Patagonia with kids? Our family explored Patagonia with our small kids, ages 4 and 6, too. After spending a full three months in the northern sections, we decided not to continue south for many reasons.
Mainly, we felt that we had already seen the main elements of Patagonia in the north (mountains, forests, lakes, glaciers, rivers, and wildlife) but without the hassles of big tour groups and crowded hiking trails.
But, the deciding factor that stopped up from keeping on the south was the lack of accessibility for kids. In other words, hiking and glacier experiences suitable for kids seem to be less abundant farther south.
Starting with the Perito Moreno Glacier and going towards Torres del Paine, we learned that many of the glacier hikes are off-limits to kids ages 7 and under, and some are capped at kids ages 10 and under.
This was a big red flag for us, as we didn’t want to keep going south for the only experience we had missed (hiking on top of a glacier) only to find that they wouldn’t be kid-friendly.
Family travel is a big deal these days, so if you are exploring with kids, we can verify that we never had a problem in Northern Patagonia. FYI, there is a kid-friendly glacier hike in Northern Patagonia near Cerro Castillo and Lago General Carrera. However, we missed it because the road was inaccessible during our stay.
4. Be Among the First to Chile’s Route of the Parks
If you haven’t heard of Chile’s Route of the Parks, you simply can’t miss what should be considered an icon of the region. It covers 1,800 miles of pristine parks, and it’s largely credited to North Face founder, Douglas Tompkins and his wife. Unmissable parts of it are in Northern Patagonia, although it does extend the full length of the region all the way to Cape Horn.
We loved it for the amazing hiking trails, national park access, and impressive camping facilities. It’s not exclusive to hard-core long term trekkers, although there is plenty for them, too.
It’s possible to hike the entirety of this route if you want to. In fact, it’s the newest long haul trek in the world and has been compared to the Appalachian Trail and the Great Himalayan Trail.
But, if you aren’t an extreme adventurer, and need road accessibility to reach more achievable day hike trailheads – this route is perfect for that, too. Some of the greatest parks on this route include Pumalin Park and Patagonia Park in the north.
They are ideal for easy hikes to hanging glaciers, lakes, and rivers plus wildlife sightings and access to the Valdivian Temperate Rainforest (a cold climate, high altitude rain forest).
3. Drive Argentina’s Scenic 7 Lakes Routes
Argentina’s 7 Lakes Route is a genuine highlight of Patagonia that far too many people miss. While it’s not an epic 1,800-mile road trip like the above-mentioned route in Chile. It is a real gem of Argentine Patagonia along the reputable Route 40.
The day-long road-trip is guaranteed to leaving strong visual imprints. Traveling 66 miles between the breathtaking lakefront village of San Martin de los Andes and Villa La Angostura, it snakes along a spectacular road that offers jaw-dropping vistas around every corner.
Hidden in the wild and pristine landscapes are seven major lakes, and a handful of smaller versions, too. It’s a haven for picnics, kayaking, hiking, and camping, plus a few amazing remote lodges, so be sure to dedicate at least a full day to it.
2. Take a Beach Holiday & Wildlife Safari on Valdes Peninsula
Most unsuspecting travelers have no idea that you can appreciate a veritable beach holiday while in Patagonia. Yes, really! How many places in the world do you know of where you can lay on the beach, take a whale-watching cruise, and go on a wildlife safari all in the same weekend?
You can do all of that and more from the Valdes Peninsula. It’s the farthest north you can go in Patagonia, reachable with a quick flight from Buenos Aires.
The incredible peninsula is a UNESCO site, mostly wild and remote, with just one small village called Puerto Piramades. It’s the perfect place to base yourself for a week or a weekend. From December to February, it’s warm enough to swim in the ocean.
Plus, it’s among the best places to see marine wildlife in Patagonia, serving as nesting grounds for Magellanic penguins, elephant seals, and sea lions. The bay harbors birthing Right whales and the most remote coves are popular for orca sightings.
1. Get on the Water: Caletal Ferries, Marbles Caves, and the Rio Futaleufu
Unlike the Valdes Peninsula, not everywhere in Patagonia is ideal for getting in the water but you should get ON the water instead.
Riding a ferry in Patagonia is a quintessential experience to have, and some of the most coveted experiences are on the Caleta ferries based out of Puerto Montt.
Getting on a ferry offers a unique insight into important geographical water features of Patagonia, particularly the glacial fjords. Take a quick whirl on the Caleta La Arena across the Reloncavi Fjord or spend a few hours careening the Caleta Gonzalo across the Largo Fjord.
Also, don’t miss the tour of the Marbles Caves, where you can take a small motor boar or kayaks to see the dazzling white, blue, and green water-logged marble caves found on Lago General Carrera.
If you like rafting, make an effort to try out the Rio Futaleufu, a world-class glacial-melt river that lures adventure seekers from all over the world.