Patagonia is an incredible destination, the home of towering peaks, blue-white glaciers, tranquil lakes, soaring condors and the romantic and solitary figure of the gaucho. Visitors to this part of South America cannot fail to fall in love with its rugged landscapes and charming inhabitants, be they human or animal.
BBC Two’s documentary series, “Patagonia: Earth’s Secret Paradise”, recently explored the wonderful wildlife and dramatic landscape of this southern region of South America. If you enjoyed the series, here is some more information on what to expect from a holiday to Patagonia…
Patagonia covers a vast amount of space in both Argentina and Chile on either side of the Andes, taking in highly varied locations. In Argentina, these Patagonian landscapes present a totally different face to the world than that of the north.
From whale watching on Peninsula Valdes to sampling decadent chocolate treats in Bariloche, it is a good idea to spend plenty of time discovering Patagonia's many juxtapositions.
Perito Moreno Glacier
Top of the list for most people travelling to Argentine Patagonia is a trip to Perito Moreno. For those with a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, this stunning glacier is not named after a small brown dog, but the explorer who discovered it - one Francisco Moreno - who was nicknamed Perito.
As one of the few advancing glaciers anywhere in the world that is relatively accessible, it is no wonder that Perito Moreno is so well visited. Situated within Los Glaciares National Park, the huge expanse of ice has an average height of 74 metres and regularly calves giant bergs from its mass.
These unpredictable feats of nature are accompanied by an immense grumbling, which sounds almost animal, as the ice creaks and crunches its way into Lago Argentino, eventually culminating in a splash. This can be observed from the boards set up to allow visitors to see the huge ice field from dry land or alternatively by way of a boat in the lagoon with the sheer cliff of ice ahead.
To get an even closer look at Perito Moreno, those with good fitness levels can trek across the surface of the glacier and experience it face-to-face.
Argentineans are fond of welcoming visitors to towns with signs announcing what they are famous for. When it comes to El Chalten, the small hamlet founded in 1985 just north of Los Glaciares National Park, outdoor enthusiasts are greeted with the prospect of entering the hiking capital of Argentina and it certainly does not disappoint.
Nestled among the Andes, nothing compares to waking up in El Chalten and seeing the towers of the Fitz Roy peak being caught by the early morning sun.
The mountain was named after the captain on Darwin's ship The Beagle and has been tempting climbers with its summit at 3,441 metres ever since, although scaling other peaks in the range is also rewarding.
Or, for awe-inspiring granite peaks and glaciers on the Chilean side of the Andes, the national park of Torres del Paine holds many lures for those who love hiking and climbing.
Life on an estancia
In contrast to the icy surroundings of Los Glaciares, Patagonia is also home to wide open plains, where gauchos have herded cattle for centuries. The opportunity to spend some time among these skilled horsemen is one that should not be wasted, especially for those who are proficient riders.
Put your skills to the test rounding up the cattle and be rewarded with the time honoured tradition of the asado - a gaucho-style barbecue like nothing you have ever tasted.
While the wildlife of Patagonia is as varied as the landscape, there are certain creatures that are well worth a mention. Any time spent in and around the Andes could lead to sightings of a specific member of the vulture family - the Andean condor. This nearly endangered species has an impressive wingspan of 3.2 metres.
The condor is part of the food chain in this part of the world and can sometimes be seen scavenging the remains of a guanaco killed by a puma. It is more likely that visitors will spot this species of llama in Patagonia than the elusive big cat, but patience and luck can sometimes lead to a sighting.
Meanwhile, to see penguins, elephant seals and sea lions, as well as orcas and southern right whales,
wildlife enthusiasts should take a trip to Peninsula Valdes.
This area on the Atlantic coast of Patagonia is not too large to travel around, with plenty of animals to see in both the interior and on the coast. The mating season is when whales arrive and for orcas lasts from September to April, compared to May to December for southern rights.
Preparing to visit Patagonia
The climate in Patagonia can be very unpredictable and it is important to be prepared. Do not assume that the weather will be the same as northern Argentina, which is almost half of the continent of South America away.
Cold winds can blow in even during the summer and temperatures are generally cooler. It is possible to expect four seasons in one day, even in high summer so layers and waterproof clothing are essential.
Depending on which parts of Patagonia you intend to travel to, it is important to match them with the right time of year. As a rule, high summer is the peak time to go from January to March, although some areas can get much busier.
We prefer the tail ends of the seasons in spring or autumn when the colours and light are astonishing. In Peninsula Valdes, your trip is more likely to coincide with particular wildlife highlights than be weather dependent.
Patagonia is a unique place and with a little planning you can expect to have breath-taking experiences throughout your expedition.