In Patagonia it’s the silence that hits you first. Then the landscapes – the snow-dusted mountains rising up like dollops of whipped cream; the shimmering lakes; the aquamarine icebergs that float past giant, jagged glaciers, crashing and calving their way into the milky blue water below.
These landscapes have been luring in explorers and mountaineers for centuries, but they aren’t just for hardcore trekkers. Patagonia offers a softer side, too: horse rides in lush green estancias, strolls through pine-carpeted forests, cultural explorations in tiny rural villages, boat trips around staggering ice fields.
In fact this sprawling, diverse region is ideal for anyone wanting to chill out and tune in to vast, untouched wilderness, seasoned hiker or not. For those who fall into the latter group – or those who just want some down-time in between treks – we’ve put together a guide to some of the best alternative experiences to enjoy in and around the Argentine towns of Bariloche and El Calafate.
Sail to Isla Victoria
Reached via boat from Puerto Pañuelo (just outside Bariloche), this verdant, 20km-long island is a hotspot for peaceful strolls in scenic surrounds, with walking trails scattered among soaring cypress trees and secluded beaches flanking the blue waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi.
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Among the island’s highlights is the Bosque de Arrayanes, a myrtle forest filled with giant, orange-colored tree trunks bent into novel shapes, and Playa del Toro, a volcanic sand beach near a cliff covered with ancient cave paintings. Turisur offer excursions to its key spots, and the boat journey is spectacular – expect vistas of tree-covered islands and mystical cloud-capped mountains.
Picnic at the ‘hidden lake’
Back on the mainland you’ll find plenty of other forested trails. Standouts include the path to Lago Escondido, a ‘hidden lake’ peeping out from the trees and framed by snow-glazed mountains, and Bahía de Los Troncos, a totally deserted, rocky bay set close by. Both are part of the Nahuel Huapi National Park.
You can easily explore the area independently but for a walk with a twist try Constellations, who offer guided tours with unexpected surprises along the way – from mate tasting in the depths of the forest to a surprise picnic laid out beneath the trees, whisky tasting by the water’s edge to a local Argentine playing the bagpipes in a kilt. Enough said.