by Cathy Brown – When it comes to unplugging and connecting with nature, there aren’t many places on earth that are more perfect for outdoor families looking for adventure, than Patagonia.
Pristine, raw, and laced with a good mix between the Wild West (none less than Butch Cassady took up exile here) and Latino warmth and hospitality, there are endless outdoor adventures for the whole family to enjoy the otherworldly Patagonian landscape. Here are our Top 10 Patagonia Family Adventure Ideas:
1. Snorkel With Patagonian Sea Lions on the Peninsula Valdes
The use of a special neoprene suit will not only provide warmth in these chilly Atlantic waters, but will also provide buoyancy, making it not even a requirement to know how to swim in order to interact with curious and playful sea lions. Floating on the surface surrounded by these playful and friendly ocean-dwelling mammals is an absolutely unforgettable experience.
A waterproof Go-Pro is a must, as the sea lions will come in close, making for some incredible selfie opps. Stay right on the beach at the eco-hotel Oceano Patagonia in September through December and you get the bonus of being able to wake up and watch Southern Right whales up to 60 ft. long breaching, and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your bed.
2. Hike Through Patagonia’s Magical Myrtle Forests
On the shores of the Nahuel Huapi Lake and just a couple of miles from the lovely mountain town of Villa La Angostura is Los Arrayanes National Park, filled with gorgeous cinnamon-colored myrtles trees, some 300-600 years old.
The paths are full of gentle ups and downs, making it as much of a hot spot for mountain biking as it is for trekking. Local legend says that this forest inspired Walt Disney so much that he based the dreamy forest in his film “Bambi” on the Arrayanes park.
3. Explore a Shipwreck at the End of the World
The Southernmost city in the world is considered to be Ushuaia, on the Argentine side of the island of Tierra del Fuego. Tierra Turismo is one of the few operators who can help get you to beach at off-the-beaten-track Cabo San Pablo, where lies the remains of a fascinating, very in-tact shipwreck from 1986 called the Desdemona.
Imaginations will ignite as children explore, wondering what happened and what life on the ship might have been like. Other fun activities from Tierra include fishing for giant king crabs bigger than the size of your face and kayaking glacial lakes.
4. Cross the Patagonian Andes on Horseback with an Authentic Gaucho
A gaucho is an Argentine cowboy, and no one is better at instilling in your kids a sense of reverence for both horses and nature. Dario Gallardo of Gaucho Argentino has an estancia in Corrientes and often runs sold-out horse trips through Mendoza and Salta, but just this year began to offer horse expeditions in Patagonia – no prior riding experience needed.
Spend the days passing glacial Andean waterfalls and nights falling asleep under the stars while listening to Dario sing local folkloric music around the campfire. The five-day trips will leave your child feeling like an adventurous pioneer from days past, crossing great stretches of land only by horse.
5. Make Friends with Patagonian Penguins
Opportunities abound in Patagonia for getting up close and personal with four different species of penguins – the Magellanic, Humboldt, Gentoo and King. Head to Harberton Peninsula or the King penguin colony in Tierra del Fuego, the quaint island of Chiloe, or around the coasts of Peninsula Valdes and Puerto Madryn, where every October females lay their eggs and incubate them for 40 days. Come November, Punta Tomba Reserve on the Atlantic is filled with thousands of inquisitive baby penguins strengthening up for a migration in March or April.
6. Ski in a Northern Patagonian Town Known for Its World-Class Chocolate and Ice Cream
Bariloche is the town in Northern Patagonia that gets all the hype, but two hours south is El Bolson, a tiny hippie town famous for having one of the biggest artists markets in all of South America, mouth-watering chocolate, and Argentina’s favorite all-natural gelato (from a small ice cream store and cafe called Jauja).
Head up the mountain and you will find Cerro Perito Moreno, the most friendly, laid-back ski resort in the region. While it doesn’t have an on-site luxury hotel or fancy shopping, that’s a good thing. This place is filled with mostly locals and what it lacks in infrastructure it more than makes up for in charm. More adventurous skiiers and snowboarders can hike up to Piltriquitron Refuge and backcountry from there.
7. Ice trek on Top of One of the World’s Most Stunning Patagonian Glaciers
The more demanding ice trekking expeditions of Perito Moreno are restricted to adults, but Hielo y Aventura offers a Mini-Trekking for kids ages 10 and over to explore the massive glacier. The 1.5 hour circuit will have the whole family strapping on crampons to safely cross over crevasses and other ice formations. Children will be able to learn about the glaciology of the region and about what happens in order for the Perito Moreno Glacier to calve off bit by bit and thunderously crash into the lake below.
8. Track Pumas in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park
Embark on an epic quest with wildlife tracking professionals to safely track and observe the Patagonian puma in its natural habitat. There is a high density of pumas in the Torres del Paine National Park area due mostly to the large supply of guanacos (a favorite food for pumas) in the Patagonian steppe, and because they are protected from hunting within the Park.
Make this adventure even more unforgettable by sleeping in an EcoCamp dome, or for those looking for more traditional luxury, check-in at Awasi Patagonia. Animal lovers will be happy to know that the huge Andean condor, with its wingspan of up to 10 feet, and the Chilean flamingo are also easily seen within Torres del Paine.
9. White Water Raft Through Patagonian Canyons on a Turquoise River and SUP Pristine Lagoons
While the Futaleufu River in Chile draws expert rafters from all over the world for its Class V rapids, one expedition company has worked closely with the river since before it was even considered raftable, and knows better than anyone how to safely get kids as young as 6-years-old down the river.
EarthRiver offers a “Patagonian Experience” which includes more gentle rafting, inflatable kayaking, SUP, hiking, and mountain biking, all in a kid-friendly manner. Families stay in different lodges every evening, making a hot shower at the end of a long day an easy luxury.
10. Kayak Through Patagonia’s Marble Caves
Patagonia is famous for stunning blue lakes and ancient forests, but the largest lake in Patagonia is also home to one of the world’s most aesthetically-interesting geologic formations. The Marble Caves and their distinct lines were created by wave action over the last 6,200 years.
Start this adventure in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, where you can either camp or stay in an adventure hostel, and find one of the many qualified guides in town (a guide is a definite must, no matter how skilled of a kayaker you are, as the weather conditions on the lake change rapidly). Even beginners can kayak out to the caves and watch the light play off both the water and the unique angles of the rock formations.
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Cathy Brown lives on a self-sustainable farm in the Andes of Patagonia with her three teenage kids. She’s a guidebook writer for Fodor’s and Lonely Planet, writes for CNN Travel, OARS and Luxury Latin America.