A 15-day journey around Patagonia in backpacker style, walking around the most beautiful places in southern Argentina. An adventurous tour in the most beautiful natural landscapes that every traveller should experience at least once in their life
The Monte Oliva on the National Route 3: photo credits @migue_nunez_
Some people are enchanted by its incomparable landscapes that seem to be stuck in time, frozen in prehistoric times, others call the region the ‘Middle Earth’, from the Lord of the Rings saga, and others even see in its scenery and landscapes the settings that have been the backdrop to many celebrated films, with famous actors like Brad Pitt and Leonardo di Caprio.
Whatever image Patagonia evokes for you, what is undeniable is that it is an enchanting land, one of few remaining places in the world that is still in contact with the most pure and unspoiled nature. Patagonia fascinates with its rustic landscapes, green forests, wooden huts, turquoise lakes and its deserted and infinite highways, but also for its picture-perfect mountain villages and the magnificent glaciers… every place is incredibly photogenic, where you can take millions of breathtaking photos.
In this article we take you on a journey through the best places of Patagonia, experiencing adventures designed specifically for excursionists and backpackers searching for unique experiences. What's more, we will give you great advice on where to stay between one place and the next, because, as in every adventurous journey, a good rest is fundamental to recharge those batteries!
Enchanting angles of Patagonia in Autumn: photo credits @migue_nunez_
1. Climb the Batea Mahuida volcano
Our first adventure starts at Villa Pehuenia Moquehue, in the province of Neuquén. It is a mountain village outside the tourist traps and immersed in an incredibly natural landscape, between hills and lakes with white-sand beaches. It is all 11km from Chile and around 3 hours from the city of Neuquén (capital of the homonymous province).
On top of the volcano: photo credits @machairanzo
This city of “Mapuche” origins delights its guests with multiple activities that they can do and many many hectares of unspoiled land to explore. It is possible to walk paths of various difficulties that reveal splendid panoramic heights, to try the indigenous fish of the streams and the lakes or, if you have the courage, to trust the choppy waters with a rafting boat.
But, if you are searching for a really extreme adventure, the principal attraction is without a doubt the Batea Mahuida volcano, part of the immense Andes mountain range, on the border between Argentina and Chile. The volcano is extinct, and a special reward awaits those that dare to climb its 1948 metres because in the highest part there is a crater that hides a beautiful lagoon with crystal clear waters. At the same time, you can enjoy a 360 degree panoramic view that permits you to see the whole valley of the region. Don't forget to fully charge your phone so you can take some good photos. You’ll see that it’s worth it!
On the volcano summit: photo credits @somosargentinamadein
Spending some days here to admire the landscape is not an absolutely terrible idea! We advise you to rest at Andino Hostel, a nice rustic-style cottage with a view of forests and mountains.
2. The “Ruta de los 7 Lagos” (Route of the Seven Lakes)
As the name suggests, our second trip sees a fascinating tour of seven beautiful lakes that are found in the Región de los Lagos. The trip is part of the National Road 40, one of the main highways for those wanting to take any type of route in Patagonia.
The placid Correntoso Lake: photo credits @laluwolt
Many people come from afar to do this excursion, highly recommended by travel magazines and foreign travel agencies. The 110 km stretch starts at San Martin de los Andes and finishes at Villa La Angostura. Even if its possible to complete it in a short time, our advice is to slow down a bit and take all the breaks you need to allow an admiration of the breath-taking scenes you’ll meet along the way.
The lakes that give the road its name are the Nahuel Huapi, the Correntoso, the Espejo, the Escondido, the Falkner, the Villarino and the Machónico. And following the road that connects the seven lakes you will have the fortune to cross two national parks: the Lanín and the Nahuel Huapi, two Patagonian treasures that are really worth visiting.
“El Balcón de la Bahía”: photo credits @laluwolt
Fishing is big in Patagonia, and if it's a hobby you like the ideal place to practice this sport is definitely Lake Falkner. A word of advice: the best possibility of catching something that you’ll have is if you go to the mouth of the Villarino river, or the Filuco stream.
