You’re probably wondering why I would bother writing a guide on outdoor experiences and landscapes for a destination that is almost nothing but outdoor experiences. That sheer, often overwhelming amount of choices is exactly why I feel the need to narrow the top natural things to do down into a short list — to make it easier to guide your trip. The following guide includes a mix of popular and lesser-known experiences to give you an array of options.
1. Fitz Roy, Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten, Argentina
What’s interesting is that while Perito Moreno is also in Los Glaciares National Park you’ll experience a completely different landscape. In fact, despite doing these two hikes within the same week the Perito Moreno hike felt like winter while the Fitz Roy hike felt like autumn, burnt and fiery foliage everywhere.
There are a number of trails to choose from, so you can essentially make your own experience. Whichever you decide to do, however, you can expect to see lots of colors, truly glistening streams, snow capped peaks and trails shaded by trees. I recommend doing the moderate trek up to Laguna de los Tres (“The Three Lagoons”) to see the bright turquoise waters against a beautiful snow-covered Fitz Roy background.
Valle de Lobos
2. Perito Moreno, Los Glaciares National Park, Santa Cruz, Argentina
Hiking on Perito Moreno — located in Los Glaciares National Park — is one of Patagonia‘s most popular experiences, with numerous tour operators offering the trip. Perito Moreno is enormous, encompassing about 250 square kilometers (97 square miles) with its water coming from the world’s 3rd-largest freshwater reserve, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. With a guide, you’ll strap on grampons and
trek your way over slippery ice, blue snow and crystal beauty.
As an avid hiker myself, I was blown away by how peaceful and just… different the landscape was. This excursion is not only a fun adventure but also a science experience, as while most of Patagonia’s 50 some odd glaciers are retreating Perito Moreno is one of only three that is growing — by about two meters (6.6 feet) per day. The reason why is still being debated.
Hiking up Martial Glacier
3. Martial Glacier, Ushuaia, Argentina
While this may sound similar to hiking on Perito Moreno, it’s completely different. Not only is this a self-guided trek, its challenges lay less in trying not to face plant on ice and more in the extremely steep uphill climbs that are also slippery at times. If you don’t have grampons you probably don’t want to hike ON the glacier, but instead can hike up to its base to enjoy a mix of sea, woodland and ice views, a great photo opp for a contrasting landscape.
Additionally, the hike is more rocky with black earth mixing with white snow and blue ice. When I did the hike I started from my hostel in town, walking through the woods and up to the glacier, which was difficult but fun (you can ask your accommodation for a map). You’re other option is to take a taxi and begin the hike at the base of the glacier. Tip: At the base is an elevated platform where you can enjoy an aerial picnic.
4. Valle de Lobos, Ushuaia, Argentina
A budget-friendly alternative to Tierra del Fuego in Ushuaia is Valle de Lobos. Despite being relatively unknown, the landscape of the attraction is outstanding as you make your way through Bosque Forest, passed the Rio River and over the Puente Bridge, all the while being surrounding by mountains. Trek to Esmeralda Lagoon, which looks metallic with a light-blue, off-white color.
The best time to visit is during Argentina’s fall — which begins at the end of March — when the foliage becomes intense with colors. In terms of price comparison, while Tierra del Fuego costs about $40 USD with transportation and admission from the city center, the same for Valle de Lobos costs about $15 USD and is a much shorter ride.
The “Paines” at Torres del Paine
5. Torres del Paine, Chile
Tim Burton was the first thing that came to mind as I hiked through burnt earth, twisted roots and animal skulls in this otherworldly park. The giant “paines” — or three peaks of the Cerro Paine Mountain Range — loom in the background, reaching 3,050 meters (10, 007 feet) above sea level, as glaciers, valleys and crystalline lakes enhance the beautifully atypical landscape.
If you’re feeling adventurous, fill your pack and take on the W Circuit, a 4-days trek where you’ll overnight at basic lodges (refugios) and take in the three main park highlights: Ascensio Valley, French Valley and Grey Glacier.