Exploring the Torres del Paine national park is something every outdoor lover or adventurer must do in their lifetime. The park is mostly famous for its hikes and iconic monoliths but it’s the feeling of awe that this corner of the world imparts on its guests that is impossible to forget.
We went at the end of April. Although we had been to the Torres del Paine before, it was always in summer. We had listened to recommendations to go in the fall with scepticism, thinking that the weather would be too harsh and that nothing would be open. But the truth is that going to Patagonia in April is magical.
Arriving in Patagonia
We landed in Punta Arenas to be welcomed by our guide. On the five hour drive to Torres del Paine, we took in the beautiful Patagonian landscape that lay outside, eager to explore it for ourselves. Meanwhile, the guide explained everything we needed to know about the adventure ahead of us and gave us a taste of the abundance of knowledge he would share with us over the coming days.
From the moment we arrived at our accommodation, we were immersed in our adventure. We met the rest of our group and received a briefing from our guide about the activities we would do while in the park.
The weather did limit our options somewhat and climbing to the famous base of the Towers at this time of year is only for experienced hikers. But it gave us the opportunity to explore other parts of the park that are often missed.
Condor and Cuernos viewpoints
We took a short hike to the Condor and Cuernos viewpoints. Along the way our guide told us about fungi, the plants, the animals and their behavior. The passion, the knowledge, and the genuine love that the guides here have for the where they live once again left us utterly staggered. When we arrived at our destination, it was nothing short of breathtaking – the view of the bright blue lake and the ‘cuernos’ peaks in the distance covered by the cloud.
An abundance of wildlife
At this time of year, many hotels are closed, reducing the number of visitors and the wind was far less violent. The added quietness of this time of year adds to its wilderness. All of this meant that our stay in Patagonia was like an accidental safari. There were guanacos everywhere. Some approached us, curious, while others galloped clumsily away. We saw an armadillo scuttle away to hide, condors glide through the air looking for prey, and even a black-chested buzzard-eagle. Our guide explained to us how he has been watching an eagle pair bring food to their nest that seemed like a large plant pot perching in the trees.
But the best part of traveling at this time of year? The number of pumas that you can see roaming the magnificent landscape. Puma tracking hadn’t been part of our original itinerary, but we made the most of the weather to try our luck. Our guide lowered our expectations and we didn’t expect to see much. Once we were out exploring though, we managed to see 5 pumas (with a bit of help from fellow trackers!).
It was an experience beyond words. We stood and watched them, amazed at seeing the royalty of Patagonia in their natural habitat. There was something special in just watching from a distance, not trying to follow the puma or even take the best photo.
If you’re looking for true wilderness on your next vacation, or to spot animals, or just to be in a place where there are no buildings as far as the eye can see, go to Patagonia in the winter and experience its magic.
Speak to one of our travel specialists today to find out more.
Aysén, in northern Chilean Patagonia, is home to a splendor of nature. The area is part of the spectacular Route of Parks conservation project, and the epic Carretera Austral runs through a region of ancient glaciers, impressive waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and Patagonian steppe. It is one of Chile’s best kept secrets, as the lesser trodden and less well-known neighbour of the Torres del Paine. Lying off the beaten path, it offers a unique, authentic, and truly incredible experience for any visitor.
All of that I know now. But a month ago, I was unsure of Aysén. As a fan of warmer weather and knowing very little about the region other than its notoriety for unpredictable weather conditions and that the hyped Torres del Paine were a few hundred miles further south, it was far from my first choice of places to go. I could not have been more wrong. It is now one of my favourite places in Chile, if not the world.
We traveled in late March, which they say is a great time to visit Patagonia. It had snowed the week before as an early blast of winter teased the region, leaving a white coating on the mountaintops while fiery shades of red and orange leaves cascaded down. It was a landscape that I had only seen in paintings as we traveled south along the Carretera Austral from Balmaceda. We were only just starting the trip when we spotted a rare huemul at the side of the road as if welcoming us to its home.
Cerro Castillo hike
Zigzagging down the picturesque Cuesta del Diablo (Devil’s hill), we arrived at the quaint town of Villa Cerro Castillo for the night. The woodburning stove kept us warm as we admired the view of the jagged Cerro Castillo mountain and a rushing river from the comfort of the B&B before resting for tomorrow’s adventure.
In the morning, we awoke early for breakfast, put on our layers of hiking clothes, and set off with our local guides to the base of Cerro Castillo. Once we had signed in with the park rangers, we started our incline. The hike was relentless – it is a constant incline, climbing 1000m over a 7km distance – but magical. We started by walking through a forest of native trees, crossed some log planks to a small field, and then started up a rocky path.
As we climbed higher and higher up the mountain, we learned about the fauna and flora, filled up our water bottles in the stream. At this point our guide said, ‘If you do Patagonia quickly, you’re doing it wrong.’ She was right. Turning around to see how far we had come, my jaw dropped at the view. A perfect rainbow straddled a valley of green fields, orange and red trees, and blue skies. This was it – this was the magic of Patagonia.
After 5km of walking through the changing terrain of the mountain, we arrived at the lookout point. We were rewarded with a panorama over the Ibañez valley, looking over a horizon of fields, forests, mountains, and rivers. Unfortunately the snow from that point was too thick and we couldn’t continue to the lagoon – but no complaints from me. It was the most rewarding and beautiful hike of my life regardless. We headed back down beaming and excited for our next destination that we could see in the distance – General Carrera Lake.
Back in the town, we traveled further along the Carretera Austral, constantly fascinated by the views of the lakes and mountains surrounding us, and arriving at the small town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo on the shores of the second largest lake in South America. With the smell of woodfires in the air, we checked in to our delightfully cozy hotel.
Trekking Glacier Exploradores
We headed out early on day two to the Exploradores Glacier, driving along a dirt road alongside more lakes and mountains and stopping only to wait for the cows to move out of the way. After about an hour, we arrived at the entrance to the park, put on our helmets and set off with our guides. A short ten-minute walk through dense forest brought us to our first lookout point. It was our first view of the glacier: an expanse of ice as far as you could see, wedged between two mountains.
We carried on along the route, and soon we were standing on the glacier. We kept walking until we reached the clean ice, attached our crampons, and ventured further onto the glacier. As we hiked, the thick, ancient ice glowed a striking shade of blue, accentuated by the day’s clouds. The small hollows in the ice allowed us to perch inside and appreciate the sheer immensity, the weight, the size, the coolness of the glacier. We ate lunch as we took in the silence of the glacier. Although physically demanding, it was a brilliant day, and we headed back to our transport and hotel with a newfound sense of wonder.
Kayaking the Marble Cathedral
Day three was another early start, which blessed us with a view of the fiery sunrise appearing over the mountains and the General Carrera Lake. We drove to the shore for the morning’s activity – kayaking to the iconic marble caves. Our guide gave us our equipment and a briefing, and we set sail. We started at a tranquil cove to get used to the kayak and practice our technique before turning the corner into the open lake. We paddled along the edge of the lake with wind and the spray of the water in our faces. The view of the gigantic lake was a sight to behold with mountains in the distance and even the goats perched on the edge of the cliff. Eventually, we arrived at the main spectacle – two monoliths of marble emerging from the water.
It’s a strange sensation to be so fascinated by a rock sticking out of some water, but here we were, taken aback by the beauty and the uniqueness of what we were seeing. It was easy to understand why these formations had gained their ecclesiastical names. The turquoise blue of the water inside the caves reflected and danced off the walls as we paddled through the arched tunnels and the erosion of the rock had created mosaic of shapes, like we were exploring the tunnels of a stained-glass Mediterranean church.
As we emerged from the caves, the bright blue water seemed to spread across the whole lake as the sun emerged from behind the clouds. We paddled back to our starting point taking in the magnificent view of the Patagonian hills, mountains, and lakes and relishing in the experience. But the magic did not end there. As if to greet us, an austral pygmy owl swooped into the small tree just a couple of meters away. We stood and watched mesmerized as it twisted its neck 180 degrees looking for food, every so often watching us or fidgeting its feathers.
Road trip to Patagonia National Park
Our final activity was a road trip further along the Carretera Austral as sun lit up the fantastical colors of the landscape. We drove along the edge of the bluest lake I’ve ever seen as our driver told us about the scenery and stopped to witness the power of water at the confluence of the Baker and Neff rivers, where two differently coloured rivers met in a crashing of waves. With looming gray skies that couln’t dampen our spirits, we continued on our way to the Patagonia National Park where it seemed like guanacos were waiting for us at the entrance. We watched as they galloped along the Patagonian steppe, ears pricked, alert to any lurking pumas.
The landscape here was different: drier and barer than that of the past few days. It gave a sense of vastness and pure wilderness, which felt appropriate as we headed to the Explora Lodge and center of the Tompkins conservation project. We entered the guest center to learn more about the rewilding work in the region and left inspired with a destination for our next trip. With that, it was time to head back for our final evening in Aysén and return home.
Before the trip, I didn’t have many expectations. I certainly did not expect such natural beauty, or to be so moved by the the trip. Yet afterwards, I often find myself reflecting about everything we saw, felt, experienced, and I know it certainly changed something for me. There, in this remote corner of the world, I found a love for nature – for Patagonia – and a profound gratitude for the beautiful world we live in.
If you’re looking for a new corner of Patagonia to explore, or are looking for an alternative to the Torres del Paine, Aysen is the place to go. The wilderness, the vastness, the colors, the wind in your face – it’s like a full body reset from our tech-obsessed, busy lives. It’s the place to test your boundaries, to try something new, to disconnect. I cannot recommend it enough.
So you want to go to Patagonia, but don’t know where exactly? We don’t blame you! The area called Patagonia is an enormous 400,000 square miles spanning across two countries. It’s one of the most beautiful, wild, and fascinating parts of the world. It’s also incredibly diverse so once you know what kind of activities you want to do, or what kind of environment you want to be in, it’s much easier to decide if Northern or Southern Patagonia is best for you!
If you want to explore luscious forests, see snow-capped volcanic peaks, and swim in wide blue lakes, Northern Patagonia is the one for you. It includes highlights like the Chiloé archipelago, San Rafael National Park, and the towns of Pucón and Puerto Varas. Although less known than the skyscraping monoliths of Southern Patagonia, the Lake District and Aysen are full of adventure to enjoy! Try kayaking in the marble cathedrals of Puerto Rio Tranquilo or white-water rafting in the Trancura River if you’re feeling braver. Northern Patagonia is great for walkers, too! Make sure you include the Cerro Castillo in your itinerary or walk amongst ancient forests in the Lahuen Ñadi Natural Reserve if you want to explore the region on two feet.
With its abundant forests, this area is fantastic for wildlife spotting. From the colourful birds of Chiloé, to the sealions of Metalqui island, or the Puñihuil Humboldt and Magellanic penguin colony there’s so much to see. On the other hand, if you prefer cultural escapes, this area of Patagonia is packed full for you to discover. Spend a day learning about the culture of Huiliche indigenous people with a local family or taste the European influence in the region with a stein at the Chilean-Belgain Dolbek brewery in Coyhaique!
Southern Patagonia is much wilder than its northern counterpart in every sense. Green forests are swapped for rocky mountains and lakes for glaciers. Here you can find pumas, guanacos, and condors roaming free in a dramatic landscape that will make you feel more connected to nature than ever.
Of course, you cannot talk about Southern Patagonia without mentioning the world-famous Torres del Paine. The W-trek features on many hikers’ bucket lists, but it’s not the only path to explore here. Alternatively, you could take the southernmost trek in the world on Navarino Island and climb the sharp teeth-like peaks at the end of the world or head off the beaten track to the Silent Valley behind the Torres.
Southern Patagonia isn’t limited to hiking lovers. If a 4-5 day trek seems daunting to you, you don’t need to miss out on the highlights of the Torres del Paine park! Take a tour to visit the highlights and enjoy a more leisurely stoll alongside the astonishing Grey Glacier from a car, take a catamaran across the turquoise Lago Pehoé, or enjoy the fjords without tired legs. For quieter days, explore the towns of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, head to Magdalena Island to meet the penguins that live there or go dolphin watching on the Magellanes strait.
Seeing a puma is a life-changing moment; it alters something inside of you. That’s what the puma-tracking guide, Victor, explained when Ecochile spoke to him about all things puma and what you can expect from a puma-tracking experience in Patagonia. With 18 years of experience as a mountain, ski and tour guide, and brimming with passion when he talks about seeing Patagonia’s wildlife, here are Victor’s top tips!
1. Go with a guide
Patagonia’s pumas are wild animals that roam free across their territories. Like any wildlife experience, you need a healthy dose of luck to spot a puma and it’s never guaranteed. However, if you go with a puma tracking guide, you’re going with a specialist who has spent years studying pumas and Patagonia’s other wild residents to understand their behaviours. A specialist guide knows where a puma may normally pass at a certain time of day, or anticipate where one could be based on the behaviour of other animals nearby. The guides are also focused on ensuring the sustainability and safety as much for the tourist as for the nature in the area.
2. You’ll see a lot more of Patagonian wildlife than just pumas
Even specialist guides are not magicians and they cannot guarantee that you will see a puma or, as Victor describes them, the king of Patagonia. But in this unusual case, the experience is more than worthwhile. You will gain a deep understanding of this incredible landscape thanks to your guide and you won’t be short of wildlife to see! On a puma tracking tour, you may also see owls, armadillos, guanacos, gray and red foxes, hares, condors, eagles, hawks, rheas, and even skunks! Keep your eyes peeled and your binoculars and cameras ready to take in this spectacular wildlife!
3. There is no typical tour
A puma tracking tour lasts a minimum of three days to maximise your chances of seeing one of these magical creatures and to let you gain a deep understanding of the environment that you will be immersed in. But no matter how long you stay, no day will be the same! Each tracking session starts from scratch – what you see in the morning could be totally different to your afternoon outing, or you may have seen a puma catch its prey one day and see a mother search for its cubs the next. But this is all part of the joy and the experience of witnessing nature at its very best.
4. Think like a puma
You can go puma tracking all year round but you’ll have better chances of seeing the Patagonian big cat in all its glory in the winter. If you’re set on seeing a puma, the best time to go is between May and October. In the summer, these cats sleep in the middle of the day to avoid the heat and wind so your tour will be split into two daily outings: one in the early morning and one in the evening. In the winter, with less light and lower temperatures, you can go out in one full-day session – just wrap up warm!
5. Anyone can go puma tracking!
Puma tracking isn’t limited to a certain kind of person. You don’t need to be particularly fit, or an experienced hiker, or have prior knowledge of pumas. The only requirements are to be over 18 and very patient! Each tour is adapted to the traveller’s needs. If you’re active and up for a hike, you’ll be able to see the wildlife from a closer distance or from better perspectives. But if that’s not possible for you, you can do the tour without leaving the vehicle!
6. Have realistic expectations
A successful puma tracking tour is not about taking that award-winning photo, and definitely not about being within metres of a puma, although both of these can happen. To make the most of this experience, the best advice is to take each day as it comes! Enjoy the adventure and let your senses take you through the very best of Patagonian wilderness. You’ll learn so much about this incredible corner of the world with a specialist guide.
7. Safety is a priority
Puma tracking is safe, provided you follow the safety protocols and listen to your guide – remember, they are the experts! You’ll be sent a safety guide after booking your trip so be sure to read it carefully to have the best experience.
If you’re interested in puma tracking, contact us today!
We may be biased, but we think Chile is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and exploring it on foot is an experience that is difficult to describe. While the classic treks around Patagonia take our breath away every time, there’s so much more to explore off the beaten path. Include the trails of Chile’s hidden treasures in your itinerary to make your trip unique, taking home with you the memories of the views and sounds of undisturbed nature.
Explore the wild landscape of Navarino Island, in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and take the southernmost trek in the world. At the end of the world, you’ll climb and trek the sharp peaks that look like an apex predator’s teeth. The island’s extreme location means that few tourists visit this place, but if you’re a trekking enthusiast, you need to add this to your list. Far from the public (and phone signal), here is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and your senses. This one is certainly for experienced hikers but the extra effort is paid for with the magnificent views.
Silence Valley, Torres del Paine
The Torres del Paine treks are some of the most popular in Chile, and it’s true that if you visit in summer you will be sure to encounter groups of other tourists. If the Torres are on your list but you want to venture away from the crowds, then explore the lesser-tread paths. After visiting the Torres, you’ll continue your adventure behind the monoliths to Silence Valley. Over the next few days, you’ll cross glaciers, walk through native forests, and kayak across lakes, exploring the hidden gems of the Torres del Paine National Park with uninterrupted views. This is an adventure that will stir your soul and leave you with great memories (and photos!).
This is an adventure through the luscious foothills of Patagonia. Explore forest and steppe, snowy peaks and white-water rivers. Here you can hike surrounded by the beautiful forests, breathtaking volcanoes, and spectacular fjords of South America’s best-kept secret. Explore the myths of Chiloé, the wildlife of the Lake District, and the waterfalls and rivers of Chile’s hidden gem far away from the traditional tourist attractions. These trails vary in difficulty, but no matter which one you choose, the reward will be incredible.
Poike Volcano, Easter Island
Easter Island is full of treasures to discover, but if you want to see something that most travellers don’t, consider a hike around the little-traversed northern coast of this magical island or climb Poike, the island’s second-highest summit and oldest volcano to see Rapa Nui in all its glory. Along the way, you can discover ancient villages, caves, carvings and moais that most travellers don’t experience and get to know a different side of the island on foot.
Guatin Ravine, Atacama
After the lagoons and the geysers, escape the crowds of San Pedro and explore the Atacama wilderness. Take a short trek through a towering cactus forest in the driest desert on earth and follow the river to the most miraculous viewpoint looking over this incredible landscape with the Salar de Atacama in the distance. Away from the Atacama’s usual highlights, you will see a whole different side of this enchanting desert.
Talk to us today to plan your next adventure away from the crowds!
Patagonia features high on many people’s bucket lists – and with good reason. Its breathtaking views and unique wildlife are something else but the exhilarating rush of climbing its peaks is life-changing. While most travellers visit this region in the summer, here’s why autumn (March-May) is the best season to visit this incredible part of the world.
Patagonia is jaw-droppingly beautiful all year round. Its rocky snow-capped mountain peaks shape the skyline; freshwater streams and rivers trickle and roar down the mountainside; wild forests fill northern Patagonia while glaciers dominate the south. Yet those fiery autumnal colours on the trees take the views to another level. The bright oranges, reds and yellows contrast the grey rock of the Patagonia peaks and (metaphorically speaking) set this uninterrupted landscape ablaze in the autumn. The scattering of green that remains and the blues of the sky and lakes – this is the kind of natural beauty that stirs your soul.
If that’s not enough, catching the sun rising over Patagonia is the perfect way to wake up to the most beautiful part of the world. But we know you’re on holiday and don’t want to wake up unreasonably early. Another perk of travelling in the autumn is that the sun rises later!
You can catch it between 7am at the beginning of March and 8:30am by the end of April. Best of all? You’ll have plenty of time (and energy) to hike afterwards.
Besides the views, if you want to experience the true Patagonia wilderness with uninterrupted views of the scenery and sounds of nature, autumn is when you should visit. Patagonia’s remoteness means that it is never overly crowded, but groups can gather at the most popular sights. But if you’re wanting to escape from the busy modern world or get the perfect photo, we recommend visiting in autumn. There are far fewer people on the trails or at hotspots like the Torres del Paine, meaning that you can take in the full view only with those you want to share it with.
The reduced crowds also mean that you’ll have more chance of spotting the wildlife. While pumas and other wild animals hide from the many trekkers in the summer months, they come out in autumn when there are fewer people around, so keep your cameras ready!
Finally – and this one is important – you will also find more choice and availability of accommodation. Places to stay (hotels, hostels, and refuges) fill up quickly in the summer season. By coming in autumn, you don’t need to compromise on style or budget. Instead, you can find the perfect place for you to rest.
Patagonia is an extreme part of the world with unpredictable weather all year round. However, autumn (and spring) offer moderate conditions for visitors. Yes, temperatures are definitely colder outside of the main season (average lows of 37-42oF / 3-6oC and average highs of 51-58oF/11-14oC) but with a couple of extra layers of clothing, you won’t regret it. Without the notorious summer winds, activities like trekking and kayaking are more possible and easier and even more enjoyable. To top it off, the reduced wind lets the mountains be reflected in the lakes for those picture-perfect landscapes.
So, will we see you in the autumn? Talk to one of our advisers today to book your Patagonian trip of a lifetime!
