Trying to hone in on the best time to visit Patagonia may turn out to be a tricky endeavour. Stretching for a mind-boggling one million square kilometres over two countries (Argentina and Chile), Patagonia is as diverse in climate as it is in mesmerising landscapes. Find the best time to visit such a huge region will highly depend on what kind of experience you seek, which specific highlights you wish to experience and, of course, your tolerance for extreme weather. Want to visit unpredictable Patagonia when it’s as warm as it can be, at the easiest time of year – when everything is open and accessible? Or would you prefer to brave colder temps in order to soak up spectacular autumn colours and share the region with fewer visitors? Want to catch a glimpse of migrating whales, hike the formidable Torres peaks or do you want to stay closer to Ushuaia if taking a cruise to Antarctica?
Recognising your priorities will help you determine the best time to visit Patagonia, in your particular case. To this end, we’ll give you an overview of the seasonal differences, as well as highlight the main attractions and their corresponding ideal months.
The most important thing to remember, when planning a trip to Patagonia, is that considering the iconic unpredictability of the weather this far south, you should always pack for all eventualities, no matter when you visit. So read on to discover what’s on offer at different times of year, and check out our Patagonia packing guide before you go anywhere.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Patagonia is during the southern summer months, between mid-November and late March. These months offer ideal conditions for extensive trekking in gems like Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego. During these months, you can expect temperature highs of about 20 °C during the day, and lows of 10°C at night, although wind-chill factor can drastically reduce both. Hence the need to always be prepared. Nights are blissfully short in summer, gifting you up to 18 hours of daylight, perfect for long days spent hiking, wildlife spotting and sightseeing.
January and February offer blissfully warm days in the north, around the region of the Valdes Peninsula, which is awash with marine wildlife during the summer months.
If you want to skip the busiest period of the year, from mid-December onwards, then consider travelling to Patagonia during the shoulder months, from mid-November to mid-December, and again from mid-March to the end of April. The first shoulder stint offers sensational spring blooms and an already-mild climate, whilst the latter forces you to don an extra layer in the far south but reward you with breathtaking shades of auburn all over, and truly spectacular sunsets. The bonuses of travel to Patagonia in shoulder season are cheaper prices for accommodation and activities, fewer crowds, and utterly mesmerising foliage colours. If you’ve already been to this incredible place in Autumn then you’ll agree that a foliage-admiring journey to Patagonia is certainly worth its weight in gold.
Many parts of Patagonia freeze over and are inaccessible between the months of May and August, making travel here during this time a harder logistical challenge. Many lodges and parks close for the winter season yet days can be surprisingly clear and sunny, so if you wish for a few days’ rest in one of the stunning lodges that remain open all year, it’s certainly worth considering. The beauty of the landscape is intensified in winter in many ways and, even if you can’t venture far, you’ll feel like you have this magical place all to yourself.
Peak season travel tips
It should be noted that Patagonia is a vastly large region and, being among the most remote in South America, it means that ‘peak tourist season’ is very, very relative. Patagonia is not a place that ever feels overcrowded and if the only time you can visit is late December and January then the only precaution you should take is simply to book in advance. This is especially important if you’re heading to Patagonia to catch a cruise to Antarctica and have rigid travel dates with which to work.
Best time to visit Patagonia – by activity
Given this region’s immense diversity, visitors have an eclectic mix of activities from which to choose: from sensational trekking to glacier hiking, waddling with penguins, whale-spotting cruising and more. Here are a few of the very special highlights offered in Patagonia, and the best time to visit if they are on your must-absolutely-do list:
Marine wildlife watching in the Valdes Peninsula
Head to the Valdes Peninsula between the end of May and December and you could be cruising alongside overwhelming pods of Southern right whales. Groups are so numerous at this time of year that a sighting is just about guaranteed. Being the formidable marine wildlife hub it is, Valdes offers chances to spot Orcas, dusky dolphins, elephant and fur seals, as well as sea lions, at any time of year. In nearby Punta Tombo is where you can come face-to-face with the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world, who set up home here from September to March, each year.
