A Different Tour of Patagonia

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It’s no secret that Patagonia is a large, wide open section of Argentina and Chile. This region, which occupies the southern cone of South America, draws thousands of visitors every year, but the great majority of those travelers go to specific regions such as Bariloche, El Calafate, or Ushuaia. Truth be told, Patagonia is a giant wasteland for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing else to see on the eastern end.

Península Valdés

For most travelers, the Atlantic experience ends around Mar del Plata, but a word to the wise is to continue farther south to Peninsula Valdés, one of the most untapped sources of natural beauty on this continent. Though this area of Chubut Province is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it remains off the radar for many first-time visitors to Argentina. In many ways it’s kind of like the Galápagos of Argentina, in that you are completely surrounded by nature and wildlife, and can get up and close to them, granted that you keep a respectful distance.

Peninsula Valdés only has one town, Puerto Pirámides, with a permanent population of 220, but the area is easily accessible from Puerto Madryn or several estancias in the region. The region is teeming with Magellanic penguins, sea lions, elephant seals, southern right whales and orcas. The majority of these animals are migratory, but there is something going on all throughout the year.

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Punta Tombo, though loaded with tourists in relation to the rest of the peninsula, is a penguin rookery with over 500,000 penguins waddling around. These animals are used to humans, so they will literally get right up next to you without any fear. You have to stay one meter away, but that’s as close as you need to. Punta Tombo is accessible via RP 1 and can be accessed via Trelew or Puerto Madryn.

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Bahía Bustamante

Heading farther down either RN 3 or RP 1 (RN 3 is recommended, as it is paved), you eventually come to the world’s only seaweed village, Bahía Bustamante. The village once housed 500 workers, but since the 80s has been minimized to around 40. Over the last five years the town has turned towards tourism, but keeps to its roots. The accommodations are rustic, and the emphasis is on the close contact with nature. There are over 100 species of birds, sea lion and penguin colonies in this region and other activities like estancia days, a visit to a petrified forest, or boat excursions. And of course, there is a “city tour” with information on seaweed production.

The only issue with this town is the means of getting there. It’s smack dab in the middle of nothing, so unless you have your own rental, it could be tough to make it. Transfers are possible from Comodoro Rivadavia, which has a small airport. As it’s in the middle of no where, this is an all inclusive estancia, with meals and excursions included in the price. If the excursions don’t exactly fit your needs, just take the time to relax by the water. It won’t take you long to be happy with the decision.

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Monte León

Deep down in Patagonia in Santa Cruz Province is Monte León, the newest national park in Argentina. A lot of this land was bought up by the NorthFace company and then given back to the original owners so that it could be kept away from potential development. Now this windy section of steppe which extends to the coast is protected for all to enjoy. Monte León also has a little bed and breakfast at the original house of the former estancia manager, which is over 100 years old. The owner, Silvia, is the granddaughter of that manager, and she speaks English well, having studied in London for four years as a teenager.

The lodge can’t offer activities anymore because it is now within the park, but the family runs this place with only one goal, to show an authentic side of Patagonia. It is a very peaceful and quaint place to spend a day or two, perfect for recharging your batteries on a long trip down the coast. You can go into the guest center for ideas and advice on what to do there, though Silvia is more than happy to share some tips. The only issue here, again, is transportation. Located far away from large cities, it’s ideal to have your own car so you can move around freely. Relying on public transportation can limit your ability to make the most of the stay.

While the more popular destinations remain highly trafficked for good reason, these other spots in Patagonia are well worth visiting, and not just on a second or third trip through the country. If you’re worried about the cost of some other places in Patagonia, give these ones a try.

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