Patagonia is the sub-region of southern Chile and Argentina that is largely untouched by human civilization. The land is an oasis for rare species of wildlife, and home to breathtaking natural landscapes.
When it comes to the best way to see Patagonia, there are various ways to do so. You could fly over the area and get a bird’s eye view of the terrain, but you can’t really appreciate all of the beauty and the wonders of the region from the air. Instead, approaching the region by water allows you to witness the natural wonders of Patagonia up close, and enables visitors to photograph some of the region’s most exotic wildlife, an experience that very few get to appreciate.
Glaciers and icebergs are frequent vistas in Chilean Patagonia. Photo: AdobeStock
Best time to visit Patagonia
Patagonia forms the natural boundary of southern South America. Its unique location places it directly on the cusp of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans that all merge near the island archipelagos off the shore of the continent. This coming together of various ocean currents from different corners of the world can create dramatic turbulence, which seasoned ship captains know how to navigate.
Winter months are much more intense as the elements from the air and the water impacted by colder temperatures and powerful gusts of wind. For that reason, the summer months are the best time to visit Patagonia, especially by sea. Since Patagonia is in the southern hemisphere, near the boundaries of the Antarctic Circle, the summer months occur earlier than in the northern hemisphere. As a result, the month of May provides one of the best opportunities to visit Patagonia.
What to expect on a trip to Patagonia
When embarking on a trip to Patagonia, what can you expect to experience on your journey? You’ll have a chance to learn from your adventure guides about the history of the Tehuelche tribes that were the original inhabitants of the region thousands and thousands of years ago. Today, many ruins of this ancient civilization are visible in the Patagonia region, and you’ll have a chance to see history up close on off-ship excursions during your adventure.
As adventurers with an appreciation for the natural wonders of the world, the best way to see Patagonia is by taking a voyage that explores the region’s most amazing natural wonders. Between glaciers, mountains, open plains, and grass-covered mosslands, you’ll find many environmental wonders to witness and explore throughout your journey across Patagonia. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the best places to visit on your journey.
The Beagle Channel along the southern edges of the region is a beautiful journey for adventurers. One of the highlights of that journey is Glacier Alley, a glacier-filled wonder defined by snow-capped ridges on the peaks of mountaintops. It paints a perfect cinematic backdrop for photographers.
Glacier Alley, in the Beagle Channel, is home to massive glaciers, which can be observed on a
Quark Expeditions voyage. Photo: Pixabay
You’ll also get a chance to learn more about the early European explorers who arrived in the area—which was inhabited by other cultures long before. Many of your esteemed travel guides are history experts, and they'll share details about weather and topographical conditions that the explorers faced when they first arrived at Glacier Alley. Plus, you’ll learn that many of the glaciers were actually named after the native countries of the first explorers.
Tierra del Fuego
The Strait of Magellan separates the mainland of Patagonia from the island archipelagos situated off the coast of the area. Tierra del Fuego is one of the greatest island experiences in the region, home to glaciers, snow-covered mountains, vast tundra, and wind-bent trees.
The span of the archipelago extends across the boundaries of both Argentina and Chile, extending over 48,000 square kilometers near the southern border of Patagonia. The archipelago contains the most prominent island, Isle Grande, where explorers can visit the town of Ushuaia and its southern resort that makes it so famous. Cape Horn and the Diego Ramirez Islands are also two of the most popular attractions for people who visit the archipelago.
Home to another wildlife preserve, Cape Horn is the location of the large national park of the same name that provides habitat for rare and exotic birds. Many of these species are unique to Patagonia so make sure you have your camera ready as you approach the island’s wildlife sanctuaries.
The historic Cape Horn lighthouse. Photo: AdobeStock
Cape Horn is a very unique location. It functions as the point where three of the world’s largest oceans – Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern – converge. For this reason, Cape Horn became a very important trading post at the height of colonial empires in the early 1900s. You’ll get a chance to learn more about Cape Horn’s history from your travel guides when you explore the island with Quark Expeditions.
Diego Ramirez Islands
Another important part of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago is the Diego Ramirez Island chain. Renowned as the most southern point of South America, the islands border the edges of the Southern Ocean and serve as the final South American destination that separates the Drake Passage of Antarctica from the rest of the continent.
While the remote location of the islands makes them fairly unexplored by most people, bird watchers are attracted to the area. Thousands of nesting seabirds, such as the black-browed albatross and gray-headed albatross, dominate the islands, stopping to build new nests or find their next source of food.