Patagonia is one of the most incredible destinations in the world for many reasons. Its remote geographic location makes it a little more difficult to reach by the masses since there are no major cities nearby. Since a good majority of people who visit Patagonia are hikers, they come in by bus which means that the mornings and evenings are exceptionally quiet compared to other national parks throughout the world. That’s just an added bonus though, the best part about Patagonia is the unrivaled landscape. As a well-traveled photographer, I can honestly say that I have never seen a place that compares to Patagonia. Continue reading for the ultimate Patagonia trip itinerary.
Where is Patagonia and how do I get there?
Patagonia is a vast region in the southern portions of Chile and Argentina. It is possible to cross between the two countries via numerous highway border crossings. Patagonia has two small airports. One is Presidente Carlos Ibáñez International Airport (PUQ) located in Punta Arenas, Chile and the other is El Calafate International Airport (FTE) located in Argentina. If you are traveling from another country, you will first have to fly into Santiago prior to Punta Arenas or Buenos Aires prior to El Chalten. The Buenos Aires route often requires a taxi transfer from Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) to Aeroparque Internacional Jorge Newbery (AEP) airport before making your final flight to Punta Arenas.
Getting around Patagonia.
If you’re interested in a dedicated photography tour, I lead an incredible 12 day photography workshop throughout Chile and Argentine Patagonia. The trip is designed for photographers who want to be at the best locations at the best times without having to rush.
Another option to get around Patagonia is to rent a car or campervan. It is relatively easy to drive in Patagonia since it is a sparsely populated region. If you plan to stay in hotels a car will suffice. If you plan on camping, a camper van may be a better option since the weather can be quite unpredictable. Keep in mind if you rent a car or campervan you will more than likely have to fly in and out of the same country which will result in some backtracking.
Torres Del Paine
There’s a lot to see and photograph in the southern portion of Patagonia so that is where this itinerary will focus. It does not matter if you start your trip in Punta Arenas or El Calafate but for the sake of time I do recommend flying into one country and out of the other. For the purpose of this article we will start in Chile and end in Argentina. Torres Del Paine National Park is about a four hour drive from Punta Arenas. On your way to Torres Del Paine, make sure to stop in Puerto Natales for lunch. Puerto Natales is a small port town an hour and fifteen minutes from Torres Del Paine and offers a few nice views across Golfo Almirante Montt.
Once you have filled your belly and have taken in the views of Puerto Natales, it is time to continue to the iconic Torres Del Paine National Park. Torres Del Paine is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. From the chiseled peaks of the Paine Massif to the impossibly blue waters of Lake Pehoe, Torres Del Paine is absolutely jaw dropping. The park is a popular destination amongst hikers and backpackers but you don’t need to hike to enjoy the amazing scenery. There are many great vistas right off of the road. You can easily spend 3 or 4 days in Torres Del Paine.
El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park
After you have had your fill of Torres Del Paine it is time to cross the border into Argentina. The town of El Calafate is a three hour drive from Torres Del Paine but keep in mind that there is a border crossing that can add an hour or more to the trip. El Calafate is an adorable little town with a lot of small shops, bars and restaurants. It’s a great place to rest your head after your three to five hour drive.
You cannot visit El Calafate without paying a visit to Los Glaciares National Park. The park is only a 45 minute drive or bus ride from town and contains one of the few glaciers in the world that is not shrinking. The glacier moves at a rate of 2 meters per day so it is common to witness the glaciers calving into the bay.
After a night or two in El Calafate you must check out El Chalten. El Chalten is a small town that is popular amongst backpackers. Most people get around on foot there since the town is only a few miles long. Fantastic views of Mount Fitz Roy can be had as you approach and once you are in town you have access to world class hiking trails. There are a variety of lakes and scenic vistas awaiting those who are willing to lace up their hiking boots. After your hike, there are quite a few restaurants and bars to cap off your evening. You can easily spend three nights or more in El Chalten, especially if you are a hiker or backpacker.
After your time in El Chalten has come to an end, I recommend driving back to El Calafate for one more night to relax and decompress before flying home.
Additional Tips About Patagonia.
• Bring Trail bars if you like to have them while hiking. Trail bars are very difficult to find in Patagonia and most of them do not taste very good. Empanadas make a great hiking snack on the other hand and can be found just about everywhere.
• You cannot take fresh food across the border. No fresh food is allowed to cross the border including honey. The Chilean side is more strict than the Argentinian side when it comes to these regulations.
• There are ATM machines in all of the towns throughout Patagonia but they can run out of money, especially on the weekends. It is a good idea to bring enough cash in both currencies to last you a day or two in case you run into credit card issues.
• Some gas stations only accept cash.
• The wind can be unbearable and sometimes unsafe to venture out in. Pay attention to the weather and don’t go out in extreme conditions.
Patagonia is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you are a serious hiker or photographer then Patagonia should most definitely be on your bucket list. I have traveled all over the world and Patagonia still sticks out as one of the most photogenic places I have ever been to. If you want to go to the best photography locations in Patagonia, I invite you to join my twelve-day photography workshop through Chile and Argentina.
On the workshop, we will do glacier tours via foot and boat, photograph blue lagoons, and capture some of the most iconic mountain peaks in the world from a variety of locations. The trip includes some of the best lodging accommodations in all of Patagonia including Hosteria Pehoe which offers some of the most photogenic views of Torres Del Paine right from the lodge!
Chile is a very long country and its climates vary from deserts to sub-tropical to plateau. When you know where you want to go, here are our top tips to decide when for the best weather, availabilty of hotels, and prices!
If you want to experience smaller crowds and save some money, you may want to consider visiting Patagonia during the shoulder season from October-November and March-April, when there are fewer tourists and the seasons are starting to change.
Spring in Patagonia occurs from September to November. While the temperature is still a bit chilly, it begins to fade into milder, warmer weather.
It’s also a great season to avoid the crowds; with hiking trails throughout the region reopening after winter, visitors will find national parks and landmarks relatively quiet, having the advantage to see animals that the bigger crowds might drive away, such as pumas!
Patagonia’s climate in the springtime will be the wettest as the winter begins to melt away and winds are usually high. Yet you will gain the advantage of seeing Patagonia change from freezing winter into the colorful tones of Spring.
Due to the great geographical diversity of Chile, there is a very particular attraction at this time. Depending on the town you visit, you can find an impressive variety of colors and contrasts.
In Patagonia, the reddish and yellow colors are contrasted with the green moss and dark browns of the logs and ground. When there are early snowfalls, we can appreciate an additional attraction to this landscape.
The Ocean and the Coastal Mountain Range are other places with great vegetation and are completely stained, giving us stunning views of the mountain and sea.
What are the advantages of traveling during fall?
Along with its incredible landscapes, most of the destinations go into the low season, so it is possible to visit these places with fewer people. Every year it becomes more popular to travel in these so-called “shoulder seasons” so destinations are increasingly prepared to receive adventurers. Many professional photographers visit these places during this season of the year.
Winter Season (Low Season)
Patagonia in the winter is between June and August. It is a season that hasn’t been as popular in the past due to the harsh weather, extremely cold temperatures, and snow/ice. However, it is a season that is gaining more and more popularity because of the unique and amazing landscapes that are only possible to see during winter, such as the peak of the towers with snow!
It is a season that is certainly for the adventurous souls seeking to experience the raw wilderness of the region, at a time when you’ll see a significantly small number of tourists.
While hikes such as the O and the W circuits are closed, there are ways to experience Torres del Paine in an adapted way. Such as the Carretas Hike, the Portería to Portería traverse, full-day Paine or Base of the Towers winter hike.
One thing to have in mind when visiting Patagonia in winter is to have more full days available, so you can switch days for the activities evaluating the weather locally.
Summer Season (High Season)
The Patagonia summer season goes from December to February; these are considered the high season months when temperatures can reach 72 degrees, making this season the most wanted. There is also a much clearer sky during this time, therefore, it is less likely to get a cold day for your photos at the base of the Towers or Glacier Grey. Patagonia is very unpredictable, though, so the weather is not always consistent!
This season is also known for its extreme winds that can reach over 120 miles/hr. Usually, larger groups come to Patagonia at this time as the weather is generally more stable.
Usually, summer weather in Patagonia is ideal, with all the trekking trails open and in perfect condition. All of the most iconic hikes are easily accessible, such as the Tower base, French Valley and travelers can explore the area and its wildlife in its abundant glory.
Easter Island is a magical destination that, for most people, might be a once-in-a-lifetime journey because of the remoteness. Therefore, it is very important to know which is the best time to visit Easter Island.
All seasons are great to visit this mysterious island, it’s just a thing about your interests, availability, and budget.
The summer season in Easter Island begins in December and runs through the end of March. Temperatures are higher, so temperatures are ideal for those who enjoy sunbathing and swimming in Anakena Beach, but can also be slightly suffocating for those who seek to explore by bike or hiking.
This is also the time for summer vacations in Chile, so plane tickets and hotels tend to raise their prices.
In February, the Tapati Rapa Nui festival takes place. This is the most important cultural event in Easter Island, where the population is divided into two clans that get through different tests and competitions to choose the Queen and King of the island.
To attend this unique festival, you need to plan your trip several months in advance to find reservations and reasonable prices for plane tickets.
This season extends from late March until November. Temperatures tend to be “lower”, but Easter Island is a subtropical island so temperatures are warm and humid in the summer and more mild in winter. The average daily temperature ranges from 23/24 °C (74/75 °F) in the period from January to March to 18.5 °C (65 °F) in the period from July to September, making the milder temperatures ideal for exploration by bike and hiking.
Low season prices are more convenient and you can find better offers for flights and accommodation. The number of tourists is significantly lower, so attractions are less busy and there are more hotel options.
The Atacama desert is a place you can visit all year round with amazing views of lunar landscapes, geysers, altiplanic lagoons, and pink flamingos. It is the perfect place to experience remoteness!
It runs from December to February and is the most popular season for exploring the Atacama Desert. The refreshing day temperatures and warmer nights make for a pleasant time to travel to the desert.
For the best stargazing, the high season is the time to visit. The sky is incredibly clear all year round, but nights during the winter season months are very cold, making stargazing in summer more pleasant since this is an activity that needs to be done at night.
The summertime also brings an increase in humidity, with rainfall not entirely uncommon at this time of year.
The low season starts in March and runs until November. While nighttime in the Atacama does get a bit brisk (around 28 degrees Fahrenheit on average), most of the days are still sunny and clear with average highs in the 70s, allowing for days full of adventure and exploring instead of being stuck inside.
Traveling during the low season always brings the bonus that there will be much fewer tourists around, which can make visiting sites like the Tatio Geysers or Chaxa Lagoon a much more peaceful experience
There is a lower demand for accommodation, so there are better deals.
Although it’s still early to draw conclusions, there are some factors by which indicate that Chile has a tremendous advantage in a post COVID world.
Like most countries, Chile was highly affected by the entry of the virus and its first wave. However, the country was able to respond positively even when the health centers were at maximum capacity. Upon landing in the country in March, the worst rates of contagion were during the months of May and June, during which the curve had its highest growth and peak of infections. In July and August, there was a sharp drop in the curve, allowing a reopening of daily activities from September onward.
Although the authorities and experts do not rule out the possibility of a second wave hitting Chile, there are certain factors by which we believe that the country will have a positive reactivation in the sector.
Here are 5 reasons why Chile is well-positioned for travel in 2021-2022
1.- “There is no free rein”
Unlike certain freedoms that existed during the summer of countries in the northern hemisphere, the Chilean authorities have reported that they will extend their restrictive measures for the entire summer period, regulating and coordinating the different regions and communes of Chile according to their behavior and infection rate.
2.- “Early arrival of the vaccine”
It is expected that 80% of the Chilean population will have been vaccinated by the end of the first semester (2021). It’s important to mention that Chile was the first Latin American country to receive the Pfizer vaccine and to begin its vaccination process in December 2020. In negotiations with laboratories, the country agreed to purchase 20 million doses with the companies Pfizer / BioNTech and Sinovac. Chile has a population of approximately 18 million inhabitants, so the entire process could be relatively “fast”.
3.- “Coordinated systems”
Health protocols have been rigorously applied, especially by establishments that seek to protect their operation and sources of work, such as transfer services, restaurants and accommodation, among others. Although there has been strong criticism of many measures that have been applied and the rebels are not lacking, there is a general consensus in the population to follow the rules and maintain self-care.
4.- “Chile, a destination of Nature and Adventure”
Without a doubt. there is a tendency for people to travel to destinations rich in nature and adventure activities. Chile has consistently stood out in the adventure community and has been deemed as the best adventure destination from the World Travel Awards for the past 5 years (2015-2020).
5.- “New and better services”
The pandemic has forced us to examine whether the tourism industry was following the correct steps. Tourism and hotel operators have been able to use this period of respite to reflect and reimagine their products, forcing greater personalization of services, and placing an emphasis on smaller groups, and a heightened awareness of the environment. These Changes help promote more responsible tourism, which ultimately translates to a better experience for the end-user.
You’re almost ready for your big trip to Patagonia. Plane tickets are bought, passport is ready and you have an agenda full of exciting, adventure-packed activities. The last thing to do is pack— and it can be tough to narrow down exactly what you’ll need. To make it easier, we’ve put together a guide of basic things to bring to Patagonia.
If you are heading to Patagonia, there is a good chance you will take part in some outdoor adventure activities. To enjoy your time outside safely, you need to bring some basic items.
Trekking Boots – Invest in a pair of proper trekking boots. Wearing gym sneakers to hike is dangerous and will most likely ruin your shoes. Boots that are built for trekking are durable for various weather conditions and have good grips to help you avoid falling on slippery terrain. Pick a boot that is comfortable for you. High ankle boots typically provide extra ankle support and may keep mud, rocks or sticks from getting inside. We recommend buying a half or one size bigger than usual as you will wear thick socks to hike. Additionally, try out the shoes before coming to avoid blisters or pain while trekking.
Hiking Poles – Along with a good pair of boots, hiking poles can really help keep your balance so you don’t fall or get hurt. Choose your poles by standing straight and bending your arm at a 90 degree angle. Your poles should be to the level of your wrist.
Camping Equipment – Many travelers who come to Patagonia, take part in the famous, “W” or “O” hike in Torres del Paine national park. These hikes are multiple days long and require you to come prepared with equipment to camp. Don’t forget a tent, thermal sleeping bag, hiking backpack and a portable stove.
Patagonia lies on the end of the world, not far from Antartica. That means it gets cold! In Chile’s summer months, you may be able to wear lighter clothes during the day. However, you’ll need to bring some warmer clothes for nighttime. If you’re there during the colder months, prepare for snow and icy temperatures during the day and night.
Lots of Layers – As the temperature can vary, multiple layers will help you stay comfortable. It’s also a good way to dress for outdoor sports and adventure activities. We recommend bringing a variety of clothing. This includes: long-sleeved thermal shirts, thermal form-fitting pants, trekking pants, a wind breaker, thick socks, a polar fleece and a soft shell jacket. Waterproof clothing is ideal!
A Hat, Gloves and Scarf — To prepare for the cold, consider bringing a thick pair of waterproof gloves, a warm hat and a scarf. Additionally, a cap or sunhat for warmer temperatures is useful.
A Good Coat — Bring a comfortable coat on your trip. Pick something warm, waterproof and easy to move in.
There’s a few items essential for any traveler. These will make your trip more comfortable and enjoyable.
A Day Backpack — You will most likely go on different day trips and adventures, when you come to Patagonia. A day backpack is useful for these trips, helping you hold snacks, water, your wallet and anything else you may need.
A Sturdy Water Bottle — Of course you can always purchase bottled water when you get to Chile. But here at EcoChile, we like to be kind to our earth. The water is safe to drink in Chile, so bring your own water bottle when you travel. It is useful for adventure activities and is Eco-friendly.
Camera — This one is important! After all, you are coming to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Don’t forget a camera to capture all your incredible memories.
Toiletries and a First Aid Kit — Come prepared with your lotion, toothpaste, soap, personal medications, etc. It’s also not a bad idea to bring a small, personal first kit in case of emergencies.
Converters – The electrical plugs in Chile use 220 voltage. If your country uses a different type of outlet, make sure you bring a converter.
Money – Don’t forget to change your currency into Chilean pesos. Many stores also accept the following credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club.
Miscellaneous Items – A few other items that may be useful include: waterproof equipment for backpacks, sunscreen or lip protection and plastic bags to keep clothing dry.
A Strong Mind and Body – This last one isn’t something you need to pack, but it is something important to note. All travelers coming to Patagonia should be both mentally and physically prepared. Prepare for high winds, rainfall and potentially strenuous treks and activities. If you are not used to hiking, we recommend doing cardio twice a week for about a month leading up to your trip.
Now you are set for an exciting trip to beautiful Patagonia! If you have any questions or would like more detailed information, feel free to send us a message via email or our online messaging service. We are always happy to help in anyway we can.
The Atacama Desert is one of the popular destinations in Chile. Located in the north of the country and squeezed between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, the Atacama is the driest non-polar desert on the planet, receiving less than 0.6 inches of rain in an entire year. The lack of moisture, unforgiving sun and desert winds have, over millennia, created out-of-this-world landscapes with lunar valleys, high-altitude lagoons, cracked salt flats, and endless horizons. Full of natural wonder and with a cultural history dating back thousands of years, it’s a must-visit. But, being such a harsh and isolated environment, there can be some unexpected surprises for first-time visitors. Take it from someone who knows the area: here are 8 things I wish I knew before visiting the Atacama that will help you be better prepared and have the best trip possible!
1. There’s so much more to see and do besides San Pedro
When people talk about the top places they want to visit in the Atacama, generally they’re referring to San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings: the El Tatio Geysers, Valle de la Luna, Chaxa Lagoon with its flamingos…the list goes on and on. San Pedro, a small adobe town with roughly 4,000 inhabitants, is the hub of Atacama tourism and the starting point for many adventures. But the Atacama spans over 40,000 square miles; there’s a lot more to see and do outside of San Pedro. You can head to the coast to enjoy the beaches or go surfing at Iquique, visit saltpeter ghost towns like Humberstone, seek out the Hand of the Desert monument, and much more. So don’t restrict your Atacama exploring to just San Pedro.
2. July-August is the best time to visit for stargazing
Even though the summer months of December through February are high season for tourists, if you love stargazing and astronomy, the best time to visit is definitely during winter. Granted, due to the altitude, arid weather, and lack of light pollution and radio interference, good stargazing can be found year-round (except during full moons) but July and August are when the skies are at their absolute clearest and most brilliant, making for amazing stargazing even without telescopes.
3. It gets really cold at night
Even though you’re going to the desert, don’t think that it’s gonna be all sunshine and heat: the Atacama’s elevation means that the temperature plummets at night, down into the forties or lower. So when packing, don’t forget to include cold-weather clothing like jackets, sweaters, long pants, gloves, and hats. That way, you can do nighttime activities like stargazing or go to visit the Tatio Geysers in the early morning and then peel off layers as the day warms up. And if you forgot to pack warm clothes, don’t worry; you can find cozy items made from local alpaca and llama wool at shops around San Pedro.
4. The altitude will affect you
San Pedro is located nearly 8,000 feet above sea level: more than a mile high. And all over the Atacama, visitable elevations can increase to the same altitude as Everest base camp (17,600 feet high). So yeah, the Atacama is pretty high, and the dry air and desert climate doesn’t help. So it’s entirely possible that you’ll experience some altitude sickness during your visit, which can manifest as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Generally taking it easy the first few days by not pushing your body too hard, drinking lots of water, and avoiding alcohol will help your body adjust, but you can also try coca tea (made from coca leaves), which the locals use to combat altitude sickness.
5. Want to visit the Tatio Geysers? Be prepared to get up early
Paying a visit to the Tatio Geysers — the highest geyser field on the planet at over 14,000 feet above sea level — is a must when visiting the Atacama. But the best time to see the steam rising from the geysers is at dawn, when the air is cold enough for the steam to erupt in giant plumes, and since the geysers are an hour and a half drive from San Pedro, that means that you’ll need to get up super early (I’m talking 4 am!) to make the trip. And don’t forget to bundle up; not only is it early, but you’re also nearly doubling your elevation, so wear layers! But the sight is well worth the early rise and most tours bring along breakfast and coffee to enjoy at the site.
