Patagonia offers an astonishing diversity of natural environments for travelers to explore on a 2-week vacation. The coastline abounds in wildlife, including elephant seals, penguins, and sea lions, but the great distances require time and money to see it. Public transportation is fine along the main highway but poor off it. The same is true of the Patagonian steppes, home to the llama-like guanaco and the ostrich-like rhea, and the southern Andean forests beyond the main tourist clusters.
Northern Argentine Patagonia boasts major paleontological sites in and around the city of Neuquén, and in and around the city of Trelew, near Puerto Madryn, as well as the wildlife mecca of Península Valdés. Along much of the Andes, particularly on the Chilean side, volcanism is an active presence.
After an early-morning arrival in Santiago, start sightseeing. Plan on a seafood lunch at the picturesque Mercado Central and a visit to the information offices of Conaf, the country’s main national parks and conservation agency. Alternatively, in lieu of a hotel, ride a comfortable sleeper bus to Temuco, gateway to the upper Biobío’s araucaria forests.
From Temuco, reached by sleeper bus (roughly nine hours) or a two-hour flight from Santiago, rent a car to explore the streams, gallery forests, and araucaria woodlands of Parque Nacional Tolhuaca and the upper Biobío, with accommodations at Curacautín or Malalcahuello. Bring binoculars for bird-watching.
Plan a full-day hiking excursion to araucaria forests above Malalcahuello, on the slopes of Volcán Lonquimay, with a post-hike soak at the nearby hot springs.
Take a leisurely drive in the upper Biobío through Lonquimay and forested, thinly populated land of the Pehuenche people, entering Parque Nacional Conguillío via the southern Melipeuco approach. It’s about 150 kilometers, but plan on a full day with sightseeing and photographic stops. After an orientation visit to the visitors center, camp or find cabaña accommodations nearby.
On the following day, try any of several hikes among Conguillío’s lava fields and araucaria forests.
Make a morning departure for Lago Villarrica (100 kilometers), with accommodations in Villarrica or Pucón (20 kilometers farther). The drive is only a couple of hours, leaving most of the day free. Plan an excursion to the Termas Geométricas hot springs or an afternoon rafting on the Río Trancura.
The next morning, tackle a strenuous full-day climb to the crater of Volcán Villarrica, one of the continent’s most active volcanoes. Alternatively, spend a full day hiking to the Andean lakes of nearby Parque Nacional Huerquehue where, with luck, Andean condors glide overhead.
Return to Temuco and bus to Puerto Varas (5 hours), spending a leisurely afternoon on the shores of Lago Llanquihue, in the shadow of Volcán Osorno’s perfect snowcapped cone—Chile’s counterpart to Mount Fuji. Alternatively, take a shuttle to the ski area, where, even in summer, the lifts carry hikers close to the snow line for panoramic views.
Hope for fine weather on the classic, full-day bus-boat shuttle to Bariloche, Argentina, via Lago Todos los Santos. Stay in or near Bariloche.
The next morning, tour Bariloche and its Museo de la Patagonia Francisco P. Moreno, which emphasizes natural history and conservation. In the afternoon, plan an excursion on Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi’s Circuito Chico, a loop that includes a stiff trail hike to Cerro López for panoramic views of the Andes and Lago Nahuel Huapi. Alternatively, boat to the lake’s Isla Victoria, formerly home to the park system’s ranger school.
From Bariloche, a smooth paved highway rounds Nahuel Huapi’s eastern shore and then turns northwest to Villa La Angostura (1 hour’s drive). A long but not taxing day hike leads to the myrtle forest of Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes and back. Those with less stamina can take a boat one-way or round-trip. Return to Bariloche for a comfortable overnight sleeper bus to Puerto Madryn (14 hours).
Start the day with a visit to the Ecocentro Puerto Madryn, an environmental museum. In the afternoon, take time for in-town beach activities such as diving or windsurfing.
The following morning, depart early by tour bus or rental car for Península Valdés (about 1 hour away). Depending on the season, there will be elephant seals, penguins, orcas, or right whales. Many other species—rheas, guanacos, and sea lions, for instance—are present year-round.
Catch a morning flight to Buenos Aires, with the afternoon free for and lunch and sightseeing. Plan an evening departure flight for home.
Related Travel Guide
Pin For Later