Located at the southern end of South America, Patagonia is a vast territory shared by two South American countries, Chile and Argentina. Patagonia encompasses the southern part of the Andes Mountains to the southwest towards the Pacific ocean (what's known as the Chilean side of Patagonia), and from the east of the Andes it extends south toward the Atlantic Ocean (what's known as Argentinean Patagonia). It's easiest to think of the Andes Mountains as forming the natural divide between Argentine Patagonia and Chilean Patagonia,
Patagonia stretches over 300,000 square miles (about 777,000 square kilometers), and includes some islands of Argentinian Antarctica and South Atlantic, as well as the popular Tierra del Fuego, which sits on the southernmost tip of the continent. The region is sparsely populated.
Views of massive glaciers, as shown here, are among the highlights for Quark Expeditions' guests traveling
in Patagonia. Photo: AdobeStock
The forces of glaciers and geology have, over millions of years, created a landscape dominated by mountains and seemingly endless valleys, glaciers, lakes and rivers—all of which are inhabited by a staggering variety of wildlife and plant species.
What to expect from Argentinian Patagonia
The Argentine side of Patagonia region is vast, and many visitors tend to fly within the region to visit such popular sites as El Calafate, Tierra del Fuego, and El Chaltén. Other natural wonders in Argentinian Patagonia include the glaciers in the Ice Fields of Southern Patagonia, especially the Perito Moreno Glacier. As one travel expert explained, “Argentina's portion of Patagonia takes up the nation's entire southern area. So if you do end up selecting different destinations in Argentine Patagonia for your excursions, know that you'll mostly be taking flights between them to make your itinerary manageable”. The Chilean Patagonia, on the other hand, can be explored on a polar expedition vessel.
In terms of specific destinations, here are some of the highlights to expect in Argentinian Patagonia:
This city, located on Lago Nahuel Huapi in what's considered Argentina's Lake District, is for many the launching point of a journey into Patagonia. You'll quickly note the Swiss influence when you see the alpine architecture of Bariloche—along with shops and restaurants specializing in chocolate and fondue.
Puerto Madryn and Península Valdés:
The quaint seaside town of Puerto Madryn is adjacent to Península Valdés, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its abundance of marine mammals and birds.
Los Glaciares National Park:
Glacier enthusiasts and trekkers flock to this 7,269 square-km (2,806 square-mile) park in Argentina's southern Patagonia region. About half of the park is under the 370-km-long (105 miles) Southern Ice Cap. You'll quite likely find yourself in the cities of El Calafate and El Chaltén.
Tierra del Fuego:
Called “Land of Fire” in Spanish, Tierra del Fuego is often visited during voyages to Chilean Patagonia, as well, since many polar expeditions embark from Ushuaia. It's considered the most rugged within an already rugged region. Charles Darwin described it as: “Rock, ice, snow, wind, and water, all warring with each other yet combined against man, here reigned in absolute sovereignty.”
What to expect from Chilean Patagonia
In terms of what to expect from Chilean Patagonia, it's fair to say that many travelers prefer Chilean Patagonia for its wildlife and definitely the abundance of massive glaciers. The wildlife on the Chilean side of Patagonia will take your breath away. Penguins, which travelers often associate with Antarctica—not that far away from Patagonia, actually—are plentiful, and multiple species can be observed in Chilean Patagonia: rockhopper, magellanic, chinstrap, gentoo and king penguins. There are also vast numbers of albatross, plus whales (blue whales among them) and other wildlife species.
You can expect to explore vast parks in Chilean Patagonia.
Chinstraps are among the various species of penguins Quark Expeditions' guests can see in Chilean Patagonia. Photo: Sam Edmonds
Torres del Paine National Park:
Also a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, Torres del Paine National Park is one of the highlights featured in Quark Expeditions' Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres Del Paine itinerary. It's one of the most stunning wilderness areas in South America. This enormous park is named for the three granite peaks that tower above the glacier-fed lakes.
Diego Ramírez Islands:
One of the most incredible experiences to expect from Chilean Patagonia is the collection of Diego Ramírez Islands. These islands are among the least-visited in the world, and constitute the southern-most point of South America.
These grass- and tussock-covered islands are home to thousands of breeding seabirds, including three species of albatross: black-browed, gray-headed and mollymawk. Clearly, the Diego Ramirez Islands are a key destination for bird-watchers and ornithologists of all levels of experience. Other wildlife observed in the islands include dolphins and various species of penguins (including rockhopper, Magellanic and macaroni).
Pia and Garibaldi Glaciers, Glacier Alley:
Glacier Alley, the nickname of this part of the Beagle Channel, is widely known as one of the most amazing passages in Tierra del Fuego.
Glacier Alley in the Beagle Channel is on the itinerary for Quark Expeditions' guests in Chilean Patagonia. Photo: Pixabay
Among the key glaciers visitors can see are Francia, Italia, Holland, Romanche, Alemania and Espana glaciers. Pia and Garibaldi Glaciers are found within Alberto de Agostini National Park.
For more on what to expect from Chilean Patagonia, read our Highlights of a Patagonia Wildlife Tour.
When is the best time to go to Argentina or Chile to visit
The best time to visit Chilean Patagonia is between September and March. Those wishing to explore Chilean Patagonia via polar vessel—excellent for unforgettable glacier and iceberg experiences, as well as wildlife-watching—often book a polar expedition in the month of March. Read our blog Best Time to Visit Patagonia.
What is the best way to get to Argentina or Chile to visit
The best way to get to destinations like Patagonia—and truly experience the full extent of its natural wonders—is to book with an experienced polar operator whose team is accustomed to navigating remote regions. Polar operators such as Quark Expeditions have expedition teams who are familiar with remote Patagonia and understand how to best navigate the remote fjords and waterways.
Quark Expeditions' Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine is designed to immerse guests in the Chilean Patagonia landscape for a truly authentic experience—not to view it from the window of a bus or jeep.
The best way to get to Chile or Argentina is to book your adventure with an operator like Quark Expeditions, and rendez-vous with their team in Buenos Aires, Argentina. From there, a private charter will transport you and your traveling companions to Ushuaia, Argentina. After embarkation, your ship will set sail along the Beagle Channel, which cuts across the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the tip of South America. Up next would be Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez Islands before heading further up the west coast of the South American continent to explore the very heart of Chilean Patagonia.
This is the best way to get to Argentina or Chile on a polar expedition that enables you to experience the full beauty of Patagonia.