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Now, when you think of Patagonia, that landscape somewhere far far South, is the first image that comes to your mind that of a town?
I bet it is NOT.
Of course not, duh. Every time you’ve heard anybody rambling about Patagonia, adjectives like jaw-dropping, stunning and incredible are repeatedly used and there’s a 127% chance they were connected with words like nature and hikes.
But that’s what everybody does when they go to Patagonia, right?
They go hiking to Torres del Paine or El Chalten – including people who’d never even walked to a nearby hill before or heard of trekking shoes, for instance (Sorry guys, couldn’t resist that one. 😛 #iveseentoomanyofyou #doitforthegram).
Or perhaps they are after huge colonies of penguins, they have Perito Moreno glacier on their bucket list (it is jaw-dropping indeed! 😊) or fancy an unforgettable fjord cruise.
But visiting the actual towns in Patagonia? Nah, that’s what Paris, Barcelona and New York are for.
Nope, WRONG. (hiding under the table, waiting for comments such as “How dare you claim that?!?!”)
(hesitantly peeking from under the table)
(Slowly coming back up)
(“Comfortably” typing further)
So, here’s the thing. I completely, totally & undeniably agree with all the superlative adjectives regarding nature and hikes. Patagonia IS one of the most amazing landscapes in the world that we have seen so far.
But is also much more than that.
It is culture and people and food and architecture. And some incredible and unique towns in Patagonia reflect that perfectly.
Plus, great news for all non-hikers: you don’t need to struggle with a 9-hour Base de las Torres hike for #lookatmeididitphoto in jeans and with a plastic shopping bag in your hand – there’s so much else for you to see in Patagonia! 😀
(Jokes aside. Don’t get me wrong, if you wish to go to Base de las Torres, you absolutely should, whether you are a hiker or not. But perhaps you should scroll through Pinterest for a packing guide in advance next time. Ehm, s**t, I’m doing it again. I can’t stop myseeelf (in a Beyonce voice)! I’m gonna stop now. I promise. Cross my heart.)
So, when you are planning a trip to Patagonia, whether your main goal is hiking or not, you may want to include a town or three in your itinerary. (yes yes, you can send me a Thank you note later. That’d be lovely!)
Mind you, sending me a cute cat via giphy is considered as perfect thank you note.
10 UNIQUE TOWNS IN PATAGONIA
Unique towns in Patagonia I Argentina
SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE
Was it obvious that I’m gonna start with that one? 😀
Well, I did it for three reasons – first, it is one of the most beautiful towns in Patagonia, it is well-known and… I like to follow a path (tiny OCD person in me is clapping hands right now).
So, let’s start from the north down!
We spent only 2 days here and I still regret this stupid, stupid decision (it had something to do with rushing towards the south of the continent since winter was coming).
Bojan and I fell in love here. And not with each other, for a change. 😛
I fell in love with fairytale houses along the lake coast, he fell in love with the juicy steaks (THE best we ate, like EVER), we both fell in love with the views, Austrian-ski-town-atmosphere and kind people.
Not to mention they have the cutest municipality building, an ice cream shop with so many delicious flavours it’s IMPOSSIBLE to decide which one you want, a bunch of craft breweries and tons of chocolate shops (And now you see the pattern of temptations we can never resist. Food & Booze 4ever. Weak, that’s what we are, weak!)
Next to the municipality building you’ll also find the Museum of Patagonia and the tourism office which organizes some, ahem, quirky walking tours. Like, German immigration & Nazi presence walking tour. #justsaying
El Bolson is a quirky, hippie, two-worlds-at-two-sides-of-a-river town. 😊
Say what? Well, it goes like this.
One side of the town is Central-America-dirty, dusty, with shabby-looking houses and with barking, flea-ridden stray dogs and runny-nose children running around. On the other side of the river, “in the center”, there is a neat boulevard and a park, cafes in idyllic cottages and spotless campgrounds.
Now, where do you think we stayed with our van?
At the dodgy site of the town, naturally. 😀
But as happens many times, things aren’t always what they seem.
So we ended up in a “sorta kinda artsy” (read: dishevelled) looking camp, spending our nights next to a campfire discussing the meaning of life with the owner (and his 7 dogs) and eating freshly baked bread and “alfajores” for breakfast (heavenly soft Argentinian cookies with dulce de leche, mmmmmm) from the neighbour lady.
In the ‘70s, many hippies moved from Buenos Aires to El Bolson and the hippy community is strong here. Dreads, bohemian pants, colorful dresses are as common as jeans here and next to stores with mechanic parts you’ll find ones with incense sticks and dream catchers.
To top it off, a few times per week there is an “artesania market” (hand-made crafts) at the main square where you’ll find anything from jewelry to stuffed dwarfs and pipes for smoking – er – something. 😛
Above the town, there is an easy hiking trail to the Bosque Tallado – a park overlooking the valley, where 56 wooden carved figures from different artists are on display.
So, El Bolson is without doubt no.1 among the quirkiest towns in Patagonia.
Chances are, you’ll go to this town anyway.
