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Top 5 Patagonia Myths - Busted!

Patagonia, this distant land at the bottom of the world, has always been shrouded in mystery and legends. When European seafarers first travelled here they steered clear of the coast, fearing it was inhabited by a fearsome race of giant people. We haven’t found any giants yet on our trips, but there are still plenty of myths that endure about Patagonia and might affect your trip. We look at the five most common misconceptions surrounding Patagonia and set the record straight!

 

Myth #1: You have to visit Patagonia between December and February!

autumn in patagoniaOur myth buster says: All the guidebooks seem to agree on this one; the best time to visit Patagonia is from December to February, the height of southern summer when the weather is warmest and driest. But if you actually talk to those living and working in Patagonia, you get a very different answer! Long-time Patagonia resident and former Torres del Paine National Park guide, Max Pulido, puts it this way: “For me, April is the very best time to visit Patagonia. I’ve never understood why everyone wants to come in peak season! In autumn, the trails are much quieter and the temperature is only lower by a few degrees”. The months of October, November, March and April are generally known as “shoulder season” in Patagonia, in other words it’s the time between peak season in summer and winter when many of the most famous trails are closed. It’s true that temperatures do drop slightly in spring and autumn, but then so do the winds that can be especially fierce at the height of summer. Flights, tours and accommodation are usually cheaper during shoulder season too, so some people assume that means they’ll be getting a second-rate experience, like buying a discounted pack of broken biscuits, but it’s just not the case! Cheap shoulder season rates are a just a result of lower demand generated by the peak season myth! Book your shoulder season tour now to take advantage of lower prices, emptier trails and the same first-class Patagonia landscape as ever.

Myth #2: There’s nothing to do but hike!

sailing on lake pehoe chileOur myth buster says: Patagonia is renowned as a trekkers’ paradise and is home to some of the most breathtaking hiking trails in the world. In fact, both the Torres del Paine Circuit Trek in Chilean Patagonia and the Fitz Roy Trek over the border in Argentinian Patagonia regularly rank amongst the best treks in the world. That said, whilst hiking might get most of the column inches, there are plenty of things to do in Patagonia to suit all tastes. Those who want to mix things up a bit can try cantering across the endless steppe on a horseback ride, cycling, or paddling up alongside mighty glaciers whilst kayaking through Patagonia’s miles of fiddly fjords. And remember that Patagonia is not just for sports-junkies, you’ll still have lots to do even if your idea of a vacation has more to do with kicking back with a glass in hand than crunching trail mix half way up a mountain. With its winding waterways Patagonia is a great location for a sailing trip to see the spectacular scenery, or wade the rivers for yourself whilst fly fishing these pristine rivers for Patagonian trout and salmon. Nature lovers may think that Africa is the only place to go for a Wildlife Safari, but they’d be wrong. Patagonia has its own take on unusual flora and fauna; you’ll almost certainly see herds of guanacos, cousins of the llama, and the condor drifting overhead on its three-metre wings. You might also catch a glimpse of the ostrich-like ñadu and the very lucky visitor may even see a puma.

Myth #3: Chilean Patagonia is better than Argentinian Patagonia!

mount fitz royOur myth buster says: Trying to work out which side of Patagonia is ‘best’ is a bit like attempting to answer the question “how long is a piece of string?”! Many people consider that Chile has the most to offer visitors to Patagonia, but the biggest chunk of Patagonia is actually located in Argentina. The glittering crown jewel in Argentinian Patagonia’s crown is undoubtedly the Perito Moreno Glacier. This craggy ice maiden is locked in a constant battle with Lake Argentino at her snout, as the glacier tries to push itself all the way across the lake. Every couple of years the glacier grows just long enough to touch the far shore of the lake, forming a frozen damn, which eventually transforms into a spectacular ice bridge as the bottom is melted away. This precarious bridge sits poised for days, weeks, months even, until it collapses under its own weight with an ear-splitting boom and explodes into hundreds of newborn icebergs. Undeterred, the Perito Moreno Glacier pushes its nose out into the lake once more, to start the painstaking process all over again. Even if you’re not one of the rare few that gets to see the moment of collapse that happens every four years or so, the Perito Moreno’s pitted, mashed-potato-like expanse is still worth the trip as it drops icebergs one after another into the lake, all year round. The Fitz Roy hike, Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego are just a few of the other unmissable attractions of Argentinian Patagonia. When you consider all of the above, it’s clear that Argentinian Patagonia more than holds its own compared to its Chilean neighbour!

Myth #4: Argentinian Patagonia is better than Chilean Patagonia!

torres del paine towers chileOur myth buster says: Whilst the bulk of Patagonia lies within Argentinian territory, on the Chilean side there are a whole host of incredible natural beauty spots packed into this thin sliver of land. This makes it easy to travel from one to another without wasting time on the road, so the whole of your trip is spent hopping from one incredible geological formation to another. Top of the list is Torres del Paine National Park with its collection of dramatic rock structures that attract visitors from the four corners of the globe. The stone towers which give the national park its name are a trio of granite teeth that nibble the wide-open Patagonian sky and are a key feature of both the Torres del Paine Circuit Trek and the shorter, but no less impressive, W Trek. At the top of the French Valley visitors look out over the staggering vista of an ancient glacial corrie, like a dark amphitheatre of gothic spires circling the valley. The park has its own fair share of glaciers, fjords and lakes and is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve in recognition of its wealth of animals and plants including the elusive puma. The fact is, the Chilean and Argentinian sides of Patagonia have different sights to offer the intrepid visitor, but the rivers, glaciers and stealthy pumas certainly don’t stop for the border crossing. The only true way to experience all of Patagonia is to visit both sides!

Myth #5: Patagonia’s glaciers are still growing!

perito moreno glacierOur myth buster says: Whilst it’s a fact that two of Patagonia’s glaciers are currently experiencing mysterious growth, it’s a sad truth that many of Patagonia’s glaciers are receding dramatically under the impact of global warming. The first of the two growing glaciers is the enigmatic Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, which is still trying to clamber its way across Lake Argentino as we described above, and although it hasn’t managed it yet it is still taking on ice overall. The Pio XI Glacier, or Brüggen Glacier, in Chilean Patagonia has also been advancing both northwards and southwards since 1945, for reasons that are not well understood. But what can we do about the vast majority of the glaciers in the South Patagonian Ice field - and all over the world for that matter - that are still shrinking at a rate of knots? Our best bet is to try to reduce the negative impact we’re having on the world by adopting eco-friendly habits at home and on vacation that will slow, stop and eventually reverse the impact of global warming and preserve these natural wonders for generations to come. Luckily, there’s an increasing awareness of the need for eco-friendly tourism in Patagonia, which was kick-started by the building of EcoCamp Patagonia, the region’s first fully sustainable accommodation, in 2001. Now visitors to Patagonia can choose to stay within striking distance of Patagonia’s precious glaciers, secure in the knowledge that this 100% green energy powered accommodation is not contributing to their destruction.

 

Can you think of any more Patagonia myths? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!