To a hiking addict, treks in Patagonia are the epitome drug. A dramatic canvas of snow covered peaks, rugged terrain and indescribable beauty, she delivers a formidable punch to trekkers who love pain and pleasure in equal measure. This southern section of South America comprises regions of both Chile and Argentina, boasts some of the world’s most remote and least-developed trekking region and is particularly renowned for its unpredictable climate, crazy winds and demanding trails.
So why would anyone do these treks in Patagonia?
They do it because Patagonia is considered a trekker’s last frontier. (You know, aside Antarctica, but unless you’re an Emperor Penguin, we suggest you cruise it instead.) But primarily, they do it because those few hours a day when the sun is resplendent, and the wind has receded, offer a sensory feast that is overwhelmingly spectacular. The sight of wild horses racing each other along the shores of a glacial, with a backdrop of snow-peaked granite mountains, is the most incredible painting you will ever see.
Want to go on the walk of your life?
Then include one of top 5 treks in Patagonia, in your next South America tour, and you absolutely will.
1. Torres del Paine – for hard-core trekkers
It’s no coincidence that many hikers have renamed this the Towers of Pain, as that’s precisely what a Circuit Trek here will deliver. Luckily, sore leg muscles is the last thing you’ll feel when confronted with the astounding scenery of valleys brimming with glacial waterfalls and remarkable glaciers. Declared a protected UNESCO site in 1978, this is Patagonia at its most awe-inspiring.
In Torres, you can choose from the 7-day W Trek or 10-day Circuit which encompasses the W plus the rear of the national park. On the last day’s bouldering to Mirador Las Torres – the magnificent lakeside viewpoint just below the three 2,000m high granite towers after which the park is named – you’ll cast your eyes on arguably the best vistas in all of Patagonia. If you’re looking for that postcard-perfect scenery, this is where you’ll find it.
2. El Chalten – for incidental trekkers
You can certainly visit beautiful El Chalten even if you’ve never trekked a day in your life. The startling beauty of this place plays before you as on a wide angle lens, and you certainly need not venture far to take it all in. Framed between the Los Glaciares National Park and the Fitzroy Mountain range, El Chalten is a stunning little town surrounded by Mother Nature’s most colourful painter’s palette. One could literally spend days here, enjoying a mate outdoors whilst taking in the amazing views, without ever leaving town.
But hey, since you’re there…why not go for a day’s rewarding walk? If you could be convinced to do this then you, dear friend, are an incidental trekker. Welcome to the club!
The day-long trek to Laguna Torre guides you to a viewpoint dead in the heart of granite tower central, where imposing Cerro Torre overlooks the Grande and Torre glaciers. If you’re feeling particularly fit you may wish to tackle the harder Laguna de los Tres trek for jaw-dropping closer views of Fitzroy. And, if you really want to go hell-for-leather, then best you start training for the trek from el Chalten to Lago O’Higgins in Chile.
3. Parque Patagonia – for intrepid explorers
A brand new trekking destination in the region, Park Patagonia is the brainchild of a billionaire US couple and former owners of the North Face outerwear brand. You may have heard of the recent passing of avid conservationist Doug Tompkins on a kayaking expedition in Patagonia, which not only hit the international headline news but also spearheaded his wife’s resolve to turn the extensive Patagonian land they purchased over the years, into a most coveted 650,000 acre nature reserve. Although controversy surrounds Patagonia’s newest national park, none of it has to do with the park itself or the quality of hiking here, but rather local’s discontent at being ‘bought out’ by an ‘interfering gringo’.
Nevertheless, this is one of the most uncharted treks in Patagonia and trekking here is sure to fill the boots of all intrepid explorers. On a multi-day trek through Patagonia Park you’ll cross dozens of icy rivers – sometimes waist-deep – surmount innumerable hills, visit local cattle farms, camp around a bonfire by a river and wake up to the sight of a snow-capped mountain. You’ll guzzle water from pristine lakes, scramble over rocky terrain and end your expedition in a stunning lodge. New trails are being created as this goes to print, offering off-the-beaten-path hikers a wonderful new world of possibilities.
4. Aysén Glacier Trail – for serious trekkers
Small on fame but HUGE on adrenalin-packed adventure, the Aysén Glacier Trail is a hard core 115km trek, which crosses three glacial valleys and takes about 8 days to complete. If you’re looking for ‘out there’, challenging treks, then this is the one for you. On this trail, you’ll be guided through some of the most remote areas of the northern Patagonian ice cap, home of the 3rd largest reservoir of fresh water on earth, and one of the least inhabited corners of Patagonia. The infrastructure here is minimal and this, coupled with the harsh terrain, makes for one very challenging – but immensely rewarding – expedition.
The trail runs from Lago Bertrand to Lago Colonia, and boasts half a dozen rudimentary campsites along the way. More of a true-blue expedition rather than a simple ‘trek’, the Aysén Glacier Trail is rated one of the world’s greatest, where elusive wildlife, splendid glacial waterfalls, ice-trekking and utterly imposing landscapes are part of your everyday life.
5. Jeinimeni Lake National Reserve – for sportsmen…or women
We’re quite convinced that this National Park’s anonymity has much to do with the fact that most people simply don’t know how to pronounce it, so they give up and ask for the ‘W’ instead. Which is quite a pity, considering Jeinimeni (pronounced ‘haynee-meynee’), on the northern reaches of Patagonia, boasts 3 large lakes, 13 snowdrifts, 18 rivers, 30 lagoons, and even ancient archaeological sites and is one of the most enjoyable treks in Patagonia. Easy to reach and a pleasure to explore at leisure for a few days, Jeinimeni also offers options for fly-fishing, horseback riding, cycling, and rowing.
What we love about this area is that it’s accessible all-year round, so when things get too chilly down south you can always find a spot up here in which to trek without needing a heated thermal suit. Plus, options abound, so it is particularly ideal for groups of friends/family traveling together. You can venture on a 2-day hike over to the Chacabuco Valley, but you can also enjoy a half-day trek to Lago Verde, or full-day outing to visit the mysterious cave paintings at Cueva de las manos. Jeinimeni is set to eventually become a part of Parque Patagonia.
Patagonia in Chile may seem like a hard destination to reach, and it certainly can be a harsh one to explore on foot, we’ll grant you that, but it is also among the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth. Besides, there are plenty of treks in Patagonia for those who wish to trek at a more leisurely pace. So let us show you how easy it is to include a fantastic trek in your Patagonia tour itinerary, and let us prove to you that you need not be an athlete to enjoy the stellar treasures of this region.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 13 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now in the midst of a 5-year motorbike odyssey from Germany to Australia.”