The name itself may not ring a bell, but if I tell you that you’ll pass this town (or sleep in the area) if you plan to visit Perito Moreno glacier, then it will all make sense. 😊
But I’m telling you, don’t just rush through it!
El Calafate does have the touristy vibe, as the main street in the town is packed with souvenir and trekking stores and chocolate shops (How dare they, giving me munchies every other step?!).
Between them, restaurants and bars are strategically placed so that all your good intentions of a “quick stroll through the town” are drowned in yet another creamy stout which you will eventually couple with that extra portion of fries. Or a burger. Make it two. (Mucho queso, por favor!)
And if it somehow happens that you a drink one beer (or five) too much (you didn’t see it coming at all, we believe you), I’m gonna make it clear for you in advance: Yes, there are dwarfs on the streets and looking at you from window shops. No, you aren’t just imagining things. You’ve got this. (Now go home and get some sleep).
We traveled around Patagonia with our van, Pisco, which we bought in Chile. So, this means we traveled on a budget. But from time to time one’s got to splurge a bit, right? RIGHT?? (say yes please, I’ll feel better).
Since our “being-together” anniversary was just when we were in El Calafate, this was a perfect excuse to become a not-so-budget traveler for a day. (Pro tip: make an anniversary out of everything you can, this way you successfully spend too much money guilt-free).
So, I’m telling you this firsthand, El Calafate is among the towns in Patagonia where you can indulge in self-care (cuz that’s clearly a definition of food, beer and sauna, if you were wondering).
Who wouldn’t want to visit the end of the world?
Ushuaia is a town located at the southern coast of Tierra del Fuego and has been considered the southernmost city in the world until recently.
Why until recently, what happened? you may wonder. We did as well.
Well, apparently Chile cultivates this healthy “neighbor envy” and couldn’t stand they didn’t hold the title. Therefore, they proclaimed Puerto Williams, which lays across the Beagle Channel and has less than 3000 inhabitants, a city. 😀
However, even if it is advertised as a southernmost city in Chilean media, Puerto Williams is, in tourism campaigns, usually promoted as the “southernmost town in the world” and Ushuaia is still widely considered as “Fin del Mundo” (The End of the World) since there are no roads to Puerto Williams.
Ushuaia itself is a packed and charming town with bitterly cold winds where snow from April on into winter is not unusual. But you’ll have fun there even if it’s snowing as it’s one of the nicest cities in Patagonia in our humble opinion!
Anyhow, worry not – if weather or strolls inside the former prison give you chills, you can warm yourself up with a cup of tea in a teahouse decorated in such a manner that it would fit right into the middle of Paris.
And there’s one thing Chile doesn’t have which Argentina does – the southernmost craft beer!
Take that, Puerto Williams!
Unique towns in Patagonia I Chile
Villarica was one of the first towns we visited when we started our “South America Overlanding trip” in Chile. Perhaps this is why it left a lasting impression. (Nope, not just this. It’s really cute.)
This low-key town next to Villarica Lake is a popular summer getaway for many Chileans (note the many lakeside cottages while you drive along the coast). While it is mainly a base for all kinds of outdoor activities in the area of Los Lagos, the town itself has its charms as well.
It is the first town south of Santiago with that Alpine-village atmosphere. The main streets are shaped by stone and wooden cottages and funky looking araucaria trees add that something extra to the appearance.
Here you’ll find one of the biggest artesania markets in Patagonia and you’ll be tempted to buy everything. I mean, who can resist a woolen hat with unique patterns that is hand-knitted in a couple of hours specifically and just for you?! (And gloves to go with it. And a couple of rings. And… Oh well, here goes the daily budget.)
Valdivia is a city which we felt is clearly underestimated. Even though we initially planned to stay only one day, we stayed for three and found a bunch of things to do.
Valdivia is not particularly beautiful – except for promenades along the river. It lays at the confluence of two rivers not far from the Pacific coast and due to its strategic position has been inhabited since way long back – like for thousands of years.
This means only one thing – time for a daily dose of history!
There are a few small (but cool!) museums in the center of the city and you can visit the interior of a submarine that is half-submerged in the river bank. A visit to nearby islands and villages at the river mouth with ruins of a massive fortress makes a super-duper daily trip.
Not convinced yet? Wait, there’s more. (I do believe their tourism board should hire me for excitedly trying to sell a visit to Valdivia to everybody.)
Along the river promenade, you’ll find a group of lazy, fat (but kinda cute) sea lions that sunbathe most of the day and are oblivious to observers. Perhaps only if you’d come closer than a yard, they’d open their mouth and roar at you. You won’t jump away cuz you’d be scared (and they are too lazy to move anyway) but you will be chased away by the obnoxious smell from their mouth. 😀
Now, hear me out – I saved the best for the last. Valdivia is a beer capital of Chile. Among many little craft breweries, it is also home to a Kunstmann brewery, one of the biggest breweries in the country, that annually holds the biggest beer festival in South America.
Packing already? 😉
(Note: Festival in 2020 has been cancelled due to recent events in Chile)
Hear me out. Frutillar is one of the towns in Patagonia you just can’t miss out. Trust me, you’ll thank me later (You can add it to that Thank you card you’ll send me).
