Is Patagonia Better in Chile or Argentina?

Patagonia is one of the true last frontiers of our planet: an epic, barren and beautiful wilderness region at the southern tip of South America. But which region is better?

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Published: 25th March 2018

The whole Patagonia region, particularly in the far south, is difficult to access, sparsely populated and covers a vast area of the continent and it is this isolation that entices travellers to visit and explore these beautiful landscapes and experience a spirit of adventure and discovery like explorers of times gone by.

The Patagonia region is also home to some of the key travel highlights within South America such as Torres del Paine, Mount Fitz Roy, Perito Moreno Glacier, Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn and the hidden fjords, glaciers and channels once explored by Sir Charles Darwin himself on the famous Voyage of the Beagle.

But which region of Patagonia is better?

Chile or Argentina?

Although we'd all like to have millions in the bank and endless time to explore the whole world and visit every inch of Patagonia in the process the reality is that most visitors will experience Patagonia within a trip to South America of no longer than a few weeks, so there is often a choice of which region to visit, which raises the inevitable questions: which region should I visit? Which region is better?

This is a common question we get asked when people are planning their holiday, weighing up the options, reviewing budgets and deciding where to visit, so we thought we'd gather our thoughts to help answer this question.

There are two key things to bear in mind when considering where to visit: 1) Patagonia is huge and covers a vast land area (over 1 million square kilometres from the very tip of South America at Cape Horn almost as far north as Santiago and Buenos Aires) so our recommendation is to focus on two or three specific regions to visit rather than trying to fit it all in, and 2) the whole region is beautiful and as iconic as the guidebooks and picture galleries make it appear - so although some destinations within Patagonia are better than others (depending on your interests - more on this below) wherever you visit you can expect stunning landscapes, isolated beauty and endemic wildlide.

So... when it comes to the question "Is Patagonia Better in Chile or Argentina" the answer will differ for each individual based on interests, expectations, travel styles, budgets and so on, as neither is better and they are both fantastic.

To help you decide which region is better for yourself based on your own interests or what you are looking for from your trip to Patagonia: scenery, wildlife, luxury, culture etc we will review the key sights and interests in each region:

Chilean Patagonia

Patagonia in ChilePatagonia in Chile stretches from just south of the Lake District region (south of Chiloe island and Puerto Montt) right the way down to the very tip of South America and the tiny island of Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn), and due to Chile's unique shaped hemmed in on the western slopes of the Andes Patagonian Chile is actually much smaller and therefore more easier to access than its Argentine counterpart.

Much of Chilean Patagonia is very isolated and very difficult to access, with endless fjords, valleys, lakes and mountains making the stunning national parks (including Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael and Parque Nacional Bernado O'Higgins) impossible to access by road (there are no roads!). As a consequence visitors to Patagonian Chile typically focus on two main regions: Torres del Paine National Park, and the southern section of the infamous Carretera Austral.

Torres del Paine

Torres del PaineTorres del Paine is a travel icon and a true highlight of Patagonia, this is the home of the iconic pointed granite peaks that have graced a million postcards, guidebook front covers and travel blogs (including this one) and if you really want to experience the best and most impressive landscapes in Patagonia then this is the place to visit. This region is also home to some fantastic treks, including the infamous "W" trek around the Torres del Paine massif.

The town of Punta Arenas is home to the main airport in this region and is the access point for visits to Torres del Paine and the surrounding region. Punta Arenas city itself is worth an explore if you need an overnight stay to work with the rest of your trip, is the departure point for penguin spotting boat trips, and is the departure point for some of the famous cruises around the fjords and glaciers of the more rural regions of Patagonia including probably the best and most famous cruise the Australis Cruise which visits Cape Horn and travels into Argentina and is included in our Patagonia Cruise holiday.