If you prefer breath-taking views, then head directly to Los Huillines, near to Lago Espejo. And if you want an electrifying experience visit the Cascate Ñivinco (near to Lake Escondido), letting yourself get soaked by their powerful currents.
3. An exciting bike-ride in the National Park of Los Arrayanes
After many adventures we arrive in Villa La Angostura, south of the province of Neuquén, a hot village on the mountain range with stone and wood buildings, immersed in the National Park Nahuel Huapi. It is a protected area of Patagonia, where you can enjoy fantastic landscapes and many natural wonders. It’s up to you to decide if you only take a quick stop here, or if you stay a bit longer to explore the area better.
Unspoiled nature in Villa La Angostura: photo credits @visualgramms
If you are searching for a little adrenaline rush, take advantage of the possibility to explore the National Park of Arrayanes, a unique place in the world with a forest full of Chilean myrtle: the Mapuche used the berries of this plant, that can be reached twenty metres high, to prepare powerful medicines.
If you come here in the winter season (from June to August) you can ski at the Cerro Bayo, a sports centre composed of 25 pistes and 16 chairlifts. If instead you come in the warmer season (from November to March), we strongly advise you to hire a bike and ride without pausing through the bushes, above the tree-trunks and through the puddles.
The leafy forest of Villa La Angostura: photo credits @visualgramms
If after all these adventures you need a break, this is your chance! You can in fact stay in La Angostura hostel, a comfortable place where you can meet travellers from all over the world.
4. Conquering the “Cerro Tronador”
This adventure starts in the famous city of Bariloche, one of the most visited destinations of European and American tourists that look for spectacular landscapes. Many find a vague similarity with the classic Swiss villas due to the urban style of the place. Here you can try a bit of everything!
The Cerro Tronador: photo credits @visualgramms
Pleasure-seekers can go to see the sparkling lake of Nahuel Huapi that surrounds the city, foodies can try the delicious mini chocolates that are found in all the shops of the historic centre, while the most adventurous travellers should absolutely take a trip to the ski resort of Cerro Catedral for some crazy downhill snowboarding.
The excursion to Cerro Tronador is a must, passing through lagoons, beaches and panoramic points. This immense mountain is an inactive volcano whose point of 3478 metres marks the border between Argentina and the near Chile.
The Cerro Tronador: photo credits @elmundodeados
Pablo and Cecilia, two Argentinian bloggers, have experienced this first-hand and tell us: “The Cerro Tronador and the Ventisquero Negro glacier at its base form a unique landscape. A magnificent mass and its neighbouring glacier which seems as though it will collapse at any point. But the whole route is full of panoramic views and marvellous angles. Lakes, forests, a rushing river and the Isla Corazón (literally the island of the Heart). This entire experience is unforgettable. We recommend it to everyone and it's certainly the best excursion in the area, a must! The best moment to go is in Autumn, when the forest is a palette of colours. We recommend leaving very early and save time to visit the beautiful waterfalls of Los Alerces.”
At this stage we recommend the welcoming Hostel Achalay whose simplicity and warm ambience will make you feel at home. The set-up has a common kitchen where you can prepare a hot meal and it’s possible to choose to sleep in a dorm or private room.
5. Lose yourself in the photogenic ‘Field of Tulips’
Peace and quiet rule in this urban settlement located behind the great southern hills. Esquel is a city in the north-western province of Chubut, founded by Welsh immigrants in 1865. It's the ideal spot to build up some energy and eat well in one of its excellent restaurants.
A marvellous field of tulips: photo credits @franciscobertotti
One of the favourite tourist activities is found in the National Park of Los Alerces. Make sure not to miss “El Abuelo” (the grandfather, as the locals affectionally call it), a tree of 2600 years, a very interesting attraction to admire where you can take splendid pictures. Listen to the glacier creak, observe the condors fly over the forest, or organise a picnic in some corner of unspoiled earth between one of the many beautiful walks.
