A Brief Guide to Patagonia

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Patagonia is famous for the raw majesty of its landscapes.  Encompassing the south of Chile and Argentina, it’s a land of mountains, plains and glacial lakes.  It offers visitors scenes of startling beauty, such as valleys full of flowering shrubs and waterfalls hidden among boulders.  With careful planning, you’ll enjoy an awe-inspiring vacation.

1. Timing Your Visit

The best time to visit is the summer, which runs from December through February.  The weather is warmest then, and you’ll enjoy more hours of daylight.

2. Best Places to Visit

Although Patagonia as a whole is stunning, the following are four sites you shouldn’t miss:

      – Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.  This is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the world.  Its breath-taking scenery includes ragged, snow-capped peaks and brilliant lakes.  Park facilities range from luxury hotels to numerousrefugios offering shelter along hiking routes.

     – Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina.  Magnificent lakes, forests and mountains await visitors in this park, which is the heart of Argentina’s Lake District.  The city of Bariloche, set beside Nahuel Huapi Lake, entices visitors with its chocolate shops and outdoor markets; it’s especially attractive to skiers and honeymooners.

     – Los Glacieres National Park, Argentina.  This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains one of the largest ice caps, or masses of ice, in the world.  Visitors can view dozens of glaciers and icebergs.  They can also hike through valleys rich in wildlife.  The Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount Fitz Roy are popular attractions within the park.

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     – Tierra del Fuego National Park, Chile.  Visitors love exploring the rocky coastline, waterways and forests of this park, which is about as far south as you can go in South America.

3. Things to Do

Visitors have numerous activities to choose from that will help them explore Patagonia.  Popular choices include hiking, camping, kayaking, skiing, biking and whale-watching.  At many locations, visitors can find guided tours given on land or by boat.  Eco-tourists love the diversity of the wildlife, and people interested in dinosaurs can explore major paleontological excavation sites.

4. Where to Stay

There’s no shortage of charming inns, luxury hotels, camping sites and cozy lodges in Patagonia.  Where you stay will depend on your budget, your level of comfort and the options at each location.  Even if you don’t like roughing it, you can still enjoy the natural wonders of Patagonia by day while retiring at night to a modern hotel.  A number of camping sites also offer meals and comfortable shelter.

5. Dining in Patagonia

In general, the cuisine in Patagonia is rich in meat, particularly beef and grilled lamb.  Some locations add their own unique flavor to Patagonian cuisine.  The Chubut Province, which is home to Argentina’s Welsh settlement, invites visitors to its world-famous Welsh Tea Rooms. In popular cities, such as Punta Arenas, you’ll find a wide variety of restaurants, including those serving vegetarian options.

6. Getting Around Patagonia

Many travelers, including those arriving from Australia or New Zealand, will have to first fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina or Santiago, Chile and then make a connecting flight to one of Patagonia’s regional airports, which are located near popular sites.  People can hop around by plane within Patagonia, and there are also bus services available between different areas.  Renting a car is another possibility, though the quality of the roads is uneven, particularly in remote locations.

In general, you shouldn’t have trouble getting around Patagonia, especially when visiting the more popular attractions.  Figuring out the logistics of your trip will be worth the effort, because you’ll be enjoying one of the most magnificent regions on Earth.

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