Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (2023)

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (1)

The Valdivian temperate rainforest in southern Chile is home to this peculiar predator: the kodkod. Now threatened with extinction, the wild cat is so elusive, some call it the ghost of the forest.

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Fjords and mountains in Chile's Corcovado Gulf.

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The monito del monte, seen here at Chile's Bosque San Martín Experimental Station, is a tiny marsupial, raising its young in pouches like koalas and kangaroos. It's the only creature in South America to hibernate, and when it enters this state, it breathes once every 3 minutes. Its amazing ability to survive the winter could help scientists better understand the metabolism of humans.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (4)

This pod of orcas off the coast of Estancia el Pedral in Argentina targets unsuspecting seals and sea lion pups. The orcas have developed a remarkable technique. They beach themselves, snap up their meal and then expertly maneuver back into the sea. They are one of only two orca families in the world to catch prey in this way.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (5)

In Patagonia, marine otters known as chungungo live along the rocky coastline. Until a few decades ago, the chungungo were seen as pests and almost hunted to extinction. Their fur was a valuable prize. However, their numbers are recovering as the local fishing community has a change of heart.

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Found only along Chile's Corcovado Gulf, the Chilean dolphin is one of the smallest species in the world. Little is known about these dolphins, but their distinctive round fins and white bellies make them easy to recognize.

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Pumas are protected across Patagonia's national parks, such as Torres del Paine in Chile, but in the past, ranchers have hunted the animals to protect their sheep and cattle from predators.

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The ice dragon is one of only a few creatures that can withstand living inside a glacier. Its blood contains a natural antifreeze. The insect eats tiny algae that live in the ice and even other ice dragons in hard times. Its habitat is melting away.

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The huemul is an incredibly rare South Andean deer. An estimated fewer than 1,500 remain -- just 1% of their former population -- making them one of the rarest mammals on the planet. Conservationists in Chile's Parque Nacional Patagonia follow their movements using radio-tracking collars.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (10)

Scientist Verena Häussermann has discovered cold-water corals living in a remote fjord in Chile's Corcovado Gulf. It's one of the only places on Earth where these corals can be found in shallow waters. Unlike tropical corals that need sunlight, these depend solely on plankton for survival. The conditions in these waters are naturally acidic and may help scientists figure out how to protect marine life in other parts of the rapidly changing world.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (11)

Two hooded grebes perform a mating dance in Bajo Caracoles, Argentina. The birds come to breed on lakes on a volcanic plateau 5,000 feet above sea level in the Andes. Found nowhere else on Earth, they're one of South America's rare species -- there's only 750 grebes left in the world.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (12)

Edelmiro Pellao harvests seeds from the top of an Araucaria, or a monkey puzzle tree, in Comunidad Mapuche Ruca Choroi in Argentina. The trees grow up to 160 feet (48.8 meters) high. Giant survivors from the Jurassic era more than 145 million years ago, they have outlasted the dinosaurs. Humans -- and parrots -- collect the plant's seeds.

Patagonia's most elusive animals

Editor’s Note: The new docuseries “Patagonia: Life on the Edge of the World” explores one of the wildest places on Earth. The series airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.


For travelers itching to go on an adventure, to reconnect with nature or to feel like they are the only humans for miles and miles, Patagonia is one of the last untouched places on Earth.

This remote region covers hundreds of thousands of square miles of southern Argentina and Chile, stretching across ancient forests, vast glaciers, deep fjords and the jagged Andes mountains.

Patagonia is home to diverse wildlife including pumas, penguins and parrots. There is kayaking, trekking, biking, climbing, rafting and snorkeling – even alongside sea lion pups.

“This is a place for people who like an adventure. You can feel the wind and feel the sea,” said Kevin Zaouali, one of the directors of the new CNN Original Series “Patagonia: Life on the Edge of the World.” “In Patagonia, you feel alone in this huge world of wildlife.”

Here are some of the must-see places at the end of the world:

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (13)

Torres del Paine National Park is a paradise for nature lovers, hikers and climbers.

(Video) Patagonia Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park is a crown jewel of Chile’s park system. It has miles-long glaciers, turquoise-blue lakes, granite peaks towering up to more than 9,400 feet, stunning waterfalls and rare wildlife.

“There are very few places in the world that are so pristine, so unspoiled,” said Camilo Rada, a scientist and mountaineer from Chile.

This park is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world, where wildlife must be resilient to survive its punishing and unpredictable extremes. There are condors, wild horses, rheas, guanacos and pumas.

“This is one of the best places in the world to see these pumas. Everywhere else they are afraid of people, but not here. They don’t have any predators – there are no wolves or bears, so they are pretty chilled,” René Araneda, former guide and director of “Patagonia: Life on the Edge of the World,” told CNN. “Torres del Paine National Park is probably my favorite place in the world.”

It’s estimated that the park and surrounding area is home to hundreds of pumas.

The park is also home to some of the region’s best trekking, including the W Trek (50 miles) and O Circuit (68 miles). Summer is the ideal time for hiking, which is November to March in the Southern Hemisphere.

