Chilean Patagonia Travel Guide
Fjords, glaciers and magnificent scenery attract visitors to the vast wilderness of Chilean Patagonia. The north, or Aisen region, can be likened to the Inside Passage of Alaska or New Zealand's Fjordland on South Island, with its dramatic ice and waterway scenery, while Southern Patagonia (or Magallanes) is rugged, mountainous and stormy.
It was nearly 500 years ago that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan guided four ships through the treacherous passages that are still thought of as the 'End of the World'. Today, Patagonia is inhabited by nearly two million people, though the majority of them live on the Argentinian side. Even there, the region is still almost entirely dominated by pristine nature.
The gravel highway known as the Carretera Austral is a pathway to one of the world's last great expanses of wilderness. It begins at the port of Chaiten and continues to the capital of northern Patagonia, Coyhaique, both of which are good bases for explorations of Chilean Patagonia. The most popular attraction in this region, despite the difficulty and expense of getting here, is the two million-hectare (four million-acre), glacier-filled Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, which has some of the world's most spectacular mountain- and fjord scenery.
Magallanes features glacially sculpted mountains and harsh landscapes, with the jewel in its crown, Torres del Paine National Park, being the most famous of the southern region's protected areas. Even further south is the town of Puerto Natales, terminus of the extraordinary ferry trip through the fjords from Puerto Montt, and the main exploration base for the region. Beyond the continent lies the harsh and stormy archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, stretching towards icy Antarctica.
The best way to visit the region is to fly into Santiago and book a flight with a low-cost airline to reach Patagonia; accommodation options range from design-forward hotels to cypress-wood cabins set in pine woods and remote ecolodges. There are many tour groups that offer multiple day- or week packages, and the best time to venture to the region is from November to early March, which is summertime in the southern hemisphere. Autumn (March, April, and May) and Spring (September, October, and November) are also good times to visit, as they experience mild temperatures and fewer crowds.