6. Most observatories aren’t open for nighttime tours
The Atacama is home to some of the most advanced observatories in the world; scientists and astronomers come from all over to use their state-of-the-art telescopes to explore the night sky. One of the most famous observatories, ALMA (which stands for Atacama Large Millimeter Array), is located just a short drive from San Pedro and their impressive telescope collection attracts a lot of interest. Lots of visitors want to see the facilities and possibly even go on stargazing tours, but since ALMA and other places like it are working observatories, they are not open for nighttime tours. However, many do offer daytime tours on the weekends (at ALMA, they offer tours of the Operations Support Facility on Saturday and Sunday mornings). For stargazing, there are plenty of other astronomy tours (like those offered by San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations) around San Pedro and further north at tourist observatories in Valle de Elqui.
7. There is no airport in San Pedro
Even though most people start and end their Atacama trips in San Pedro, you’re not gonna be stepping off the plane there. The nearest airport is in Calama, a mining town known as the Gateway to the Atacama, roughly an hour and a half away. From Calama, you can either take buses or rent cars to get to San Pedro, and most tours include transportation from Calama to San Pedro in their packages.
8. Pack a swimming suit
Even though you’re going to the heart of the world’s driest desert, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to get your feet wet! A short drive from San Pedro you’ll find the Puritama Hot Springs, a series of eight geothermal hot springs hidden by desert grass inside a rocky canyon. And, out on the salt flats, there are several salt-water lagoons that you can swim and float in. So don’t forget that swimsuit!
From the tops of its highest peaks to the rocky, wind-battered shores, Patagonia is a place that’s full of adventure and wonder. Whether your goal is to see spectacular landscapes or to experience a place whose culture was forged in adversity and resourcefulness, you’ll find it here. But as a region, Patagonia covers hundreds of square miles: too much to see and do in any one trip. What are the top things to do in Patagonia? Here are our recommendations!
1. Do the base of the Torres Hike
It’s not a trip to Torres del Paine if you don’t make the hike to the base of the park’s famous Torres (Towers). A roughly eight hour round-trip hike that ranges from intermediate to advanced level of difficulty, anyone in good physical condition can make this iconic trek. Starting from near the Las Torres Hotel at the base of the Paine Massif, you hike up and through the Pass of the Winds and then descend into the Ascencio Valley. After hiking along the base of the valley through forests and over streams, you reach the bottom of a giant jumble of rocks, the remains of a glacial moraine. Hiking to the top is the most difficult part of the hike, but it’s well worth the effort because then you can enjoy your lunch and a drink of water with a view of the three granite pillars for which the park is named.
As the most popular hike in Torres del Paine, the trail and viewpoint are frequently busy, which is why some visitors choose to spend the night at the Chileno Camp and Refugio Cabins in the Ascencio Valley and then get up early to hike to the lookout and watch the sunrise over the Towers and lake. The rising sun paints the spires the most amazing shades of red, orange, and pink, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
2. Sail to the Grey Glacier
Located on the western end of the Paine Massif alongside the final leg of the W Trek, the Grey Glacier covers over 100 square miles from its origins in the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, funneling down valleys to finally spill into Grey Lake. The front wall towers nearly a hundred feet over the lake’s waters, and if you’re lucky, you can see icebergs of all different shapes and icy blue shades crashing into the lake.
While from the W trail you have a better vantage point to appreciate the sheer scale of the glacier, nothing can compare to sailing right up close to the front wall itself. At the far end of Grey Lake near the Lago Grey Hotel, you can board a giant catamaran that will take you right up to the glacier itself. And then, on the return trip, you can enjoy a pisco sour served with glacial ice taken from calved icebergs!
3. Go puma tracking
Seeing a puma in the wild is an incredibly rare experience, but Torres del Paine is actually one of the few places where you’re the most likely to get to see one of these majestic cats in their natural habitat. After fires in 2011 and 2012 destroyed large areas of lenga forest, the local guanaco population moved to better grazing grounds on the pampas, which are closer to many of the park’s roads and tourist infrastructure. And when the guanacos moved, their natural predator, the puma, followed. As such, it’s now easier than ever to see these wild cats either from the road while driving or while out hiking on the pampas. If you want to increase your chances of seeing them, go puma tracking with a local expert, who, based on knowledge of the land and animal behavior, knows exactly when and where to look to increase the chances of seeing a puma.
4. Attend a traditional asado
Before Patagonia was known for its trekking, it was a place of vast estancias and South American cowboys, all working in service of the millions of sheep that brought prosperity to the region through their wool. It’s said that Patagonia was built on the back of a sheep, and one of its most iconic culinary traditions, the asado, involves a young sheep as well. A slaughtered and skinned lamb is butterfly-strapped to a special spit, angled over a fire of hot coals, and then left to cook in the rising heat for hours. The result is the most delicious lamb you’ll ever have, with crispy skin but succulent and tender meat. The roasted lamb is usually served with sides of potatoes, pebre (a topping similar to pico de gallo), and plenty of red wine.
Nowadays, asados are mainly held for special occasions, and some estancias perform them for visitors so they can experience this most Patagonian of meals for themselves and learn about the estancia lifestyle. So during your Patagonia adventure, be sure to pay a visit to an estancia and enjoy a delicious asado!
5. Go for a horseback ride at an estancia
In addition to the asados, living the estancia life for a day offers a unique glimpse into the culture that helped colonize this region. Many estancias near Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares, while still working as sheep ranches, have now opened their doors to visitors so they can experience this lifestyle for themselves. One example is Estancia La Peninsula, an estancia located on the far side of Last Hope Sound from Puerto Natales, the gateway town to Torres del Paine. Here, you can go on horseback rides through forests and fields and along coastlines to epic lookouts showcasing the majesty of the region’s fjords. Then, at the end of the ride, you can watch sheep-shearing and sheep-herding demonstrations to see how these ranches are run and operated. But going for a horseback ride across the pampas is just about the most Patagonia activity ever and is a great way to see and appreciate the landscapes, so be sure to sign up for one!
6. Ice hike on Perito Moreno
The grand dame of Patagonia’s most accessible glaciers, the 240-foot-tall Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park is always swamped with visitors. But anyone can take a picture from a lookout or go for a boat ride close to the front wall: the ultimate way to experience the Perito Moreno Glacier is to walk on it! Even though the glacier is famous for its frequent calvings, it’s actually very stable and safe so you can go for guided ice-treks along the glacier’s surface, traversing iced-over crevasses that cut deep into the heart of the glacier, passing ice caves, and crossing streams of meltwater. And you don’t even need any prior experience to do so; that’s how safe it is! Then, before returning to the nearby town of El Calafate, stop for a celebratory drink at GlacioBar, an ice bar that’s the first bar in the world to be made out of glacial ice!
7. See the king penguins of Tierra del Fuego
Second only in size to emperor penguins, the king penguin can stand up to three feet tall and reach almost forty pounds as adults. Sporting sleek black and white feathers and orange markings, king penguins are normally only found on the Antarctica’s more temperate outer islands like South Georgia. This is what makes the king penguin colony in King Penguin Park near Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego so special: it’s the only known breeding colony outside of the species’ normal breeding grounds. To reach the main island of Tierra del Fuego requires a ferry crossing from Punta Arenas and a car ride to Inutil Bay where the colony is located; here, visitors can walk around the park on designated paths and walkways that allow them to observe the penguins and their nesting areas from a safe distance. While the colony can be visited year round, visiting from September to March offers the best chance of seeing the most penguins.
Just off the coast of Chile’s verdant Lakes District can be found a magical place full of mystery and beauty: the archipelago of Chiloe. This chain of islands, which consists of the main island and many smaller ones scattered into the surrounding ocean, is only accessible from the mainland by boat, ferry, or plane, and its centuries of isolation has created a wholly unique culture and way of life. Here there are legends about trolls and ghost ships; there are nearly 300 kinds of potatoes; and the locals (known as Chilotes) are so friendly they’ll invite strangers in for tea. In addition to its unique culture, the natural environment is stunning and as such it’s a wonderful place for outdoor sports like hiking, kayaking, and bird-watching. Here are ten reasons to visit Chiloe during your Chilean adventure!
1. Kayaking at Chepu
With its many lakes, channels, and bays, Chiloe is prime territory for excellent kayaking, both for sport, to enjoy the landscape, and to look for local wildlife like birds and otters (known as “”chungungos”). But arguably the best place to go kayaking is at Chepu, a tidal river and wetlands area located about an hour and a half from the island capital of Castro. You can start by kayaking down the river to the open ocean where you’ll encounter the sunken forest, an eerily beautiful place of sunken trees poking out of the water. The area was formed when the 1960 earthquake – the biggest ever recorded – sunk the land and caused a tsunami. A great time to visit and go kayaking is in the early morning as the sun is rising, as it’s the best time to look for animals and to enjoy this majestic place at its most peaceful.
2. Visiting the UNESCO Churches
One of Chiloe’s main claims to fame are its astonishing wooden churches, which were built under the supervision of Jesuit priests who came to the archipelago in the 18th and 19th centuries. The churches were made with local wood and traditional methods, so no metal nails were used in the making: everything was pieced together through ingenuity and wooden spikes. The results were a collection of steepled, brightly painted, and thoroughly impressive altars to God, 16 of which were declared UNESCO monuments in 2000. While all of them are a wonder to behold, the churches in Castro, Achao, Nercon, Dalcahue, Tenaun, and Chonchi are the most popular.
3. Seeing the palafitos
Poised along the waterfronts of Castro are some of the most iconic sites on Chiloe: the palafitos. These multi-colored wooden houses are perched over the water on stilts and in the past fisherman would ride in and out with the tide from the porch of the house. The outsides are also covered in artfully stencil Chilote tiles made from the alerce tree. Palafitos used to be a much more common site around the island, but many of the coastal ones were destroyed in the 1960 earthquake and tsunami. Many of the palafitos are still lived in by locals, but several in Castro have been converted into charming boutique hotels.
4.Visiting the penguins at Ancud
There are penguins on Chiloe? Yes, indeed! There are several nesting sites along the coast but the most famous one is located near Ancud, where colonies of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins can be seen. This nationally protected area, Puñihuil National Monument, is also significant as being the only known shared breeding site for both species of penguin. To see the penguins, you take a tour boat out to the three islands where the sites are located; the ride can sometimes be a little bumpy because of the waves but being able to see penguins in the wild is worth it.
5. Hiking through the island’s protected lands
Chiloe is blessed with a wide variety of landscapes, from dense forest to coastal cliffs to wetland, and many of these habitats are protected as national or privately owned parks. The most famous is Chiloe National Park on the Pacific Coast, which has amazing examples of the island’s temperate rainforests, great hiking paths, and amazing ocean views. At the far of the main island, Parque Tantauco is great for coastal hiking and keeping an eye out for migrating whales.
6. Try a traditional curanto
This Chilote tradition is similar to a clambake (baked clams) but much larger (and possibly better). A large hole is dug in the ground and the bottom is covered with red-hot stones. Then huge local nalca leaves are added and stuffed with mussels, chicken, sausage, potatoes (Chiloé is famous for its many species of potatoes), milcaos (a kind of potato pie) and other types of seafood. Another layer of leaves is added to lock in the heat and steam and the whole pile is left to cook for several hours. Open the leaves when they are ready for an authentic chilote feast with a delicious aroma and flavor!
7. Exploring Castro
The capital city of Castro is Chiloe’s cosmopolitan center and the place where most people stay during their explorations of the islands. Here you can find the stunning Church of San Francisco: a wedding-cake-like church covered with yellow and purple siding that towers over the Plaza de Armas. You can also see other examples of traditional Chilote architecture, like the palafitos. Here is also where you’ll be able to sample some of the island’s best culinary offerings: Rucalaf, Travesia, El Mercadito, and El Cazador: Casa de Comida are several of the best, offering fresh, delicious seafood and traditional Chilote recipes. Wander the streets, watch the tide go in and out of the channel, and soak up the local vibe!
8. Reaching the end of the Pan-American Highway in Quellón
Everyone knows the Pan-American Highway: that ribbon of asphalt running from the top of North America in Alaska all the way down to the end of South America. While there is an alternate route that takes the road all the way down to Ushuaia, the Pacific-side route ends at the far end of the main island of Chiloe in the town of Quellón. You can take your picture with the official marker, and it’s also a great spot to visit because on clear days you can see volcanoes dotting the horizon on the mainland nearby.
9. Discovering beautiful handicrafts at artisan markets
Thanks to its physical separation from the mainland, the islands of Chiloe have developed their own unique culture, which is evident in their amazing artistic handicrafts made by local artisans. Some of the best examples to be found are the woolen goods like sweaters, hats, and ponchos made from the wool of the island’s many high-quality sheep. You can also find mugs for yerba mate (an herbal drink that is widely used throughout Patagonia), as well as wood-and-wool wall hangings and figurines of figures from Chilote mythology like the Caleuche ghost ship. The artisan markets at Dalcahue, Castro, Achao, and Ancud are several of the best place.
10. Visiting the Muelle de las Almas
While this spot is very popular with tourists and so can sometimes be a bit crowded, it’s well worth the trip and the wait. This wooden dock — an art installation by architect Marcelo Orellana — extends off the edge of an rounded hill overlooking the stormy Pacific coast of the island, the end of the dock seeming to disappear into the blue sky. The views are amazing and standing on the end of the dock with the sea in the background makes for a phenomenal photo-op.
Just a 30-minute boat ride from mainland Chile, lies a beautiful archipelago called Chiloé. These incredible islands draw tourists from all over due to the beautiful nature, colorful buildings, tasty dishes and unique culture. Chiloé is special because it feels different from the mainland. Islanders call themselves “chilotes” and take pride in the place they live. There are countless reasons to put in Chiloé on your travel bucket list. Here are some of the biggest:
People who come to Chiloé are often in awe over its landscape. The islands are marked with bright green hills, fields of yellow flowers and peaceful waters. There are various ways to take in the scenery and enjoy the outdoors.
Go on a Trek:
Chiloé has a lot of natural attractions, many which offer fantastic trekking options. One of the best treks is called “Muelle de las Almas,” which translates to “Dock of Souls.”
It takes somewhat between one and a half to three hours to go there and back. The length of time depends on the hiker’s abilities and weather conditions. Trekkers should be prepared for any weather condition, no matter what the season. It rains often in Southern Chile, which can cause very slippery and muddy terrain. All visitors should wear proper hiking shoes that have a good grip, in addition to hiking sticks and some water.
The trek takes visitors through untamed forest, up misty hills and to a stunning view of the ocean alongside evergreen cliffs. The ending point is a wooden dock over the water. It’s the perfect place to snap a photo and take in the gorgeous view.
Take a Boat Ride:
Chiloé is an archipelago made up of more than 30 different islands. Therefore, a great way to explore the area is by boat.
There are several different boat tours that allow tourists to see different parts of Chiloé . One popular boat trip shows visitors different wildlife in the area. You can spot all sorts of creatures, such as penguins, dolphins, whales and various birds.
Additionally, many visitors enjoy kayaking around the archipelago. On a kayak, visitors can go to little villages, explore the wetlands and travel freely from island to island. It is a peaceful activity and a great way to spend the afternoon.
Additionally, many visitors love Chiloé is because of the island’s historic atmosphere and old fashion charm. The Chilote islanders steer towards tradition, keeping many of their homes and buildings in the original, unique style. You can see and learn about these old fashion buildings when you come to Chiloé.
Go Church Hopping:
Back in the 17th century, the Spanish Jesuits came to the Chiloé archipelago. On the islands, they started to build churches which drew inspiration from both indigenous and Spanish architectural style. At least 70 churches were built using unique architectural and design techniques. Today, 16 of these churches are UNESCO World Heritage sights and serve as some of the top tourist attractions in Chiloé.
In Castro, Chiloé’s capital city, the most famous church is the Church of San Francisco. It sits in the center of town and is easily spotted from a far due to its bright yellow and purple colors. The church takes a more Neo-Gothic style, and is without a doubt one of the prettiest churches on the island.
Additionally, visitors like to check out the Church of Santa Maria de Loreto, which is one of the oldest churches and Church of Quinchao, which is one of the largest. There are many different churches you can visit and each one has its own special qualities.
Chiloé’s culture is so interesting because it differs from the rest of the country. To get a true feel of the islands, make sure you take the time to learn the culture.
Admire the Colorful Palafitos:
When you think of Chiloé, the first image that often comes to mind is a rainbow array of small wooden buildings on stilts. These buildings are called palafitos, and in Chiloé, there are a lot of them. Inside the palafitos are restaurants, people’s homes and boutique hotels. These buildings are both visually pleasing and functional for a community that lives alongside the water.
There are a few viewpoints where you can admire at these colorful buildings from afar. Additionally, you can rent a kayak and paddle right next to them. Locals will smile and wave as you paddle towards the buildings, showing off the true, friendly spirit of Chiloé.
Wear Traditional Clothing:
The Southern half of Chile is known for having cold, windy and even unpredictable weather, especially during the winter months. To keep warm during winter days, Chilotes wear clothing that is made from wool. Visitors can purchase handmade hats, socks, ponchos at small, local markets, known as “ferias.” These items are useful while traveling on the island, and serve as a great souvenir or gift to bring home.
Additionally, if you come to Chiloé during the September independence holidays, you can see the traditional outfit of a Chilote at one of the many festivals and parties on the islands. Males dress in wool hats and high socks, and they use a collared shirt and a woven vest . The women dress in a black skirt, white collared shirt and a black bandana in their hair.
Try Foods Native to the Island:
Although Chilotes enjoy traditional Chilean food from the mainland, they also have a special cuisine of their own.
For the main meal, you must try the most famous dish of Chiloé — curanto. This dish consists of various shellfish, potatoes and meat, all cooked together in a hole in the ground. The meal is filling, and perfect for meat and seafood lovers. Additionally, a potato pancake called Milcao can be enjoyed on the side. This snack is unique because it is cooked together with both raw and mashed potato, which is then either fried or baked.
After a hearty meal, leave room for dessert. In Chiloé , you can try an apple empanada, which is a sweet twist on the traditional empanada. This snack resembles a small apple pie and is a great way to finish a meal.
Remote and desolate, Patagonia doesn’t exactly strike one as a foodie destination. But think again: those vast plains and wild waters actually hide a wealth of flavorful treasures just waiting to be discovered. And as more and more visitors are heading to the region, new restaurants are popping up all over, either serving classic recipes that have been a part of the local culture for generations or creating something new from the unique ingredients the land provides. Either way, rising restaurants, distillers, and brewers are all eager to introduce travelers to the tastes of Patagonia. Here are the best places to eat and drink around Patagonia!
Santolla – Specializing in dishes made with the mighty centolla crab, which is fished from nearby fjords, Santolla manages to feel both homey and fancy at once. Housed in upcycled and renovated shipping containers, start the meal with a Calafate Sour (a local twist on pisco sours but made with Calafate berries) before diving into their menu options. The chupe de centolla — a crab casserole made with huge chunks of tender meat, cheese, and bread — is a guaranteed winner, or go big and order a whole cooked king crab to break into..
Baguales Brewery and Restaurant – Not in the mood for pizza but still want some good, old-fashioned grub with a cold, refreshing beer? Sitting catty-corner to Mesita Grande on the other side of the square, Baguales is all about non-fussy, filling bar food, from delicious burgers to wings to quesadillas. And definitely indulge in a draught or two of their beer: made in their own microbrewery at the back of the restaurant, their award-winning brews include a Pale Ale, Brown Porter, Imperial Stout, and experimental varieties like an herbal ale made with mate, a popular herbal drink in Patagonia.
Mesita Grande – It’s not a backpacker town without a good pizza joint, which trail-weary hikers returning to Puerto Natales will find in Mesita Grande. Located on the corner of the main square, this airy and warm pizzeria encourages its patrons to get to know their fellow diners by seating them at communal dining tables. Baked in a wood-fired oven, their giant and scrumptious pizzas range from classics like plain cheese to regional specialties like the Mesita Grande, topped with cuts of Patagonian lamb, or the Pacifica, topped with smoked salmon. Wash it all down with Calafate sours, local craft beers, or Chilean wine.
Last Hope Distillery – Looking for a late night drink? Head to this hip bar and tasting room where, since 2017, owners Kiera Shiels and Matt Oberg have been making authentic Patagonian gin and whiskey using regional ingredients taken from the surrounding countryside. Named after Last Hope Sound, Last Hope Distillery is also the southernmost distillery in the world. Their whiskey is still aging but their two gins are ready to go: a standard London Dry and a Calafate Gin, flavored with Calafate berries. Floral and smooth, they go great on their own or mixed, and the bartenders serve what have to be some of the most creative cocktails at the bottom of the world. They also offer gin and whiskey from around the world, and can even do flights.
