At the southern end of South America, Patagonia covers 400,000 square miles and spans Chile and Argentina. It’s vast and unwieldy with an end-of-the-earth feel thanks to its sparse population, elemental scenery and temperamental weather. But it’s also jaw-droppingly beautiful with scenery ranging from craggy mountains and ice fields to trickling waterfalls and wild-flower strewn meadows. You can visit local estancias (traditional sheep farms), go horse riding with huasos (cowboys) and enjoy world-class treks. While a crop of luxury resorts and campsites mean it’s possible to experience the essence of Patagonia without going wild.
Puerto Natales on the edge of the dramatically named Last Hope Sound, an inlet on the Magallanes Basin, is the gateway town to the Torres del Paine national park. This is Chilean Patagonia’s undisputed centrepiece. Named after the mountainous formations (Towers of Paine) that loom over it, it covers roughly 1,000 square miles and includes glaciers, fjords, lakes, forests, waterfalls, mountains and caves. There is a staggering amount to see here but the park’s excellent infrastructure mean this seemingly vast and bewildering place is relatively accessible, with excellent lodgings and array of outdoor pursuits such as kayaking, horse riding and ice field trekking on offer.
The Big Draws
Walkers, mountaineers and nature lovers flock here, many to tackle the mountain range via W trail, a spectacular four-day trek through some of the park’s most significant landmarks. It’s possible to spend a few days ticking some of these off without doing the whole 76.1km trek however, including the Torres Lookout, the Francés Glacier, Lake Grey and the Grey Glacier, part of the southern Patagonian ice fields.
Wherever you go, Patagonia boasts abundant wildlife including the guanacos (wild llamas), Andean condor and the elusive puma so be sure to have your camera at the ready.