The adventure we recommend to you here may seem very tame, but you certainly must not let it escape you: it is in fact a cultivating field of tulips that displays incredible colours and seems to have come straight out of a Van Gogh painting. Planted in May, the tulips come out in October and offer a postcard image of the Patagonian mountain range. The place is called Trevelin (26km from Esquel, 26 minutes by car from the National Road 259).
Suggestion: if you come in the month of February (in full summer season) and you are not vegetarian, you must visit the little city of Cholila, where the National Festival of Asado takes place (the typical Argentinian-style BBQ), a lively three-day event during which they BBQ 10,000 kg of meat!
La Casa Pueblo could be an excellent place to stay for those that look for good prices, comfort, rustic wooden furniture and a warm, family atmosphere able to satisfy all of your every needs.
6. Sailing with the Southern Whales
From the picturesque village above we arrive at Port Madryn (6 hours by car west on the coast of Patagonia), the most important city of the province of Chubut. The best place in all South America to experiment close encounters with the marine life. From June to December its the Whale season and Madryn is the right place to spot them.
Photo of a boat trip: photo credits @rutadelmate
This Patagonian corner is the best in the world to see the southern whales, as only a short distance from the coast a large number of them gather and a boat trip can take you to see the females that give birth and take care of their babies. The whales arrive here around May and stay in the area until December.
Juan, Flor and their son Benjamín are an Argentinian family that travel all over the world. On this occasion they tell of their experience:
“We felt like children. This is what how we felt when we went to see the live whales for the first time. Because it isn’t important how old you are, it's an experience that can only surprise you. The southern right whale arrives every year in the calm waters of Golf Nuevo, on whose banks there are Port Madryn, Port Pirámides and the ecological reserve of the Valdes Peninsula. There are different ways to see them, but obviously the best way is to hop on board a boat to admire them very closely and in their natural habitat. They are very curious mammals and frequently pass by the boats, it almost seems like you can touch them."
The southern right whale of Port Pirámides: photo credits @trevi2009
“The 360 degree panorama that you can enjoy when out at sea gives you the possibility to see whales that fly up out of the water or show their fins on the surface. If you suffer from sea sickness, or you want an alternative, you can also go to the beach of El Doradillo, around 15km from Port Madryn, where there are excellent viewing conditions, seeing that the depth of the water is ideal for the babies to play with their mothers in front of the engrossed eyes of both locals and tourists. Also in the same city of Port Madryn sightings may occur, but you must be patient and let nature surprise you, just as we said, watch with the eyes of a child!”
A whale of Port Pirámides: photo credits @trevi2009
Book a stay at El Gualicho, a hostel with an informal and friendly atmosphere where you can meet many other backpackers and travellers. It has wifi connection and a good breakfast to start the morning right, setting you up for the day ahead! Oh and also, the position is excellent, right in the centre and very easy to reach.
7. Trekking on the wild Mount Fitz Roy
Now we end up at El Chaltén, in the province of Santa Cruz. It's a small town at the foot of the Torre and Fitz Roy Mounts, right in the heart of the National Glacier Park. The name of this site, legacy of the hometown of Tehuelche, means “mountains that smoke”, as the tips are always covered by clouds.
The spectacular scenery of Mount Fitz Roy: photo credits @pabloestoyllegando
Fun fact: In 1985, Argentina and Chile engaged in a dispute that almost unleashed a war in order to decide which country the territory of El Chaltén belonged to. In the end, the rights were granted to the Argentinian people. In October 2014, the area in question was classified second in the “best cities in the world to visit", compiled by Lonely Planet.
The Mount Fitz Roy is the special attraction of this fascinating trekking adventure, with well-marked paths, observation points and extraordinary lakes, such as the Del Salto creek and the lagoons of Madre and Hija. Likewise, you can’t miss a visit to the brilliant Lagoon of the Three that grants spectaular panoramas on Mount Fitz Roy. The walk must be done in summer when the climate is mild (from December to March) and the sky is crystal clear.
