These are the unmissable places in Patagonia


(CNN) — For travelers eager to go on an adventure, reconnect with nature, or feel like they’re the only humans for miles and miles, Patagonia is one of the last unspoiled places on Earth.

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

Patagonia is home to a diverse fauna that includes pumas, penguins, and parrots. There is kayaking, trekking, cycling, climbing, rafting and snorkeling, even with sea lion pups.

“This is a place for people who like adventure. You can feel the wind and you can 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.”

These are some of the unmissable places of the end of the world:

Torres del Paine National Park is a paradise for nature lovers, hikers and climbers. Credit: ANA FERNANDEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park is the crown jewel of Chile’s park system. It has miles-long glaciers, turquoise blue lakes, granite peaks rising to over 9,000 feet, impressive waterfalls, and rare wildlife.

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

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

“This is one of the best places in the world to see these cougars. Everywhere else they are afraid of people, but not here. They have no predators, no wolves or bears, so they are quite cold,” says René Araneda, former guide and series director “Torres del Paine National Park is probably my favorite place in the world.”

It is estimated that the park and its surroundings are home to hundreds of cougars.

The park is also home to some of the best hiking in the region, including W Trek (80.4 km) and O Circuit (109.4 km). Summer is the ideal time for hiking, which is from November to March in the southern hemisphere.

For accommodation, two excellent options are the first geodesic dome hotel in the world, called EcoCamp Patagoniaand the exclusive Explore Lodge.

Magellanic penguins stand on the beach at sunset in El Pedral, Argentina. (Kevin Zaouali)

Peninsula Valdes and El Pedral, Argentina

More than 1,126 kilometers northeast of Torres del Paine on the Argentine coast, Península Valdés is another paradise for wildlife lovers. On the site of UNESCO World HeritageVisitors can see killer whales, 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.

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

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

Punta Norte, at the northern tip of the peninsula, is one of the only places in the world where killer whales come ashore to hunt seals and sea lion pups. Only two pods of killer whales know this clever hunting trick.

First, they swim sideways to hide their dorsal fins, then they go to the beach to take their food, and finally they maneuver back to the sea. This happens in March and April, and the risky feat is impressive to see.

Watch the forest fires in Argentine Patagonia 1:56

At El Pedral, about 30 miles to the south, there is a growing colony of penguins.

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

There are more than 12,000 Magellanic penguins, conservationist Popi Garcia said on CNN’s “Patagonia” series.

“One of the favorite penguins in this colony is called Clarita,” Garcia said, “we know that she is about 16 years old. She was able to raise 14 youngsters.”

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

View of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/AFP via Getty Images)

Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

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

The most famous is the Perito Moreno Glacier, which stretches 30.5 km long, 4.8 km wide and 170 meters deep, according to the Global Alliance of National Parks.

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

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

With a height of more than 3,352 meters, Mount Fitz Roy is the highest peak in the park. For jaw-dropping mountain views, hikers take the steep 13-mile Fitz Roy Hike.

Horseback riding, kayaking, biking, and rock climbing also offer panoramic views of the stunning park.

The Andean condor struggles to survive with the help of volunteers 3:51

El Condor Spa, Argentina

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

After wintering in the north, pairs of Burrowing Parrots return to the same nest each spring. Some of their nests extend three meters into the cliffs. There are 37,000 active nests, said conservationist Mauricio Failla in the series “Patagonia.”

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

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

There is kitesurfing, windsurfing and sailing, which is a wheeled vehicle with a sail that the wind drives across the sand.

The colorful houses on the water, known as palafitos, in the town of Castro on Chiloé Island, Chile. (Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Chiloe Island, Chile

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

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

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

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

Buchan recommends a visit for whale watchers in February. But he cautions that it’s a vast and dynamic feeding ground, so sightings aren’t guaranteed. Sometimes you won’t see any whales for a couple of weeks.

Two blue whales swimming in the Gulf of Corcovado in Chile. (pond5)

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

The island is famous for its picturesque stilt houses, wooden houses on stilts over the water. There are even 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 meat and seafood feast that is cooked in a hole in the ground and covered with a large leaf. It’s a big communal pot of clams, mussels, sausage, potatoes, chicken, and pork.

Buchan advises leaving out the Chilean salmon, which is not native to the region. There is no natural salmon in the southern hemisphere, so the local salmon is farmed. Overcrowding in pens has led to salmon disease, he said, and large-scale escapes, harming native fish communities and devastating the marine ecosystem.

Back on the mainland to the east of the island is Parque Pumalín, 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, temperate rainforest with crystal clear rivers is a stunning area for outdoor enthusiasts.

“You’re escaping civilization,” Araneda said of the adventurous journey down the Carretera Austral. (Joël Arpaillange/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)

Southern Highway, Chile

If you are looking for a road trip through particularly remote parts of Patagonia, the Carretera Austral route takes drivers over 1,126 scenic km from Puerto Montt in the Lake District in the south to Villa O’Higgins in the Aysen region.

The road, sometimes unpaved and requiring ferries, winds through small remote towns and hugely diverse landscapes on what many consider to be Patagonia’s best road trip.

One of director Araneda’s favorite places in Patagonia is at the southern end of the route: the Aysén region. Encompassing several iconic parks including Pumalín Park and Laguna San Rafael National Park, this forested area is considered a biodiversity hotspot and new species are still being discovered here.

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

A Puma tracker at Estancia Cerro Guido in Chile. (Ben Gortzen)

Stays throughout Patagonia

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

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

For horseback riding and fly fishing, the Ranch Ranquilco of 100,000 acres in northwestern Patagonia offers lodge stays and horseback riding through the countryside.

Another option is Tipiliuke, located in the valley of the Chimehuín River in Argentina, in northwestern Patagonia. There is fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking, yoga, golf, mountain biking, rafting, bird watching, and even skiing at nearby Chapelco Ski Resort. The ranch’s chef is known for her empanadas.

The rooms offer the perfect opportunity to try authentic cuisine. One of the main staples is the Argentine barbecue known as asado.

In southern Chile, the Estancia Cerro Guido it is spread over 247,000 acres. Guests can experience the daily life of the gauchos, spend time in the orchards and horse stables, and immerse themselves in local conservation work. Activities include 4×4 driving, horseback riding around Torres del Paine, and joining puma trackers as they monitor the daily movements of these large predators and investigate how big cats can co-exist with ranches.

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



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