The wild, untamed landscapes of Patagonia in the most southern tip of South America may seem like a faraway destination. The region, situated between Argentina and Chile is remote. Famous for its vast national parks and jaw-dropping natural wonders, it is a destination to be conquered and explored. Maybe you are itching to discover Patagonia? Or maybe this is the first time the region has crept onto your bucket list? Read our interview with Julia Baulina on an insider’s view of an adventure to one of South America’s most breath-taking areas.
1) What were your initial thoughts about an adventure in Patagonia?
I have been dying to visit Patagonia ever since I’ve travelled around South America for the first time. Unfortunately, due to time and budget restrictions, I only got as far down as Puerto Madryn that time and I couldn’t wait to go back. I was very excited about Patagonia, knowing that it so different to every other place on the continent. I was expecting it to be cold as it’s a place that is practically impossible to visit during the South American winter, and there are penguins! The hardest thing was deciding what clothing to bring as I’ve heard the weather can be very unpredictable. I knew that I would be doing a lot of trekking in Patagonia so I was little anxious about my abilities and also the camping in Torres Del Paine National Park. I was very excited about the possibility of seeing a puma in the wild in Torres del Paine as this is one of the best places in the world to spot these elusive creatures. Patagonia is remote and I hoping to see as much wildlife as possible, such as condors, guanacos, hare and of course, penguins! I was also very enthusiastic about exploring Patagonia on board of a truck and hopefully meeting like minded people who are as excited about penguins as I am.
2) Do you think you need to be incredibly fit to experience Patagonia?
I don’t think you need to be incredibly fit to experience Patagonia, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it! Trekking is one of main things that draws people to the region and there is a range of trekking options available for all levels of abilities. Of course to reach the most incredible viewpoints, such as the view of The Towers, you do need to put in the effort – it’s not easy, but it is doable. The good thing is that you can take it at your own pace as plenty of time is usually allocated for the trekking. You will see people speeding past you while you are about to pass out, but you just need to take it easy and have plenty of rest stops. There were a couple of people in my group who did not make it to the end of the toughest treks and returned early, which is a shame, but the scenery on the way to a destination is often as amazing as the destination itself. Therefore, I would recommend for everyone to at least give it a go as you can often surprise yourself with your hidden abilities.
You don’t always need to trek for hours, however, to be rewarded with amazing views. There is a trek that many people did right next to our beautiful campsite at Lake Pehoe called Mirador Cóndor. It takes about an hour to reach the top and is quite steep but the views of the surrounding area are just stunning. And of course trekking is not the only way to see the best of Patagonia. Visiting the incredible Perito Moreno Glacier only requires light walking on man-made boardwalks and there is even disability access to some of the view points. There is a number of pathways, each one leading to a unique view of the Glacier. Some have a great deal of steps but there is no scrambling involved! And to get really close to the Glacier and the countless icebergs floating in the lake, you don’t need to walk at all as there are numerous boat trips going to up to the Perito Moreno Glacier. If you are very lucky you might even witness huge blocks of ice calving from the Glacier, which is what Perito Moreno is famous for. A similar boat trip can be done to the Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine National Park, if you don’t fancy the 11km hike (each way)! Apparently, during the trip, whilst enjoying the view of the Glacier, you can also can enjoy whisky with the ice from the Glacier! Another effortless way to experience the best of Patagonia is the Beagle Chanel cruise in Ushuaia. As well having a great view of the town from the sea, you will see beautiful scenery of the small nearby islands, plenty of birds all around you, as well as other wildlife such as sea lions and maybe even penguins!
3) What were some of your favourite experiences
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire trip and have a great deal of memories that will last a lifetime. One of my favourite experiences in Patagonia was exploring Torres del Paine National Park as I’m sure is the case for most people. The Park really is an incredible place that offers a wide range of experiences. Many people visit Torres del Paine to do the famous W trek and while that’s not what my group did as we stayed at the same campsite for 3 nights, some of us actually got to experience the highlights of the W Trek by doing three of the main treks: The Towers, Trek, The Grey Glacier Trek and the French Valley Trek. In fact, we did all of the treks twice due to the fact that we had to return to our campsite each night! What I loved is the fact that each trek was completely different to the rest, in terms of the scenery, terrain and difficulty. Each day we experienced something new and unique and saw so many amazing sights such as glacier lakes, geological formations and varied flora and fauna. The treks were challenging so it’s always a great feeling at the end of the day to sip Chilean red by the campfire, knowing that you have accomplished something.
One of my favourite experiences in Patagonia was travelling in a truck, the lovely Peggy, from one incredible place to another. It was great fun to be surrounded by friends you had made on the trip and having a laugh while taking in the views during the journeys. Dinner time with new friends was also great as you get to enjoy delicious food flowing days filled with adventures.
4) Do you have any top tips for travellers wanting to go to Patagonia – What to bring ? Weather conditions?
One of the things you will probably hear before you go to Patagonia is how unpredictable the weather is. This is true! During the 12 days I spent in Patagonia I have experienced snow, rain, gustily wind and blazing sunshine. Overall, my group were very luckily as we mostly had good weather, especially in Torres del Paine. We had days where there was no wind at all which is very rare according to the locals. When it was windy, however, it was hard to stand up straight but luckily I’d mostly experienced this in places that were high up and exposed during the trekking days. Some days were overcast but it definitely makes trekking easier and somehow emphasizes the wilderness of Patagonian. Incredibly, there was no rain during our time in the National Park. A group that was there just a few days earlier, however, was not so lucky and apparently it rained every day and was cloudy so you really cannot predict the weather in Patagonia and need to go there with an open mind. We had some really lovely sunny days in Patagonia and I remember walking around in just a t-shirt at The End of the World in Ushuaia of all places. I expected it to be freezing there but we actually had the best weather and it really felt like summer. The weather was particularly incredible during the Beagle Chanel cruise, with blue skies all around which is always good for photo opportunities.
Tips with regards to packing for Patagonia – be prepared for absolutely everything! Layers are key as the weather changes so quickly and sometimes you go from a jacket and a fleece to a t-shirt in minutes, or vice versa! Definitely comfort and practicality over fashion as you will only have the wildlife to impress. Good walking boots are essential to trekking, though there was one person in my group that did absolutely everything in trainers, but this is not something I would recommend.
5) What was the food like?
I was definitely looking forward to the food in Patagonia but it had exceeded my expectations. Of course going through Argentina means incredible steak and Chile did not disappoint in this respect either.Typically, huge cuts of meat are cooked to perfection and while the prices in Patagonia are not cheap, steak is definitely much more affordable than it is at home and the quality is unbeatable. Patagonian lamb was also a great discovery for me, the portions are enormous and it’s so tender and overall delicious. As you travel further south, the cuisine varies noticeably, with emphasis on seafood by the coast in Punta Arenas and Ushuaia. It’s as fresh as it gets and I have discovered the most amazing dishes such as crab pancakes with cheese – amazing! King crab is a local delicacy in Ushuaia and many restaurants offer their own unique takes on king crab dishes. Even during our campsite stay in Torres del Paine the food was impressive as our guide and driver prepared some great meals that could rival restaurant food. And what’s better to accompany a great meal than incredible wine! Argentinian Malbecs and Chilean Carmenere and Sauvignon Blanc are my favourites and the prices of quality wine are unreal. I do not drink beer myself but it was a big hit with the rest of the group.
6) Do you think there is anything in Patagonia that is underrated?
I don’t think people realise just how incredibly beautiful Patagonia is. The pictures do not do it justice, when you are there the views are simply breath-taking!