There are are two main ways to visit Torres del Paine: either by staying in the nearby town of Puerto Natales (which is reached by a 3 hour road journey from Punta Arenas) with day trips into the National Park, or by staying in a hotel within the National Park itself. Activities within the park include walks to waterfalls, horse riding, boat excursions to visit the Grey Glacier, and of course the stunning views of the Torres del Paine towers themselves. Staying within the park itself is the more expensive option although means you are closer to the scenery, and whichever option you choose there are some fantastic hotel choices both in the town and in the park.

Carretera Austral

Driving in South AmericaThe Carretera Austral is regarded as one of the most beautiful roads and incredible drives in the world. The road is officially Ruta 7 and actually journeys much further north through the Lake District region with the Patagonia section of the road beginning south of Puerto Montt and Chiloe island and continuing south from there into Patagonia.

The road, unpaved in many areas and requiring ferries in certain aras to cross lakes and fjords, winds it way through the valleys and scenery ultimately reaching the small town of O'Higgins at its southern tip. A key sight to explore on the road is General Carrera Lake and the famous Marble Caves which can be visited on our Self Drive Carretera Austral holiday.

Advantages of Chilean Patagonia

Chile's Patagonia region is relatively small, so it is much easier to see most of what there is to see within one small area.

Torres del Paine is regarded as one of the highlights of Patagonia, which we'd agree with particularly due to its scenery, so if you only visit one region in Patagonia and are interested in landscapes it is hard to beat Torres del Paine.

If you would like to visit more of Patagonia then it is relatively easy to travel into Argentina's Patagonia region from Torres del Paine via a road link which leads to the town El Calafate, making visits to both Torres del Paine and Perito Moreno Glacier relatively easy.

Chile in general has fantastic infrastructure, particularly in its tourist destinations, so road access is typically good and there are some excellent hotels in Patagonia in Chile.

Disadvantages of Chilean Patagonia

Although the Patagonia region in Chile is home to some beautiful glaciers that are relatively easy to visit (such as the Serrano Glacier on boat trips from Puerto Natales) the bigger more impressive glaciers in Chile can really only be visited on premium cruises such as the Australis Cruise which, if you are on a budget, may not be possible for you; and of course the most iconic and impressive glacier of all is the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina - so if you are a glacier fanatic Argentina is probably the better choice for you.

Argentine Patagonia

Patagonia in ArgentinaIn comparison to Chile the Argentine Patagonia region is huge stretching from Ushuaia at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego as far north as San Carlos de Bariloche, and from the border with Chile in the west to Puerto Madryn in the far east.

Also whereas Chile only has two or three main destinations within Patagonia (Torres del Paine, Carretera Austral) due to the vast size there is many more destinations of interest in Argentina with the key ones being: El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier, Mount Fitz Roy, Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, and the Valdes Peninsular near Puerto Madryn.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno GlacierThe Perito Moreno Glacier is the main iconic highlight of Patagonia in Argentina. Although there are many other glaciers in Patagonia Perito Moreno is the most impressive to see, simply due to its sheer size and scale - it really is an unmissable sight. Perito Moreno is actually just one of a number of glaciers that sit within the Glaciers National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage recognised area that features staggeringly beautiful landscapes, glacial lakes and glaciers. The town of El Calafate, which has an airport, is the access point for Perito Moreno and there is much more to see in this region including Lake Argentina with its colony of flamingos, and the famous Estancia Cristina - visiting the estancia requires a boat cruise across a lake scattered with icebergs, and the estancia allows visits to Upsala Glacier.

Mount Fitz Roy

Mount Fitz RoyThis mountain and the surrounding region, with its accommodation hub and access point being the small town of El Chalten, is a trekkers paradise and Argentina's main rival to the treks in Chile's Torres del Paine region. If you are into your trekking and want to experience some stunning scenery then this is one of the key places to consider and there are some stunning trekking routes with epic views of the iconic Mount Fitz Roy. If trekking isn't your thing and you are only interested in experiencing the iconic landscapes of Patagonia then although it is possible to visit El Chalten to see Mount Fitz Roy on day trips from El Calafate in our opinion Torres del Paine in Chile is the better option.

Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego

UshuaiaThe city of Ushuaia is famous for being the "southern most city in the world" and is a delightful, colourful and friendly city overlooking the Beagle Channel. If you are interested in history and culture then this is one of the better places to visit in Patagonia - the city was founded around a penal colony and the old prison and naval base are now an interesting museum. There are day cruises into the Beagle Channel to spot penguins, sea lions and sea birds, and nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park has some tranquil lakes and beautiful scenery although the scenery in Torres del Paine and around Perito Moreno Glacier is much more drammatic and impressive.

Valdes Peninsular

Peninsunlar ValdesIf you are looking to travel to Patagonia for its wildlife then the Valdes Peninsular is the place for you. Access to the region is usually via the airport in nearby Trelew with overnight hotel accommodation in Puerto Madryn which serves as a good stopover point to allow for vitis to the Peninsular itself which is a wildlife haven. Wildlife tours provide the chance to spot a variety of coastal wildlife including sea lions, orcas, elephant seals and penguins; and between June and November (with the better months usually being September and October) it is possible to go whale watching.

Advantages of Argentine Patagonia

The Argentina region is larger than Chilean Patagonia, meaning if budget and time can allow there is more places to visit and more to see and do.

Visits to Perito Moreno Glacier can easily be combined with a visit to Torres del Paine in Chile which is just over the border and a half-day drive away.

Undoubtedly in our opinion the best wildlife experience is at the Valdes Peninsular near Puerto Madryn.

The best glaciers are in Argentina, in particular Perito Moreno and the Glacier National Park near the town of El Calafate.

Disadvantages of Argentine Patagonia

Due to its larger size it can be a more expensive option, with domestic flight costs in particular in Argentina quite expensive compared to other countries in South America.

So... Which Is Better?

Best for wildlife: Argentina. Although is it possible to go penguin spotting and see other wildlife such as Guanacos in Chile, in our opinion the best place to spot wildlife in the whole region is in Puerto Madryn.

Best for glaciers: Argentina. Perito Moreno glacier within the UNESCO World Heritage Glaciers National Park is the godfather of them all, and not to be missed in our opinion.

Best for landscape: Chile. Although Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina is a very close second, Torres del Paine in Chile is the iconic landmark of Patagonia and is not to be missed.

Best for trekking: Argentina and Chile. This is a tough one and we couldn't split it. Chile is home to the famous "W" trek which is the iconic route around the Torres del Paine (and it is stunning), but there are also options near El Calafate and in Ushuaia.

Best for cruises: Chile. Although many of the cruises that visit the channels, fjords and waterways of Patagonia actually visit both Chile and Argentina with some operating in both directions (i.e. Chile - Argentina and Argentina - Chile), the better day cruises are in Chile (to visit places such as the Serrano Glacier) and the better larger cruise ships, in particular the Australis cruise, are based in Chile.

Best for driving: Chile. Argentina has some wonderful roads that are perfect for self-driving experiences, but they tend to be further north, and in our opinion the best driving road in Patagonia is Chile's Carretera Austral.

Best for food and cuisine: Argentina. The whole region is full of wonderful food (particularly if you are a meat eater) and the Chilean lamb and king crab is delicious, but for the overall best experience our vote goes to Argentina - with the choice of roasted lamb, beef, some delicious craft beers and fine malbec red wine Argentina just pips it.

Best for luxury: Chile. Argentina has some wonderful hotels particularly in Ushuaia and this was a close one to call, but for the best luxury experiences and finest hotels Chile is difficult to beat. Hotel Singular in Puerto Natales is a hotel highlight.

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Travel with us to explore this incredible destination in South America. See our Chile holidays and our Argentina holidays for a range of itineraries and holiday suggestions including Patagonia and the other iconic sights of South America. All our holidays can be tailored to suit your own interests so if you are inspired by this blog and want to visit a particular region just get in touch and our friendly team are always on hand and happy to help you:

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