Back in the 1970’s, when mountaineer-turned-outdoor clothing manufacturer Yvon Chouinard needed a name for his fledgling company, he took inspiration from one of the world’s last true frontiers – back then, Patagonia, Chile, was distant and mysterious, a place where few outsiders had ventured. “Patagonia” seemed like a perfect name for his new brand. He made a good choice.
These days, Patagonia’s rugged and stunning highlands are much more accessible, but still maintain an air of mystery and adventure, a place that every traveler needs to visit. Here are 6 experiences in Patagonia that you won’t want to miss.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
“Torres del Paine” literally translates to “towers of blue.” It’s an apt description of Patagonia’s most recognizable features – three massive granite towers that stretch into the skies above turquoise glacial waters.
Climbing the Central Tower is a bucket list item for expert rock climbers; bring binoculars, and you may spot some on the vertical face of the 2,460-meter giant. If vertical adventures don’t appeal to you, Torres del Paine offers some of the best hiking in Chile. The Sierra del Toro Trail is perfect for first-time visitors; you’ll be immersed in the park’s incredible scenery, and you may spot some of the region’s fabled wildlife.
The park is host to enormous Andean condors, reclusive South American gray foxes, and the endangered Andean deer.
To the west of Torres del Paine park lies the massive Grey Glacier. Reaching into Grey Lake, the enormous ice flow reaches a width of 6 kilometers and a peak height of 30 meters. You can see it from trails along the lake’s shore, but the best way to experience Grey Glacier is up close, via guided boat tours.
On the water, you’ll get close enough to the glacial ice to feel the chill, and if you’re lucky you may witness the process of calving, in which chunks of the glacier peel off and drop to the water below.
Patagonia isn’t just towering spires and chilly glaciers. There’s a thriving ranch culture in the region, and a select few of the estancias – sheep, cattle, and horse ranches – open their doors to visitors.
On a Patagonia tour, you’ll spend time with gauchos, and marvel at their riding, roping and sheep-shearing skills, and enjoy a barbecue in one of the most unique places on earth. It’s a side of Chile that most visitors don’t get to experience, and an estancia visit will be a highlight of your adventure.
The port city of Puerto Natales serves as a jumping-off point for Torres del Paine excursions, but the city has plenty to offer Patagonia visitors. Art galleries and museums offer a fascinating look at Patagonian history and culture; stroll around the waterfront and take in the local shops while enjoying the excellent Patagonian cuisine.
For the active-minded, taking a bike ride along the shoreline of Seno Ultima Esperanza is a great way to sightsee – give yourself some time and you’ll be able to reach the beautiful Eberhard Fjord. If you want to stretch your legs, hike up Dorotea Hill for a great view of the city below.
The town of Punta Arenas is another great destination, especially if you’re a history buff. Here you’ll encounter colonial architecture from the 19th century, remnants of the time when the region’s wool industry was booming. The Plaza Munoz Gamero features a monument to Magellan’s famous circumnavigation of the globe – it’s a local custom to rub the statue’s foot for luck.
Courtesy of Wikipedia
There are opportunities here to take side excursions to nearby national parks and reserves; one of the most popular choices is a boat trip to Isla Magdalena, home of one of the world’s largest concentrations of Magellanic penguins.
Visit Coyhaique, and you might think you’ve stumbled across a Chilean colony in Montana. This is due in large part to the landscape; located in the inland alpine regions, in the Aysén region of northern Chilean Patagonia, you’ll find green meadows ringed by snow-peaked mountains, with a myriad of streams, rivers and lakes.
The city itself offers a unique mix of Patagonian frontier life and modern amenities, but as with all of Patagonia, the draw here is what the countryside has to offer. The Aysén region is a fly-fishing paradise, drawing dedicated anglers from around the world. November through May is the best time to come if you want to hook into a prize salmon or trout. And if you’ve never tried fly fishing, there’s no better place to give it a go.