Aldea – The companion restaurant to the popular Amerindia Hostel across the street, Aldea is all about introducing visitors to Patagonia’s rich flavors, prepared in authentic ways and elegantly plated. While they have excellent veggie options, where they really shine are their meat dishes, like leg of hare or Patagonian lamb. They also have arguably the best-curated wine menu in Puerto Natales, so splurge for an accompanying bottle.
The Singular Restaurant and El Asador – From the waterside promenade, you’ve likely seen a large cluster of redbrick buildings on the far side of the water. That’s The Singular Patagonia, one of Patagonia’s most luxurious hotels. But even if you’re not staying there, pay a visit to a) be amazed by the architecture of the hotel, which is comprised of a repurposed former cold storage plant, and b) to reserve a meal at their signature restaurant, where Patagonian classics get reimagined with European flair. Everyone who eats here leaves raving, so treat yourself. Or, if you’re a voracious carnivore and want even more asado meat, try their speciality grill, El Asador, where prime cuts of local meat are flame-grilled to perfection alongside other Chilean classics like empanadas. Everything gets washed down with red wine or fantastic cocktails.
El Calafate, Argentina
La Tablita – The oldest and arguably greatest of El Calafate’s parrilla steak houses, a meal here is sure to satisfy any red-blooded red meat lovers. From classic cuts to sweetbreads to the quintessential Patagonian lamb, it’s a meaty bonanza, chased with giant glasses of some of Argentina’s best red wines.
Mi Rancho – This charming, family-run restaurant that specializes in feel-good meals like huge servings of locally-caught trout, hearty pastas, and rich risottos is so popular that it’s strongly recommended you get a reservation in advance. The cozy dining room of exposed brick and warm wood and the always efficient and friendly waiters make dining here the perfect end to a long day of hiking in nearby Los Glaciares.
GlacioBar – You came to Patagonia to see glaciers, but betcha didn’t think you’d end up drinking inside one! Ok, not really, but in this ice bar, all the walls and ice features are made from glacial ice, so technically, you’re inside a glacier! Housed underneath Glaciarium, an interactive center where guests can learn more about the history and science of Argentine Patagonia’s many glaciers, here you can bundle up and enjoy cocktails and drinks served in glasses carved from ice.
La Lechuza – For post-hike pizzas and local treats, there’s no place better than La Lechuza. Serving huge pizzas heaped high with toppings, the place is always busy, making it a great place to gab with locals or fellow travelers. They’re also well known for their empanadas, served either fried or oven-baked style. Pair it with a local craft beer and you’re good to go!
Pura Vida – Locals and visitors alike both swear by this quaint eatery. Making everything from empanadas to stews, they’re especially famous for their incredibly tasty and filling chicken pot pies and their lamb stew. For vegetarians struggling to find a good meal in a meat-centric country, they also have an extensive and equally delicious vegetarian menu.
Chopen Brewery – This brewpub and microbrewery is a great place to go with all your new friends you’ve made on the trails, as their stand-out dishes are shareable platters; their most popular one is a mix of local smoked meat and various cheeses. Samples of their various beers are offered upon arrival, which include an IPA, Scotch Ale, Pilsen, and Porter. All are good and thirst-quenching after a long hike.
El Chalten, Argentina
Techado Negro – This quirky, ramshackle diner, covered with corrugated iron on the outside and with brightly painted walls on the inside, may not look like one of El Chalten’s best restaurants at first glance, but looks are deceiving. Their menu is composed of Argentine and South American classics like stews, steak, and empanadas, and their wine menu is nicely selected to pair well with the dishes. Come for the food, but definitely stay for the fun, convivial atmosphere.
El Chalten Brewery – Bring on the beer! El Chalten is a small town but of course they have their own local craft brewery. Popular opinion says to try the Pilsen. To pair with their tasty homebrews, the menu consists of yummy pub grub like sandwiches, pizzas, and stews. They also have a lovely beer garden for those rare, sunny days when you can sit outside with a cold beer and soak up the sunshine and the views of Mount Fitz Roy, which looms over the town.
La Tapera – Housed in a rustic log cabin that on cold days is heated by a central wood-burning fireplace, this local favorite is all about the comfort food. Giant bowls of hearty stew are the menu highlights, as well as huge empanadas, steaks, and other feel-good foods. Meals are also accompanied by fresh, homebaked bread that will make you never want to eat store-bought again.
Maffia – Pasta, pasta, and more pasta. That’s what you’ll find at this Argentine-style trattoria, which serves fresh, homemade pasta dishes like sorrentino raviolis stuffed with rich, delectable fillings like trout, meat, or sauteed veggies and covered with your choice of sauce. And, as it’s an Italian-Argentine restaurant, plenty of red wine goes with the meal!
With its snow-capped peaks, crawling glaciers, and sweeping pampas grasslands, Patagonia is arguably the top adventure travel destination in the world right now. Visitors are drawn to popular national parks like Chile’s Torres del Paine and Argentina’s Los Glaciares to come face-to-face with some of Mother Nature’s finest handiwork, and, like so many before them, fall into the spell of this timeless region at the bottom of the world. In addition to amazing landscapes, there’s also the chance for encounters with native wildlife like pumas and guanacos, as well as opportunities to discover cultural legacies like the estancia sheep farms that gave birth to South America’s version of the cowboy, the gaucho or baqueano.
But not only is Patagonia a global leader in adventure travel; it’s also a leader in sustainable, conservation-minded tourism. This growing reputation is largely thanks to a recently-launched initiative that was decades in the making: the Route of Parks of Patagonia.
What is the Route of Parks of Patagonia?
As the name suggests, the Route of Parks of Patagonia — or, in Spanish, La Ruta de los Parques de la Patagonia — is a literal route or network that connects 17 national parks in Chilean Patagonia, stretching 1,700 miles and protecting some 28 million acres of land. The route starts in northern Patagonia on the edge of the Lakes District and extends down through the Aysén and Magallanes regions, finishing in Tierra del Fuego. Along the way, it offers access to a wealth of landscapes from temperate rainforests and coastline to mountains and grasslands. Visitors can drive, hike, cycle, and boat within the individual parks, as well as follow roads and ferry routes along the entire route to discover some of Patagonia’s most precious natural and cultural gems.
Launched in late 2018, the mission of this new route is not only to protect these pristine wildernesses for current and future generations, but also to involve local communities in their preservation and maintenance. The project aims to create jobs and promote regional economies centered around conservation and sustainable tourism instead of ecologically-destructive ranching, mining, or logging industries.
The route encompasses preexisting national parks like Torres del Paine, Queulat, and Cerro Castillo. However, it was the creation of a handful of new national parks that made the launch of this epic network hit major headlines around the world. This was possible thanks to the Chilean government being gifted an unprecedented million acres of private land for the specific purpose of creating new protected lands and rewilding environments that were previously used for commercial interests. And that historic land gift came from two people: Doug and Kris Tompkins.
Creating the Route of Parks
The origins of the Route of Parks starts way back in the early 1990s, when Esprit and The North Face founder Doug Tompkins first purchased land in southern Chile. He saw the potential for conservation and returning these ecologically-ravaged landscapes to their original splendor. After meeting and marrying his second wife Kris Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia, Inc., the duo made conservation their number one priority, founding Tompkins Conservation and working toward preserving the wild spaces of Chilean Patagonia.
Over the decades, they bought up millions of acres of land throughout southern Chile, facing significant criticism and pushback from locals who were suspicious and wary of outsiders buying up huge tracts of real estate, viewing them as land-stealers undermining the livelihoods and natural patrimony of local communities. But their hard work, patience, and perseverance paid off, as gradually their true intentions — to support and aid towns and communities located near the parks by offering sustainable jobs and economic opportunities connected to the parks, as well as natural conservation — became apparent as they worked on a deal with the Chilean government to donate the land and establish the Route of Parks.
Although the Tompkins have done conservation and rewilding work in many parks and protected areas, the heart of their efforts can be found in Patagonia National Park, located in the Aysén region. After first visiting the area’s Chacabuco Valley in 1995, the Tompkins acquired this former ranching land in 2004 and set about the massive task of taking down guanaco fences, selling the livestock, eliminating non-native species, and restoring native flora and fauna to the area. The herculean effort paid off in this splendid national park, which is bound to become one of the most popular on the Route thanks to its southern beech forests, bright turquoise lakes and rivers, spectacular peaks, and grasslands populated by guanacos and pumas. Here, visitors see the Tompkins’ vision in full realization, as not only has the landscape been restored, but local communities are involved in park operations, and tourism infrastructure has been created, including trails, camping areas, bathrooms, a museum, and a grand park lodge.
The million-acre land gift was finally made official in April 2019, marking the biggest donation of private land into public hands in history. The donation and the Chilean government’s contribution of nearly 9 million acres for new national parks and protected areas meant that a total ten million acres was added to Chile’s protected lands. Five brand-new national parks were established — Patagonia, Pumalín Douglas Tompkins, Melimoyu, Cerro Castillo, and Kawésqar — and the borders of three pre-existing parks were expanded: Corcovado, Hornopirén, and Isla Magdalena.
Sadly, Douglas never lived to see his vision fully come to fruition, as he sadly passed away in December 2015 from hypothermia due to a kayaking incident. Kris continues her conservation work with Patagonia National Park and the other parks on the Route, as well as Iberá National Park in neighboring Argentina. Most recently in 2023, she has been working with the Chilean government to create the Cape Froward National Park at the southern tip of Chile.
The return of the pumas
In addition to the restoration of landscapes and the long-term preservation of untouched wild areas, one of the major components of the Tompkins’ rewilding vision is having native species like guanacos, huemul deer, and Darwin’s rheas once again return to these lands. But their greatest success — and biggest obstacle — lies with pumas.
As their native prey like guanacos and huemul deer return to their natural habitats, pumas will follow. But for many ranchers, farmers, and locals throughout Patagonia, pumas are viewed as pests that kill livestock and create problems. The deeply-ingrained cultural dislike of pumas throughout the region has created an unfortunate opinion that they should be eliminated through hunting. Although hunting pumas was outlawed in 1980, the sentiment remains. So, in attempting to allow pumas to return to their former hunting grounds in these new parks, the Tompkins had to fight a secondary battle: that of working with locals to change their minds about pumas, as well as showing how conservation can be an economic benefit through sustainable tourism.
Although it’s a long, slow process to undo generations of dislike or even outright hatred against these creatures, there are signs of success. “Leoneros” or hunters that were formerly tasked by ranchers with hunting down and killing pumas in order to protect livestock now help Tompkins Conservation and CONAF, Chile’s national parks branch management branch, with tracking, tagging, and monitoring the species, allowing cultural traditions and livelihoods to live on but with a conservation-minded endgame.
The growing trend of “puma-spotting tourism” also shows that there should be a vested interest in the continued preservation of the species for biodiversity, environmental, and economic reasons. Especially in Torres del Paine National Park, where there are an estimated 50 to 200 pumas, puma-tracking tours are wildly popular among visitors. After fires in certain sectors of the park pushed the guanaco population into the grasslands near many of the main roads and tourism infrastructure in the park, the pumas have followed, making it easy to see pumas while driving around. But for the best sightings, many visitors pay top dollar for tracking tours. Experienced local trackers use their skills to find pumas and allow visitors to catch unprecedented glimpses of pumas engaging in natural activities like caring for their young or hunting. With tours enabling visitors to observe pumas in their natural habitat without disturbing them, wildlife tourism has become more and more popular, especially as photographers and filmmakers take advantage of this access to capture once-in-a-lifetime footage of these big cats.
Getting up-close with Patagonia and its pumas in your own home
Although you have good odds of seeing a puma during a visit to Torres del Paine or elsewhere along the Route, one of the best ways to learn more about these astonishing creatures and their key place in the Patagonian ecosystem is by watching the work of renowned Chilean naturalist and wildlife filmmaker Rene Araneda, who has worked with Tompkins Conservation in the past, bringing the wonders of Chilean Patagonia’s wildlife to TV screens around the country and world.
Capturing the wild landscapes and native flora and fauna of Patagonia for TV shows like Animal Planet’s Wild Expectations and CHV’s Wild Chile, Araneda has also devoted much of his career to documenting the pumas of Patagonia, including with the recent documentary Into The Puma Triangle. Working with American wildlife filmmaker, Casey Anderson, the team of this Smithsonian Channel wildlife documentary was able to capture never-before-seen behaviors from pumas in Torres del Paine, most incredibly observing pumas — who are normally solitary creatures — living as a pack or “pride” similar to those lived in by lions.
Offering intimate glimpses into the lives of these elusive cats, filmmakers like Araneda help educate the public about them, combating prejudice and misinformation and showing how humans and nature can live side by side harmoniously together.
How to plan your Route of Parks adventure
If you feel like the Route of Parks is calling your name, now’s the time to learn more and start planning your trip! To learn more about the parks, you can visit the official Route of Parks website here. And if you need help planning a trip, check out our Route of Parks itineraries that will take you to many of the highlights along the Route, including Aysén, Patagonia National Park and Torres del Paine. Hit the links below for more information and, if you have any questions, you can reach out to one of our expert trip planners.
Once it’s safe to travel again, we know that you’ll want to get back out there traveling and exploring as soon as possible to make up for time lost; we want to do the same thing too! But the travel landscape is bound to be a bit different after the pandemic, making it more important than ever to plan ahead in order to protect your health, safety, and money.
Here’s how planning a trip a year or so in advance will benefit you:
Booking farther in advance will give you more options for activities and accommodations. Furthermore, many 2020 travel bookings that had to be canceled because of COVID-19 were pushed into 2021, meaning that there might not be as much availability as you’d expect during certain seasons and at popular destinations. Plan and book well in advance to guarantee finding the best hotels, excursions, and transport available.
In the wake of COVID-19, the travel industry has implemented extremely flexible booking, postponement, and cancellation policies to help protect clients and operators like tour companies, hotels, and airlines. We at EcoChile have also outfitted our tours with the most flexible, accommodating policies possible, working with leading travel insurance companies, so that if something comes up and you need to cancel or change anything, we’ve got your back.
Like many in the travel industry, we’ll be offering special promos and early-bird specials to entice future travelers. So take advantage of those deals while they’re available: you’ll be saving money yourself and helping support an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. And when you book late, there will likely not be special rates, so book well in advance!
Not only are all these logistic reasons important, but it can also be fun to have something to look forward to. Instead of rushing to plan and organize a trip a few months in advance, you’ll be able to relax and look forward to your perfectly organized trip!
You’ve heard about Patagonia. It’s that place at the bottom of South America with all those amazing mountains and glaciers. You can see intriguing wildlife like guanacos, pumas, and Andean condors. It has some pretty great treks that aren’t too difficult and therefore are really popular. Sounds like a good place to go for your next vacation!
Yes, absolutely: Patagonia is a place that everyone should experience at least once. But before hopping on that plane, there are a few things you should know about visiting Patagonia that will help you get the most of your trip. Here are nine things I wish I knew before visiting Patagonia, so you can plan ahead and be prepared to make your Patagonian vacation the best it can be!
Patagonia is actually two countries
Yes, Patagonia is a region, but it spans the southern end of two countries: Chile and Argentina. This means that, if you’re starting your Patagonian trip in Torres del Paine and then heading to Los Glaciares, you’ll be passing from Chile to Argentina and, as such, will need the proper travel documents like a valid passport. Thanks to a special reciprocity agreement between Chile and the US, there is no fee for a tourist visa to Chile for US travelers. A tourist visa for Argentina costs $160 USD but is valid for multiple entries for the next ten years. Both countries allow visitors to stay for 90 days, and there are methods for extending the visa if necessary or desired. For other countries, you’ll need to check and confirm any exact visa requirements. This also means you’ll be checked at the border by customs officials; in general, border control in Chile and Argentina is pretty lenient, but both are highly protective of their biodiversity, so flowering plants and anything with seeds are not permitted.
Summer isn’t necessarily the best time to go
Yes, summer is generally considered the best time to visit due to the lengthy days, fair weather, and reduced wind. But even in summer, good weather isn’t guaranteed, so don’t base all your trip plans around the expectation that the weather will cooperate. Plus, with summer being the peak travel season, that means that many of Patagonia’s most popular destinations, like Torres del Paine or the Perito Moreno Glacier, can become overcrowded. So if you’re looking for the more quintessential Patagonia experience of escaping into the wilderness with no one else around, spring or fall would be your best bet. There are fewer people around, popular treks and viewpoints are less crowded, fares are reduced, and you can see seasonal colors like fall foliage. And the weather is still fairly good during spring or fall, so why not give traveling in shoulder season a try?
Pack for all four seasons
Even if you’re visiting during summer, pack like you’re going to be hit by a snowstorm, a rainstorm, a heat wave, wind, hail, and gentle sunshine all on the same day. Because it’s entirely possible you will be! Patagonia’s weather is famously unpredictable: even if the forecast calls for sunshine, the mountains and massifs of this region command their own weather patterns. It can be sunny down on the pampas, but rainy and stormy in the mountains. So always be prepared and pack for all seasons, no matter what the forecast says! And if you’re unsure, ask your guide: as locals who have worked in the region for years, they’re well-versed in the local weather and can likely give you a better idea of what to expect on tomorrow’s hike than Weather.com.
The wind is truly formidable
Sitting at the tail end of South America, Patagonia is subject to brutal wind and weather formed in the middle of the Pacific and intensified passing over Antarctica and the Drake Passage. With nothing in their way, these winds — known as “westerlies” — hit the continent at speeds of a hundred miles an hour (although that’s extremely rare) and can knock grown men off their feet. In some cities, during the windy season, ropes are strung between buildings so people have something to grab onto and won’t get blown into traffic. It also makes flights quite an adventure! So watch yourself when out hiking (using trekking poles will help you be able to sturdy yourself), and be sure to pack sturdy weather gear like jackets and especially hair-ties, or you’ll be dealing with tangled hair at the end of the day and all your photos will feature “Patagonia hair”!
The right kind of boots can make all the difference
You came to Patagonia to see the sites, and to get to them, you’ll need to hit the trails. As a trekking Mecca, you’ll likely spend many days hiking and walking, and as Patagonian terroir ranges from rocky moraines to dirt paths, investing in a good pair of sturdy hiking boots is the difference between enjoying the hikes and ending the day with bleeding, blistered feet. If you don’t already have a trusty pair of hiking boots, buy some well in advance and BREAK THEM IN BEFORE THE TRIP.
It’s not a food desert
We know that you likely didn’t choose Patagonia for your vacation because of its culinary prestige, but you’d be surprised! The main tourist towns of Puerto Natales, El Chalten, and El Calafate actually have happening food scenes, ranging from cozy restaurants serving traditional Patagonian dishes like asados and king crab casserole (known as chupe de centolla) to trendy eateries getting more experimental. At the region’s top hotels, there are even restaurants serving the kind of high-end fare you’d find in some of the world’s best restaurants! You can reward yourself with locally-made craft beer at taprooms and gastropubs as well, and there’s even good, real coffee available! After all that hiking, you’re likely to have worked up an appetite, so don’t just resign yourself to a pack of ramen or a pizza (although there are crazy good pizzerias); walk around town and help yourself to the tastes of Patagonia!
Stick to the trails and obey park rules
You’d be surprised how often this needs to be said, but people visiting Patagonia’s beautiful national parks frequently disobey park rules by littering, hiking off-trail, camping in undesignated sites, making campfires when they’re not allowed, and more. The rules exist for a reason: to protect these landscapes so that not only you but others can enjoy them, now and for future generations. Sticking to the trail is actually incredibly important because hiking off-trail can harm local flora. So it’s essential to listen to park rangers and follow the rules: stick to the trails, pick up after yourself, and only set up camp where it’s allowed. And it’s not just empty threats: past fires in Torres del Paine have gotten people banned from the park and even fined thousands of dollars.
Patagonia is HUGE
Even though it looks big on a map, you can’t really comprehend the distances until you’re here. Vast distances of pampas separate the massifs that have made this region famous, like Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares, so be prepared for some lengthy car rides or flights. But even that isn’t without its rewards: on car rides you can see local fauna like flamingos, guanacos, and Darwin’s Rheas, and on planes, you can look out the window and get a bird’s-eye view of those spectacular glaciers and peaks.
Getting in shape before the trip will help make it more enjoyable
Most of the day hikes and multi-day treks in Patagonia can be done by anyone in good health and with a normal level of fitness, but there are some — like the base of the Torres hike in Torres del Paine — that are a higher level of difficulty. Even when not hiking in the mountains on “Patagonian flatland”, that still requires a lot of hiking up and down hills and gulleys. So, if you’re not a big hiker, doing some easy to intermediate trails near your home can help your body get back into the rhythm of hiking so you don’t tire out too quickly on your Patagonia hikes and can actually enjoy the experience.
