The true land of fire and ice, Patagonia is the wild southern region of South America, an area so extensive and brimming with so many outdoor activities that it is tailor-made for retirement bucket-list journeys.
Patagonia is the southernmost region of South America, widely considered the wildest and most exquisitely dramatic region in the entire continent. Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiast will no-doubt have Patagonia right at the top of their retirement bucket-list travel plans and there’s a very good reason this specific destination is just ideal for more leisurely travel. Patagonia is huge (like seriously huge) covering over one million square kilometres, just over one-third the size of Australia. Shared between Argentina (2/3) and Chile (1/3), Patagonia boasts unique biodiversity which means that every corner of it offers something distinctly unique. A comprehensive journey through Patagonia means more, over and above anything else. Barely 2 million people live in this incredible expanse of wilderness and although infrastructure is good, distances are considerable, so more time is needed if you want to soak it all up.
And doesn’t that sound like the perfect retirement journey?
So…what’s so good about Patagonia?
Patagonia’s diversity makes it quite unique and although all of it is absolutely breathtaking, each corner of it impresses for different reasons. The Argentinian side is home to grasslands, deserts, arid steppes and glaciers and the Chilean side boasts glacial fjords and rainforests. Both countries boast magnificent Lakes District and national parks brimming with innumerable creatures, be it large flocks of guanacos and maras, mind-boggling colonies of seals and penguins of pods of migrating whales. Terrestrial and marine life thrives down south, making wildlife-spotting very rewarding.
The region is also home to some of South America’s most celebrated treasures, like the Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paine National Park and breathtaking peak of Mt FitzRoy, not to mention the sensational island of Tierra del Fuego.
What can one do in Patagonia?
During the southern summer months, between October and March, outdoor enthusiasts head here to hike up mountains and glaciers, to kayak and cruise along glacial fjords, wildlife-watch in the best reserves and enjoy extensive road trips, with excellent wine-tasting and feasting being among the most rewarding hidden highlights of all. Come winter, Patagonia turns into a snow-covered wonderland, attracting skiers, snowboarders and discerning explorers, the kind who don’t mind having restricted access to hiking trails in exchange for the feeling of having the entire place to themselves. A handful of Patagonia’s most beautiful lodges stay open, all year long. If you’ve ever dreamt of soaking in a hot thermal pool, overlooking a mesmerizing horizon of snow-capped peaks, you’ve probably had Patagonian dreams all along…
Despite the fact that this is a sparsely populated region, Patagonia actually boasts some rather interesting history. Old Welsh and German settlements exist here to this day and, in many ways, Patagonia is as renowned for its quaint and charming villages as it is for its unparalleled wilderness.
We don’t love playing favourites here but given the fact that Patagonia boasts so many highlights, you might be interested to know what the absolute #5 outdoor activities are:
- See, hike and cruise under the Perito Moreno Glacier – The heart and soul but by now means only treasure in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, Perito Moreno is the bees’ knees of glaciers. Connected to the Patagonian ice field, the third-largest fresh-water reserve on earth, this gargantuan wall of ice is currently about 30km long and rises 70 metres above sea level. We say currently because Perito Moreno is continuously growing and is indeed the fastest-growing glacier in the world. The park is open all year round so you can plan a visit at any time.
- Hike, bike and more, in Torres del Paine – The #1 most-visited park in Chilean Patagonia, Torres is a hiker’s paradise, with enthusiastic explorers heading here in droves from every corner of the globe. Its granite peaks are jaw-dropping and, for some, irresistible to climb, although do note that amazing viewing points are on offer for just about anyone of any age and fitness level – some even accessible by car. Nevertheless, this is an active travellers’ dream, a place where hiking, river rafting and horseback riding offer the most rewarding of experiences. A celebrated wildlife reserve to boot, Torres is the best spot to see once-endangered guanacos roaming wild and free, as well as Huemul deer, Andean Condors (one of the largest raptors on earth), elusive pumas, armadillos and Andean Grey fox among a multitude of unique birds on dedicated wildlife-tracking tours. Torres is home to the world-famous W-walk, although the Best Treks in Patagonia can take you all over the region.
- Spot whales, penguins and elephant seals in the Valdes Peninsula – Considered one of the world’s prime whale-watching destinations, the eastern hub of Peninsula Valdes is where humpbacks, orcas, elephant seals and penguins nest and rest, just about all year long and is one of the few places on earth where you can spot majestic southern right whales in migration, between May and December. Puerto Madryn is the base town for Valdes explorations, with the most ideal itineraries including both road trips and expedition boat rides. Read more about the Valdes Peninsula and discover why this is Argentinian Patagonia’s most prized and lesser-known highlight.
- Take a thrilling hike to the most stunning viewpoint of Mt FitzRoy – Torres del Paine may get all the Patagonia outdoor glory but Los Glaciares National Park, nearby, has Mt FitzRoy and that is the stiffest competitor of all. Nestled in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, rising up to an altitude of almost 3,400m, FitzRoy is one of the world’s most spectacular peaks as well as one of the most difficult to climb, given its sheer granite flanks. A controversial destination in the rock-climbing world, Mt FitzRoy was only climbed, undisputedly, in 1974, although unconfirmed ascents had been declared by various climbers for 20 years prior. Mt FitzRoy remains a thorn in most avid mountaineer’s sides but luckily, a multitude of viewpoints requiring just a day’s hard walk offer stupendous viewing for anyone who’s not out to break world-records. When the first sun of the day hits the side of the mountain, the landscape turns a musty hue of red, making for some of the most breathtaking photography in all of Patagonia. Located in Los Glaciares National Park, right nearby Perito Moreno, Mt FitzRoy’s many viewpoints can be accessed from the town of El Chalten.
- Cruise the Chilean Fjords – Just a few years ago, the Chilean Fjords were one of Patagonia’s most hidden of treasures. There really weren’t many travellers who’d heard of the magical maze of glaciers, rivers and volcanos down the southern end of Patagonia, a place of such insane beauty that it really boggled the mind to know it just hadn’t hit the mainstream tourism scene yet. The southernmost fjords on earth extend from Tierra del Fuego for no fewer than 1600km, kissing the feet of glaciated Andean peaks for their entire duration. The calm protected coves attract whales, dolphins, penguins, elephant seals and an astonishing number of birds, in inlets dotted with icebergs and ice floes you can explore by kayak and Zodiac. This region of Patagonia is splendidly inhospitable and that’s why expedition cruising is by far the best way to experience it. The ice-strengthened ships are gorgeous, the itineraries varied and the overall ‘out there’ experience absolutely priceless.
To end this Patagonia Outdoor Activities guide at just 5 highlights seems almost preposterous but, know what? The only thing you really ought to do is simply head on over and discover the rest for yourself!
See our extensive collection of Patagonia Tours and contact us to see how we can help you plan a bespoke itinerary to suit all your requirements.
Patagonia outdoor adventures are one of 7 Best Chimu Adventures for Retirement Bucket-List Journeys. Here are the other six:
- Antarctica Expedition Cruises
- Peru Andean Train Journey aboard the Belmond Explorer
- Chiloé Island Explorations
- Galapagos Islands Cruises
- Amazon Jungle Adventures
- Arctic Polar Explorations
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”