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Paddling Patagonia: Where To Go And What to Bring

Patagonia, located in the southern tip of South America, is 260,000 square miles of natural wonder. There are countless glacial lakes, crystal clear waters flowing through endless rivers, imposing glaciers, and always the awe-inspiring landscape of the snowtopped Andes mountains at every panoramic turn.

This region belongs to both Chile and Argentina, with the Andes mountains acting as the international border. Patagonia is known for its world-class hiking opportunities and its unique ecosystems, plant, and animal species that are found nowhere else on Earth.

In addition to the stunning land to explore, there are also hundreds of lakes, passages, archipelagos, and rivers that require a kayak or canoe to best explore. So while this region might be renowned for hiking, paddling in Patagonia is one of the best ways to explore this jewel of South America. There are hundreds of wonderful places to paddle in Patagonia, but some are truly exceptional and worth traveling the globe for.

Torres Del Paine and El Chalten have incredible paddling options. The Perito Moreno glacier is an exceptional place to get close to one of the most active glaciers on the planet. There are also charming lake regions to explore on kayak or canoe, like Los Lagos in Chile and Bariloche in Argentina. A kayak trip in Tierra Del Fuego offers paddlers the chance to paddle at “the end of the world.”

Nine Epic Places To Paddle In Patagonia

1. Torres Del Paine

Torres Del Paine National Park is arguably the most sought-after section of Patagonia. Hundreds of thousands of nature and hiking enthusiasts come to this other-worldly Patagnoia paradise to hike its various multi-day circuits. But hiking is not the only way to experience this magnificent slice of Chilean Patagonia.

Kayaking in Torres Del Paine is perhaps the best paddling excursion in all of Patagonia. There are several tour companies that offer a variety of tours that range in scope, length, and price. You can paddle near Gray Glacier, experience the crystal clear rivers of this park, and look out at the dramatic Andes Mountains. This area is a hotspot for all sorts of flora and fauna you may have never seen before. There are some impressive unique wildlife species in this park you can view while paddling, including pumas and guanaco.

2. Tierra Del Fuego National Park

If you are planning a trip to the remote region of Patagonia, you might as well “go big,” and head all the way to the southern tip of this region. Tierra Del Fuego is an archipelago at the southern tip of South America. It is home to Ushuaia, the southernmost civilization in the world. This area is often called “The End Of The World,” and it does have a certain natural mystery and wonder to it.

There are few places on earth as unspoiled as Tierra Del Fuego National Park, and paddling this area feels like a privilege and a gift all at once. You can canoe or kayak through the lakes and rivers on your own or with a guided tour. You can also experience the Straight of Magellan, where you can retrace the path of world-famous explorer Ferdinand Magellan. He explored this region and found this passage in the 1500s.

Tierra Del Fuego has tons of wildlife, much of which is probably unique to most visitors including more than 50 species of birds like the giant Andean condor.

3. The Lagos Region

While the southern tip of South America is a great place to feel like you are at the end of the world, you don’t need to go this far south to have an epic Patagonian paddling vacation. The Lagos Region in Chile is considered the Chilean gateway to Patagonia. But don’t think that just because this area is the northernmost part of this wild region it is any less stunning.

In fact, this region has some of the best paddling opportunities in all of Patagonia. Consider visiting the quaint and captivating Chiloe Island. Paddle in its many hidden coves, and stay in one of the colorful homes on stilts that hover over the shoreline.

There are more than a dozen beautiful lakes to explore, including the Puerto Varas and Pucon areas, which are both stunning. These areas are surrounded by stunning lakes that have endless paddling opportunities, and several authentic towns worth spending a night or two in.

4. The Marble Cathedral, Lago General Carrera

Even if you have never heard of The Marble Cathedral or Lago General Carrera, you have likely seen them in a screen saver, or in a book of nature photography. This world wonder is located halfway down the Chilean portion of Patagonia, in a fairly remote area - even by Patagonia standards.

What makes this place worth a trip is the unreal caves of smooth marble that have been smoothed out over time. These stone caves have formed tunnels that you can kayak through as you glide over the sapphire-blue waters of the lake. There are few photo opportunities better than a paddle through this marble maze.

5. Perito Moreno Glacier

If you have always wanted to paddle in waters where giant sheets of glacial ice can be seen plummeting into the water before your very eyes, look no further than Perito Moreno Glacier. Located just outside the Patagonian town of El Calafate, Perito Moreno Glacier is one of Argentina’s top tourist attractions and one of the most incredible paddling journeys you can embark on in your entire life.

What makes this glacier so interesting is that it is, unlike so many other glaciers, growing in size. But as the heats up, this giant river of ice sheds ice like dogs shed hair. You are guaranteed to see the amazing phenomenon of falling ice as long as you visit this glacier in the warmer months. There are several guided tours that allow you to paddle a safe distance from this glacier, and it is an exhilarating way to paddle through this incredible icy terrain.

