Patagonia

Overview

Introduction

The southern Chilean portion of Patagonia, South America's southernmost region (it spans both Chile and Argentina), is normally reached by air through the city of Punta Arenas or, alternatively, overland through Argentina. Patagonia's rugged and varied scenery, including fjords, vast pampas, lakes and glaciers, is filled with coastal wildlife, such as elephant seals, sea lions and penguins. The weather can be harsh—expect a lot of rain and wind—but snow is uncommon at lower elevations, at least in the summer months.

The top attraction on the Chilean side is Torres del Paine National Park, but the magnificent architecture of Punta Arenas, the penguin colony of Magdalena Island, the fjords and glacier of Tierra el Fuego, and the fjords of Ultima Esperanza near Puerto Natales are no less worthwhile. Activities include boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and sea kayaking. Patagonia can be seen by charter plane, four-wheel-drive vehicle, on foot, mountain bike or horseback (or any combination).

Also consider taking the four- to seven-day cruise through the Straits of Magellan, which visits ice-clogged fjords of Tierra del Fuego and even goes ashore at Cape Horn. Sailing through the spectacular landscapes, it's sobering to realize that, for centuries, it was Europe's main passage to the Pacific via the Americas—thousands perished in storms there. For an idea of the rigors of traversing the strait and Cape Horn, read Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana. Spend at least a week in Patagonia to do justice to its enormous expanses.

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