Few places on earth can muster the natural awe that a person feels when they enter into the Patagonian wilderness. Towering Andean mountains lay the backdrop to slow-moving rivers intersecting between glistening lakes.
Calving glaciers provide a thunderous roar that echos through the dramatic landscapes, while dense cypress forests clean the air and provide hikers and trekkers with seemingly endless mountain trails.
Straddling the Chilean and Argentinian border and stretching for more than 400,000 square miles, Patagonia is known to be one of the most pristine natural environments left on the planet, and visitors here rarely find themselves prepared to leave.
This is one of the few places I’ve ever traveled to where I felt truly sad when I had to leave. There’s enough raw wilderness and untouched forest here to keep a person busy for a lifetime.
In this post, I’m going to list just a few of the incredible outdoor adventures and experiences that you can have in Patagonia.
If you’re planning a trip to the subregion, or if Patagonia has long been on your travel bucket list, then hopefully this post will shine some light on the activities you can expect when finally arrive.
1. Fly Fishing
I’ve been a fly fisherman for about as long as I can remember and there’s no question that the fly fishing in Patagonia is world-class.
The Chilean side is home to the single largest and most productive brown trout run in the world, while the Lake District of Argentina boasts some great salmon and trout fishing as well. The fly fishing here is on par with that of Ireland, New Zealand, and the US, if not better.
When I last visited Patagonia, I couldn’t wait to get out on the rivers and cast a line. In San Martin de Los Andes, I rented my own rod (450 pesos / $30 USD), and paid for a 24-hour fishing license (460 pesos / $21).
My spouse and I had also rented a car for the duration of our stay in The Lake District, so we drove out to a few rivers and fishing spots around the region, trying my hand at fly fishing by myself.
I quickly learned that April was a bit out of season and the fish were a bit picky, plus my rental wasn’t exactly the best 3 weight fly rod I’ve ever used, so I wasn’t getting my casts to where I wanted them to be. I know, excuses excuses.
I eventually decided to hire a guide and it was definitely worth it to have an expert with me. Guided fishing trips in Patagonia aren’t cheap, starting at around $300 for a half-day, but it was a private trip and included transport, lunch, rental gear, and a very experienced guide.
With my new fishing mate, I managed to catch a fish on my second or third cast and the rest of the day was fantastic.
If you’re into fly fishing and you’re heading to Patagonia, I recommend renting some cheap gear and giving it a shot yourself, and if you fail you can always do what I did and splurge for an experienced guide.
I really can’t even count the number of hikes that we did while we were in Patagonia. Even hiking from the bus station to the hotel sometimes rewarded us with spectacular Andean Mountain views.
I mentioned that the fly fishing in Patagonia was “on par” with Ireland, but the hiking in Patagonia blows the hiking in Ireland out of the water. This is easily one of the best hiking and adventure destinations on planet Earth.
On the Chilean side of Patagonia, you really can’t miss the hiking in Torres Del Paine, which is, without a doubt, one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. You can choose the 4-5 day “W Trek” portion, or you can opt for the longer and more challenging “O Trek”, which does an entire loop around the park and takes around 8 days in total.
East of the border is nothing to scoff at either, with countless day hikes and multi-day treks leaving from nearly every town in Patagonian Argentina. From the town of El Chaltén, you can hike up to Mount Fitz Roy, or opt for the easier Mirador Del Cerro Torre which takes around 2 hours each way and ends at a stunning lookout point.
Patagonia, on both sides of the border, is a trekker’s wonderland. Every hotel is geared towards trekkers, offering maps and rental gear, while restaurants and bars are filled with exhausted hikers in the evenings, warming up near fireplaces, and drinking delicious Malbec wines while recounting their day’s adventures.
3. Watch The Glaciers Crumble (Calve)
I’m from Canada, and while many of my American friends would joke that I grew up in an igloo with a view of a glacier, it simply isn’t true. So, even for me, the opportunity to see massive school bus-sized chunks of ice break off and crash into the thick, inky-black water felt like a once in a lifetime experience.
There are plenty of glaciers that you can see while you’re in Patagonia, but our favorite was the viewing platforms of Perito Moreno Glacier. At over 18 miles long, this is the single largest glacier in Patagonia.
There are easy day tours you can join to get here from El Calafate, which give you a couple of hours on the platforms where you can wait to hear a massive crash and watch the inevitable mini-tsunami that follows in its wake.
If you decide to trek in Torres del Paine, whether you opt for “The W” or “The O”, you’ll have the opportunity to see calving at the enormous Glacier Grey, which lies about a 2 hour hike from the Paine Grande campsite.
4. Go Kayaking
Who doesn’t want to kayak through glacier water, in beautiful mirror-calm lakes, through pristine fjords or along trout-filled rivers? Kayaking is a great way to stay fit while traveling and Patagonia is an excellent kayaking destination.
The sport is popular enough in the region that you’re never too far from a rental company or a tour operator.
Some great places for a kayaking trip in Patagonia include Puerto Natales and the surrounding fjords, Pumalín Park, or in The Chiloé Archipelago, where you can paddle through calm backwaters between small islands.
5. Take a Cycle Tour
Whether you drive around Patagonia with your own rented transport, or you explore it using public inter-city buses, you’ll likely see dozens of cyclists on the road.
That’s because Patagonia is as much a cycler’s paradise, as it is an angler’s or a hiker’s.
Even if you’re not a hard-core cyclist who carries your own bike around the world with you, you can rent great bikes in most of the towns and villages around Patagonia, and there are also tour guides and companies that can take you on day trips, or multi-day cycling trips.
Some of the best routes include the trip south through Chile on the Carretera Austral, the 3,100 mile-long slog along Argentina’s Ruta 40, and the rugged path between illa O’Higgins and El Chaltén.
I can’t really overstate the beauty of Patagonia, no matter how hard I try. The very air that you breathe in this part of the world feels crisper, cooler, and fresher.
So as a traveler to the region, you really have but two responsibilities. To treat the natural environments of these landscapes with love and respect, leaving no trace, and to promise you will return to explore more. Because no matter what, there’s always more of Patagonia to explore.
Nick Wharton is the expert fly fisherman and full-time traveller behind the website IntoFlyFishing.com. He’s been traveling and fishing all around the world since 2008 and writes about his adventures, as well as the best fly fishing gear, destinations and techniques on his blog. You can follow him on FacebookInstagram, YouTube and Twitter.