6. The Beagle Channel

In addition to paddling through Megellan’s old stomping grounds, you can also venture out in a channel named after Charles Darwin’s famous world exploration. It doesn’t get more south than The Beagle Channel, and paddling through it is a journey anyone who ventures this far into Patagonia should consider undertaking.

The Beagle Channel is located at the southern point of the Tierra Del Fuego region, near the town of Ushuaia. This is a great place for those looking to encounter penguins and seals, as they are plentiful in these waters. In addition to beautiful landscapes and fun marine life, it is pretty exciting to paddle at the end of this region and is likely to fill the kayaker with a sense of accomplishment and pure joy.

7. El Chalten

Other than Torres Del Paine, there is no sight more sought after for Patagonian exploration than El Chalten. What makes El Chalten such a fantastic destination is that it is a small town full of like-minded adventurers, and there are endless day trips from this hub. You can hike to waterfalls, glacial lakes, or the iconic Fitz Roy mountain, the symbol of Argentinian Patagonia.

There are also several great paddling opportunities in this area.

One of the best is paddling Rio de la Vueltas. You can go on an organized trip and paddle down this mostly smooth river, taking in the incredible scenery and the sweeping vista views of the Andes. Located just a few hours from El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier, El Chalten is an essential stop on any Argentinian Patagonia excursion - paddling or not.

8. San Carlos de Bariloche

San Carlos de Bariloche is Argentina’s answer to Chile’s Lagos region. This stunning glacial lake is a perfect place for kayak and canoe activities. As long as the wind isn’t raging too hard, it is also a great place in Patagonia for beginner kayakers.

San Carlos de Bariloche, or simple Bariloche as it is often called, is nestled right at the foothills of the Andes, so paddlers are treated to some stunning snow-capped mountain views on clear days on the lake. There are some rivers that spill out from this lake region as well that offer some more active and adventurous paddling.

9. Peninsula Valdez

If you are very eager to paddle among sea lions, then make sure you add Peninsula Valdez to your Patagonia itinerary. Peninsula Valez is located in Argentinian Patagonia on the Atlantic coast, east of Bariloche. The peninsula is a nature reserve that is known for its booming wildlife.

In addition to kayaking among seals, there are large whale and elephant seal populations in this area. This is a Mecca for those who love seeing these giant marine mammals. There are also colonies of penguins on the beaches of this region. You can even see cave systems and other ornate natural landscapes, making this a worthwhile detour on your Patagonian itinerary, especially for the animal-loving paddlers out there.

What To Pack For A Paddling Adventure In Patagonia

Paddling in Patagonia is typically a late Spring to early Fall activity. Even at this time of year, there are still some chilly days and fierce winds. Keep in mind that no matter what body of water you enter in this region, the water temperature is going to be dangerously frigid.

Be prepared to pack for freezing paddling conditions, even if the sun is shining and birds are chirping. Below is a list of some Pataganoia paddling essentials for anyone planning to paddle in this vast natural playground.

Wind And Waterproof Clothing

Patagonia is notoriously windy. Even when it isn’t exceptionally windy, you can reliably count on winds of at least 10 mph on most days. While this region isn’t exceptionally rainy in the summer, it does rain. Further, windy days tend to cause more splashing water. Therefore, wind and water-resistant clothing is essential. This will prevent your body from getting wet, and in turn, cold.

Lightweight Fleece Jacket

Fleece is a great material for Patagonia. It is lightweight and very packable, making it easy to stow away when you don’t need it. It is also very insulating, which will keep you warm when you need it (and you will need it). Lastly, it is easy to wring out when wet, and quick to dry.

Quick-dry Everything

In addition to a fleece to keep you warm, it is best to bring items that dry quickly. This includes bringing a waterproof phone case and perhaps a dry bag, as splashing is likely to occur. Also, the waters in Patagonia are frigid, so you will need whatever gets wet to dry fast to ensure you keep your body temperature up.

Heat Pads

Having heating pads is key for those longer paddles and adventures. Tuck these miracle workers under some newly purchased alpaca mittens from a local vendor and warm your cold hands up in no time. Heat pads are a great way to heat up your extremities quickly after they get wet or are exposed to the elements.

A Water-Resistant Day Pack

A high-quality daypack is a Patagonia essential, for hiking and paddling. Bring a water-resistant (or waterproof) and lightweight day pack so you can carry all the essentials you might need on your back for any hiking and paddling adventure this wonderland has in store for you.

Buy Your Favorite Brands At Home

Remember that South America Is Cheap, but stores In Patagonia are not always cheap. Sure, you will find some good second-hand trekking and outdoor gear in popular wilderness destinations, but don’t bank on finding exactly what you need, unless it’s generic. You won’t have trouble finding previously-used trekking poles but don’t count on finding waterproof boots in your size.

Also, even though South Argentina is inexpensive for American and European tourists due to the currency, this does not apply to imported goods. So buy your favorite brands at home, where you know you can get everything you want delivered to your doorstep.

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