Many of us have ‘seeing the aurora’ on our bucket list – and for good reason. To see the northern lights or southern lights dancing in the atmosphere, shades of green, red, purple, and white, is an unforgettable experience. It’s one of the most impressive space tourism activities you can enjoy.
For some aurora chasers though, a common destination like Iceland, Norway, or even Tasmania is just not enough. If you love the challenge and want to put in extra effort to see aurora where most people won’t consider trying to see the southern lights in South America. Patagonia is a world-class adventure destination. For a lucky few travelers with the persistence, patience, and luck to try a winter trip in hopes of seeing the aurora australis, you might just be well rewarded with that unforgettable and rare experience.
Read on to learn more about where you can see the southern lights in South America, including Patagonia. Plus read tips on everything else you need to know to plan an aurora trip to Chile, Argentina, or other parts of South America.
This post was originally published in June 2018, and was updated most recently in June 2.
What are the Southern Lights?
For those unfamiliar, the southern lights are the same phenomena as the northern lights – they just happen in the southern hemisphere. The top destinations to see the southern lights are the southernmost destinations in the world, including Tasmania.
The southern lights, also called the aurora australis, occur from solar activity striking the earth’s atmosphere. When this happens, these atoms light up and we can see the aurora phenomena. The aurora can be different colors, depending on the atoms that are excited: green, red, purple, or even white.
Can You See the Southern Lights in Patagonia? When?
Technically, yes, you can see the southern lights from Patagonia and other destinations equally far south in South America. On a good night for solar activity and when the weather is good, you may be lucky to spot the aurora over the mountains in Tierra del Fuego.
Where to See the Southern Lights in Patagonia… and Beyond
Seeing the southern lights from anywhere in South America is a pretty rare occurrence. But, it is certainly possible and can be done. Your chances of planning a short trip (1-2 weeks) when the southern lights are happening are slim-to-none; if you’re going to be in the region for a longer period of time, here’s where you might see them.
The Patagonia region includes parts of both Chile and Argentina and you might wonder: can you see the aurora australis there? Yes – but you’ll need to make an epic quest to see the southern lights in Chile or Argentina’s Patagonia region.
Most travelers make their way to Patagonia to explore the region’s stunning mountain and glacier vistas. Based on the picture above, it’s not hard to see why Patagonia is one of the most beautiful regions in the world, a haven for adventure travelers, and astronaut Peggy Whitson’s favorite view from her time in space (skip to the 9:20 mark to see STG founder Valerie ask Peggy this question!).
If you’ve got the time and want to move a bit slower, book a stay somewhere like this ski resort cabin and hope for clear skies on a cold winter night. (Even if you don’t see the aurora australis, you can enjoy winter sports in the region!)
Most people know Ushuaia as the ‘End of the World,’ a jumping-off point for Antarctica cruises. As the southernmost city in the world, you can’t get much further south than Ushuaia – and it’s the most urban place you can base yourself for trying to see the southern lights in Argentina.
In the winter season, you can expect up to 17 hours of darkness in Ushuaia, meaning plenty of opportunity for viewing if the southern lights do appear. Ushuaia is definitely the best place to see the aurora australis in Argentina.
Though most people won’t journey this far just to see the southern lights, the Falkland Islands are generally considered one of the best places in the world to see them.
Geographically, you can see the aurora in the Falkland Islands between the months of April and August each year. Flights depart with some regularity from Punta Arenas in Chile and from Rio Gallegos in Argentina. But, they are typically only offered on the shoulders of the aurora season (March/April and August).
South Georgia Island & South Sandwich Islands
The last spot you can see the southern lights from South America is from South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands – far out in the Atlantic east of the Falkland Islands.
To be honest, it’s not easy to get to South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands in aurora season. There is no airstrip on the islands and the only access is by boat. Most passenger boats or commercial companies only offer cruises that vary in length from 17-28 days round-trip. These only occur between late October and the end of March, the opposite of aurora australis season. In short, you’ll be hard-pressed to get the right timing to see the aurora while visiting South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands.
If you’re sold on visiting anyway, check out these options:
- Quark Expeditions offers an 18-day cruise to visit the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island.
- You can enjoy a 20-day cruise to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, and Antarctica with Poseidon Expeditions.
Antarctica on your list anyway? Visiting South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands could be a great extension.
Aurora Alerts in South America
There aren’t any specific tools to check whether the southern lights will be visible on a given night. But, Sky Marvels has a helpful website that pulls data from OVATION, an NOAA/NWS space weather prediction center. This can give you a good sense of when there is a lot of solar activity and when the aurora might be visible.
No matter where you are trying to view the aurora, be patient. There is no way to 100% predict that the aurora will be visible, or what time they might appear.
Will you try to see the southern lights in Patagonia, Chile, Argentina, or elsewhere in South America? Let me know your questions in the comments.