Chilean Patagonia & Torres del Paine
Patagonia is a wild place of raw natural beauty as epitomised by photos of the jagged peaks of Torres del Paine, the sky-blue lagoons and gigantic glaciers.
Patagonia is a raw place ranging from miles of windswept and often waterlogged lowlands where sheep are king, to the stunning icefields, glaciers and rock monoliths of Torres del Paine National Park. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Unleash your hidden explorer with a trip to Chilean Patagonia, an unspoilt world of jagged-peaked mountains, startlingly turquoise lakes, giant icebergs and mammoth glaciers. Hike to viewpoints, marvel at the largest glacier in the southern hemisphere, kayak among icebergs and keep an eye out for wildlife. Learn about the lives of early human settlers in this harsh environment, view belle epoque mansions and visit the poignant grave of the Unknown Indian.
- Torres del Paine scenery: This is the best-known of Chile’s national parks in Patagonia and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Its name derives from the jagged granite peaks or ‘torres’ of the Paine Massif which form a dramatic backdrop to your explorations. Hiking is the best way to explore, with different routes taking you to locations such as Laguna Azul, Valle and Glacier Frances, Salto Grande waterfall and Mirador Las Torres for a view of the famous three torres. Multi-day hikes, such as the ‘W’ are possible, too. Boat and kayak trips on Lago Grey reveal icebergs and glacier views and you can explore on horseback.
- Puerto Natales & surrounds: Puerto Natales, a former sheep industry port, is the departure point for cruises in the Patagonian channels and for excursions into Torres del Paine National Park. Some old port buildings remain, notably a cold-storage unit which has been transformed into the luxury hotel, Singular Patagonia. Hike up to Mirador Cerro Dorotea for views over the town and sound or take the more leisurely option of a catamaran cruise on Last Hope Sound to see sea lions, condors and waterfalls. Milodon Cave is an easy drive from the city, a national monument where the Ice Age remains of a giant ground sloth, or milodon, were discovered in 1895. You can see a life size replica of the chap at the cave’s entrance. For a change of scene visit a local estancia to witness day-to-day tasks like sheep shearing, go horse riding and enjoy a barbecue lunch.
- Bernardo O’Higgins glaciers: This national park borders Torres del Paine and has similarly spectacular scenery. It can only be entered by boat, travelling through the network of channels and fjords for views of some of the 49 glaciers. One popular day trip from Puerto Natales takes you into the park to two stunning glaciers, Balmaceda and Serrano. Another highlight is Pio XI glacier, the largest in the southern hemisphere with walls up to 75m high and the only one in the region increasing in size rather than receding.
- Wildlife: Look out for condors, eagles and black-necked swans plus smaller species such as kingfishers and sierra finches. Mammals include guanaco, red fox, grey fox and the shy and endangered huemul or Andean deer. Pumas are present although they are well camouflaged and hard to spot but a specialist tracking trip led by expert tracker-guides give you the best chances.
- Punta Arenas: Chile’s southernmost city has had a varied history. From rather inauspicious beginnings as a penal colony, it expanded with the wool boom at the end of the 19th century which attracted European immigrants. Nowadays it’s a starting point for Antarctic cruises as well as trips to Patagonia but has attractions of its own. View handsome mansions built by wool barons and traders including Palacio Sara Braun and visit their ornate mausoleums in the cemetery. This is also the site of the Unknown Indian, the resting place of one of the last indigenous Selk’nam people. Learn more about the indigenous population, early settlers and 16th mariners in the city’s museums. There are local opportunities for hiking and kayaking and you can board a boat to cruise the Magellan Straits.