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Riding the buses » Adventure travel, Argentina, Chile, Travel itinerary, Wildlife » Patagonia: The remote tip of South America

Patagonia: The remote tip of South America

Patagonia is famous for its unpredictable weather, its winds, some of the best treks in the world, its granite peaks, glacial lakes and much more. Joyce Sinclair and her husband Bill decided to spend some time there after their cruise in Antarctica.  

Patagonia is at the southern tip of South America straddling the Argentine and Chilean borders. We were there in January, which is their summer. The days are long at that time of year so it is light outside until at least 10pm.

We visited El Calafate, a town known as the Capital of the Glaciers. It is in Argentina and close to Los Glaciares National Park. As you fly south from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas (where the Antarctic trip began) in southern Chile, the views of the glaciers from the airplane are spectacular. It was quite something to see the same glaciers close-up later in our trip.

El Calafate is on Lake Argentino and the Andes are the backdrop.

Los Glaciares National Park

This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its natural beauty. About half of this vast alpine region is taken up by the Patagonian ice field.  There are 47 big glaciers and 13 of them flow to the Atlantic Ocean.

The park is the best place in South America to see glaciers in action. We watched this activity at Lago Argentino where three icebergs cave and collapse into the glacial waters with a great splash.  Some of these glaciers are actually growing (advancing), which is extremely rare today.
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The most famous is Perito Moreno Glacier, which is in the southern end of the park. It can be reached overland. The glacier changes its appearance as the day progresses depending on where the sun hits and the colours can be just amazing.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is known for its sheer granite peaks, snow-clad mountains, glacial lakes and thick forests. Many people go there to hike and the various options accommodate different levels of hiking ability and interest. There is the Paine Circuit (100 km; 9-10 days), a shorter route called “the W” (so-named for the shape of the route; 4-5 days) and daily hikes that can be done independently or with a guide.  We chose to do day hikes and that worked well for us.

We stayed at Ecocamp Patagonia and our accommodation was comfortable with a wood burning stove (even though it was summer it is cold at night), a composting toilet, shower and enough power to charge batteries.

Cordillera del Paine: This small mountain group is spectacular. The highest summit of the range is said to be Cerro Paine with an elevation around 3000 m (there is some controversy about this). The best-known and most spectacular summits are the three Towers of Paine (Torres del Paine in Spanish). For a great photo of the Towers, you need to be out in the very early morning when the sun first falls on it.

Lake Nordenskjold: This glacial lake is in the heart of the park. We drove around it and at one point could see the dark, dark stripes that are on the back side of the Towers. The lake is described as both turquoise and greenish in colour. There are great views of the French Valley, which is a ravine that is over 4,000 feet deep with glaciers visible from various points.

The Salto Grande waterfall connects Lake Nordenskjold with Lake Pehoe. Laguna Azul was an interesting place to watch flamingos.

There are alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers. On one of our walks we saw very unusual plants including the mother-in-law plant, which is called that because it is very prickly and very dense (according to our guide)! Actually, it is so dense that rocks sit on top of it.

We walked past a whole herd of Guanaco grazing; one always acts as the guard and stands off to the side.

Magdalena Island

This island is in southern Chile and belongs partially to the Isla Magdalena National Park. It is very rocky and home to thousands and thousands of Magellan penguins. The penguins dig burrows for their homes and each burrow we saw had two chicks and one parent.

The nearby Santa Marta Island is a place to watch sea lions, cormorants and Antarctic terns.

 A challenging departure

The day before we left, there was a protest in Chile over a price hike for natural gas. Citizens put up roadblocks to prevent travel to Argentina, which is where we were to catch our flight. Our hotel decided to get us to the border very early in the morning in a staff van, hopefully getting through before the roadblocks were set up for the day. It all worked out for us but I later read that several thousand tourists were stranded in Chile!

Bill and I often travel to see wildlife and spectacular scenery. Patagonia certainly offers that.

This interview has been condensed and edited

Photo credits Joyce Sinclair

© Riding the buses 2012

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2 Responses to "Patagonia: The remote tip of South America"

  1. Dean says:

    Do you consider Chile and Argentina safe, which part would you recommend for beach and warm weather lovers and which part would you say stay away. Going at the end of Feb. Is it cold then?

    Thanks for any advice

    1. Sylvia Fanjoy says:

      Thanks for the email. I do not currently have contact with the person who wrote these articles and I have not been to either country myself. The author did not, however, indicate any concern about safely. If someone else has information to share about this it would be appreciated.

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