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  • Ine Vandenwyngaert

How to travel to Patagonia: top destinations to visit

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Are you traveling to Patagonia and looking for the best places to visit? Dominated by Andean forests, endless steppe, beautiful fjords, impressive glaciers, and jagged mountain peaks, Patagonia is one of the world's prime destinations for outdoor and nature enthusiasts. This article provides information on the must-see destinations and best hikes in Patagonia, how to get there (don’t underestimate the distances!), and how to plan and budget for your visit to the national parks.

how to travel patagonia

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About Patagonia

Patagonia stretches from the midlands in Chile and Argentina all the way down to the southern tip of South America. Often referred to as ‘the end of the world’, this region is as close as 800km (500 miles) from Antarctica. The list of natural wonders is infinite: rugged, snow-capped mountain peaks; rivers and lakes in ‘50 shades of blue’; sprawling glaciers; endless idyllic steppes; and picturesque villages. The scenic landscapes are what make this region South America’s mecca for hiking, climbing, biking, camping, and any other outdoor activity you could imagine. The splendid nature is protected within the confines of various national parks, which creates some restrictions and challenges.

Travel to Patagonia travel poster

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Patagonia Travel Poster

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Top destinations in Chilean Patagonia

Punta Arenas

My first stop in Patagonia was to the city of Punta Arenas, which is also the southernmost point I reached. I flew from the north of Chile (with an inevitable stopover in Santiago de Chile) to Punta Arenas, as this was the cheapest destination to fly to in Patagonia. My first impression was a mix of astonishment and excitement. Everything looks distinctly different than the rest of South America! The climate is significantly colder, the flora and fauna are unique, and the architecture resembles a European style.

Punta Arenas is a coastal city on the edge of the Strait of Magellan, mostly known as a base for excursions to the surrounding wilderness and Antarctica. At first glance, the city may not seem like much of an enticing destination but if you have a little time to walk around you’ll discover the charm of Punta Arenas. The main plaza reflects the post-colonial wealth of the city with a statue of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the middle, impressive stone mansions encircling, and historic museums like the Museo Nao Victoria. There are also many cozy coffee shops and restaurants around where you can snuggle up by the fireplace after a walk along the waterfront.

Isla Magdalena

Nonetheless, the most fascinating reason to stop in Punta Arenas (and an absolute must-see place in Patagonia!) is to visit the Magallanes penguin colony of Chile on nearby Magdalena Island. This remote island has an interesting ecosystem, with thousands of penguins coming during the summer to reproduce, and other kinds of birds like the tuxedo clads and cormorants. The only way of exploring this penguin community is to embark on a guided tour that leaves from Punta Arenas. The navigation will take about 40 mins one-way and allows you to walk around and take pictures for an hour or so. Due to extreme weather conditions, this island is only accessible from October through April. I recommend booking the excursion in advance as they are extremely popular with tourists and only offered through a limited amount of tour operators. The price varies but typically fluctuates around 63,000 Chilean Pesos (around €80/US$88).

Penguins on Magdalena Island is a top place to visit in Patagonia chile
Isla Magdalena

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Puerto Natales

The charming, colorful town of Puerto Natales is located 3 hours north of Punta Arenas. It can be easily reached by bus, with various direct departures from Punta Arenas per day. This town is the ultimate gateway to the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park, which sits 120 km to the north-west. Puerto Natales itself doesn’t have a lot to offer, but it is the ideal place to buy or rent your adventure and trekking gear before heading off to Torres del Paine. The streets of the city are filled with adventure stores offering the latest and greatest equipment for trekking, camping, climbing, and so on.

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