Do you want to get the best impression of Patagonia? If that’s the case, on one of these trips you’ll be able to see its impressive attractions, fall under the spell of its beauty and want to go back for more.
Cruise its waters by ferry
Patagonia is the perfect destination for people interested in traveling solo. But if you’re both attracted and terrified by the thought of moving through one of the world’s most remote regions, there’s a solution to give the reassurance and safety you need.
It involves gliding through its fjords and channels on board a ferry.
Whether you're traveling alone or in company of someone on a Navimag ferry, you’ll meet people from all over the world who, like you, opted for the charm that only slow travel offers.
While cruising Patagonia’s waters, you’ll make friends with the people with whom you share your cabin, playing bingo, enjoying a soft drink in the cafe, or gazing at the beautiful snow-covered mountains on deck.
Navimag staff will make sure to give you a warm and professional service and take care of your every comfort.
Take a look at these tips for your trip to Patagonia:
Road Trip in Patagonia
Nearly every trip to Patagonia includes spectacular sights such as Argentina’s Moreno glacier and the granite needles of Chile’s Torres del Paine. However, we're letting you in a little scoop: Patagonia has many lesser-known spots that are equally beautiful and rewarding.
One of them is Aysén Region, a scarcely populated area similar to Alaska’s Panhandle due to its rugged terrain, dense forests and dazzling glaciers, some of which reach the sea.
One of the best ways to get to know Aysén region is to travel by land via the Carretera Austral (Southern Highway), between the city of Puerto Montt on the mainland and the settlement of Villa O'Higgins at the end of the road.
On the road, you’ll pass through Coyhaique, a city set in a picturesque landscape and possibly the most extensive urban settlement in Aysén.
You’ll also see the astounding San Rafael glacier, which requires an entire day’s journey involving a trip on a catamaran, the dense alerce forests (redwood), and the volcanic peaks of Pumalin Park, the latter created by the environmental philanthropist Doug Tompkins.
Other attractions include the Futaleufú River’s world-class rapids, which offer one of the best kayaking experiences in Patagonia, and the charming village of Caleta Tortel with its wooden boardwalks.
It’s worthwhile making a road trip by car, but you need to plan well. You can find car rental companies in Coyhaique and Puerto Montt; the latter city has more options.
You can also carry on to Punta Arenas by taking a few detours into Argentina, but the charges of returning cars to a different location can be high, except at the end of the summer when companies have to take their vehicles back north.
Patagonia’s holy shrines
A short distance from the city of Ushuaia in Argentina, on the route north towards Buenos Aires, there's a large shelter on the side of the road, where bright red flags flow in the wind outside a red concrete block building.
Like many other places in Patagonia, it’s a shrine dedicated to the pagan saint known as Gaucho Antonio Gil (Argentine Cowboy Antonio Gil).
The story goes that in the middle of the 19th Century, Gil was a deserter from the army who played a role similar to Robin Hood; he robbed from the rich to give to the poor in the northern province of Corrientes until he was caught and executed by the police.
Up until today, he’s still a saint for the dispossessed in Argentina. Devotion increased dramatically after the country’s 2001 economic crisis when many Argentines lost their savings.
The largest sanctuary dedicated to Gaucho Gil is close to the city of Mercedes, in the north, but the road shrines, with quasi-religious imagery likening him to Jesus, vary from makeshift memorials that resemble a post box to chapels of considerable size.
Almost next to the Guacho shrine, there’s another makeshift pilgrimage spot dedicated to Difunta Correa, a pagan saint from Argentina’s arid northwest.
According to legend, at the beginning of the 19th Century, a young woman called Deolinda Correa followed her conscripted husband through the desert, eventually dying of thirst, but her infant baby survived. This was considered a miracle by local horsemen who found her.
Every Easter more than 100,000 pilgrims visit the site where Difunta Correa is supposed to have died in San Juan province. The imagery in her sanctuaries always shows a prostrate body with a baby at her breast.
The official Catholic Church does not recognize the Gaucho or the Difunta, but millions of faithful do. Devotion even crosses the border into Chile where, on the outskirts of the city of Puerto Natales, pilgrims leave hundreds of bottles filled with water to satisfy Difunta’s thirst.
Patagonia’s Food Trucks
Chile’s Carretera Austral crosses a region as wild as the southern part of Alaska and Canada’s Yukon.
So it’s important to consider the scarcity of essential services; there’s only one city, Coyhaique, and some scattered tourist centers.
But this is changing. There are increasingly more food trucks, such as Kawescar, just one block from Coyhaique’s main square, the Plaza de Armas, but also in more remote places such as Villa Cerro Castillo, where La Cocina de Sole (Sole’s Kitchen) has two parked buses.
With affordable prices, these food trucks receive many passing motorists and cyclists (or people staying in the village).
Further north, there are more food trucks with a greater variety on offer. The tourist city of Puerto Varas, close to the Puerto Montt ferry port, is Chile’s capital so far as food trucks go. Lined along the shore of Lake Llanquihue, they offer Chilean, French, German and even Mexican food and a good change of rhythm.
Patagonia’s Marble Caves
In the village of Puerto Río Tranquilo, about 220 km south of Coyhaique, along a mainly paved road, a collection of truck trailers, tents and containers advertise tours to the Marble Chapel, a series of marble grottos at the western end of General Carrera Lake.
It’s a huge lake which covers almost 2,000 square kilometers in Chile and Argentina (where it’s known as Buenos Aires Lake). Even so, boat excursions to the caves only take a couple of hours – wind permitting. Trips are made on a first-come, first served basis.
Boats from Río Tranquilo take about half a dozen passengers to the grottos, which have been gradually exposed to view by waves over thousands of years. The marble is physically resistant but chemically weak, which accounts for the polished surfaces.
Some grottos are little islands, but the majority of them hug the coastline where, in calm weather, boats can go in. In some cases, passengers can even get off the ship and explore the caves, although walking for short distances on the slippery marble has its risks.
It’s best to go to the Marble Chapel at the end of summer or the beginning of autumn when lake levels are at a minimum and boats can get closer more easily and go further into the cave.
A trip like this deserves a good rest afterward. Even though Puerto Río Tranquilo is only a hamlet with 500 residents, there’s a new bar-restaurant, Cervercería Río Tranquilo, where you can enjoy food and beer. There are also accommodation options, starting with Refugio El Puesto.
These are some trips you can do in Patagonia. We invite you to choose what best suits your budget and the purpose of your journey.
It’s equally important that you prepare your itinerary and make sure to see the places that you most like. Start planning this adventure now!