The Lake of the Three: photo credits @pabloestoyllegando
8. Challenge the Perito Moreno glacier
If you travel by car or bus, the stretch can be heavy because it includes many hours of travel. The ideal plan is to rest well before embarking upon this challenge, which is usually just as tiring as it is exciting. If you are looking for a spacious, comfortable hotel with a family atmosphere, we recommend Hosteria Austral; if instead the landscape is more important then you can go to Hosteria Meulen; if, finally, you prefer to stay in the middle of the wilderness, then you can stay in the cabins of Solares del Sur.
Selfie in the National Glacier Park: photo credits @mj.leonardelli
We arrive in El Calafate, a city which pops up right in front of the Argentinian lake in the province of Santa Cruz. Tourists from all over the world arrive here to see the Perito Moreno glacier, inside the National Glacier Park. In the city we recommend visiting the Museum of Patagonian Ice, a scientific centre that studies glaciers, and take a trip underground to the Glacio Bar, a unique experience in itself as it's completely made out of ice!
The most interesting thing in the area is obviously the tour of the amazing glacier. This time, you don’t only want to find the perfect selfie, or take a video of the moment in which a piece of ice comes off, but instead, we challenge you to walk on Perito Moreno. Yes, you understand correctly. You must learn to use crampons and pickaxes to move across the ice, avoiding holes, cracks and other obstacles on the way. It isn’t easy, but it's an unforgettable adventure that you’ll never forget.
Walking on Perito Moreno: photo credits @mj.leonardelli
Details: the tour is available from October to April and lasts about 10 hours overall, but the actual time spent on Perito Moreno is about 3 and a half. The difficulty level is demanding and requires a minimum level of training and experience. It goes up to a maximum height of 150metres, and the age to take part in the tour ranges from 18 to 50 years.
It's important to know that in the glacier the climate is dry and very, very cold. In Summer (from December to March), the temperature is around 15 degrees. The days are much longer and the vegetation seems more lively with brighter colours.
The incredible Perito Moreno glacier: photo credits @mj.leonardelli
The entrance fee to Perito Moreno and the other tourist places in the National Park of Argentinian Glaciers varies depending on the visitor. There are concessional rates for those who live in the province, or for argentinian tourists, as well as discounts for babies, students, elderly etc.
9. Exploring the ‘End of the World’
Some call this city ‘the end of the world’, others the ‘most southern’, and some simply refer to it with its beautiful motto: “The end of the world, the beginning of everything.” The true name of this special city is Ushuaia, the capital of the province of the Land of Fire, in the extreme south of Argentina.
The small town of Ushuaia: photo credits @migue_nunez_
Only those who have been here are able to describe the feeling you get: “Ushuaia is without a doubt one of the cities that deserves to be seen in during every season of the year. Each season has its own colour and its own particular atmosphere. The National Park of the Land of Fire has excellent paths to do in summer, and some different ones as a result of the snow in winter”, as Marcelo, Yamila and Sofia affirm, an Argentinian family that haven't stopped travelling for eight years.
“Undoubtedly, a must see is the lagoon of Esmeralda, where two hours trekking between marvellous landscapes awaits, until a frame of mountains is reached and a placid lake of brilliantly green water. We did it with our daughter upon the backpack, and it generally isn’t that difficult. Our advice: pay attention along the road, because you can see the incredible dams built by beavers.”
The Esmeralda Lagoon: photo credits @elmundoanuestrospies_
Perla Mercedes Garcia Gonzalez is the perfect hostel for those who like to travel solo. Essentially, it's low-cost accommodation with a friendly atmosphere, many common areas and a cool bar where you can get to know other travellers arriving from every corner of the planet in order to see the city of the end of the world.
If you click the map below you can more or less get an idea of the route and the distance that has to be travelled: