Patagonia is a land of epic natural wonder at the end of the world. Sprawled across a giant region straddling Chile and Argentina, at the southernmost tip of South America, it’s a maze of peaks, glaciers and fjords that will make you fall in love with the outdoors all over again. From awe-inspiring hikes and bucket-list sightseeing to a taste of the region’s local culture, here are 15 things to do in Patagonia.
For practical information to plan your trip, read this Patagonia itinerary but first, get inspired by these absolutely amazing things to do in Patagonia and if you want more check out our other things to do in Argentina too. Chile and Argentina are two of the best countries to visit in South America.
- 15 Amazing Things To Do In Patagonia
- Torres Del Paine and Puerto Natales
- El Calafate and El Chaltén
- El Bolsón
15 Amazing Things To Do In Patagonia
1. Cruise in the Beagle Channel
Ushuaia, on the tip of Argentine Patagonia, is the southernmost city in the world and the gateway to Antarctica.
It nestles against a backdrop of towering mountains on the shores of the deep-blue Beagle Channel.
From the port on the city’s waterfront, you can take a cruise out into the channel, which is one of the attractions in Ushuaia, and witness some of the region’s enchanting wildlife.
From September, penguins arrive for the breeding season until March, while you can also watch sea lions frolicking on rocky islands.
On the way, you will pass by the famous lighthouse of Les Eclaireurs.
Standing proudly on a rock in brilliant stripes of red and white, with the city faintly visible in the distance, it is the iconic image of Ushuaia.
Some cruise tours also include a visit to Estancia Harberton, a farm and ranch that played an important role in the region’s past.
Estancia Harberton was founded by an English missionary in the 19th Century and is still run by his family today, showcasing artefacts and stories of history.
There is also a marine life museum on the grounds, making it a real gem for the curious traveller.
If you’re flying to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires, you might want to read this post for the best things to do in Buenos Aires.
2. Explore Tierra Del Fuego National Park
Ushuaia is surrounded by a vast wilderness that offers some outstanding hiking opportunities.
On the city’s doorstep is Tierra Del Fuego National Park, a moody landscape of dense forests, sombre lagoons and jagged peaks.
It only takes about 20 minutes to reach the park’s entrance by minivan or taxi.
Once you step inside, there are a plethora of different trails to choose from.
The Alakush Visitor Centre is a good pivot point for exploring around Río Lapataia and Lago Roca on foot.
Another compelling activity located close to the park’s entrance is Tren Del Fin Del Mundo, the ‘Train to the End of the World’.
Take a ride on a 500mm steam engine along the world’s southernmost railway.
3. Discover the old prison
The city at the end of the world is home to one of South America’s most legendary prisons.
Ushuaia Prison, built in the 19th century, was once a place of incarceration for dangerous criminals and political captives transported by boat from Buenos Aires.
The prison was closed in 1947 but one wing of cells has been maintained in the same conditions.
The whole building has been repurposed as the city’s Maritime Museum, which tells the region’s eventful nautical history.
Inside the old prison wing, you can peruse the original cells and witness the living conditions of the inmates of the past.
Check out this post for more things to do in Ushuaia.
Torres Del Paine and Puerto Natales
4. Hike the W Trek
The W Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park is well worthy of its reputation as one of the world’s greatest multi-day hiking trails.
The park is a labyrinth of shimmering lakes and lofty granite peaks, flanked on each side by the three towers of Las Torres and the giant Grey Glacier.
The trek derives its name from the shape of the route, which arcs between three ‘prongs’ forming the shape of a W.
It generally takes anywhere between three and six days to complete, with campsites and refugios sprinkled across the path for overnight stops.
You will need to plan your trek well in advance, as space in the campsites and refugios are quickly booked up.
If you’re not a hiker, another way to see Patagonia’s stunning scenery is to go on a Patagonia cruise.
5. Hike the O Circuit
If the W Trek is somehow not a big enough challenge, you can take it to the next level and hike the O Circuit in Torres del Paine.
This trail incorporates the entire W Trek and continues arcing around the north of the park to form a complete loop.
The O Circuit is a much more challenging hike, and so you will need to have a good level of fitness and plenty of experience to attempt it.
It typically takes six to ten days to complete.
In the northern sections of the circuit, you will climb much higher, see the stunning South Patagonian Ice Field from above, and trek over teetering bridges and passes.
The reward for tackling this challenge is the chance to see stunning elevated views from John Gardner Pass, the vistas of the Valle de los Perros, and relentless scenery in between. What are you waiting for? Click here to see a range of Patagonia activities.
