Coastal treasures, ancient forests, dazzling glaciers and incredible wildlife – Patagonia has captured your imagination, but where do you start? We have cherrypicked a few Patagonian delights from the latest Lonely Planet Argentina guidebook to get you started:
1. Whale-watch in Puerto Madryn
Patagonia offers some of the world's best whale-watching and Puerto Madryn is the place to glimpse them. The warm, enclosed waters along the Golfo Nuevo, Golfo San José and the coastline near Caleta Valdés are prime breeding zones for southern right whales between June and mid-December. A standard whale-watching trip lasts an hour and a half, but longer excursions are available too.
2. Outdoor adventures in El Chaltén
El Chaltén's surrounding mountains are prime hiking, rock climbing and horseback riding territory so if you are into outdoor adventure, this is the spot for you. Think mountain traverses, mountain ascents and rock-climbing classes. You can go horse-riding to the pretty valley of Río de las Vueltas or take a more challenging ride up the Vizcacha hill followed by a barbecue on a traditional ranch. There are also ice-climbing courses and ice treks available.
3. Dinosaur discovery at the Palaeontology Museum
Showcasing the most important fossil finds in Patagonia, this natural-history museum offers outstanding life-sized dinosaur exhibits and more than 1,700 fossil remains of plant and marine life. The three-hour guided visits are a walk through time, along a well-designed nature trail past a wealth of exposed fossils dating as far back as the Tertiary, some 40 million years ago. Speaking of dinosaurs...
4. Walk with the pre-historic
The Dinosaur route in northwest Patagonia is a wonderful adventure. The skeletons of the biggest dinosaurs ever to have walked the planet are, palaeontologists insist, buried in this region's red-rock badlands; and discoveries to date in the area have forced scientists to rethink established theories.
5. Penguin-watch at Punta Tombo
Punta Tombo has a colony of more than half a million Magellanic penguins and attracts many other birds, most notably king and rock cormorants, giant petrels and black oystercatchers. Most nesting areas in the 200-hectare reserve are fenced off: respect the limits and remember that penguins can inflict serious bites. Trelew-based travel agencies run day-long tours but may cancel if bad weather makes the unpaved roads impassable.
6. Explore Cueva de las Manos
The incredible rock art of Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) was proclaimed a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999. Dating from about 7,370 BC, these polychrome rock paintings cover recesses in the near-vertical walls with imprints of human hands, drawings of guanacos and, from a later period, abstract designs. Free guided walks are given every hour by knowledgeable staff. There is an information centre and a basic confitería, but it is best to bring your own food.
7. Stay at a ranch
Estancia Telken offers a welcoming stay in the pretty countryside of Los Antiguos. This 1915 working sheep and horse ranch 25km south of Perito Moreno has about 210 square kilometers of horseback riding and hiking possibilities, including a worthwhile meander along a creek bed up to the basalt plateau Meseta de Lago Buenos Aires.
8. Escape from it all in Camarones
Camarones takes home the gold for Patagonia's sleepiest coastal village. Empty beaches are perfect for strolling and the sociable townsfolk are masters of the art of shooting the breeze. It is also the closest hub to the lesser-known Cabo Dos Bahías nature reserve, where you can visit 25,000 penguin couples and their fuzzy chicks. The very helpful oceanfront tourist office offers maps, good tips on scenic outings and lodging information.
9. Watch glaciers at Parque National los Glaciares
Glaciar Perito Moreno is the stunning centrepiece of the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Locally referred to as Glaciar Moreno, it measures 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high, but what makes it exceptional in the world of ice is its constant advance - it creeps forward up to 2m per day, causing building-sized icebergs to calve from its face. In some ways, watching the glacier is a very sedentary park experience, but it manages to nonetheless be thrilling. The main gateway town to the park's southern sector, El Calafate is 80km east of the glacier by road. This is where you will find all the operators for tours and activities too.
10. Dive into watersports
With interesting shipwrecks and sea life nearby, Madryn and the Península Valdés have become Argentina's diving capitals. Lobo Larsen and Scuba Duba are both quality PADI-affiliated operators and the former offers a special excursion for first-time divers. More into windsurfing or kayaking? In high season a hut next to Vernardino Club de Mar offers lessons and rents out regular and wide boards and kayaks by the hour. South of Muelle Piedrabuena, Playa Tomás Curti is a popular windsurfing spot.
The article 'Top 10 things to do in Patagonia' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.