If you haven’t been to a German/Austrian village yet, you’ll simply find this place eye-catching and charming.
But if you know (at least from pictures) what a German village looks like, you’ll be wondering whether you’re on the right continent. You know, if you perhaps turned the compass the other way around and somehow went across the ocean without realizing it.
Cuz, man, this is JUST like Germany!
Wooden cottages with cute fences and German-style writings “Haus de Hans” and “Haus de Wolfgang” on them (Can you get MORE German?).
A café named “Hertz” (German for the heart) and restaurants which offer “goulash and spätzle”.
Like this is not enough, the town features a German museum (what else would you have been expecting) and a school named “Deutsche Schule”. Spelled not in Spanish, but in German. 😀
The thing is, Frutillar was founded by German immigrants in the 19th century and the German influence is still seen nowadays (obviously). And, like the owner of cute Hertz café explained to us, even though the majority of people don’t speak German anymore, almost every inhabitant has German ancestors.
And if you happen to be in Frutillar around Easter, don’t miss the annual event called Semana Santa when numerous concerts are held in a beautiful theater on the lake.
Puerto Varas is a lesser known town among foreign tourists but popular among Chileans, especially for inhabitants of Puerto Montt which is a big, ugly port city a bit further south. It’s another picturesque lake town with the outline of volcano Osorno across the lake and European architecture.
It’s a perfect weekend getaway place, or so it seems since a coastal area of the lake Llanquihue is packed with tourist accommodations, outdoor equipment stores, bars and restaurants.
It’s not a town in which to dwell too long (unless you take it as a base for all kind of sports), but it’s well worth stopping for a day.
Take a long walk along the bay (with obligatory coffee & beer pit stops, duh) and visit what is perhaps the most unusual museum in Chile. Believe me, you can’t miss it, it’s a witchy looking house, with half a Beetle sticking out of the wall and a bright orange T2 parked in front of it. It features a mixture of artist’s works and all kinds of historic collections (cuz, you know, there is no such thing as having too many typewriters with missing keys).
Ahh, and a pro tip: check out a restaurant called Mesa Tropera. A view over the lake is outstanding, but it is nothing compared to their pizzas and craft beers. 😉 (See, food & booze, again.)
Ta-na-na-na. We have the winner. The MOST UNIQUE town of all towns in Patagonia (well, technically it is a village, but let’s ignore this detail).
This isolated town lies towards the end of the famous road Carretera Austral (the only place further south is Villa O’Higgins, but you need to take a ferry in between). It lies at the mouth of the biggest river in Chile and it is surrounded by fjords, channels and islands.
But what makes it unique is its appearance. You see, Caleta Tortel consists of stilt wooden houses that are built along the bay coast. There aren’t streets exactly, but wooden, not-so-firm-everywhere walkways that connect one house to the other.
Oh, and the second coolest thing in Caleta Tortel? Stray (or let’s say village) dogs. Two packs of dogs, to be precise. (If you don’t like dogs – er – maybe skip Caleta Tortel. Oh, and also, you can’t be my friend anymore. 😀 )
Upon entering the village these dogs would wait at the square, gruesomely growling and jumping at each other’s throats in what appears to be almost a life-or-death battle. Yep, it’s scary. But immediately after “the losers pack” is chased away, they will turn into the sweetest puppies ever who will patiently follow you around, direct you to the right walkway and keep you company while you explore the surroundings.
Turns out (and a local solemnly confirmed my suspicions) that they are basically tourist guides, fighting for their tourists when they arrive. They work as volunteers, of course. Tips in the form of biscuits? Highly appreciated.
Now, this one deserves a title as the spookiest one and therefore fits right onto this list of unique towns in Patagonia.
On the west coast of Chilean Tierra del Fuego lies a tiny town where …. there is nobody around. Not a living soul (Ok, exaggerating here, a lost guanaco or a curious fox may cross your path. You know, so that you can scream louder when you notice two eyes following you.)
It’s a detour from the main road that crosses Tierra del Fuego but when we learned about it there was no chance we’d be skipping it. Gotta see our first ghost town!
Puerto Percy was built for the workers of an oil company and their families. When the oil route changed, people moved as well.
Everything was left to decay.
Doors hang from their hinges, broken glass is scattered around houses in which you can enter, and a faded Mickey Mouse head on the doorway arch in front of the school gives an impression that some kind of natural disaster happened here.
The only sound is one of the pebbles under your feet when you walk along the main road, your steps are echoing in the vast empty building that used to be a gym and window shutters are slowly moving and squeaking in the wind.
Nope, we DID NOT sleep there.
Which one of these towns in Patagonia will you add to your itinerary? Don’t blame me, if you end up adding all of them. 😉
And do you remember that “Thank you note” I’ve mentioned earlier?? Well, maybe I got carried away a bit. Just a bit. But it would be lovely to hear from you which town in Patagonia was your favorite, so let us know in the comment section below!
Pin this now! (And thank me later 😛 )