6. Eat traditional Chilean cordero al palo
There’s no better way to celebrate the achievement of hiking the W Trek or O Circuit than with an indulgent plate of barbecued lamb, cooked the traditional Chilean way.
Cordero al palo is spit-roasted lamb, traditionally stretched across an iron cross and roasted slowly over an open wood fire.
It’s tender, smoky and flavoursome… it’s enough to make your mouth water just thinking about it!
Puerto Natales, the town closest to Torres Del Paine and a popular base for trekking in the park, has several good restaurants.
For cordero al palo, though, none are better than El Asador Patagónico.
Wash it down with a glass of Chilean red – perfection.
For more things to do in South America see read these posts and for more famous landmarks in the Americas, check out the list below.
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El Calafate and El Chaltén
7. Visit Perito Moreno Glacier
The colossal body of ice that is Perito Moreno Glacier is one of Patagonia’s greatest natural wonders.
Many people visit the region just to see it.
The glacier is part of the gigantic South Patagonian Ice Field, which is the world’s second-largest ice field outside of Antarctica.
Perito Moreno Glacier is 19 kilometres long and covers a whopping 250 square kilometres. Impressive, right?
But no matter how big the numbers sound, it’s impossible to appreciate the full scale until you’ve seen it with your own eyes.
The glacier is located in Los Glaciares National Park, some 75 kilometres west of El Calafate by road, and can be reached easily from the Argentine town.
Buses run frequently throughout the high season (from October to April).
The most straightforward is to view it from the boardwalks at the tourist site, which stretches along the bank opposite and offer varying perspectives.
Alternatively, you can cruise in a boat right up to the face of the glacier for a close-up view.
Finally, if you’re up for a more physical challenge, you can hike on top of the glacier.
You can choose a ‘big ice’ full-day hiking experience or a shorter ‘mini-trekking’ option.
8. See the sunrise at Mount Fitz Roy
The sleepy own of El Chaltén in Argentine Patagonia is a base for exploring some of the region’s most breathtaking and easily accessible natural scenery, that rivals even Torres Del Paine in its beauty.
The view of the morning sun glinting on the face of Mount Fitz Roy over the still green waters of Laguna de los Tres is one of Patagonia’s most recognisable images.
This spot is located about ten kilometres along a well-marked walking trail that begins on the north side of the town.
It’s mostly a gentle path that can be done as a single-day return hike, with a couple of steep sections at the beginning and end (the final kilometre is particularly tough).
Seeing Mount Fitz Roy at sunrise, however, requires an overnight stop near the foot of the final ascent. Campamento Poincenot is a free campsite located perfectly just a few paces away.
You will need to be prepared for an early start.
It takes around an hour to reach the viewpoint from the campsite hiking at an average pace.
On top of this, it’s also best to arrive at least 20 minutes before sunrise; this means starting as early as 4 am, depending on the time of year.
Remember to bring a torch for ascending in the dark, and wrap up warm – it gets cold up there!
Once you arrive at the top, all that’s left to do is relax, wait, and enjoy the spectacular view.
9. Hike to Laguna Torre
If getting up before dawn and climbing a steep hill in the dark not appeal to you, don’t worry – it’s not the only way to enjoy the scenery near El Chaltén.
The trail to Laguna Torre, beginning on the south side of the town, is an alternative and a much easier walk.
From the shores from this tranquil lake, you can catch a glimpse of the pointed peak of Cerro Torre and the sweeping swathes of ice that form Glaciar Torre.
The path is about the same length as the route to Mount Fitz Roy but involves much less uphill trekking.
Regular kilometre markers make it easy to keep track of your pace and distance.
When you reach the lake, if you still have some energy left, you can walk another couple of kilometres around its edge to Mirador Maestri.
This is the best spot for seeing the glacier and skyline of granite peaks together in a single view.
Make sure you have your camera – you’ll need it!
10. Discover the creative scene
If you’re the kind of traveller that loves to get off the beaten path, the Argentine mountain town of El Bolsón is the ideal place to chill out for a few days during your Patagonia trip.
Secluded in a scenic Andean valley, it simply oozes calmness and a slower pace of life.
El Bolsón has become renowned as a creative hangout since a hippy community settled here during the 1960s and 70s.
There is a regular programme of cultural events in the town, from open-air music shows to craft fairs.
One of the best examples of this is the Feria Artesanal (craft market) that takes place every weekend, Tuesday and Thursday on Plaza Pagano, a large green space in the middle of the town.