Getting a close-up look at mighty Perito Moreno glacier
Los Glaciares National Park is that glistening ice wonderland that best defines the unparalleled beauty Patagonia. Much like Torres del Paine, this is a destination of its own accord and the reason many visitors travel here. Open all year round, the park is literally a maze of hiking trails, most of them only accessible during the summer months. Many will attest to this being the absolute best period to visit, so you can have the chance to really experience the kaleidoscope of attractions and sights, from every angle. Having said that, the glaciers of Patagonia are a once-in-a-lifetime feast for the eyes, and if the only time you’re in South America is during the southern winter, and don’t foresee another visit for a while, then missing out would be the real travesty. So head here and see them in their freezing glory anyway, and you won’t go home disappointed. Winter trips may be more logistically-challenging, yet are certainly doable.
Trekking in Torres del Paine
Considered the foremost attraction in all of Patagonia, the Torres del Paine National Park is a wildlife mecca also considered the continent’s best trekking destination. It’s this double whammy that makes Torres so incredibly enticing. For arduous hiking around the cerros, or any other day trip in fact, you’ll definitely want long days and the best chance of warmer temps, so head here in summer (Nov/Dec/Jan/March) and you’ll experience this treasure-trove of Mother Nature at her very best. Do note that many of the trails, most of the refugios and lodges are closed during the harsh winter months between June and September.
Taking a cruise to Antarctica
Antarctica cruising season runs from about mid-October to April, with only minor changes to start and end dates depending on yearly climatic issues. There are a number of start points for cruises to Antarctica from ports in Patagonia – and even options for flights (you can read about all the options for visiting Antarctica here) – so your best bet is to plan your Antarctica trip first and then plan your Patagonia add-on trip after that’s taken care of. Considering you’ll be visiting during the best time of year anyway, and you’ll no doubt be booking your Antarctica trip well in advance, your options will be at their most comprehensive.
Exploring the lake region of Bariloche
Skiing in winter and hiking galore in summer: the area around beautiful Bariloche is outstandingly beautiful and offers an array of attractions, all year long. Between November and March, you can add horseriding, kayaking, mountain biking and hiking to your daily itinerary, whilst in winter you can hit the slopes on one of the largest ski fields in the entire continent. At any time, you can also indulge in the picturesque town’s smorgasbord of gastronomic delights (including the BEST chocolate in South America!) and some of the best wines in the country.
Skiing and snowboarding
If you’re after a bright and snowy vacation in Patagonia, you’ll have a flurry of fields at your beck and call. The top months for fun on the slopes are August and September.
Sailing along the Chilean Fjords
One of Patagonia’s hidden secrets, the Chilean fjords are way off the well-trodden-tourist-trail and best discovered by cruise ship. On a 5-day cruise, you can glide alongside imposing glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls and have options for kayaking and hiking as well. The summer months are ideal for exploratory trips into this web of natural wonders, and considering the most popular start/end points are Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, many cruising aficionados will add this to their Antarctica cruise itinerary.
The very special thing about Patagonia is that you’ll undoubtedly start running into wildlife the moment you step out of any of the cities. It’s the sheer concentration of endemic and migratory creatures that makes this such a multi-faceted destination. From guanacos to endemic foxes, fluffy armadillos, maras and even elusive pumas if you’re in luck. Having said that, many of the more elusive Patagonia wildlife is best seen during the quieter months of springs and autumn, so if catching glimpses of animals is your main priority then skip the height of summer and head here during the shoulder seasons instead.
Summertime, wintertime or any time of year is the very BEST time to visit Patagonia. Need help in planning your once-in-a-lifetime jaunt through this incredible part of the world? We offer a collection of Patagonia experiences that’s almost as exhaustive as the sights to see and things to do, including luxury trips, active adventures and tailor-made journeys. Contact us for more info.
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.”