WHEN MATADOR OFFERED ME a press trip slot with ExperiencePlus! on its latest Pedal the Andes Plus Chiloe 11-day cycle tour, I couldn’t refuse.
My five-year-and-counting love affair with Patagonia began with a short ski trip in 2004. In 2007 I committed, and I’ve been based in Mendoza, Argentina, ever since. Each year, I visit my favorite southern region, using whatever cheap excuse will buy me a few days in the Lakes District. Last year, under the guise of our honeymoon, I introduced my wife to my first love when we cycled Patagonia along Argentina’s Ruta 40. This ExperiencePlus! trip was the perfect opportunity to head south once again.
Here are 16 reasons why you should pack your bags, hire a bike, and cycle Patagonia.
Boat in the mud
1. It isnât 'modernized.'Despite development and international tourism, much of Patagonia remains small-scale.
Restaurant over the water
2. But tourist towns are modern enough.The balance between authentic and kitsch is evident in some towns, where development has improved the tourism experience without ruining what was there.
Long empty road
3. Argentinean Patagonia is empty.Promotional posters feature mountains and glaciers, but most of the Argentinean side is an arid steppe with few towns and people.
Greenery by the roadside
4. Chilean Patagonia is green.Unlike its Argentinean counterpart, the Chilean side of Patagonia is best described as green. Vegetation is thick and interrupted only by cow pastures.
Cow portraits, Chile
5. Dairy products are local.A ride along any road in central Chile reveals these curious Overo Colorado cows. They produce milk for much of Chileâs dairy industry, and local market stalls sell homemade cheese, butter, and Licor de Oro.
6. There's beef and malbec.Argentina is known for its grass-fed beef and malbec wine. While both are available at nearly every restaurant, I had my best at El Boliche de Albertoâs in Bariloche.
Cyclist and mountain
7. It's really easy.Guided trips, like the ExperiencePlus! Pedal the Andes itinerary, make it easy for cyclists without the time or resources for an extended self-supported tour.
Luxury hotel room
8. Exchange rates make hotels cheap.Although inflation has driven prices up, exchange rates still favor the dollar and make splurging on quality accommodation easier on the budget.
9. Locals are friendly.Bigger Southern Cone cities like Buenos Aires and Santiago can be rough, but Patagonian locals remain open and welcome conversations with visitors.
On the beach, Chile
10. Tour agencies are flexible.Want to see penguins on Chiloe Island? Just drive up the beach to the local tour agency and they'll ferry you to the nearby colony.
11. Cycle tourists are safe on the highway.Traffic isnât heavy on the common cycle routes, and drivers tend to yield to cyclists better than in other regions of Argentina and Chile.
Manning the parrilla
12. People cook on wood-fueled grills.I grew up with charcoal and propane barbeques, but wood-fueled grills are the rule here. The technique slow cooks even the toughest cuts of meat and leaves them tender.
Church in Patagonia
13a. There are different cultures.Spanish heritage dominates South America, but Patagonian architecture was influenced by a wave of German and Welsh immigration during the 1800s.
13b.And Mapuche indigenous communities continue to teach their heritage and language to younger generations.
Curanto on Chiloe
14. Curanto on Chiloe is delicious.Curanto is a traditional dinner of shellfish, pork, chicken, sausages, potatoes, and potato cakes. Itâs cooked in a large pit lined with scalding hot stones and covered with rhubarb leaves that prevent the steam from escaping.
Chilean fishing boats
15a. There are fresh colors and fresh fish.Like fishing communities throughout the world, Chiloe Island is home to a variety of colorful houses and boats.
15b.And both markets and restaurants offer up the catch of the day.
16. Souvenirs are cheap.Artisans produce arts and crafts made of local wood and wool, meaning you can take home a small piece of Patagonia while supporting the local art community.