5 ways to... Experience Patagonia - Americas - Travel - The Independent

5 ways to... Experience Patagonia

From tooth-like peaks to waddling penguins

Patagonia is an epic wilderness of mighty mountains, windswept plains and glistening glaciers that covers the tail end of South America, down the Andes and across both Chile and Argentina. Whether you want to gallop along with the gauchos or take in the majestic landscapes and wildlife at a more leisurely pace, there are trips to suit most inclinations. 

In luxury

Torres del Paine National Park is one of Chile’s most dramatic portions of Patagonia. The centrepiece is a crop of tooth-like peaks known as the Cordillera del Paine. In the plains below, llama-like guanacos roam, emus prance and condors soar in the skies above. The newest lodge is Awasi (00 56 2 2233 9641; awasipatagonia.com). Located in a private reserve, it stands amid a forest of lenga trees, with views to Lake Sarmiento and the mountains. Accommodation is in a series of stark, wood-and-metal cubes  scattered amid the bleak but beautiful landscape. Inside, luxury unfurls with wood-burning stoves, double beds and sunken baths. Tailormade excursions might range from climbing the Sierra Contreras to tracing the footsteps of British explorer, Florence Dixie. Three nights US$2,100 (£1,400)pp, all inclusive, with a driver and guide.

Hiking on a glacier Hiking on a glacier On a budget

For hardy trekkers, there are refugios. These simple mountain huts offer shelter around the national parks. Come bearing cash, hiking boots, a sleeping bag and lots of layers. The more sophisticated refugios offer bunks, while others have camping grounds or pre-pitched tents. Meals and drinks are provided for a small fee. La Confluencia (00 54 2944 498 329; laconfluencia.com) near El Bolsón in Argentina, is an impressive example. It has a yoga studio, spa and private rooms from 1,100 pesos (£100) or bunks from 230 pesos (£20)pp. Nearby options for creating a circuit include Refugio Hielo Azul or El Retamal ( turismoelbolson.gov.ar).

On four legs

Ramp up the majesty of Patagonia by galloping across the plains on horseback. Specialist tour operators, such as Ride Worldwide (01837 82 544; rideworldwide.com) and In The Saddle (01299 272997; inthesaddle.com), offer a range of itineraries for novices and experts. The former has a week based at Estancia Huechahue, a working cattle ranch 1,000 miles south of Buenos Aires, for US$2,800 (£1,866)pp, with  full board and activities, but  not flights.  

Close to nature 

The confetti of islands that scatter out from Ushuaia – the southernmost city in the world – to the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, are brimming with curious creatures. Besuited Magellanic penguins waddle into the water, past pods of languorous sea lions lumbering on rocks. You might even see the tail of a humpback whale flick above the water. Journey Latin America (020 3355 7488; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) has a holiday that travels by boat around Cape Horn from Ushuaia in Argentina to Punta Arenas in Chile. The four- or five-day trip costs £864/£1,010pp, full board with excursions, but not flights.

Surrounded by water

The snow-capped mountains,  ever-changing glaciers and emerald green bodies of water, that together form the Lake District, fan out either side of the Andean border, around the towns of Bariloche and San Martín in Argentina, and Temuco and Valdivia in Chile. Spend time on a boat, don a wetsuit for some watersports or go fishing on Select Latin America’s (020 7407 1478; selectlatinamerica.co.uk) 11-day “Eco Chile” trip, which covers Santiago, the Lake District and southern Patagonia with flights, for £4,129pp.

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