Unless it says otherwise, DO NOT GO SWIMMING
It’s possible that, on social media, you’ve seen envy-inducing pictures of people taking a dip in the lake at the base of the Torres or in other lakes in Patagonia’s national parks. This is a big no-no! These lakes are full of fresh water rich in sediments and minerals from the glaciers, and in order to keep them clean, swimming is strictly forbidden. So please, save the swimming for the pool back at your hotel, and if you see someone breaking the rules and swimming in the lakes, speak up or report them to park authorities.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is still far from over, many countries around the world have tackled it successfully enough to start reopening their borders and attractions to visitors, with health and safety measures set in place. Many people are eager to get out and explore the world once again but want to do so safely, making visiting off-the-beaten-track, remote, and lesser-known locations where there will be fewer crowds a top priority for travelers.
Luckily, Chile is absolutely full of such destinations. Our skinny country has far more to offer besides just Patagonia and the Atacama Desert, so if you’re looking to travel to Chile once it’s safe to do so, we invite you to discover one of its hidden gems. From remote valleys to secret hideaways, many of Chile’s finest natural treasures are overlooked by visitors, which is their loss but your gain. Here are eight of our favorite off-the-beaten-track destinations around Chile that you can visit once travel restrictions are lifted.
Located in the far north of Chile near the city of Arica, Codpa Valley is an ancient oasis hidden amongst the rocky desert hills of the northern Atacama. Despite its arid environment, the valley is extremely fertile and lush, full of fruit trees, desert trees, and other greenery that are fed by a pristine river. The valley gets its name from the small village of Codpa, which was founded by Spanish colonizers and is home to a famous church that was built in the late 1600s and is one of the oldest churches in the country.
Today, the valley is best known for its agricultural output (producing fruits like guava and mango), its importance in the early days of Chile’s colonization, its indigenous history and culture, and the production of pintatani wine, a sweet red wine that is still made in the same way the Spanish settlers once did. Codpa is rarely on tourists’ radar but for those willing to take a chance, you’ll discover a timeless culture and way of life that has endured for generations, preserved by the heat and desert sands. There are hotels and accommodations throughout the valley, and visitors can spend their days visiting historic villages, learning about the agricultural products of the region, immersing themselves in the history and making of pintatani wine, and discovering native culture at pre-Hispanic sites like the Ofriaga petroglyphs.
Salar de Maricunga
While most visitors to the Atacama Desert stick to the main landmarks and attractions near the town of San Pedro de Atacama, this high-altitude desert has many more beautiful, remote places worth exploring. One of these is the Salar de Maricunga, a vast salt flat located in Nevado Tres Cruces National Park. Stretching 8,300 hectares, the stark-white salt flats dazzle the eyes, and the surrounding landscapes are also dotted with lakes and lagoons in vibrant shades of blue. On the horizon, you can see Ojos del Salado, Chile’s highest peak and the highest active volcano in the world, as well as the other mountains of the Nevado Tres Cruces volcanic massif. The park is also an excellent place to see migratory flamingos during the summer months. Far from the tourist crowds of San Pedro, here you can enjoy Chile’s altiplano away from the noise of humanity, with no sounds but the high-altitude winds and the occasional squawk of a flamingo.
Llanos de Challe National Park
You may think the Atacama is stark and lifeless, largely devoid of plants and animals. It’s why the landscapes are so often compared to Mars or the Moon. But not so. Head from the interior of the desert to the Pacific Coast and it’s a whole other world, as you’ll discover at Llanos de Challe National Park.
Here, the coastal hills receive frequent moisture coming in off the Pacific in the form of dense cloudbanks and fogs; locally, they’re called Camanchacas. These mists allow plant life to flourish, giving this national park its own unique ecosystem and incredible biodiversity full of endemic and rare plant life including flowers and cacti. If you’re lucky and visit when the El Niño–Southern Oscillation takes place, you can even witness the famous flowering desert phenomenon, where the blank desert fields spring to life with vibrant flowers and plants. It’s also one of the best places outside Patagonia to see guanacos thanks to a large native population.
Although it’s not one of Chile’s Greatest Hits attractions like the Atacama or Patagonia, the name “Elqui Valley” may ring a bell to you; that’s because, in 2019, a total solar eclipse passed over this area and for a few brief minutes the eyes of the world were on Elqui. But this network of mystical valleys in Chile’s Norte Chico, a region between the arid Atacama and the lush central valleys near Santiago, deserves more than a passing glance. First off, it’s the birthplace of Chilean pisco: a grape-based brandy that is the country’s national drink. The valley floors are crisscrossed with patchwork vineyards, and many pisco distilleries open their doors for tastings and tours so you can learn all about this unique spirit. Immerse yourself in Chilean culture by discovering the life of one of Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poets, Gabriela Mistral, who was born here, and outdoor lovers will also enjoy going on hikes or horseback rides throughout the hills or biking down the winding roads.
The altitude and clear-skies also make for incredible stargazing, arguably even better than in the Atacama. The hilltops here are dotted with professional and public observatories, with tours and stargazing sessions that will absolutely blow your mind. This closeness to the skies is believed to have imbued the region with a special cosmic energy; with extraordinarily high electromagnetic readings, people here feel like they have a direct connection to the universe, making it a hotbed of alternative beliefs and hippie communes. So if you need to have your chakras realigned want to reconnect with the universe, this is the place to do it.
Altos de Lircay
From dense forests and snowcapped peaks to fields of hexagonal stones believed to be UFO landing sites (yes, really), the Altos de Lircay National Reserve is truly an out-of-this-world destination. Located in the Maule region, this reserve is often bypassed by visitors heading to the more famous Radal Siete Tazas National Park nearby.
The park has many hiking trails, either for day trips or longer, multi-day treks, and its isolated nature makes it perfect for backcountry camping and hiking. The trails pass through the park’s abundant woodlands, with many ending at mountaintop viewpoints that offer spectacular vistas. One of the most popular trails leads to an area called El Enladrillado, a tabletop plateau of flat, hexagonally-shaped stones. The bizarre nature of the landscape has led some to believe UFOs land here, making it a popular spot for “believers” to visit. But even if you don’t believe in extraterrestrial life, the amazing views and otherworldly rocks are worth the hike. In addition to hiking and camping, there are also horseback riding trails as well.
Conguillio National Park
This dramatic national park, located in the Araucania region of central Chile, is often overlooked by travelers because it’s not in the more popular adjacent Lakes District or down in Patagonia. But that’s their loss, because it’s easily one of Chile’s finest hidden gems, not only because there are fewer crowds so you can better connect with nature, but because the scenery is unreal. Dominated by the mighty (and still active) Llaima Volcano, this landscape is prehistoric: full of stark black lava flows, Technicolor lakes, and ancient forests. The main distinguishing feature of the park are the forests of Araucaria trees; towering giants that can live for thousands of years and are characterized by their bare trunks and curving crown of spiny branches. There is one Araucaria located in the park, the Mother Araucaria, that is over 1,800 years old! There are several small towns with cabins and hotels on the parks’ outskirts, but many choose to stay in the park, camping or in cabins, for more direct access to the park’s many hiking trails and outdoor recreational activities like kayaking on Lake Conguillio. You can also see amazing local wildlife like woodpeckers, condors, and foxes.
Carelmapu and Humedal de Maullín
This massive ecosystem of wetlands, swamps, tidal bays, rivers, estuaries, marshes, and flats covers 1,350 hectares in southern Chile, serving as protected lands for the incredible variety of birds that reside in or migrate through the area. At least 28 species of birds use these abundant wetlands as a resting place along their migratory path, and studies have found nearly a hundred different kinds of birds use the area overall. This makes this a fantastic place for birdwatching and to learn more about Chile’s fascinating flora and fauna. Throughout the protected reserve, there are designated areas for kayaking and boating, as well as hiking paths, cycling trails, and viewpoints from which to take in the views and wildlife.
To best experience the Maullín wetlands, stay in one of the nearby towns like Carelmapu. This charming village sits on the edge of a peninsula that juts out into the ocean, surrounded by dramatic scenery like seaside cliffs and lush fields and forests. Truly, the vibrantly-green landscapes look like something from coastal Ireland or England, and Carelmapu even means “green place” in Mapudungun, the language of the native Mapuche tribe. The town dates from early colonial days when it was a fort, so there are some interesting historic buildings to visit that showcase local architecture, like the Church of Carelmapu that is built in the same style as the famous Chiloe Island churches.
Patagonia National Park
This 752,503-acre national park is one of the newest additions to Chile’s many protected lands, having been part of the major land donation gifted to the Chilean government for conservation by Doug and Kris Tompkins. But Patagonia National Park, which is located in the southerly Aysen region, was one of the Tompkins’ pet projects for rewilding and rehabilitation, removing farm infrastructure to entice native species like guanacos and pumas back. Today, the park is thriving, full of wildlife and spectacular scenery like rolling grasslands, dramatic rivers, turquoise lakes, endemic forests, craggy mountains, and more. As the park is still relatively new, visitor numbers are still low, so you can be among the first in the world to fully appreciate its beauty and tranquility, as well as contribute to its legacy of preserving Chile’s natural places for the future. There are many different hiking trails throughout the different sectors of the park to enjoy, as well as other attractions like visiting the confluence of the Chacabuco and Baker River or going for scenic drives. The park is also home to the Lodge at Valle Chacabuco, a spectacular wilderness lodge in the style of the historic hotels of US national parks, as well as campsites.
Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia is one of the most popular outdoor adventure destinations in the world, and for good reason. The park has spectacular glaciers, mountains, grasslands, lakes, and rivers, and is essentially a nature-lover’s idea of paradise. Many people visit to do day hikes to popular spots like the French Valley, the Grey Glacier, or the base of the Torres, or others do the W circuit or Paine treks. And on all the many different treks and activities you can do to explore the park, you’re bound to see some of Torres del Paine’s unique and diverse fauna: animal life. While this is not a definitive list, here are 12 of the animals you can see in Torres del Paine National Park!
1. Pumas – The king of Patagonia, puma sightings in Torres del Paine have become increasingly common in recent years after fires forced the guanaco population into the areas of the park with more roads and tourism infrastructure. The pumas live solitary lives except when the females are raising their young, which take several years to mature. They prey on guanacos, as well as sheep, which has led to anti-puma sentiment among ranchers and farmers, who hunt them to protect their herds. But conservation and educational outreach programs are turning the tide of opinion on these powerful predators.
2. Huemuls – If you catch a glimpse of these very shy and elusive deer, which are featured on the Chilean coat of arms, you are really lucky! Sighting a huemul is more rare than sighting a puma. These deer, which are endangered from diseases contracted from farm animals like sheep, loss of habitat, and hunting. With a brown coat and large ears, huemuls are also about half the size of regular deer.
3. Darwin’s Rhea (Nandus) – Similar in appearance and size to an ostrich or an emu, these large birds – which have grey plumage and ruffled feathers – live and travel together in flocks as big as 30 individuals. Similar to their cousins, the ostrich, and emu, they are flightless and elude predators by running at incredible speeds on strong legs. Females lay clutches of up to 50 eggs, which, when they hatch, take three years to fully mature. As its name suggests, it was first recorded by Charles Darwin during his journey on the Beagle.
4. Guanacos – A relative of the alpaca and llama, these spindly-legged camelids are some of the most common sights in the park, roaming around in large herds or as individuals (if you see an individual, they are a young male who does not have a harem of females). Competition between males (especially during breeding season) is fierce and fights are common, during which they try to bite their opponent’s testicles. The guanaco diet consists of grass and other plant life, and they mainly live and around seen out in the pampas part of the park, where the herds roam. Their main threat is from the puma, and herds have sentries on hilltops to keep a look out and raise the alarm should they see anything.
5. Condors – The Andean condor is truly a sight to behold: with a wingspan that can reach ten feet, they are one of the largest bird species in the world. Condors are scavengers, using the thermals and air currents over the park to soar high and keep a lookout for leftovers (carrion) like dead guanacos, which they can spot from incredible heights and distances. You can often see them flying high over the park or coming home to nest on cliff faces.
6. Armadillos – There are two different kinds of armadillos in Torres del Paine: the Piche Patagon and the Quirquincho Peludo. The main difference between the two is when they are active, as the dwarf forage for food and explore during the day and the hairy are nocturnal. Both subspecies dig burrows to live in and feed off of grubs, roots, and shrubs. Sometimes they are hunted for their meat or their tough, protective body armor, but in general, they are left alone.
7. Hog-nosed skunk – Surprise, surprise, there are skunks in Patagonia! They’re not a common sight, as they mainly come out at night, but they can sometimes be seen nosing around and foraging for insects, grubs, and wild vegetables. They live in deep burrows that they dig themselves in the pampas, more desert-like areas of the park, and they can be seen out and about during spring, summer, and fall, as during winter they close off their burrows and live off of stored food. And, of course, like all skunks, if threatened or startled, they will spray a stinky, nasty-smelling substance in self-defense.
8. Southern grey fox – The Patagonian fox (or chilla) are a likely sight while out exploring the park or hanging out at your accommodations, as they are curious and are often found just out exploring or hunting for their daily diet of rodents, berries, eggs, or other small prey. With a greyish brown coat (which they are sometimes hunted for) the fox can also be identified by its distinctive “yip” call. Also, these foxes are actually not even foxes at all but are a member of the lycalopex family, which are often referred to as “false foxes”.
9. Red fox (culpeo) – These adventurous and nosy red foxes are renowned for their “auspicious” and bold hunting style (their name comes from a Mapuche word for madness). In the past, their diet was mainly made up of rodents, birds, berries, and eggs, but since sheep were introduced here in the 1800s, the foxes have definitely taken advantage of the easy prey and have made the sheep their primary targets. With beautiful fur of red and brown, the foxes are sometimes hunted for their furs, despite protection laws.
10. Geoffroy’s Cat – A sighting of one of these is a real treat, as sightings are incredibly rare since they are nocturnal hunters, coming out at night to catch small birds and rodents. About the size of an average house cat, the Geoffroy’s cat has a soft coat of tawny brown or light grey covered with black spots and stripes. In the past, they were hunted for their pelts and were even listed as endangered for a while, but new laws and protections have allowed the populations to bounce back. Some naturalists wait their whole lives to see a Geoffroy’s cat, so if you see one during your stay at the park, you are truly lucky.
11. Magellanic woodpecker – Torres del Paine is home to some spectacular bird species, like this jet-black with red faced beauty. They are mostly commonly found in the forested part of the park, drilling into trees for insects, grubs, and other edibles, as well as creating homes for their families. If you are patient and quiet while walking through the forests in the park, you may hear the distinctive “tock, tock, tock” of their hammering.
12. Austral parakeet – Parakeets? In Patagonia? You bet! These birds, which are identifiable by their green and red plumage, can be found in the park’s forests and woodlands, feeding off of berries, seeds, and other plant life.
One of Patagonia’s most enduring legacies is the estancia: vast estates of pampas (hilly grasslands) populated by huge herds of sheep and a handful of baqueanos — Chilean cowboys — that, once a year, will travel on horseback over those thousands of miles to round up the sheep. The sheep are herded back to the main ranch (the casco central) where they’re sheared, harvesting their high-quality wool that in the past was shipped to Europe to clothe the wealthy, and then they’re released again for another year under the never-ending Patagonian skies.
Estancia culture began in the region in the late 1800s when immigrants from Europe and the north of Patagonia (namely Chiloe) came to the far south. At first, the money was in the exportation of wool, particularly of the silky-smooth, luxurious Merino variety, but then shifted to selling meat when refrigeration systems were invented. The introduction of sheep to the wide-open fields of Patagonia and the establishment of the estancia system profoundly changed the natural, cultural, and economic landscape of the territory: altering habitats, uprooting native species, and bringing wealth to the region.
Today, many estancias are still operational but many have also downsized or adapted to the times to make ends meet and to make amends of the environmental damage done in the past. One of these estancias — which has given the majority of its 19,000 acres back the native wildlife (only 2,600 acres are used for livestock), significantly diminished its herd size from the traditional tens of thousands to a mere 1,300, and created opportunities for tourists to visit and learn more about the estancia lifestyle — is Estancia La Peninsula, located on the wind-battered shores of Last Hope Sound in Chilean Patagonia.
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The winds in this part of the world are notorious and brutal foes, and everything here has to work around them, including my schedule. My day trip to the estancia, which is only accessible by boat, had been canceled earlier in the week because the winds were too strong to head up into the sound by boat. The winds (“westerlies”) blow so hard, so strong, and for so long here that if the boat captain doesn’t feel it’s safe, then it’s a no go. So when there is bad weather, Estancia La Peninsula, on its rocky shore further up the fjord, is completely isolated and cut off from the outside world. There’s a certain romanticism and appeal in that. The winds I can live without: go outside for a minute and my face is blasted raw and chilled to the bone.
But no matter: my trip had been rescheduled for later in the week and the day has finally arrived. It dawns crisp and clear: about as perfect a day as it’s possible to have in Puerto Natales. The water of the channel is a mirror-like cerulean blue, gently lapping at the shores. The sun shines down, warming the dock that I stand on as I wait to board the boat that will take me to the estancia. On the horizon I can see snow-capped mountains. The day is gorgeous; utter perfection.
Our group — a family on holiday, a couple, a volunteer who would be living at the estancia for the next week, and me, the perennial solo traveler — board the boat and we set off. On the way our guide points out different landmarks, like an island where guanacos could once been spotted, which served as a marker for sailors back in the day. As we motor further into the fjords, the landscape on shore starts changing from undulating Patagonia grassland to large, rocky hills, and in front of the boat we can see the snowy mountains we’d seen from town getting closer and bigger. A pair of curious dolphins briefly swims alongside the boat. And finally, on the far shore, we glimpse a small cluster of red buildings with the dock sticking out into the water: Estancia La Peninsula.
Estancia La Peninsula was founded in the late 1800s by the prominent MacLean family, but they’ve changed their model by incorporating tourism into their activities; to do so, they allocated the majority of their land for conservation purposes and created hiking and horseback riding trails for visitors to explore the estancia’s lands. Their herd now only consists of Merino sheep, which produces an extremely high-quality wool. This subspecies of sheep were originally from Spain but the modern variety as we know it today was domesticated in Australia and New Zealand. But while some things have changed, many aspects of life on the estancia are just as they were in the past: the training and use of Magellanic sheepdogs, riding and using Criollo white horses, hiring local baqueanos (or gauchos as they are also sometimes called), and using traditional gear.
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After disembarking, our group is lead to the main estancia house: a modern building decked out in traditional ranch decor, with large windows that look out on the water and mountains. We’re served fresh coffee and warm Mapuche sopaipillas while the group gets to know each other a bit better: we all come from all over and it’s so nice to meet new people and hear their stories while on the road. After depositing our things, we’re led to the tack building a short walk away to meet our horses and gear up. On the walk there, we encounter an adorable calf being fed from a bottle by a ranch hand; we’re told that the calf lost its mother and now it’s being taken care of here on the estancia itself.
But my attention is drawn to the white, stately horses that await us. The horses used here on the estancia are all older, having been bought from different estancias and brought here for an easy retirement of leisurely rides with tourists and galloping over wide, open fields.
After getting into our gear, we’re each helped onto our respective horse. Since I have some background in horseback riding, I’m given one of the more headstrong horses, and boy does he let me know it. Immediately he’s trying to see what he can get away with: dipping his head to eat grass, not responding to my slight kicks and signals to turn or stop. The gauchos tell us that right away the horses will be testing us to determine whether they respect us or not, so it’s important to be firm and strong with the horse to show them who’s the boss, who is the one in charge. So I keep a steady grip on the reins and endeavor to be forceful with this stubborn horse who does not want to cooperate.
After everyone is saddled up and has gotten more comfortable with their horses in the paddock, we’re led out along a trail, with the mountains to our left and the water to our right. My horse still strains at the reins and is constantly trying to break into a trot or gallop but I keep him walking slow so I can appreciate the stunning landscapes, the fresh air and sunshine, and chat with my other riders.
The path passes through a part of the ranch where there are many different kinds of sea and land birds, as well as hares. After walking along the shore for a while, we start to walk up into the hills and enter a forest of stunted trees that have been shaped by the wind. The horse deftly navigate a muddy track along steep hillsides but never falter. Finally, the track evens out and then tops a final crest to a windy hilltop overlooking the ranch, the channels, and the mountains. It’s one of the best views I’ve ever seen in my life.
