Patagonia is vast—400,000 square miles (that's over 256 million acres) vast. Stretching from southern Chile to Argentina, the region crosses the Andes mountains, glittering ice fields, windswept plains, and untamed coastlines. It's a utopia for outdoor adventure enthusiasts, but unless you have weeks—maybe months—to spare, there’s no way you can see all of it in one trip. These 7 locations will deliver the views, the wildlife, and the heart-pumping thrills you seek.
Consider Torres del Paine National Park, in southern Chile, a microcosm of Patagonia. Within its roughly 500,000 acres, you’ll find snow-capped granite mountains, glittering glaciers, ice-blue rivers and lakes, and rolling grasslands and pampas as well as the region’s prized wildlife, including pumas, guanacos, condors, and huemuls. Don’t forget your camera, because this park also happens to have one of the area’s most famous panoramic views: the Torres range beneath the Salto Chico waterfall on Lake Pehoé.
For many adventurers, the Patagonia experience begins and ends at Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in southwest Argentina. This is the home of Perito Moreno, one of the world’s last-surviving glaciers, which continues to grow in size. Currently measuring 97 square miles, it’s fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and has formed a kind of dam against Argentino Lake. Watch pieces of ice calve into the water on a viewing platform or, better yet, get up close and personal during a glacier hike, where you'll use crampons and ice axes to traverse the slippery surface.
This young village’s proximity to some of Argentinian Patagonia’s key sites—including the popular Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy mountains as well as the Viedma glacier—has earned it a place as the trekking capital of Argentina. You don't need to be an expert hiker, though: there are plenty of well-marked and easy-to-tackle trails are available for horseback riders, bikers, and casual walkers.
Established in 1934, Nahuel Huapi is Argentina’s oldest—and largest—national park, extending some two million acres across mountains, lakes, rivers, and beaches. The landscape makes for a pleasant hike or bike ride, but a road trip might be better worth your time to take in the sights. Start in Bariloche, a mountainous resort town and paradise for hikers in summer and skiers in winter, then make your way through the region’s picturesque lakes and rivers bordered by the Patagonian Andes. Don’t miss the park’s namesake, Nahuel Huapi Lake, which gets its surreal milky blue hue from glacial runoff.
The world’s southernmost city, at the tip of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago, has fittingly become known as “The End of the World.” Ushuaia serves as a port to Antarctica, some 620 miles due south, but you can get a tiny taste of the arctic right across the channel on Martillo Island, where a handful of penguin colonies make their home. The dining scene here is as local as it gets, and it’s worth the splurge for a taste of Fuegian lamb or seasonal king crab in restaurants like Kalma or more upscale Kaupe. Work off the calories with a stroll through the town's steep streets lined with colorful houses that spill down to the harbor.
Travelers who do their research know to work in a trip to Chiloé Island. The mist-covered archipelago off Chile’s west coast takes an effort to get to, but there’s more than enough reasons to justify the journey. The island’s relatively isolated locale means its seafaring natives have developed their own unique language, mythology, and building style—just look to its famous palafitos (stilted houses built over the water) and UNESCO-listed wooden churches. It's a destination unlike the rest of South America, and home to one of Patagonia’s most stunning hotels, Tierra Chiloé— a destination in its own right.
One of the more surprising places on this list, but no less stunning, is the Marble Caves of Cuevas de Mármol, in Chile’s Lake General Carrera. The smoothed-out rocks, accessible only by boat, were formed after thousands of years of erosion, and take on unique shades of sea green, turquoise, and gray according to the time of year and varying water levels that leave minerals behind.