South Patagonia

The further south one ventures, the more profound the feeling of remoteness.

This is a region of diverse topography: from the wind-swept Welsh villages along the hostile Atlantic seaboard, to Los Glaciares National Park with its granite peaks and vast glaciers, the climate is hostile and austere yet also beguiling.

Valdés Peninsula

Jutting out into the South Atlantic Ocean is the Valdés Peninsula, a barren landscape speckled with salt lakes. So prolific is the wildlife that it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. Between late June and early December scores of peaceful Southern right whales cavort and breed within easy sight from land and colonies of elephant seals and sea lions jostle for space on rocks. The seas are also home to a pod of orcas who have developed a sophisticated hunting technique that has been passed down from generation to generation . The best time to witness this is between February and April when there are large amount of doomed sea lion pups playing in the surf. Marooned on the isthmus' north side, Isla de los Pájaros is a seabird reserve and home to 10 different seabird species. Although closed to visitors, the island is close enough to view from the shore. Between November - April an hour south of Puerto Madryn is the nesting ground for a colony of the diminutive Magellanic penguin. The colony is one of the largest continental penguin colonies in the world and, at its peak, can number up to one million penguins.

The Welsh Heartland

In 1865, having set sail from Liverpool, the Mimosa landed in Southern Patagonia carrying on board 200 Welsh settlers. Against the odds the colony survived and today the region is dotted with frontier settlements and the windswept plains of arid scrub are divided up between huge sheep farming estancias. Puerto Madryn was where the Welsh first landed but was not developed until later following the arrival of the railway. Today it is a busy town and a good spot from where to explore the area. The centre for all things Welsh is Gaiman, a picturesque village slightly inland and an hour from Puerto Madryn. Thanks to a recent a renaissance, Welsh is just as likely to be spoken as Spanish and the famous Welsh teas of torta negra, a type of Welsh fruitcake, are still served. Trelew is the gateway to the region with a small airport with flights from Buenos Aires.

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

Drawn by the same remoteness that draws visitors today and escaping the law, the famous American bandits bought a ranch in Cholila, three hours south of Bariloche along the infamous Ruta 40 road.

Los Glaciares National Park

No dream will prepare you for the sights or sounds of the Los Glaciares National Park. The park covers an immense area and counts 13 glaciers amongst its roll call of honour of which, the most famous is Perito Moreno. Standing at 60m high, the glacier flows down from the ice-field like a frozen river bridging two sides of mountainous land. This frozen serrated mass of crevasses glows with colours: pure white, soft grey, aquamarine and a blue that has no name, it's the fluorescent turquoise that can only be found on the Perito Moreno. Every so often you hear the ice let out a mournful groan as an ice shaft shatters and crashes into the waters of Lago Argentino below. Curiously, in an age of global warming, Perito Moreno is an oddity: it is growing. In the northern section of the national park, lies the Fitz Roy Massif, a jagged cluster of astonishingly beautiful peaks. Rising out of the centre of the massif is Monte Fitz Roy a carved peak of sharp angles. Known to the indigenous tribe as "The Mountain that Smokes" thanks to the wisp of cloud that lingers around its summit, in the early morning light, the granite face is bathed in a soft pink glow. This region is hardy trekking country and there are some serious hikes with beautiful vistas to be experienced.

For excursions around the southern half of the national park, your base will be El Calafate, a town which has experienced a dramatic increase in tourism in recent years. There are a number of good accommodation options in town or around the surrounding countryside on traditional sheep farming estancias. For the serious hikers looking to conquer the tough terrain of the Fitz Roy Massif, your base will be the northern town of El Chaltén.

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Holiday designs that visit Argentina's southern Patagonia

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