For accommodations, two great options are the world’s first geodesic dome hotel, called EcoCamp Patagonia, and the upscale Explora lodge.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (14)

Magellanic penguins stand on the beach at sunset at El Pedral, Argentina.

Península Valdés and El Pedral, Argentina

More than 700 miles northeast of Torres del Paine on the Argentinean coastline, Península Valdés is another wildlife lover’s paradise. At the UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors can see orcas, southern right whales, elephant seals, sea lions, Magellanic penguins and countless birds.

Zaouali recommends taking a boat ride to see the southern right whales up close. These slow, peaceful giants got their name because they were once known as the “right ones” to hunt.

The orcas, on the other hand, can be seen from the beaches of Península Valdés.

“It’s the best place in the world to see orcas,” Zaouali said. “If you go, you’ll be in real contact with the wildlife.”

Punta Norte, on the northern tip of the peninsula, is one of the only places in the world where orcas come ashore to hunt unsuspecting seals and sea lion pups. Only two orca pods know this ingenious hunting trick.

First, they swim sideways to hide their dorsal fins, then beach themselves to snap up their meal and finally maneuver back into the sea. This happens in March and April, and the risky feat is stunning to see.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (15)

Watch the ingenious and dangerous way orcas hunt animals on land

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In El Pedral, about 30 miles south, there is a growing penguin colony.

“If you are there, you’re alone in a huge penguin colony. It’s the best place to stay if you want to experience Patagonia on a different level,” Zaouali told CNN, calling the spot magical.

There are over 12,000 Magellanic penguins, conservationist Popi García said in CNN’s “Patagonia” series.


“One of the favorite penguins in this colony is called Clarita,” García said, “We know that she’s about 16 years old. She was able to raise 14 chicks.”

September to April is the best time to see the penguins when these migratory waddlers come to breed.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (16)

View of the Perito Moreno Glacier at Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina.

Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Located in the southwest of Santa Cruz province in the Argentine Andes, Los Glaciares National Park is defined by its numerous glaciers.

The most famous is the Perito Moreno Glacier – extending 19 miles in length, three miles in width and 560 in depth, according to the Global Alliance of National Parks.

Zaouali compared the icy wonder to “The Wall” in “Game of Thrones.”

“It’s a huge spectacle to see,” said Zaouali. He recommends visiting in the spring and summer, when it’s melting, to see and hear the huge chunks of the wall breaking off in front of your eyes.

Standing at over 11,000 feet, Mount Fitz Roy is the highest peak in the park. For jaw-dropping views of the mountain, hikers walk the steep 13-mile Fitz Roy trek.

Horseback riding, kayaking, biking and climbing also offer panoramic views of the awe-inspiring park.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (17)

See the last refuge for burrowing parrots

01:46 - Source: CNN

Balneario El Cóndor, Argentina

The northern Argentinian village of Balneario El Cóndor is home to the world’s largest parrot colony, according to the Association of Avian Veterinarians.

After wintering up north, pairs of burrowing parrots return to the same nest every spring. Some of their nests stretch back ten feet into the cliffs. There are 37,000 active nests, conservationist Mauricio Failla said in the “Patagonia” series.

These green, yellow and blue birds are very social and vocal, which is why Failla loves studying them.

Other local attractions on the coast of the Río Negro province include the sandy beaches and the Faro Río Negro lighthouse.

There is kite surfing, windsurfing and sand yachting, which is a wheeled vehicle with a sail that’s powered across the sand by the wind.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (18)

The colorful houses on the water, known as palafitos, in the town of Castro on Island of Chiloé, Chile.

Chiloé Island, Chile

Chile’s Chiloé Island offers some of the best whale sightings in the region. The beautiful surrounding fjords are a magnet for wildlife, including sea lions, dolphins and the largest animal that has ever lived: blue whales.

(Video) How to Plan a Trip to Patagonia | PATAGONIA TRAVEL GUIDE

Summer is the best time to see the endangered blue whales; it’s when they gather along the Pacific Coast to feast on krill. The nearly 200-ton whales will eat four tons of krill a day.

“Seeing a blue whale never gets boring. It’s always a thrill,” oceanographer Susannah Buchan told CNN. “It’s always amazing and emotional and a complete privilege.”

There are 700 migrating whales that come to this region every year from January to April.

Buchan recommends whale watchers visit in February. But she warns it’s a vast and dynamic feeding ground, so sightings are not guaranteed. Sometimes she won’t see whales for a couple of weeks.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (19)

Two blue whales swimming in the Corcovado Gulf in Chile.

A trip to Chiloé Island is not complete without soaking up the culture. There is a large indigenous community, rooted in deep traditions. Fishing and tourism are top industries for locals.

The island is famous for its picturesque palafitos, wooden houses on stilts above the water. There are even stilted hotels and restaurants that tourists can visit.

The area is also known for its delicious seafood. One of the traditional Chilean dishes is curanto, a feast of meat and seafood that’s cooked in a pit in the ground and covered by a large leaf. It’s one big communal pot of clams, mussels, sausage, potatoes, chicken and pork.

Buchan advises passing on Chilean salmon, which is not native to the region. There are no natural salmon in the Southern Hemisphere, so the local salmon is farmed. Overcrowding in the pens has led to disease among the salmon, she said, and big-scale escapes, damaging native fish communities and devastating the marine ecosystem.

