Patagonia

A Patagonian inn owner said, “When you go to Mar del Plata, you expect to find sand. And when you come to Patagonia, expect to find the wind—the wind is Patagonia.” Its famous wind is only one memory travelers take away from a journey to this end of the planet. These plains are hemmed between glacier-blanketed Andes and an Atlantic coast laced with coves and islands sculpted by the wind and sea. It is a landscape that fascinated Charles Darwin.

Argentina’s Patagonia stretches from the Río Colorado to the Strait of Magellan. The grasslands are populated by grazing guanaco, trotting
ñandú and occasional herd of sheep. Throughout the year, flamingos paint scattered lagoons.

Few humans live in the hinterlands, preferring instead the coast. This is also the favored spot for penguins, sea lions, elephant seals, and scores of migratory birds. The cold waters are home to whales, dolphins and orcas.

Two major highways cut through the region. Ruta Nacional 3 follows the Atlantic seaboard, from Carmen de Patagones, the region’s oldest settlement, to Río Gallegos near the mouth of the Magellan Strait. Along the way are numerous nature reserves, like Península Valdés, Punta Tombo, Ría Deseada, Monte León and the new Parque Marítimo Costero Patagonia Austral. The highway passes through the Welsh Heartland, Puerto Madryn and Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina’s petroleum industry hub.

Not all the reserves are along the coast. The nation’s oldest national parks are along Ruta Nacional 40 hugging the Andean spine of Argentine Patagonia. Here are the little-visited Parque Nacional Perito Moreno and the famous Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, where trekkers hit the trails at El Chaltén and marvel at Glaciar Perito Moreno near El Calafate. Other major sports are fishing, skiing and snowshoeing.