Travel Through Patagonia with Kids!
This is your ultimate guide to traveling through Patagonia with kids! As a new mom, I’ve researched tons of places I think would be cool to take my new son, Jackson, who just turned one. When I started researching Patagonia, I assumed that it was a location better for older children and adults, but Patagonia actually has a ton of activities for families, even for kiddos as young as Jackson!
Where: Patagonia stretches across the southern tip of South America and occupies space in both Argentina and Chile. It hosts the southern section of the Andes mountains and has been shaped by glaciers. This sparely populated region is roughly the size of France and Spain combined and has a population of less than two people per square kilometer!
When to go: There’s really not a wrong time of year to take your family to Patagonia. Timing is going to depend on the experience you’d like to have:
- Warmest Months: Patagonia is typically warmest during the summer months (December- February), and this is when many people choose to visit.
- Most Picturesque Times: Winter (June-August) is a really picturesque time to go and see snow-kissed mountains, but many hiking trails may be closed during this time. Fall offers the chance to see some beautiful foliage.
- Great Travel Deals: You’re most likely to find good travel deals in Fall and Spring.
- Penguin Watching: If you want to see penguins during your trip, it’s recommended to go November-March as this is when they migrate to Patagonia to breed.
- Whale Watching: Prime whale-watching season runs from May through October.
Where to Stay: There are plenty of fun places to stay in Patagonia with kids. Most hotels are family-friendly, but it’s a good idea to ask prior to booking. Many of the national parks have accommodation on-site and can arrange park tours for you. An estancia (ranch) is also a great option. They may even allow your family to help out with the animals or go horseback riding during your stay.
What to do: There is so much to do in Patagonia with kids! Below I’ve listed the most popular activities for families and split them up by country.
Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the top-recommended placed to visit in Patagonia with kids. Though many of the hikes may be more appropriate for older children, there is still much for the younger ones to see. Keep an eye out for Patagonia’s Big 5 animals, which include guanacos (in the camel family), ñandús (in the ostrich family), pumas, south andean deer, and condors. Your hotel or lodge can help arrange excursions, but here are a few kid-friendly things you can do:
- Take the trail to Salto Grande waterfall is a fairly easy hike for children and provides fantastic views!
- Drive over to Laguna Azul, a picturesque lagoon. Bring a picnic lunch and watch for herds of guanacos.
- Go to Grey Lake and watch the floating icebergs. For older children, take a kayak or boat tour to Grey Glacier!
- Fill up you cups directly in the lakes! The glacier water is so fresh, you can drink it!
Puero Varas is a quaint town with German heritage and a European flair. It has serene views of Lago Llanquihue and the Osorno Volcano. Take a kayak out on the lake or drive over to visit the volcano. Petrohué Falls is also a short distance away!
Search for Wild Penguins
Excursions with wild penguins definitely tops the list of things to do in Patagonia with kids! Magellanic penguins can be spotted at several locations in Chile. Here is some info about some of the most popular spots:
- Magdalena Island: A 30 minute boat ride from Punta Arenas, Magdalena Island is a designated nature reserve because of its importance as a penguin breeding site. From November to early April, Magellan penguins can be found breeding and molting here. You can even walk on the trails among the 200,000 penguins call this island home! Mornings are generally better for penguin viewing.
- Cape Horn: Cape Horn is the southernmost point of land associated with South America and marks the northern point of the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica. Penguins are known to live on the Horn. You’ll need to book a tour to get here. Waters can be rather treacherous, so some expeditions may not be able to disembark to get up close to the penguins.
- Otway Sound: Otway Sound and Penguin Reserve is about a 50 minute drive from Punta Arenas. A boardwalk will take you through the Reserve with several lookout points for penguin viewing. Though this site has great reviews overall, more recent reviews have been rather negative, stating that there weren’t many penguins.
If you fall in love with the penguins during your visit, Seabirds.org offers an Adopt-A-Penguin program where you can receive photos and monitor the progress of your very own wild penguin!
Explore the Ancient Milodon Cave
Near Puerto Natales, Milodon Cave sits in the middle of Milodon Cave National Monument. This cave is believed to be one of the earliest hunting sights for Patagonia’s first inhabitants. Ancient tools and human remains have been found in the cave, as well as remains from extinct animals including a dwarf horse and saber-tooth cat. Trails will guide you through classic Patagonian scenery and to the Milodon Cave. You can also bring in a picnic lunch to enjoy in front of the cave.
Perito Moreno Glacier
Located in Los Glaciares National Park, Perito Moreno Glacier is a must-see in Patagonia! Covering 250 square kilometers, this massive glacier is constantly moving and growing. Most people will see Perito Moreno Glacier as a day trip from El Calafate, about 75 kilometers away. Here are a few options on how to enjoy the glacier:
- Boardwalk: The easiest way to view the Perito Moreno Glacier is from the paths and boardwalks inside Los Glaciares National Park. The park also has plenty of places for a picnic. If you watch the glacier long enough, you may even see giant chunks of ice plummet into the water!
- Boat: Another popular way to experience Perito Moreno Glacier is by boat. Many tours will pick you up from your hotel in El Calafate. The tours will then take you on a cruise through massive ice chunks in the lagoon in front of Perito Moreno. Tours may also allow you time to view the glacier from the boardwalks as well.