After stopping a few minutes to take in the view and take pictures, we go down the other side of the hills to the shore, where we stop by an exposed bank. Here, we’re told, archeologists found evidence of native tribes having lived, fished, and gathered food; there are also several caves further inland, which can be reached on a two-day trek, where other artifacts from tribes were found. Then we turn around and return along the shore, crossing small streams, watching birds take off, and soaking up the sunshine. At a few wide stretches along the way, I let my horse break into a trot to blow off some steam and enjoy the ride. It seems that now, finally, as our time together is drawing to a close, me and my horse have reached an agreement of respect. He is better responding to my signals and instructions and in so doing I feel that he has deemed me worthy. It’s a good feeling, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being challenged and put to the test.
After getting off our horses and turning them over to the gauchos so they can go enjoy the rest of their afternoon free of work, we go back to the main house to get cleaned up and wait for what’s coming next: an authentic Patagonian asado (barbecue). A traditional asado in Patagonia uses lamb, which, after being killed and skinned, is butterflied over hot coals and cooked in the simmering heat until the meat is lusciously tender. We’d seen our lunch roasting earlier and now the lamb had been moved to the barbecue pit in front of the main house so we could watch it being taken off and cut up. But while we wait, we’re given cold local beers and sit out on the deck in the sunshine. The wind rustles the grass. People talk and laugh all around me. I listen to the waters of the channel gently crashing on the shores nearby. The cold beer in my hand tastes like heaven. This is what pure happiness feels like.
The lamb is then taken down and cut up, and we go inside for a Patagonian feast: lamb, baked potatoes, salad, and red wine. Everything tastes delicious and out the windows we watch the horses going back out to pasture. I stuff myself and liberally enjoy the wine, ending the meal in a content daze. But there’s no time for relaxation: there’s still more to come.
Outside, a small herd of sheep is directed by a pair of sheepdogs to demonstrate their skill and agility to us. It’s truly amazing how smart and well-trained they are: the dogs respond to a wide variety of commands quickly and easily, making the sheep go in circles or break into smaller groups. Although one, the estancia workers laugh and tell us, is a little slow and awkward but his heart is in the right place! We all laugh and agree that he’s a very good boy, indeed.
Then we walk to a nearby barn where our guide tells us about sheep shearing on the estancia. Large piles of Merino wool are stacked in the corners and we run our fingers through the earthy-smelling, soft ringlets. Then we’re shown the different cutting tools used for shearing and how the barn is set up: sheep waiting to be sheared are kept in an enclosed area out back before being led through a wooden, enclosed walkway to the shearing station. When done, they go through another door and are released into a fenced-in field behind the barn to be monitored and adjust to the feeling of not having their full coat.
We’re told that master shearers can get through a sheep in a matter of minutes, and that, while some estancia staff know how to shear the sheep, the true experts are nomad shearers, who, during shearing season, spend months at a time on the road going from estancia to estancia shearing their herds.
To demonstrate, a sheep is brought in and the shearer shows us the correct pattern and method for shearing. The sheep struggles and kicks, so it shows true skill that a good shearer can go through perhaps hundreds of frightened sheep in a day and not cut them or damage the wool.
The day is almost at an end; we’ll need to get back on the boat soon to go back to the mainland. But there’s one last surprise first: a cute and fluffy surprise. We follow the staff up a short hill, and as the top comes into view, so does a small group of adorable sheepdog puppies and a young lamb, running toward us. Everyone in our group instantly collapses into squeals of delight and “awwww’s!” and drops to the ground to cuddle and pet them. The next half an hour goes by in a blur of puppy kisses, little lamb bleats, and pure joy.
But then it’s time to go. After a final coffee and saying goodbye to those that are staying on the estancia for the night, we board the boat and start back. What a wonderful day: I learned all about life on an estancia in Patagonia, got to see some absolutely stunning landscapes, earned the respect of a steadfast horse, had scrumptious food and drink, and got to play with puppies and lambs. Already I find myself looking forward to a future visit to Estancia La Peninsula, and once again getting swept up in the estancia life.
So you want to visit the crown jewel of Chile’s national parks, Torres del Paine! Located in the farthest of Chile’s regions, the Region of Magallanes and Antartica, Torres del Paine has become renowned for its spectacular natural landmarks like the Paine Massif, home to the iconic Cuernos mountains and the Torres, and the Grey Glacier. Most people come to do the W Trek, which takes hikers to all the park’s highlights including the Grey Glacier, the Frenchman’s Valley, and the base of the Torres, but you can also the full “O” or Paine circuit which connects the two ends of the W by going around behind the back of the Paine Massif or just do day trips.
But now comes the next question: when is the best time of year to visit Torres del Paine? Most people visit during the Patagonian summer months of December through February, but as travel to Chile becomes more popular, visiting Torres del Paine during those high season months might not be the best option for everyone as the park will be overcrowded, which ruins the wilderness experience. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of each season in Torres del Paine, to help you choose the best time of year to plan your trip!
Lasting from mid-September through November, spring can be a great time to pay a visit to Torres del Paine. Without the crowds of high season, you can enjoy the park in peace and quiet, as well as get to see new baby animals and new plantlife starting to bloom. The main disadvantages are that the nights can still be pretty chilly, snow and ice are still possibilities, there will likely be rain in March and April, and, as always, the weather can be unpredictable and the winds are pretty strong. Also, some campsites, hotels, roads, and parts of the park may not yet be open if you’re traveling during the early part of the season, so depending on what you want to do and see, doing research beforehand about what will be open is recommended.
Summer is by far the most popular time of year to visit Torres del Paine, and there are several reasons for that. Lasting from December through February, this season is when the days are the warmest and the nights are the least cold, all parts of the park are accessible, there are longer hours which allows for more hiking and exploring, and since the weather is generally the best in summer, you have a better chance of having good weather to see the landscapes and do hikes. If you’re a very social traveler, it’s also the best time to visit to meet lots of people on the trails and at the campsites. There are some drawbacks, though: as it is high season, rates for things like refugios, hotels, campsites, transportation, etc., is more expensive, the park is at its most crowded, and there are strong winds and unpredictable weather and rain. If you do want to travel to Torres del Paine during summer, it is recommended that you make reservations for your tours and book things like campsites, refugios, etc., well in advance to guarantee a spot. One of the advantages of booking a tour through a company like EcoChile is that we take care of all those reservations for you!
If you love foliage and crisp fall weather, autumn in Chilean Patagonia is the best time to visit! Torres del Paine is already one of the most visually spectacular natural places on the planet, and its beauty is only enhanced by the addition of gorgeous fall colors covering the landscapes. Lasting from March through May, the days are still warm but nights are starting to get colder, and there are increased possibilities of rain and snow, especially toward the end of the season. In March, there are sometimes still bigger crowds but the numbers gradually decrease going through the season. Some of the hotels, campsites, areas of the park (such as the Gardner pass) etc., close down before the season officially ends in mid-May, so do research beforehand to see what will and won’t be open as the season advances. After summer ends at the end of February, most companies also switch into shoulder/low season pricing, so it’s a more economical time to visit as well. Since there are fewer crowds and many animals have just had their birthing season, it’s also a great time to see wildlife, so nature and wildlife photographers may find that fall is the best time.
Winter can be a tricky time to visit Torres del Paine, as officially the park is closed to everyone except expert winter trekkers and select groups, but since interest in visiting the park is growing, officials have started to open up the park for some winter tours and activities, and EcoChile Travel is one of the few Chilean travel companies that offers the W trek during winter! Winter in Torres del Paine lasts from June to August, and the weather is not for the faint of heart: plunging temperatures (low 20s [-3 – 0 degrees Celsius], low 40s [5-8 degrees Celsius]), strong snowstorms, low visibility during storms, unpredictable weather, and strong winds make it a challenging time of the year to visit.
But the winter weather is also why the experience can be so rewarding: you get to see the spectacular mountains, plains, glaciers, lakes, valleys, and rivers of Torres del Paine covered in glorious snow and ice, creating the ultimate wilderness wonderland. Plus, there will be virtually no one else in the park, so it’s a great time to see untouched winter landscapes at their most pure and without any crowds to disturb the peace. At this point in time, except with special permits, you can only enter the park during winter if you are with a tour group like EcoChile Travel, as most of the hotels, campsites, and other amenities are closed, so prior arrangements need to be made via an authorized tour company. In closing, while it is physically a very difficult time of year to visit, the winter views and isolation make it a worthwhile endeavor.
So what do we recommend?
Ultimately, there is no singular best time of year to visit Torres del Paine. There are drawbacks and benefits to each season, and deciding when is the best time to go depends on what you want to do and see. Highly sociable hikers may love going during summer as there are many opportunities to meet and explore with new people, whereas people who want to escape into nature without the distractions of the real world would find fall or spring a better time. Photographers may want to take pictures of the snow and ice during winter, or capture the fall foliage. More budget-conscious travelers would probably prefer to visit during spring and fall when pricing is in shoulder/low season rates. So the best time of year for Torres del Paine is the best time of year for you.
No matter what you choose, Torres del Paine is bound to impress and dazzle travelers year-round. So do some research to figure out when will work for your budget, as well as determining what you want to do and see, and then get ready to book your dream vacation to the eighth wonder of the world! Also, if you have more questions or aren’t sure what time of year is the best for you, our expert trip designers are happy to answer any of your questions and help you figure out how to plan the best vacation for your budget and goals!
The main reason people go to the farthest region of Chile and the town of Puerto Natales is to visit Torres del Paine National Park, which is famous for its mountains, glaciers, and hiking opportunities. But while Torres del Paine is a must visit, there are plenty of other great places to explore and outdoor or cultural activities to try located just a short distance from Puerto Natales – the gateway to Torres del Paine. This town, which is located at the mouth of Last Hope Sound, is usually just known as the stopping-over point before going to Torres del Paine. But head just outside of town and you can go on fun hikes, horseback rides, kayaking, and much more! Here are 5 activities you can do near Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales!
1. Visit a traditional Patagonian estancia – In the 1800s, the wide open pampas (plains) of Patagonia became prime real estate for sheepherding. A whole ranching and baqueano cowboy culture grew up around the keeping of the thousands of sheep that roamed the region, raised their wool and meat. Some of these estancias are still operational but many around Puerto Natales, while still carrying on the traditional estancia activities and work like sheep shearing, also offer tours and activities so visitors can learn about the estancia lifestyle. One of the most popular to visit, Estancia La Peninsula, requires a boat ride to get to, and they show you a sheep shearing demonstration, take you on a horse ride, and prepare an authentic Patagonian asado (barbeque).
2. Go for a hike at Cerro Dorothea – While Torres del Paine gets all the glory for beautiful landscapes in the region, the surroundings of Puerto Natales on Last Hope Sound are also stunning. One of the best places to take in those views is from the viewpoint at the top of Cerro Dorothea. Located on the outskirts of town, Cerro Dorothea is the tallest point of a short mountain range, with views overlooking Puerto Natales, Last Hope Fjord, and Admiral Montt Gulf. The hike is relatively easy, it’s very accessible from town, and the views are well worth it. Plus, it’s also a great spot to keep an eye out for local birds like the Andean condor, one of the largest flying birds in the world.
3. Visit the Mylodon Cave – Located about 15 kilometers from Puerto Natales, this vast, open-mouthed cave is where the remains of now-extinct mylodon (giant sloths), saber-toothed cats, and dwarf horses were found in 1895. This discovery was the catalyst for travel writer Bruce Chatwin to come to Patagonia and write about it in his famous travelogue “In Patagonia”; he first was inspired to visit Patagonia thanks to his grandmother owning a piece of the mummified skin from the mylodon. Visitors can roam around the cave, see where the remains were found, and also pose with a life-size statue of the mylodon; out of the cave entrance you can see the Patagonian landscape stretching off to the horizon.
4. See the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers – Most visitors to the area want to see the Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine national park, but there are two other equally impressive and lesser known glaciers. The two glaciers are found near Puerto Natales in the southern part of the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. They descend mountainsides into the waters of Last Hope Sound and are accessible via a boat tour from the pier at Puerto Natales (many tours also include a glass of whisky served with glacial ice). Alternatively, you can go kayaking at Balmaceda, which allows you to get closer to the glacier (while still being safe) and kayak around the lake around the icebergs that have been carved from the glacier. The glaciers have receded a bit in recent years because of global warming, but they are still spectacular to see up close. Plus, as they are not as well know as the Grey Glacier, you have the chance to see something more off-the-beaten-track.
5. Horseback ride to Laguna Sofia – Thanks to the estancia and baqueano cowboy culture in Patagonia, there are many opportunities to get to know the landscape on horseback. One of the best places near Puerto Natales to go for a ride is at Laguna Sofia, a beautiful lake located an hour from town, surrounded by snow capped mountains, rolling hills, and forests. Here you can go horseback riding in the hills and forests close to the lakeshore or go to lookout points over the lake, which is such a great way to spend the day or just an afternoon. If you’re not big on horseback riding, you can also just go for a hike.
When is the best time to visit Chile? It depends on what you want to do and see while you’re here, but spring is one of the most beautiful and underappreciated seasons to visit. Full of vibrant spring sunshine, the awakening of all the trees and plants, new baby animals, and much more, it’s a glorious time to get to know this unique country full of life and adventure. Here’s six reasons to visit Chile during spring!
1. Low season rates – Always a good incentive to travel outside of high season: better prices! The summer months of December through March are high season for Chile, especially since that’s when Chile’s schools are out for the summer vacation, so hotels, tour packages, flights, and everything else associated with vacation is at its highest pricing. But during spring, tour operators, hotels, and destinations are eager to kick-start the season and attract off-season visitors, so they offer special reduced rates that you can take advantage of to save money and maybe even have enough to extend your stay and see even more!
2. Good weather – Spring in Chile is a lovely time: the earth is waking up, everything is in bloom, and the weather is wonderful. Most visitors rave that summer in Chile is the best, but especially if you’re going to Patagonia, off-season during spring is just as good a time to visit as summer or fall, and you may even have better luck avoiding the region’s notoriously bad wind or summer showers. If you’re visiting during September or October, there is also still a good chance that some of Chile’s ski resorts will still be open for skiing and snowboarding, so you can shred the slopes in gorgeous sunny weather.
3. Fewer crowds – A definite bonus of traveling before high season in summer: there will be far less people at the top attractions! During summer places like San Pedro de Atacama and Torres del Paine can become overrun by tourists so visiting a few months ahead of the crowds is always a good idea if you prefer some peace and quiet during your travels. And, if you’re visiting lesser-known destinations like Valle de Elqui or the Carretera Austral during spring, you’re almost guaranteed to have the place pretty much to yourself!
4. Blooming plant life – As the snows of winter melt away, Chile blooms to life again! The country’s fantastic diversity of exotic flora wakes up after the long sleep of winter and cover the country in green and colorful flowers. If you’re lucky, you may be visiting during a year when the Atacama Desert experiences one of its rare and magical blooms, when this incredibly arid desert – the driest on Earth – has received enough rain that large patches of it erupt in gorgeous flowers as far as the eye can see. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime sight. But even if the desert isn’t blooming this year, watching the rest of Chile’s beautiful landscapes come to life is a real treat, perfect for going on hikes, cycling, or just driving through the scenery.
5. Baby animals – Spring is also the time when many of Chile’s native animals enter their birthing season. If you’re planning on visiting any of Chile’s national parks or protected lands during your visit, if you’re lucky you may be able to see adorable new baby animals taking their first steps and getting to know the landscape. A good place to see this in action is at Torres del Paine National Park, where the large guanaco populations usually start giving birth in late spring in October or November.
6. Celebrate Chilean Independence – Even though the official first day of spring in Chile is September 21st, spring feels like it starts before then in early or mid September because of the Fiestas Patrias holiday. Celebrating Chile’s Independence from Spain, the 18th and 19th of September are national holidays and many Chileans take the whole week off to mark the occasion with barbecues, family parties, traveling, and attending local fondas: fairs where they can enjoy traditional Chilean food and drinks, dance the national dance, the cueca, and celebrate. Because of the festive air that takes over the whole country leading up to these holidays, it’s a wonderful time to come to Chile to experience the culture, food, and season.
With its volcanoes, lakes, rivers, mountains, and unique culture, the Lakes District is one of the most enchanting places in Chile, and there are endless ways you can explore and fall in love with this lovely corner of the world. Here are our ten favorite ways to experience Chile’s Lake District!
1. Go kayaking – With its pristine blue lakes and rivers, the Lakes District is one of the best places in Chile for kayaking! There are more turbulent rivers and streams for more experienced kayakers, as well as plenty of leisurely streams and lakes that are perfect for newbies or kayakers who enjoy going kayaking to look for wildlife or go birding. Pumalin Park, Llanquihue Lake, the Petrohue River, and the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve are all popular spots, and sea kayaking along the coast is also a wonderful way to know the bays, marshes, and waterways of the Chilean coastline.
2. Hit the trails – Valleys, mountains, volcanoes…the Lakes District is Ground Zero for great hiking in Chile! You can see amazing vistas and landscapes, as well as challenge yourself and get up close with the unique flora and fauna of the south. The national parks and protected lands of the Lakes District are great places to start for single and multi-day trekking and hiking options: Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, Vincente Peréz Rosales National Park, and Pumalin National Park all have jaw-dropping scenery, and have a wide range of hikes for all ages and levels of experience.
3. Feel the thrill of white water rapids – The white water rafting in southern Chile is considered to be some of the best in the world, full of rapid descents and a wide variety of classes of rapids. The Trancura or Liucura Rivers are the rivers to go to if you want to truly experience white water rapids, either rafting or kayaking. There are options year-round, many of the top rivers are close to popular adventure destinations like Pucon, and the views from the rivers are absolutely mesmerizing. You’ll never forget the thrill of riding those white waters!
4. Learn about the Mapuche people – The Mapuches are one of Chile’s oldest and most culturally significant indigenous groups, and they were the only tribe that was able to beat back the Spanish when they first came to the country. The south has long been the Mapuche’s stronghold so the cultural influence here is still very strong. Many own businesses and restaurants where you can see their handicrafts and eat traditional foods, but a visit to a traditional ruka offers a fascinating glimpse into this ancient and incredible people.
5. Try local craft beers – Thanks to a surge of German immigrants in the 1800s, Southern Chile is a Mecca for craft brewing. The region has been overflowing in hops and foam heads ever since, and you’ll find breweries both big and small everywhere, making everything from IPAs to golden ales to stouts. Valdivia has a great brewing scene as it’s the home of Cerveceria Kunstmann, which is one of the oldest breweries in Chile and has a fantastic beer festival every summer. Keep going south from there and you’ll never be far from a brewery or beer garden; Pucon and Puerto Varas also have great microbrew scenes.
6. Climb up a volcano! – The Lakes District is home to many striking volcanoes, some of which are still active! But you can do much more than just enjoy their beauty; there are several that you can actually climb up! The most popular is Villarrica Volcano outside Pucon, where you can take a tour walking up to the smoking crater, take in the view (and be careful!) and then, if there’s snow, sled back down! There’s also a ski resort on one of Villarica’s slopes that’s open during the winter months.
7. Sightsee traditional German houses – The prevalence of German culture and food is part of what makes the Lakes District of Chile so unique, and this also extends to the exquisite German-Chilean houses that were built using native Alerce wood but with classic Gothic Script styling and colorful walls and trim. Although you can see an example of these houses all over the region, the German heritage neighborhood in Puerto Varas has fantastically-maintained examples that you can easily walk around the city and see, like the Kuschel House, Niklitschek House, and the German House, as well as the iconic red-and-white Church of the Sacred Heart that overlooks the city.
8. Taste the culinary mix of the south – The cultural melting pot of German, Spanish, Mapuche, and other European influences has created a culinary scene unlike anywhere else in Chile. German kuchen, a kind of pie which can be made with different kinds of fruit, can be enjoyed for breakfast or afternoon tea. German sausage and hearty potato dishes are also very widely eaten. Dishes like papas bravas, serrano ham, and sheep and cow are evident of the more Spanish and Chilean influences, and Mapuche cuisine heavily features foraged foods like mushrooms and wild fish. At restaurants throughout the region, you’ll be able to try the different flavors and backgrounds of this diverse part of Chile.