Back on the mainland east of the island lies Pumalín Park, Chile’s largest private nature reserve. The park once belonged to North Face founder Douglas Tompkins but was donated to the country of Chile. This park is free to visit. This lush and temperate rainforest with crystal clear rivers is a stunning area for outdoor enthusiasts.

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (20)

"You are escaping from civilianization," Araneda said of the adventurous Carretera Austral drive.

Carretera Austral, Chile

If you’re looking for a road trip through especially off-the-beaten-path parts of Patagonia, the Carretera Austral route takes drivers more than 700 scenic miles from Puerto Montt in the Lakes District south to Villa O’Higgins in the Aysén region.

The road, at times unpaved and requiring ferries, passes through small remote villages and enormously diverse landscapes on what many consider Patagonia’s finest road trip.

One of “Patagonia: Life on the Edge of the World” director Araneda’s favorite places in Patagonia is at the route’s southern end – the Aysén region. This forested area – encompassing several iconic parks including Pumalín Park and Laguna San Rafael National Park – is considered a biodiversity hotspot and new species are still being discovered here.

“This is one of the most unexplored places in the world,” Araneda said. “It looks like a jungle, like Costa Rica, but in a cold environment with the ocean and mountains.”

Must-see places in Patagonia | CNN (21)

Puma tracker at Estancia Cerro Guido in Chile.

Estancias throughout Patagonia

For a unique experience, ranches called estancia offer traditional lodging throughout Patagonia.

Visitors can embrace the solitude of life as a gaucho, a native horseman that personifies the frontier spirit.

For horseback riding and fly fishing, the 100,000-acre Estancia Ranquilco in northwest Patagonia offers lodge stays and backcountry horse treks.

Another option is Tipiliuke, located in Argentina’s Chimehuín river valley in northwest Patagonia. There’s fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking, yoga, golfing, mountain biking, rafting, bird watching and even skiing at the nearby Chapelco ski area. The estancia’s chef is known for her empanadas.

Estancias offer the perfect opportunity to try authentic cuisine. One of the main staples is Argentinian barbecue known as asado.

In southern Chile, Estancia Cerro Guido stretches across 247,000 acres. Guests can experience the daily life of gauchos – spending time in the orchards and horse stables – and be immersed in local conservation work. The activities include driving 4x4, riding horses around Torres del Paine and joining puma trackers as they monitor this top predators’ daily movements and research how the big cats can coexistence with the ranches.

(Video) This is PATAGONIA and Why You Need To Go | Torres del Paine National Park

“The puma and the gaucho have always been enemies,” gaucho and puma tracker Mirko Utrovicic said in the series. “I think the most important thing is to realize that times change. Look at what surrounds us. We have to give them their space back.”


Which is better Chilean or Argentinian Patagonia? ›

Best for size. If it comes down to size, the Argentine Patagonia is a winner. It's larger than Chilean Patagonia, meaning there are more places to visit and more things to see and do. However, while Chilean Patagonia may be smaller, that also means it's easier to see and do all the best things in that region.

What is Patagonia famous for? ›

But the main reason why Patagonia is famous around the world is because of its landscapes, vast forest, natural reserves, national parks, glaciers and native wildlife. Patagonia is called a region that combines many provinces and all of them have different attractions.

How many days do you need in Patagonia? ›

For most people, spending 7 to 10 days should be enough to thoroughly enjoy the region. To be clear, you won't nearly be able to experience everything Patagonia has to offer in the 7 to 10 days. Additionally, different seasons will have very different experiences to offer.

Where can I see penguins in Patagonia? ›

Punta Tombo is the place to go if you want to see more penguins than you can possibly imagine! That is because Punta Tombo is a reserve that holds its claim to fame as one of the largest Magellanic penguin colonies in the world. Each year hundreds and hundreds of penguins are born here.

Can you go to Patagonia without a guide? ›

Can you hike Patagonia without a guide? The simple answer is yes, you can hike Patagonia without a guide, and there are certainly some perks. If you're looking to move at your own pace – stopping to admire views, take photos and be in the moment – then self-guided trekking will award you this privilege.

What is the best month to visit Patagonia? ›

The best time to visit Patagonia is in the austral Spring and Summer, between September and March. Days are longer and warmer and there's less rainfall than other times of the year. However, the few who are lucky enough to visit in winter are tend to experience less wind and more blue sky days.

What airport do you fly into for Patagonia? ›

You can fly straight to Patagonia's main airport, Punta Arenas Airport (PUQ), but you may experience long layovers in other cities or countries. Flights are most likely to stop in Chile at the Santiago International Airport (SCL). Consider booking a flight to Patagonia's El Calafate International Airport (FTE) first.

Is there a train from Buenos Aires to Patagonia? ›

Ride the "Old Patagonia Express" narrow-gauge railways aboard the La Trochita train through two of the most beautiful national parks in Patagonia.... The Argentina and Chile Patagonia Railway Tour takes you mainly by railway, from Buenos Aires, along the fierce Atlantic coast to the animal paradise...


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