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Breaking down the puzzle of Patagonia

The Patagonia travel season is just around the corner! If you plan to travel South during our Northern Hemisphere winter season, now is the time to get your trip plans in order if you haven't already done so.  Traveling to Patagonia or even beginning to research this fabled region of jagged peaks, windswept plains and massive glaciers can prove daunting.  Over the next few weeks, we'll be posting about the different regions within Patagonia, from Tierra del Fuego to the Valdes Peninsula to help you figure out what areas should be on the 'must visit' list for your next trip to southern Chile and Argentina. Up first, answers to two of the most frequent questions we receive; where is Patagonia and what is the best time to visit?

Where is Patagonia?
Patagonia is wild, windswept southern region of both Chile and Argentina that spans from the Pacific Ocean, over the Andes and to the Atlantic Ocean. It extends from the very farthest southern region of Tierra del Fuego all the way north to the Colorado River, encompassing the Chilean & Argentine Lakes Districts and the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina and encompasses more than 380,000 square miles.The land is dotted with deep blue lakes, dramatic glaciers and ice fields, steep granite mountains, endless grassy steppes and beautiful coastlines that attract an abundance of marine mammals and birdlife. The name Patagonia comes from the word patagón, used by Magellan in 1520 to describe the native people that his expedition thought to be giants because of the large footprints their animal-skin footwear left in the sand. It is now believed the Patagons were Tehuelches natives with an average height of 180 cm (5′11″), which was indeed giant when  compared to the 155 cm (5′1″) average height for Spaniards of the time. The map below (with poorly illustrated Post-It Notes provided by Program Director Kirsten Gardner) shows the range of Patagonia.  It's pretty much the bottom half of South America.

Of further interest is this map of Patagonia's airports, your main hubs for getting around this big slice o' wild land.  It's a big place and airports are not at plentiful as one would think.  As you may have already concluded, Patagonia takes some time to explore. We suggest a 10 day minimum for the amount of time to allot to just the highlights of Torres del Paine and El Calafate.


When is the best time to travel to Patagonia?
Patagonia has a short season; travel generally occurs October-April with the peak season coinciding with the summer months of December, January and February. Many properties sell-out a year or more in advance for the holiday periods so planning your trip well in advance is suggested. The shoulder months of October and April can be a little cooler, but often are far less crowded and can offer the benefit of reduced pricing.  Kirsten is a particular fan of late March and early April when the beech trees turn vivid red and orange, contrasting nicely with Patagonia's blue and green expanses.

Stay tuned for our next post, when we delve into the popular Southern Patagonia areas of Torres del Paine, El Calafate and El Chalten, all of which explored on our active hiking in Patagonia itinerary.  Happy Trails!

Your friendly Patagonia expert,

Kirsten Gardner - South America Program Director
Part 2: The Puzzle of Patagonia Part II: Donde Ir?

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