The southern tip of the Americas evokes images of a mountainous, windswept wilderness. Skiers, fly fishing enthusiasts, and hikers worldwide choose this region, called Patagonia, as a top destination. Curving roads through old-growth forests transform into straight paths over the southern steppe. Driving Patagonia's most famous highway, Ruta 40, will take travelers past mountain vistas, crystal clear lakes, and wide views of cloudless skies. Both Esquel and Bariloche offer prime skiing from July through September.

THETRAVEL VIDEO OF THE DAY

Additionally, each of these Patagonian cities is near impressive national parks: Nahuel Huapi and Los Alerces. They also are near commercial airports, making it easy to get there--this is not the always case with southern destinations in Argentina and Chile. Driving the 300 km stretch between the two can take as little as four hours, but travelers should plan on taking longer (possibly two days) to explore the sites along the way.

Esquel and Trevelin

This journey begins in Esquel. La Trochita, Patagonia's historic narrow-gauge steam engine, might be the city's most famous attraction, but this destination along with neighboring Trevilin has far more to offer. Nature lovers and hikers will want to visit Los Alerces National Park. Wine enthusiasts can try vintages from some of the world's southernmost vineyards. Winter travelers can ski on the slopes of Mount La Hoya. Visitors in springtime will be awestruck by the tulip fields in the Welsh settlement of Trevelin.

  • Contact La Trochita: info@latrochita.org.ar, 54-2945-451-403
  • Hours: 10 am on Saturdays, more frequency in peak tourist season
  • Price: $20-$40 US
  • Ski Season at La Hoya: July - September
  • Lift Tickets: Around $30 per day when purchased online

Los Alerces

Driving 40 minutes to the west of Esquel, visitors will discover UNESCO Site, Los Alerces National Park. This forest is home to trees that sprouted over a thousand years ago. El Alerce Abuelo, or grandfather fitzroya, is the oldest specimen here. It is around 2600 years old, measures nearly 190 feet in height, and has a circumference of around nine feet. Visitors can see this imposing individual by taking a 40-minute boat ride across Lake Menendez. People must buy tickets for this excursion ahead of time in Esquel's center.

The park is a glorious destination for fishing, hiking, kayaking, camping, or taking a scenic drive. People who don't make it to see the Alerce Abuelo can still take hikes through patches of orange Arayan trees and exotic-looking monkey puzzle trees.

  • Entrance fee: About $10 US
  • Transport to the park: Rental cars or buses from Esquel's bus terminal
  • Boat excursion to Alerce Abuelo: About $60 US through Patagonia Express
  • Excursion times: 10:45 on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays

related: If You're Visiting Chile For Its Landscape, This Is The Best Time To Go (And Why

Waterfall Nant Y Fall And Trevelin's Tulip Fields

Welsh settlers in Argentina founded Trevelin which means mill. This small community has preserved its Celtic heritage and some residents still speak their ancestors' language more than 100 years later. After a day of hiking in Los Alerces National Park, it's the perfect place to settle down and experience "Welsh Tea." From about 5 pm to 7 pm travelers can stop at one of the town's teahouses. There, for a flat fee, servers will bring them a variety of cakes, cookies, and treats that are traditional to the settlement.

  • Where: Nain Maggie Teahouse, Perito Moreno 179
  • When: 5 pm to 7 pm
  • Price: $12 US

Nearby, the Nant Y Fall River flows out of the mountains onto the Patagonian steppe. This geological transition has formed seven spectacular waterfalls within just a few feet. The sight will awe visitors on the half-mile hike.

  • Where: Reserva Nant Y Fall, Provincial Highway 259
  • Entrance fee: $3 US

Along the same gravel highway that leads to the falls, visitors can stop and enjoy a wine tasting at the beautiful Viñas Nant Y Fall Winery, or if it's October see tulip fields at Tulipanes Patagonia. They'll also find Nant Fach, the original watermill that gave the town its name. Today it's a quaint, fun museum.

  • Tour of Tulip Fields: $8 US
  • Tour of Nant Fach Mill: $4 US

related: Argentina's Valley Of The Moon Has Been Called "Unearthly" And Here's Why

El Bolson

Back on Ruta 40, drivers should head north to El Bolson. This Patagonian town has earned fame for its handmade crafts and fanaticism for elves. Try to make it here on a Saturday afternoon when the crafts fair in the Plaza Pagano is at its busiest. Artists display their works from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, on Thursdays through Sundays.

Driving through this town, visitors will notice unique, modern adobe constructions. This type of architecture has become a trend here because it's environmentally friendly, artistic, and warm throughout the snowy winter.

Bariloche

As drivers travel north along Ruta 40, they'll see the enticing Lake Gutierrez to the west. There are scenic lookouts aplenty and beaches where travelers can eat a picnic lunch. The highway passes through the heart of Nahuel Huapi National Park and visitors will see hiking trails and campgrounds where they can stop and explore the wooded area.

On the northwestern shore of Lake Gutierrez, tourists can take a short hike to the Cascada de los Duendes, Elves' Waterfall in English. It is an enchanting spot and the hike is accessible for all ages.

The city of Bariloche is just minutes away. This is one of Argentina's most famous tourist destinations and it's easy to see why. Lake Nahuel Huapi sits against a backdrop of snowcapped peaks. The mountain slopes are carpeted with indigenous trees like orange arayans, but also planted with pines. Circuito Chico, or the short loop, is a scenic drive along the shores of Nahuel Huapi that takes tourists past some breathtaking views.

German settlers here developed the skiing infrastructure. Today, visitors can ski Mount Catedral's slope from July to September. Mount Otto, another nearby peak, offers rides from cable car rides from the base to a rotating cafe on the summit. The views are incredible. When travelers finish a day of sightseeing or skiing, they've got to re-energize with some of Bariloche's famous chocolate.

  • Lift Ticket for Cerro Catedral: $40 US online
  • Cable car ride on Cerro Otto: $15 US

next: How To Plan A Trip To Torres Del Paine: One Of South America's Most Eye-Watering Parks