Torres del Paine National Park
For bird-watchers and wildlife lovers, there’s nothing like exploring a national park. In Patagonia, the Torres del Paine National Park is home to families of rare species of animals. The site has been preserved as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since the 1970s, ensuring this destination of natural beauty will endure for generations to come.
Glaciers feed the many lakes and riverways that surround the location of the park. When the sun hits the water at just the right angle, the scenery is very photogenic for travelers who have their cameras ready to capture the moment. Three granite peaks tower above the glaciers that are also popular photographic scenery. You can also embark on full day hiking tours around the park, stopping to appreciate some of the finest lookout spots in all of Patagonia.
Best part of Patagonia to visit
Since Patagonia is teeming with natural wonders and colonies of exotic wildlife, nature itself is one of the best parts of a Patagonian adventurous experience. Having the opportunity to witness all that nature has to provide throughout the region offers the best incentive to plan your next adventure to the southern tip of South America.
In terms of specifics, our Patagonia destination page offers excellent details on some of the things you’ll get to see and experience on your journey. Viewing wildlife such as the exotic black-browed albatross, or the Marta Island sea lions will give you a chance to document these rarely seen animals in their natural habitats. Any photos you can snap of these exotic creatures will serve as fodder for great stories to share with friends and family upon your return home from your adventure.
Additionally, if you enjoy aerial overhead views of natural wonders, you can arrange a helicopter tour of the region from your cruise ship. You’ll be able to witness the true diversity of the Patagonian landscape that ranges from polar mountainous ice caps to the vast plains of desert oases all from one helicopter journey over the land.
Patagonia has an impressive body of wildlife scattered throughout the region. You’ll have a chance to see rarely seen birds, mammals, and other creatures that each live to make their own habitats in distinct corners of the region. There are more details about all of these different species in our descriptive highlights of a Patagonian wildlife tour.
What may surprise you is the number of penguins that can be found throughout Patagonia. Among the most common penguins you’ll have the chance to encounter on your journey include the King, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Magellanic and Rockhopper penguins. You can learn more about each of these species and other fascinating penguins that may pop up across Patagonia in our helpful penguin guide.
Clearly, there is no shortage of birds throughout the region so make sure you have a set of binoculars, as well as your camera. You’ll want to be ready to snap a photo of these animals when the time is just right to do so.
Albatross are among the many species birders can see in Chilean Patagonia. Photo: Quark Expeditions
As previously mentioned, albatross are very common bird species to see throughout Patagonia. The black-browed albatross is especially prevalent in the region. In fact, Patagonia serves as the home to 20 percent of the worldwide black-browed albatross population. Many of these birds are seen flying near the southern coastline of the mainland as well as the island archipelagos nestled off the coast of the main continent.
Different subspecies of petrels also populate much of Patagonia. Examples of petrels with high populations include the blue petrels – over 1,000,000 of which are found throughout Patagonia – as well as the diving petrels. Other examples of wildlife sightings include imperial cormorants, skuas, southern gulls, and even the extremely rare Antarctic pigeons.
To make sure you get the best shots of all of these animals, you want to bring the proper equipment to photograph each animal in its natural habitat. We have a helpful guide on the best equipment to bring for bird watching in Patagonia so that you’re fully prepared to capture the moment whenever an exotic bird appears near your location. You’ll also want to make sure you bring the proper protective gear to ensure your equipment remains functional should weather conditions get a little dicey during your exploration of the area.
Best way to see Patagonia
When planning your adventure into remote destinations like Patagonia, you want to make sure that you have the best experience possible. To do that, it helps to have trained adventure guides who are familiar with the area and can offer their knowledge and wisdom to help you make the most out of your journey into Patagonia.
There is no better seasoned polar travel company than Quark Expeditions, whose team of experienced guides surpasses every standard imaginable for safety and preparedness in polar environments. On top of that, each of our adventure leaders participated in multiple voyages into remote destinations like Patagonia. That means you have travel guides with proven on-the-ground experience navigating through these regions to help you make the most out of your adventure in the wild.
The best way to appreciate all that Patagonia has to offer is through our Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine voyage. This 15-day journey takes you across the Patagonian mainland as well as the island archipelagos situated near the southern coast of the continent. This journey includes stops at some of the greatest sights to see in the area, including the aforementioned Glacier Alley, Tierra del Fuego, Torres del Paine, Cape Horn, and many more exciting destinations.
If you’re someone who appreciates the wonders and adventures that await a voyage to one of the world’s greatest remote destinations, you’ll be blown away by all there is to see on your voyage through the wonders of Patagonia.