Come along to see over 300 local creatives sell their craftwork, carvings and natural scents, as well as a selection of food stalls and entertainment from local live bands.
The town is also home to one of Argentina’s thriving craft beer scenes.
A host of microbreweries use locally grown hops and natural water from nearby wells to produce a range of tasty brews.
Be sure to try a cold one or two while you’re around.
11. Visit Bosque Tallado, the Carved Forest
Another beautiful example of El Bolsón’s creative spirit is Bosque Tallado (or the ‘Carved Forest’), an artistic project located a few kilometres away.
A section of forest on the mountain slopes above the town was ravaged by fire in 1978.
Instead of letting the charred wood decay, the town’s artistic community pulled together to revive it through sculpture.
The project attracted artists from across the country, who participated in creating a series of carvings from the remaining wooden stumps.
These carvings invoke the natural spirit of the forest, mountain wildlife and the local community.
You can reach Bosque Tallado on a short taxi ride from the town centre.
From the drop-off point, there’s a short and easy uphill walk of about a kilometre.
This path is also the beginning of a trail to Cerro Piltriquitrón, a 2,260-metre summit that towers over the east of El Bolsón.
You can continue up from Bosque Tallado for a magnificent view of the surrounding valleys.
Part-way to the top stands a refugio where you can stop for a hot drink and a homemade pizza.
The full hike is around 11-kilometre return and easily manageable in a day. For more Patagonia hiking tours go here.
12. See the cherry blossoms in September
Spring in the southern hemisphere is an extra-special time to visit El Bolsón.
Flowers start to bloom in September, and pink cherry blossoms fill the town’s sleepy streets.
As September overlaps with the last gasps of winter, there is still plenty of snow daubed across the mountains in the background.
The sprouting pink flowers create a picture-perfect contrast against this snowy landscape.
13. Take a Circuito Chico tour
San Carlos de Bariloche, commonly known as just Bariloche, is perched on the huge Lago Nahuel Huapi in the heart of the Argentine Lake District.
The city is a launchpad for exploring the vast expanse of lakes and mountains nearby.
Circuito Chico is a classic route to the west of the city that loops around Lago Moreno and visits some of Nahuel Huapi National Park’s greatest attractions.
You can book organised tours in the city centre.
Highlights include hiking or taking the chairlift up to Cerro Campanario for a gorgeous panoramic view, witnessing the famous Hotel Llao Llao, and visiting the wooden church of Capilla de San Eduardo.
If you prefer to explore independently, there are some fabulous hiking trails around Circuito Chico.
The trek to Cerro Llao Llao is a popular choice, rewarded at the end with a magnificent elevated view of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the snow-capped mountains beyond.
14. Explore the history of European migration
When you first arrive in Bariloche you will be forgiven for thinking that you’ve been transported into an alpine mountain town in Switzerland.
Log-cabin chalets line the streets, and it seems that every other building is a chocolate shop or a craft ale tavern.
This is no coincidence.
Immigration from Central Europe played a key role in the development of Bariloche as a holiday getaway and adventure destination, and it has left a lasting mark on the city.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, you can take a ‘German Footprint’ walking tour from the Bariloche Civic Center and learn more about this fascinating history.
The tour explores the various waves of German migration to Bariloche, from the explorer Carlos Wiederhold who founded its modern settlement, to the mountaineer Otto Meiling who transformed it into a skiing destination, and to the darker story of the Nazi war criminals who took secret refuge in the city after World War II.
Once you’ve finished, relax with a schopp of European-style ale in Manush, the best pub in Bariloche.
15. Go skiing at Cerro Catedral
In winter, the Argentina Lake District doubles up as Patagonia’s epicentre of snow sports. Cerro Catedral, 20 kilometres outside Bariloche, is Argentina’s largest ski resort with over 120 kilometres of piste.
In the past, it has hosted major international events such as the Snowboard World Cup.
This broad region of Patagonia is the location of several other premier ski destinations, such as Chapelco, Cerro Cayo and La Hoya.
In the spring and summer months, from September through to April, the snow thaws, opening up several fabulous hiking trails around Cerro Catedral.
Experienced hikers can trek up to Refugio Frey, while the trail to Lago Gutierrez and Cascada de los Duendes provides an easier alternative.
Visiting in September provides the best of both worlds, with snow still thick on the higher slopes for skiing, and a warming climate conducive to hiking.
Alex Trembath is the co-founder of Career Gappers, a blog that highlights the benefits of travel career breaks and provides first-hand practical advice on how to take one. He specialises in outdoor activities and local cultural discovery and has travelled extensively in Patagonia.