The very mention of Patagonia conjures images of wild desolation. Beautiful yet barren windswept landscapes where the sheep outnumber the people and the weather can be anything at anytime, but is never dull. So what it is that draws people to visit this southern extremity of the American continent, divided between Argentina and Chile but ruled firmly by the forces of nature?

Here are just a few ideas for things to see and do on a trip to Patagonia:

The natural beauty of Ushuaia

1. Ushuaia. This is the southernmost town in the world, and the departure point for the seasonal Antarctic cruise ships. It’s worth a visit away from the cruise season in the spring and autumn too. Boat trips along the Beagle Channel provide spectacular views as well as decent wildlife spotting, while inland there are exciting opportunities to explore the wilderness of Tierra del Fuego by jeep and kayak (always involving an ‘asado’ along way). There is also a chance to ride the tourist train that boasts the claim of the most southern railway in the world. While the train ride is unremarkable the views in the park at the end of the line make the excursion worthwhile. We travelled in April when the autumn colours were breathtaking.

2. Torres del Paine. These remarkable granite rocks in southern Chile are found in one of the world’s most dramatic national parks. It is a hiker’s paradise, while a decent road network also allows for day trips to see floating blue glaciers on the lakes and a host of wildlife depending on the season. If your main purpose of visiting Torres del Paine is to see the iconic towers, be aware that they are often shrouded in mist. We stood below them and saw nothing, and were finally afforded a perfectly clear view from our bus on our way out of the park.

Torres del Paine National Park

We stayed in Puerto Natales on our way out of the park and found an unexpected highlight in a town with little to make you want to stay. Seek out Patagonia Dulce, probably the southernmost place that provides a table full of chocolate treats on a cold April evening!

3. Perito Moreno Glacier. The poster picture for this region, and often for Argentina itself, the sheer scale of the glacier will astound. It’s over 2km wide, 1km thick and is constantly on the move. By standing at the viewing platform you can listen as the ice periodically cracks and a chunk falls into the sea. The scenery is so vast here that it’s easy to wonder why you don’t hear that lump of glacier hit the water in front of you for a few seconds; until you realise it’s a mile away or more! The boat ride to the foot of the glacier is worth doing for the extra close photo opportunities.

Perito Moreno Glacier

4. Peninsula Valdes. Another area of outstanding beauty, this is one of the parts of Patagonia that we were sorry to miss. Not only does the coastal area provide a chance to see penguins, seals and whales, but this area is also home of the largest centre of the Welsh culture outside of Wales itself. The language, dress and religious practices of the 19th Welsh migrants have been faithfully preserved and now provide a fascinating insight into how a hardy band of impoverished Welsh farmers created a new life in this tough landscape. Puerto Madryn and Trelew are two of the main Welsh towns in the region.

by Andy Jarosz