9. See world-class music and theater at the Teatro del Lago in Frutillar – Set against the dramatic backdrop of Llanquihue Lake and the Osorno Volcano, this theater has quickly made a name for itself in the world of performing arts and music as one of the top performing arts centers in South America, with its symphony and classical music series, staged plays, and arts education program for local kids. The famous Frutillar Classical Music Festival takes place here, and the theater itself is a dream to look at, the outside walls made with multi-colored wooden slats.
10. Relax in thermal hot springs – Since the Lakes District is a land of fire and water, it stands to reason that those two elements would occasionally mix in the form of thermal hot springs. There are volcanic-heated hot springs throughout the region, and one of the most popular is the Termas Geometricas near Pucon. Designers created Japanese-inspired wooden red walkways and huts stretching between the heated pools at this site, which is sheltered by a natural canyon, creating an ethereal, mystical feel.
It’s known as the eighth natural wonder of the world, and there’s a reason for that. Torres del Paine National Park, located in the Magallanes region of Chilean Patagonia, is one of the most visually arresting places on Earth, covered in granite peaks, blue glaciers, pristine lakes, and endless grassy plains full of unique local flora and fauna. All these spectacular landscapes mean that it’s one of the best places to go for a photo safari. Whether you’re a seasoned professional hoping to expand your portfolio, an amateur looking for a learning experience, or just wanting to try something new, this is why Torres del Paine is heaven on Earth for photographers!
1.Diversity of terrains and natural formations – You want mountaintops that look like the Rockies on steroids? You got ‘em. You’re looking to see some glaciers? They’re right there. You want old-growth forests? Not a problem, right this way. Windswept plains? Yep, got that too. Lakes? Rivers? Valleys? Say no more, Torres del Paine has it all. For photographers, going to a site that has a wide range of landscapes to choose from is the golden ticket, as it easily allows you to experiment with texture, light balance, color, and more without long drives in between shooting locations. Although access to some spots in Torres del Paine, like the back of the Paine Massif, can require a day or two of intermediate hiking to get to, many of the most popular places in the park can be gotten to within a few hours.
2. Variable weather – Weather can either be a photographer’s best friend or worst enemy and while Torres del Paine is notorious for its winds and at times unpredictable weather, where there is bad there is also good. Those high winds that can be setting up a tripod a bit of a chore also produces spectacular lenticular clouds over the mountains, making for amazing cloud and landscape shots. Snow or rain can utterly transform the park’s already jaw-dropping landscapes, allowing for unique images that show the park in different ways. And, of course, if you visit outside of high season in the winter, spring, or fall, you can stunning seasonal photographs (fall is especially great for the foliage up against the mountains). And of course, just as quickly as the weather can turn bad, it can clear up and be a gorgeous day. A little patience and perseverance in the face of weather is what makes a photography session in Torres del Paine one of the books.
3. Stellar opportunities to see wildlife up close – Torres del Paine isn’t just a hotspot for landscape photographers; it’s also a great place to see native wildlife in its natural habitat and be able to capture the moment! Herds of guanacos roam the pampas of the park throughout the year and can be easily spotted, and sightings of condors, Darwin’s Rhea (a large bird which is similar to an ostrich or emu), and red and grey foxes are also pretty frequent. But then there are the rare sightings, which are really a treat. You might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a huemul, a small deer that appears on the Chilean coat of arms, or, the crown jewel of Patagonian wildlife sightings, a puma! Pumas can relax for hours out in the pampas or be in hiding waiting to attack prey, giving you ample time to snap those pics!
4.Peace and quiet that allows you to practice your craft – There’s nothing like having no one else around to put you at ease and allow you to spend hours experimenting with angles, lens, and shutter speed. Even though Torres del Paine is one of the most popular trekking destinations in South America right now, there are still plenty of places around the park and on the trails where the crowds and noise go away and it’s just you and your surroundings. So if you love going to remote, peaceful sites for your shoots, this is the place to be.
If you’re interested in trying out photography in Torres del Paine, check out our new Torres del Paine Photo Safari program, led by professional photographer and tour leader Justin Hofman. Find out more here!
If you love trekking and want to visit Patagonia someday, chances are that high on your list of to-do hikes is the W Trek in Torres del Paine. But in recent years, as more and more people come to Chile and Patagonia for its world-class trails and trekking opportunities, the W trek has become overcrowded and far too busy during the high season months of December through February. For people traveling to Patagonia looking to escape into nature and get away from the crowds, that experience of being secluded and alone in the wilderness can be ruined. Luckily, there are plenty of other trails all over Patagonia, ranging from the northern area in the Lakes District to the far reaches of Tierra del Fuego, that can satisfy your appetite for adventure.
1.Dientes de Navarino – The Dientes Circuit, located on far-flung Navarino Island in Tierra del Fuego and so-named for the jagged, tooth-like appearance of the island’s mountain chain, is about as different from the W as you can get. With virtually no trail infrastructure save for markers, hikers need to bring all their own camping and hiking equipment, making it the perfect multi-day trek for true outdoor aficionados. Lasting four days and covering 53 kilometers of rugged, isolated backcountry, the trail passes through valleys, Magellanic subpolar forests, peat bogs, lakes and rivers, and finally peaks at the Virginia Step with otherworldly views of the Beagle Channel and the mountains and fjords of Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. For hikers who enjoy escaping into pure, untrammelled nature and tackling treks that few people have done before, the Dientes Trek is a welcome challenge.
Where: Navarino Island, Chilean Tierra del Fuego
How long: Roughly 53 kilometers (roughly 4 days)
When to go: November through March
Difficulty Level: Advanced
Why make the trip: Beautiful vistas of fjords and mountains, untouched nature, isolated and unknown to most Patagonia visitors
2.Cerro Castillo – Fans of the Dientes Trek and undeveloped hiking trails will love this lesser-known but spectacular four-day trek in the Aysen region. Cerro Castillo, named for the battlement-like pinnacles of the rock formation that marks the highest peak in the Central Andean range (2,320 meters) this newly-appointed national park has all the attractions of Torres del Paine — towering peaks, sprawling glaciers, and beautiful views over lakes and mountainous passes — but without the crowds. The trail can be accessed from different trailheads, allowing for day hikes, but the standard multi-day hiking route is roughly 62 kilometers (38.5 miles) long, with the highlight of the trail being the view of the mountain over the brilliant turquoise waters of Laguna Cerro Castillo. Isolated and with very basic infrastructure at the campsites and along the trail, the hike is definitely recommended for expert hikers who are comfortable spending many days alone in remote territory. But the views, peaceful atmosphere, and chance to see elusive wildlife like huemul deer and pumas make this hike well worth the effort.
Where: Aysen Region, Chile
How long: 62 kilometers (roughly 4 days)
When to go: November through February for summer (high season)
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to advanced
Why make the trip: Beautiful views of jagged mountains and lakes, great opportunities for wildlife viewing, uncrowded.
3.Darwin’s Trail – This trail, which spans both land and sea, retraces the route of famed naturalist Charles Darwin through the Fuegian Archipelago when he first sailed here in 1832 aboard the Beagle on its second voyage and came into contact with the Yaghan tribe. Enamored of the region’s wealth of biodiversity — which you can observe for yourself thanks to the abundance of marine wildlife, seabirds, and the miniature forests of mosses and lichens — the observations Darwin made on his voyage through Tierra del Fuego helped shape his ideas on evolution, making this route a great destination for hikers with an interest in botany, biology, and history. The path, which passes through various waterways like the Beagle and Murray channels, also includes short and relatively easy hikes to inland lookouts from which Darwin could observe the landscapes, such as the trail leading to a lookout over the historic and beautiful Wulaia Bay, landing site of the Beagle and of bloody conflicts between the Europeans and the native Yaghan.
Where: Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and Navarino Island
How long: 2-3 days
When to go: November through March
Difficulty Level: Easy to intermediate
Why make the trip: Remote islands, marine wildlife, stunning flora
4.Cochamo Valley – When most people think of hiking in Chile’s beautiful Lakes District, they think of Huilo Huilo. But this valley, located roughly two hours from Puerto Montt, is home of the region’s most thrilling and beautiful trails. Cochamo Valley, known as the ‘Yosemite of Chile’, is only accessible via a 4-to-6 hour hike that leads you into the heart of this granite-domed paradise, filled with old-growth forests, pristine rivers, and grassy pampas. The valley’s shape doesn’t lend itself to circuitous trails; rather, people hike into the valley, stay at a number of campsites and go on day hikes to different areas and lookouts, like the Arcoiris trail, a five hour to summit push that rewards those who tackle it with astonishing views. Due to the remote location of the valley, the trails and campsites are very rudimentary, making it a great destination for people who love roughing it outdoors and taking on more challenging trails. The sheer granite cliffs, which can rise up to 1,000 meters high, have also turned the valley into an international destination for rock climbers.
Where: Los Lagos Region, Chile
How long: 4-6 hours (10 kilometers) to La Junta campground in the valley
When to go: November to mid-April
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to advanced
Why make the trip: Remote, pristine trails, great rock climbing, secluded wilderness, granite dome mountains.
Everyone knows that Chile is one of the best destinations in the world for downhill skiing, home to first-rate resorts like Portillo or Valle Nevado, but there’s much more to winter in Chile than just hitting the slopes. Summer in the southern hemisphere, which falls during the months of June, July, and August, offers the perfect escape for the heat of summer in the northern hemisphere, as well as the chance to see Chile’s captivating landscapes in all their wintry glory. From trekking in Patagonia, to stargazing in Chile’s northern deserts, to enjoying uniquely Chilean winter drinks and food, winter is fast becoming the new best time to visit Chile.
1.Epic winter sports – Chile’s many diverse regions make the country perfectly suited to a huge range of winter sports, making it the perfect winter getaway from the summer heat in the northern hemisphere. If downhill skiing isn’t your forte, the Lakes District is prime territory for excellent cross-country skiing, as well as the chance to ski down volcanoes, and snowboarding and extreme sports like heli-skiing are also very popular. If you’d prefer not to shred the slopes, winter trekking is on the rise, like the W trek in Torres del Paine, or day treks in the area like Cerro Dorotea, or live your Iditarod dreams and go dog sledding with a team of huskies through Chile’s southern forests.
2.Beautiful snowy landscapes – Torres del Paine. The Atacama Desert. The Andes. The Lakes District. All these beautiful landscapes are one of the main reasons people want to visit Chile. Now imagine them in the wintertime. The granite peaks and pampas of Patagonia, covered in snow and ice under a cold winter sun. The Lakes District – land of luscious forests and towering volcanoes – becomes the ultimate winter wonderland. The dramatic backdrop of the Andes behind Santiago, capped with a layer of snow. If you go crazy for a fresh snowfall, winter in Chile is the best time to go.
3.The coziest winter food and drink – To get through those long, cold winter nights, Chileans have created some of the tastiest, most filling winter fare in South America. For lunch or dinner, tuck into a warm bowl of cazuela, Chile’s version of chicken noodle soup, chicken-and-dumplings-like pantrucas, or porotos con riendas, a hearty stew of beans, spaghetti, squash, and sausage. Then, for apres-ski drinks, try a cup of navegado, Chilean mulled wine, accompanied by a plate of sopaipillas pasadas, which are disks of fried Andean squash that have been soaked in a sugary sauce called chancaca.
4.The best time to go stargazing – Winter is when the skies in the southern hemisphere are at their clearest, making prime stargazing spots like San Pedro de Atacama and the Valle de Elqui even more spectacular. You can visit world-class observatories like ALMA (unfortunately not at night, though, as it’s a working observatory) where you can learn more about the important scientific discoveries that have been made at Chilean observatories. Then, bundle up at night for stargazing tours with local expert astronomers, where you can use a range of telescopes to see nighttime marvels like nebulas and planets and learn all about the constellations and southern skies.
5.Low season crowds – Aside from the top ski resorts outside Santiago, winter is low season for tourism in Chile, which is good news for you! There will be even fewer crowds at the top destinations like San Pedro or Torres del Paine (which is now open for winter trekking, either with the full W or day treks), there is more availability at the top restaurants and hotels all over the country, and, best of all, you get to take advantage of great low season rates!
Visiting the driest desert on Earth – San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro lies in the north of Chile, acting as a gateway to the driest desert in the world, the infamous Atacama. In San Pedro and its surrounding there are a lot of activities related with adventures, gastronomy, amazing landscapes and local culture, you simply must go if you’re ever in Chile.
Using San Pedro as a base, you can easily explore the otherworldly valleys, high-altitude lagoons, and ancient hillside ruins. You can also gawp at the night sky – possibly the clearest in the world – by taking an astronomy tour, or simply walking a little away from the light of the town. A starry night here is something you will never forget.
Ideally, you will need 4 days to make the most of your time here. The town is small and easily walkable. There are tour agencies and empanada shops (the best kind). More time will allow you some relaxation and wiggle room, less means you will need to select your activities wisely. Without further ado, here are the best things to see and do around San Pedro de Atacama.
Where to Visit
1. Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, is a spectacular valley located just 13km from San Pedro.
The information desk at the entrance provides maps of the valley, taking you all the way to Las Tres Marias, three unusual rocky formations that jut out of the desert floor.
The first stop, around 3km from the entrance, is the salt caverns. They’re a winding and narrow cave system, containing unearthly geological structures. You can walk the snaking trail in around 20 minutes and either carry on along the main road, or take a right as you exit the caves and explore a less visited part of the valley.
There are more surreal cliffs and caves, but the further you head in this direction, the less people you will encounter, and the more it begins to feel like you are truly isolated in the desert. The midday sun beats down on your face and neck, no matter which way you look.
The main view that everybody comes to see in the Valley of the Moon is the sunset, particularly from the top of the giant sand dune. The path is sandy but well worn; it shouldn’t pose a problem to anybody. The view from the top makes you understand the logic behind the valley’s name. It was also here where NASA tested the prototype for the Mars rover, due to its strikingly similar terrain.
Watching the sun drop behind the ridge is beautiful on its own, but it doesn’t compete with the red-gold afterglow that engulfs the desert. At the top of the dune, you can walk along the ridge in either direction. The right allows you a view of the sun setting behind the sand dune, and if you turn around, you have the full chain of the Andes mountains, complete with several large volcanoes in the distance. The left has a view of the craggy hills and the interminable desert. The path goes on further, too, meaning there is more space to find your own spot, away from the crowds. This is the busiest time on the sand dune, but the view is remarkable all-day long. A sunset here is one you will remember for the rest of your life.
How to get there Getting to Valle de la Luna can be done in a several ways, depending on your preferences. The best option is to take a tour, which will pick you up from your hotel or hostel and transport you to the entrance, visiting each of the locations with a knowledgeable guide, before dropping you back off at your accommodation. They usually start at 2 or 3 pm so that you can catch the sunset, but an earlier one is possible.
Cycling is easy as well. In your free time you can rent a bike in town and start your trip. The ride from the centre of town to the entrance takes about 25 minutes. However, upon entry into the actual valley, the road becomes rickety and there are steep sections, too. A helmet and visibility jacket are essential for you to take the bike into the valley. I made the mistake of cycling there without either, and was told upon arrival that they would not let me take the bike inside without them.
2. Valle de la Muerte / Valle de la Marte
The Valley of the dead, also known as the Valley of Mars, is closer to San Pedro than the Valley of the Moon. Its surreal landscapes are just as astonishing, but they have the bonus of being less crowded than their bigger and more popular neighbour. That’s not to say that nobody visits the Valley of the Dead, but it doesn’t get as many as the Valley of the Moon.
The entrance is on the right-hand side of the road to Calama, approx 2km from the centre of town.
This valley is the perfect place to sandboard. The Valley of the Moon also has a huge sand dune but you are not allowed to sandboard on it. As well as climbing the dune to ride back down, it is also worth going up for the view alone. The desert rolls out before your eyes, stretching all the way to the jagged Andes mountains, cowboys ride through the rugged valleys, kicking up dust in their wake, and bizarre outcrops defy logic at every turn.
I made the mistake of climbing the dune in a straight line, from the base to the highest point. Don’t make the same mistake as me. I had to use both my hands and my feet, as the surface was almost vertical. My feet sunk into the sand a good 30cm with each step, making the whole ordeal unnecessarily demanding. I had half the desert in my shoes by the time I made it to the top. Luckily, I had enough water to make sure I didn’t pass out from the midday heat. Despite taking the most difficult route (there is a well-trodden track for sandboarders, which takes you up diagonally), it was well worth the effort.
You can also continue on the path further into the valley, which winds its way up to the opposite side of the sand dune, giving you a view of what lies beyond the towering ridge. It looks like an extreme Motocross track, built for giants. I still struggle to get my head around how these valleys were formed.
How to get there
You can travel here using the same methods stated for the Valley of the Moon.
A way to get to the Valley of the Dead is with a tour departing from your hotel. Your van will stick to the main road towards Calama. The sandy hill, directly in front of you as you leave the town, is the entrance. It should not take longer than a few minutes to get there. If you have enough time it is possible to reach very good viewpoints. Take plenty of water and some snacks.
There are tours combined with the Valley of the Moon, if you prefer to visit both at once.
Finally, you can cycle. It’s easy to get here, despite a little up-hill section. Cycling in the actual valley can be quite difficult however, as the sand can be thick. I walked to the top with my bike, then rode down (without peddling), but my wheels jammed in the sand and I flew over my handle bars, almost rolling off the steep road and into the Valley of the Dead below. It would have been a fitting place to die, but it was not to be. You can also cycle from here to Pukara de Quitor in a relatively fast time, as there is a path directly from entrance to entrance.
3. Pukara de Quitor
This fascinating hill-side ruin was once a mighty fortress, perched in a great defensive location, destroying the element of surprise for invaders. You can find it 3km north-west of San Pedro. Like most of the attractions here, there is an entrance fee of a few thousand Pesos. If you have a bike, there is a place to lock it at the entrance.
You can choose between climbing the ridge that runs along the 700-year-old ruins, or the hills in the distance. The hills contain several view points and shelters to rest, as well as a few interesting structures at the top. From the peak, you can look down on the Valley of the Dead to see it from a different perspective. You can also gaze into the valley that leads to Catarpe – an interesting and adventurous bike ride away.
The view from the top of the hills is worth seeing. You see everything from an inferior angle, and whilst you can get a lot closer to the ruins, you can’t go inside them. Having said that, the path is short and is probably worth the 15 minutes it will take to walk.
Near to the entrance of Pukara de Quitor, is another path. Instead of taking the ramp up to the bike storage and ticket office, go the opposite way, sticking to the wall of the rock, and follow the path up to a cave and some amazing archaeological carvings. The cave is pitch black at certain points, so make sure you have a torch handy. Be careful with your head, too, especially for tall people like me. You’ll be bending a lot. On the other side of the cave is a small open area, where you can witness the unusual rock formations up close, and add your own cairn to the masses already there, before heading back the way you came. It might be a good idea to take something to cover your nose and mouth, as you will inhale a lot of dust. Outside, you can marvel at the two giant heads, that have been carved from the cliff face.
How to get there
All the above options apply for here. You can take a tour, walk or cycle.
Arguably the best activity to do here, based on the area’s pristine skies, is look upwards. Within the next year, over 70% of the world’s astronomical observatories will be based here. From this desert, you can see the Large Magellanic Cloud with the naked eye, a foreign galaxy that orbits the Milky Way, over 150,000 light years away. You can also see the Small Magellanic Cloud, fainter and even further away. It’s the farthest visible object in the southern hemisphere, without the aid of telescopes. You can also stare into the heart of our own galaxy. Do you know that strip of cloud-like substance you see in films and the best astrophotography? You can see it with your own eyes.
It takes a brilliant camera to be able to pick any of it up, but luckily for us, almost all astronomy tours will take a group photo on their own cameras. You can ask for one on your own, too.
I went on a tour and couldn’t recommend it enough. They took me on a 2-hour tour, pointing out all the visible constellations of the zodiac and explaining the reasons behind them. They also showed us a short documentary and allowed us to feast on little sausages and snacks.
It obviously helps if you have an experienced guide who can point to Saturn as soon as you ask him and tells you everything about all the stars you see.
I visited in August, the tail-end of their winter, and Saturn was the easiest to see. Early at night, it is possible to spot Mars and Jupiter, too. At different times throughout the year, it’s possible to see all the first six planets with the naked eye.
5. High Plain Lagoons and the Atacama Salt Flats
The high-altitude lakes are definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. You have the opportunity to watch pink Flamingos in Chaxa National Reserve, walk on a frozen lake at Red Stone, and see Vicuñas (a relative of llamas and alpacas) in their natural habitat – the hills above 3,000m.