- Trekking: For families with children age 10 and older, a mini-trekking tour will take you out on to the glacier for a once in a lifetime experience. Many tours will pick you up from your hotel in El Calafate. Take a boat through the lagoon and disembark at Perito Moreno. Strap on a pair of crampons and spend a few hours being guided through glacial terrain!
Ushuaia is the southern most city in the world, and a common stopover for ships sailing to Antarctica. There are many things to do in and around Ushuaia.
- Beagle Channel: Take a boat cruise through Beagle Channel and see lots of wildlife along the way. For those a bit more adventurous, consider canoeing through the channel!
- Skiiing: Spend a day skiing at Cerro Castor. Lessons are available for children 3 and up.
- Visit Penguins: Martillo Island is home to three different penguin species. You’ll be able to see thousands of pairs of of Magellanic penguins, gentoo penguins, and if you’re lucky, king penguins. Several tour companies off opportunities to see the penguins from a catamaran or sailboat. Piratour has the exclusive rights to take tour groups to walk among the penguins. A limited number of people can visit the penguins with Piratour each day, so it’s best to make reservations in advance.
- Take the Region’s Oldest Train: Take the End of the World Train into Tierra del Fuego National Park (see info below).
End of the World Train
The End of the World Train is the southernmost railway in the world. This train was originally built to connect Ushuaia’s prison with a forestry camp to bring building supplies into the prison. You’ll leave from End of the World Station (near Ushuaia), learn all about the convict train’s history, and travel through inaccessible parts of Tierra del Fuego National Park. You’ll need to pay admission into the park in addition to the train fare. It’s also possible to take the morning train into the park, spend the day hiking, and take the afternoon train back.
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Accessible from Ushuaia, spend a few hours hiking and taking in the beautiful scenery at Tierra del Fuego National Park. The Hito XXIV trail (which marks the Chilean border), Seaside Path, Pampa Alta Trail, and the climb up Cerro Guanaco are all a bit longer and more challenging, but there are plenty of trails that the whole family can enjoy.
- See the beaver dams: A 400 meter walk up to Los Castores stream to see the dam system and series of ponds created by beavers.
- Negra Lagoon: A 400 meter walk to a dark-water lake, with water stained dark by peat moss.
- Take in views from The Lookout: A 500 meter walk through the lenga forest to look out over Lapataia Bay. This bay also marks the end of the Pan American Highway!
- De La Isla Path: A 800 meter walk around the Cormoranes archipelago.
Bariloche is another city close to many Patagonian attractions. If you love chocolate and outdoor activities, you can’t go wrong in Bariloche!
- Nahuel Huapi National Park: With lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests, and volcanoes, this park isn’t lacking in breath-taking scenery! Those who want to get out on the water can go kayaking, river rafting, or paragliding. There are also plenty of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty.
- Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth: Bariloche is famous for it’s chocolate manufacturing industry. As you wander the streets of Bariloche, pop into the chocolate shops to try some free samples!
- Cerro Catedral: Argentina’s renowned ski area, there are plenty of slopes for your family’s big and little snow bunnies! Lessons are also available for all ages.
- Learn About Dinosaurs: For the dinosaur lovers in your family, be sure to swing by Museo del Lago Gutierrez and Parque Nahuelito (more info below).
Patagonia has been the sight of some great discoveries in the paleontology field. Learn all about these giants in one of Argentina’s Paleontologic Museums or go on a hunt for dinosaur footprints!
- Canadon Escondido: Located in the Neuquen basin, this canyon is home to a gigantic dinosaur footprint! It’s only a short walk to access, so definitely worth it even for younger children. Many dinosaur specimens have been recovered in this area and are housed at the Ernesto Bachmann Museum. It’s recommended to visit this museum first to learn about the fossils. Neuquen is also home to several excavation sites, some of which may be possible to visit. Read this article for more info.
- Museo del Lago Gutierrez: On Lake Gutierrez, this tiny museum in Bariloche is packed full of dinosaur relics and fossils from the area. Bring a picnic or go kayaking on the lake to make a day of it! Also in Bariloche, swing by Parque Nahuelito, a small theme park with giant dinosaur replicas.
- Egidio Feruglio Paleontologic Museum: Located in the city of Trelew (about 45 minutes from Puerto Madryn), this museum will not disappoint dinosaur fans! The Egidio Feruglio Paleontologic Museum has giant life-size dinosaur skeletons and exhibits that will teach you all about the history of dinosaurs in Patagonia.
Spot Whales Near Puerto Madryn
Puerto Madryn’s Doradillo Beach offers tons of opportunities for whale watching! Watch right whales breach high into the air and blow water from their blow holes. From May to October, these whales can be seen swimming shockingly close to the shore. For an even closer encounter, head out on a boat tour from Puerto Pirámides. Sea lions are known to be spotted in this area as well!
While in Puerto Madryn, also check out the Ecocenter. Through a bunch of interactive exhibits, you’ll learn all about marine life in the Patagonian sea.
If you need one more option on where to see wild penguins, Punta Tombo is the place! Punta Tombo is about a 2 hour drive from Puerto Madryn, and many tours leave from here. You’ll be able to walk among thousands of penguins and learn all about their fascinating behavior!
So there you have it- a guide to traveling through Patagonia with kids! I’m open to making additions to this guide, so if you’ve been to Patagonia with kids and have any recommendations, feel free to comment!How to visit Patagonia with your kids!Click To Tweet