The southern region of Argentina is a fascinating mix of desert, ice-capped mountains, vast plains, sandy beaches and majestic glaciers. South of the Rio Colorado is the captivating Patagonia region, an area of diverse landscapes largely protected by a dozen national parks and reserves. Temperatures in the region can be extreme, from mild to well below zero and most visitors wisely choose to travel to Patagonia in summer. Patagonia is far from an icy wasteland, however. Bursting with wildlife, the area is also covered with large tracts of arable land (producing large amounts of fruit and vegetables), and is home to the country's biggest oil and coal reserves.
The coastline in the south has the warmest water in the country and a favoured destination is Las Grutas, a tourist-oriented beach resort on the Blue Gulf in the Rio Negro province. The area takes its name from the many caves dotted about the coastline, and provides visitors with an opportunity to sunbathe on the sheltered beaches, or enjoy plenty of watersports. The southern coastline is also incredibly popular due to the large amounts of marine life that can be found here, from southern right whales to elephant seals, sea lions, and penguins, as well as an astounding array of birdlife.
Continuing further south, one hits the world's southern-most city, Ushuaia, situated on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. This island territory (partly shared with Chile) is a favourite starting point for tours to Antarctica, but also offers plenty of activities and attractions for visitors, including trekking in the Andes in the western part of the archipelago, spectacular kayaking, some of the world's best brown trout fishing, and Argentina's only coastal national park. The southern region of Argentina is every bit as fascinating as the north and certainly has a lot to offer the intrepid traveller.
Adventurous travellers are drawn to the savage beauty and rich wildlife of Patagonia. This region of contrasts and extremes, stretching across Argentina and Chile, runs from the Colorado river, south of Buenos Aires, across to the southern tip of South America. Many people visit the famous wildlife reserve of Peninsula Valdésgo between July and April, where southern right whales, elephant seals and other rare marine mammals come to breed in their thousands. However, those going further south should visit only in the summer months if they wish to avoid temperatures that plummet to -13°F (-25°C).
In villages along the valley of the Río Chubut, visitors can explore the cultural legacy of the Welsh pioneers, and nearby at Punta Tombo lies the continent's largest penguin colony. Keen fly-fishermen come from around the world to test their skills in the region's rivers, the best known of which is the Río Gallegos. On the western fringe, along the Andes, you will find the most impressive of Patagonia's great lakes and national parks. The Parque Nacional Perito Moreno, home to the aquamarine gem of Lago Belgrano, has excellent trekking possibilities, as does the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Here visitors will find one of the world's natural wonders, the vast Perito Moreno Glacier, a great river of ice that breaks off into Lake Argentino.
This island territory at the tip of South America is shared by Chile and Argentina and is a place of staggering scenery. Though further south, the region does not reach the extreme temperatures of neighbouring Patagonia, but it is still not for the faint-hearted. The principal tourist destination is Ushuaia, which acts as a base for those visiting the dramatic Canal Beagle, or trekking in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego and the mountain ranges of southern Tierra del Fuego, with its magnificent scenery of lakes, snow-capped mountains and beechwood forests.
Ushuaia is also the place to go if you want to visit Antarctica, since many ships depart from there on journeys stopping at several islands and taking in penguin colonies, seal and sea lion colonies, massive sea bird colonies, and more. The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse is another attraction found in Ushuaia, and the area plays host to a few small ski resorts, featuring both downhill and cross-country skiing. There is less reason to visit the north of the island unless you are a keen fly-fishermen heading to the Río Grande, the world's best brown-trout river.
Situated in Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the breathtaking Perito Moreno Glacier is nearly 19 miles (30km) in length and spreads over an area of 97 square miles (250 sq km). The spectacular, blue-white ice formation is one of the only glaciers in the world that is growing, at a rate of seven feet (2m) per day. Visitors can marvel at the site of the glacier 'calving': enormous chunks of ice breaking off into the water with a deafening crash, creating icebergs and causing large waves.
The glacier is also world renowned for its unique rupturing process; at certain periods the glacier's front reaches the coastal border of the lake, blocking off the flow of water from the Andes and causing its waters to rise by about 66 feet (20m). When the pressure is too much, the dam of ice cracks and shatters, sending icebergs downstream. Ruptures like this occur on average every four to five years, although sometimes as often as every other year; the most recent rupture occurred in March 2016.
The closest town to this natural wonder is El Calafate in Argentina's Santa Cruz Province, which is about two hours' drive away. There are regular buses from El Calafate to the glacier. Tour companies operating from El Calafate offer trekking trips that take visitors out onto the glacier's ice, for anywhere from one to five hours.
One look at the beautiful beaches was all the residents at Las Grutas needed to start building what would become one of Argentina's most popular resorts. The landscape is dramatic, with cliffs and plateaus shielding hidden beaches and caves, giving way to dramatic sea views.
Las Grutas has a few main beaches numbered from zero to seven, with zero being the closest to downtown. The town's position on the Atlantic coast gives it some of the warmest waters in Argentina, and the rugged coastline makes the area ideal for paragliding, hiking and other activities. There are scuba diving facilities, and several spas that offer Thalassotherapy treatments using local resources.
Las Grutas itself is a small town with a few hotels and restaurants, but it makes a great base from which to explore other interesting beaches and towns in the area, including San Antonia Oeste, Puerto Madryn, Sierra Grande, and Punta Tombo.
The diverse terrain and striking landscapes of Southern Argentina attract many visitors seeking adventure and natural beauty. Explore the turquoise lakes of Patagonia's Lake District, and visit Argentina's chocolate capital Bariloche on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi. With skiing in the winter and water sports, camping, fishing and hiking in the summer, travellers will never want for entertainment in this region.
The wild and beautiful desolation of Patagonia is not to be missed. On the Atlantic coast, visitors can admire the dramatic cliffs along the beaches of Las Grutas, and observe penguins, elephant seals, rheas, sea lions and endangered southern right whales in Reserva Faunística Península Valdés - one of South America's finest wildlife reserves and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Majestic peaks and ice blue glaciers attract intrepid travellers to Western Patagonia, where the massive Glaciar Perito Moreno is the star of southern Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Visitors to Argentina can head for the end of the Earth, the southernmost tip of the Americas, as they cross the Magellan Strait to reach the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. Here, one can visit Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, and enjoy activities such as trout fishing, hiking, skiing and kayaking.
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