It’s best to start early for these places, as they’re a bit further away than the majority of the attractions. I drifted in and out of sleep on the ride there, catching dreamlike glimpses of snowy peaks, sprawling desert and grazing vicuñas, half-listening to the guide talk about how vicuñas are still hunted for their fur, despite it being illegal.
I woke up when the smooth road swiftly changed to a jolting sandy track. I bounced up and down, bashing flailing limbs off parts of the jeep that I didn’t even know existed. Then I was hit by the cold. Mornings at high altitude aren’t pleasant for the half-dressed. Luckily, I was prepared.
How to get there The best way to go to these places is by taking a tour. It’s worth it. We visited all the aforementioned places, as well as Toconao, a traditional village. The main square has large cacti that grow 1cm per year. These cacti were over 2 metres tall, meaning they were planted in the early 1800s! You can explore the handcraft shops and go souvenir hunting, check out the old church, or taste local homemade ice cream. They have Rica Rica flavour, which is a mint-like herb that grows in the shrubby area of the desert. The driver makes a short stop here, too, for you to harvest your own supply.
Other things to do in the area include:
Tatio Geysers – Expect an early start if you visit these. They’re most active around 4.30 am.
Hot Springs / Aguas Calientes – There are lots of hot springs near San Pedro de Atacama. I visited hot springs in Peru and Bolivia – there is nothing quite like bathing in hotter-than-bath water in the middle of the freezing cold Andes. (As Termas Puritama and Tatio Geysers.)
Hot Air Balloon over the Atacama – Ballooning over the Atacama Desert is a breathtaking and unique experience. You will start the tour right before sunrise to see all the colors and rocks of the desert in the morning light. Every tour is different because you don’t know where the wind will take you but you can be sure that you will have an impressive view over the stunning landscape of the Atacama Desert. This is definitely a memory you will never forget!
The Flowering Desert – A lot further south from San Pedro, but still in the Atacama, near to La Serena, there is a natural phenomenon taking place in the desert, causing flowers to blossom everywhere. It only happens once per year and this year is supposed to be the largest ever.
How to Budget Generally, San Pedro is slightly more expensive than other towns of similar size in Chile. The customers are predominantly tourists, which means the prices are inflated. It’s possible to find all type of vegetables, meat, fish and local food. There are many options of restaurants, accommodation and activities for your stay in San Pedro de Atacama.
When to Go The Atacama is dry, with clear skies all year round. You can count the number of clouds you see in your time here on one hand – most likely, you won’t need any hands. On the astronomy tour, the guide said that only 30 nights of the year are cloudy, and even then, they’re not terribly intrusive.
Chilean summer runs from December to February, and their winter, from June to August. However, the climate here doesn’t change that much. Due to the altitude (2,408 metres above sea level), San Pedro experiences cold nights all year round, with the lowest being in July and August, at -1° C, and the highest, around 5-6° C, in January. In the day, the winters can reach 20° C, and the summer, 25° C. The altitude makes the days seem hotter though, because the sun’s rays have less of an atmosphere to cut through before reaching you. Combine this with the unusual clarity of the sky, and basically, you will frazzle.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then the best time to visit is just before winter (northern summer holidays), but after southern summer. April – June is classed as low season here. There will be less people, but never expect it to be empty. San Pedro is a tourist hot spot.
What to Bring
Altitude Sickness Tablets – Depending on your attitude toward altitude, you may wish to bring some medicine. Some people simply don’t agree with being at higher elevations. While 2,408 metres isn’t ridiculously high, some of the activities can go well over 4,000m. You can also buy local remedies for altitude sickness all over town. Coca leaves are helpful for long uphill hikes. Just don’t swallow them.
Vaseline or Lip Balm – This one is fairly self-explanatory. You’re in the driest desert in the world. Without it, your lips will crack, bleed and split. I speak from experience.
Sun Lotion – The altitude makes you burn a lot faster than if you were at sea level.
Map App – While there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned paper map, it won’t help you if you don’t know where you are in the first place. MAPS.ME is a good choice as it allows you to download the maps for offline use (like most apps), but it also shows walking trails and footpaths that are mostly invisible on Google Maps, for instance.
Water and Snacks – Again, it’s self-explanatory. You need lots of water in the driest desert on Earth. If you’re stranded, don’t count on rain to save you. Certain areas here receive less than half an inch per year. Some native people have never seen rain in their entire life, particularly closer to Antofagasta. A little snack is helpful, too, as there aren’t any shops outside of the towns.
Camera – This is an unforgettable place, but it doesn’t hurt to keep photos.
This National Park of 150.612 hectares, located in the very south of Chile, in Tierra del Fuego, was only opened in December 2013. In the east, it borders the Argentine Tierra del Fuego National Park; together, the two parks are called Parque para la Paz (“Park for Peace“).
Yendegaia’s breathtaking landscape includes trees like Antarctic beeches, coigüe, canelo and the Chilean firetree notro, extensive grassland, a rugged coast, fast-flowing rivers, sublime mountains, lakes, glaciers, and also thickets and herbs able to resist the windy climate conditions, heavy rainfalls and low temperatures. From June to September, temperatures can get as low as 11 degrees below zero, but in summer they reach up to 24°C.
Besides the 128 vascular plant species, 49 bird species and other animals – some of them in danger of extinction, e.g. the Andean fox, the Southern river otter and the ruddy-headed goose – have to cope with that climate. Other animals living there are leopard seals, elephant seals and kelp gulls.
The aim of the National Park is to conserve biodiversity and to boost tourism in the areas of adventure, outdoor, special interests and ecotourism. As it was only founded in 2013, there aren’t any official trails yet, but you can explore the area via numerous non-official trails starting from any point of the Y-85 road, from Fagnago Lake, or by boat from Puerto Williams. Also, a road from Vicunya to Yendegaia is being built and will probably be finished by 2021.
To get to this 48 km² island belonging to the Bío-Bío Region, you have to take a boat or a helicopter in Tirúa, which is 34 km away and the closest city on land.
The center of the island has been declared a nature reserve by the CONAF thanks to the forests housing the Chilean myrtle, Lenga beeches and the Chilean ulmo Olivillo, partly on a small mountain chain reaching up to 390 meters in height. On the “Sendero Camino Nuevo“, a walking trail of 1.5 hours, you can also spot some animals, such as chucao birds, pink-footed shearwaters and the rodent Pacific degu, which is endemic to Isla Mocha and critically endangered. Another animal of interest, although dead since almost two centuries ago, is Mocha Dick, the whale that inspired Herman Melville for his famous novel Moby Dick and which contributed to the more than 100 ship wrecks around Isla Mocha.
On its long sandy beaches, fishers share the coast with windsurfers, sailors and other people simply enjoying an easy walk along the Pacific Ocean.
At 15-30°C, it is more relaxing going there in the summer, as in winter temperatures fluctuate between only 10 and 15°C and there can always be a lot of rain. There aren’t any ATMs either on the island nor in Tirúa, so it is important to bring enough cash. Also, there is only one hotel on the whole island. However, the people there are happy to let tourists stay with them, or you can take your chances and camp somewhere in the wilderness.
3) SALTO DEL INDIO, CURACAUTÍN
In the Araucania Region, 14 km from Curacautín city and at an altitude of 719m, the stunning, 20m high waterfall Salto del Indio awaits you.
Even though the waterfall’s visibility is limited by forests, you can get still amazing views of it from the many viewpoints around. There are also tracks leading down to the very base of the waterfall, which is the intersection of the rivers Indio and Cautín, the first of these being the one that ends there and becomes the Salto del Indio. According to an ancient legend, the waterfall was created when the Indian boy Cayú jumped off into Cautín river because he could not be together with his love Millaray, Princess of Araucania.
The waterfall is part of the 12 hectare Senderos del Indio Park that offers restaurants, huts, a hostel, handicrafts, viewpoints and a mini farm in a fascinating landscape shaped by volcanic sediments from Lonquimay volcano.
4) LOS MOLLES
The small coastal town Los Molles in the Valparaíso Region, only 8km away from the Coquimbo Region, provides the perfect place for a relaxing holiday.
Although the town is more than prepared for tourists, – for example, there are 678 houses, but only 636 inhabitants – it is a calm area with sea view restaurants, white sand beaches, fantastic sunsets, camping possibilities and adventure tourism offers like diving or cove exploring.
Besides tourism, agricultural food, craftmanship, fishing and aquafarming plays a great role in the inhabitants’ lives.
130 of more than 300 plant species in Los Molles are endemic and many of them can be found in the Bioparque Puquén, for example the endangered Pouteria splendens and various cactus, the Alstromeria and water clovers. Also colocolo cats, marine otters and seals live there. Highlights include the paleontological deposits with crustace and and insect fossils, as well as a complex with subterranean caves and a so-called “cold geyser“.
5) CHAÑARAL DE ACEITUNO
Chañaral de Aceituno does not describe a town, but a cove in the municipality of Freirina, Atacama Region, two hours away from Vallenar.
The reason so many people come here is whales. During the summer, up to six different types of whales can be seen from this very spot.
Opposite the cove, you will find Isla Chañaral, part of the CONAF Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve and home to many Humboldt Penguins. At certain times of year, you can also spot different groups of common bottlenose dolphins from here.
6)VENTISQUERO COLGANTE QUEULAT
The name Ventisquero Colgante Queulat describes a “hanging snowdrift” with waterfalls of up to 293m in height, located inside the Queulat National Park in the Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region in the south of Chile.
The Park borders the Cisner river to the south and the Lago Rosselot National Reserve to the west. Its area of 1541km² (595 mi²) covers glacier-capped mountains, virgin evergreen forests, lakes, lagoons, two small icefields and even a part of the Puyuhuapi Volcanic Group.
The Valdivian temperate rainforests’ trees include tepú, quila, chilco, nalca, coigüe de Magallanes and lenga. Alongside mammals like the pudú and kodkod, birds such as the chucao tapaculo, the Chilean pigeon, the Magellanic woodpecker, the thorn-tailed rayadito, the yellow-billed pintail and many more live in this area.
7)ISLA MADRE DE DIOS
Just a one-day boat trip from Puerto Natales away, you will find the Madre de Dios Island, located in the Magallanes Region, not too far away from the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. It is part of the Madre de Dios archipelago consisting of five islands, only one of them inhabited.
On the steep coasts of the 1043km² island, which is partly composed of limestone and was only declared a nature reserve in 2008, there are numerous natural caves created by the erosive combination of wind and tides. Some of them have been used by the Kaweskar people, who lived there from 6000 years ago until the 21th century, for different purposes like burial places or temporary camping. In 2006, the Cueva del Pacífico cave was discovered, and in it rock art and cave paintings. Another interesting one is the “Cave of the Whales“, where 2600-3500 year-old whale skeletons were found.
The landscape of the island was created at the same time as Chile’s coastal mountain range and the Andes, therefore it is of igneous rock origin and contains several mountains and native forests with trees like canelo and lenga.
Due to the rainy and cold climate – the average temperature is 9°C – the island can become dangerous, and so far has remained nearly unexplored.
8) CERRO LAS PEINETAS
It was only in 2002 that this over 2000 meter high mountain of the Villarrica National Park in the Araucania Region was climbed for the first time. Since then, not many routes have been detected, but there is a six-hour trekking route and a ten-hour climbing route. However, these activities are only recommended for experienced and physically fit climbers.
The landscape around this mountain of volcanic origin presents the green, rugged valley of Trancura river, which is of glacier origin, where you can find trees like the raulí, the coigüe, the lenga and the araucaria.
To get there, you can either start at Tromen Lake, or at several points on the road to the Argentine border crossing point Mamuil Malal.
9)ALTOS DEL LIRCAY NATIONAL RESERVE
If you are in Santiago and wondering where to go, the 12.163 hectare (46.96 mi²) Altos del Lircay National Reserve is not too far away; only about 270km south in the Maule Region, close to the Andes, and the volcanoes Descabezado Grande and Cerro Azul.
Around the three main rivers in the reserve, Lircay, Blanquillo and Claro – the latter ending with a spectacular waterfall – grow the threatened two species Hualo, seven of the ten species of the Nothofagus trees occurring in Chile and also the ciprés de la Cordillera. One of the reserve’s purposes is to protect rare and threatened animals such as Tricahue parrots, Sapito Hermoso, the reptile Matuasto del Maule, the lizard of Cristián, pudús, pumas, and meadowlarks.
The climate there is characterized by warm periods with some extended dry ones, but there can also be snow on the east side during winter and part of spring. The average temperature is at 14.7°C.
When going there, you will have to announce your visit to the Guardaparques Office at the entrance of the reserve and pay a small fee ($5000 CLP for foreign adults). If you want to stay overnight, it important keep in mind that pets, hunting, fishing and camping at the Enladrillado viewpoint or at lagoons of high altitude are prohibited. You have three options for the campsite: Antahuara (point 1), Los Carpinteros (point 6), Valle el Venado (point 10).
As well as horseback riding, there are several trekking routes ranging from 20 minute over 10 hour to 4 day walks.
10)SALAR DE MARICUNGA
As part of the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park in the Atacama Region, about 160 km northeast of Copiapó and at an altitude of 3750 meters, the Maricunga Salt Flat extends over an area of 80 km².
This salt flat once used to be a lake, but with time the water evaporated and, as it is located between two mountain ranges (Claudio Gay and Domeyko) and does not have any access to the sea, the salt remained in the basin.
77 animal species, 65 fauna species and many flamingoes live in the Salar’s desert climate with an average high of 18.4°C and an average low of 4.5°C. As it can be difficult to get there in winter, the Park is only opened from October until April.
Other places of interest inside the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park are the Santa Rosa Lagoon, also in the north, and the Negro Francisco Lagoon in the south of the Park, which is less high than the north.
In this area close to the Argentine border, there is also Chile’s highest mountain peak, which belongs to the Nevado Ojos del Salado volcano, the highest active volcano in the world. Other volcanoes in the salt flat’s surroundings are the Incahuasi, the San Francisco, the Tres Cruces, and many more.
Chile is an extremely unique land mass. It’s length is stretches down as far as Antarctica with spectacular fjords, great lakes, impressive mountains and glorious glaciers. While the north extends to the Atacama desert, one of the driest desert locations in the world. The two ends could not be more different.
These unusual extremities makes Chile a place of spectacular beauty. So much so that much of this thin strip of land is now protected as National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so the rich biodiversity of the land is able to survive. It also means that visitors can enjoy these famous landscapes knowing they will be protected and managed.
To really discover Chile’s truly diverse terrains, be sure to visit these top five beautiful national parks in Chile.
Rapa Nui National Park
More commonly known as Easter Island, Rapa Nui is the local name for the island that sits out in Chile’s Pacific coastline. The island is known for its ancient Moai statues, which were built by islanders of Polynesian origin who settled on the island in around 300 AD. Between the 10th and the 16th centuries, the islanders competed in building and erecting enormous statues and shrines and today there are around 900 statues still remaining. This unique cultural landscape is not only a prized national park but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fascinating cultural significance.
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is probably one of the best-known National Parks in Chile, as well as one of the largest in size, the park is also the third most visited national park in Chile, with over 250,000 visitors every year. It’s southerly location contributes to its impressive array of ice fields, fjords and glaciers that make up its landscape. The natural beauty on offer in the park is astonishing, with waterfalls, lakes and lagoons adding to serene blueness of this part of Chile. The region is best known for its Cordillera Paine Mountain Range, which is made up of rose-coloured granite and reaches 3,000 metres high. You can access the park from Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, and combine your visit the stunning nearby Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.
Juan Fernandez Archipelago
The magnificent volcanic islands that make up the Juan Fernandez Archipelago are home to some of the most unique species in the world. The islands have unusual and rare creatures that are not normally found in conditions such as this, including woodpeckers, firecrowns and marsupials. Many of the creatures living on the islands are at serious risk of extinction, and as such the park has been a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1977. The islands’ landscape are just as extraordinary with deep ravines and volcanic peaks topped with snow – ideal for exploring.
Located between Santiago de Chile and Valparaiso, La Campana is one of the country’s smallest national parks, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sights. Easily accessible from one of the two nearby cities, the national park is home to Cerro la Campana, a 6,000-foot-high mountain that Charles Darwin climbed on one of his visits to the continent. From the top of the mountain you can enjoy spectacular views of the Andes and Olume Valley – a view that is well-worth the climb.
Chiloé is Chile’s most northerly archipelago, and is home to some of the region’s most noteworthy architecture. This island national park is filled with a number of wooden churches, many of which are protected under UNESCO World Heritage. The park is also dominated by the many Valdivian forests, known for the pudu (small deer) and Darwin’s fox. From the coast here you can also spot colonies of sea lions, flamingos and pgymy blue whales. Its wet weather and distinct forests give this park a very different feeling from all of the other national parks in South America – a distinctive landscape has been the setting for many myths, legends and stories of witchcraft over the centuries.
Experience the unique terrain of the Atacama desert like the ancient people of the Atacama did on the Ancestral Caravan tour. Trek the desert using traditional Andean llamas alongside local communities and indigenous people sharing their customs and culture along the way. The tour is a great way to learn more about the traditional cultures of the desert and connect with local people.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
See the desert from another angle on a magical hot air balloon ride above the Atacama. Eastern Safari’s “Balloons Over Atacama” offers daily flights over the Atacama Desert and close to San Pedro de Atacama, with views of the endless salt flats, impressive volcanoes and ancient rock formations. Every ride can hold up to 16 passengers, and a premium option is also available, which includes a toast of sparkling wine at the end and a photo of the flight.
Half Day Fishing Tour of Easter Island
Explore Easter Island and learn more about the native tradition of fishing and cooking on this half day tour of the island. With the help of a native Easter Islander fisherman, you will learn the core techniques behind fishing on the island and then fish in its waters yourself. The catch of the day is then prepared and cooked over the island’s natural hot volcanic rocks to create the traditional dish “Tuni Ahi”, which is served on banana leaves.
Horseback riding in Easter Island
Travelling the island on horseback is one of the best ways to see the hidden natural beauty of the region and reduce your carbon footprint. A typical Rapa Nui experience takes you to some of the more remote areas of the island that can only be reached by taking this traditional mode of transport. What’s more, you don’t have to be an experienced rider to make the journey and travel into the past, it’s a peaceful and engaging experience that takes all-levels of riders through regions such as Rano Raraku, Orongo and Mount Terevaka.
Santiago and Central Chile
Penguin Watching Cachagua Tour
Leave the hustle and bustle of Santiago and head to the beautiful beaches and islands off the villages of Cachagua and Zapallar. Known for their delicious seafood and stunning shoreline, the villages offer access to the remote and protected Humboldt Island, also known as Penguin’s Island. Enjoy the magical Chilean countryside on route to the coast, made up of Avocado farms and vineyards, and a boat ride to greet the colony of penguins located on Humboldt Island. There will also be time to swim and sunbathe at hidden bays and sample local seafood.
Snow Hike tour from Santiago
Put on your snow shoes and trek through the heart of the Andes, on this expertly-led hiking experience like now other. Led by an expert mountaineer guide the trek leaves from Santiago to the valley of Cajon del Maipo. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains ranges and snow-topped peaks as you climb, and when you finally reach Aguas Penimavida. Knowledgable local guides will enhance the experience with stories of the mountain ranges and volcanoes before heading back down to the town of San Jose del Maipo, and a delicious Chilean empanada.
Chilean Lake District
Alerce Andino National Park
The Southern Chilean Lake District is one of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, and this tour takes you to one of the region’s most prized natural emblems, the ancient Alerce tree. The tree was made a national monument in 1976 and is a massive 45 meters high and 4 meters wide. Located in the Alerce Andino National Park, this tour takes you through ancients forests and offers views of the Calbuco volcano and the Andean-Patagonia mountain range. Take on three beautiful trails, including a wet waterfall hike and plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Located in the Los Lagos region of Chile, the Chiloe Island tour departs from Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt. Take the ferry across the Pacific to the island, which is the fifth largest island in South America. Visit the island’s oldest village, Chacao, and its distinctive UNESCO World Heritage Listed native timber churches and architecture, dating back to 1567. The tour also includes a visit to Castro, the capital and third oldest city in all of Chile. Visitors will have a chance to shop in the towns and city and sample food at a typical Chiloe Island restaurant.
Whale watching from Punta Arenas
Journey through the first ever Marine National Park in Chile, Francisco Coloane, and spot some of the most majestic creatures in the world, humpback whales. Get up-close to the marvellous creatures surrounded by impressive untouched landscape, including hanging glaciers on the Darwin mountain range, as you journey by boat through the park and regions around it. There will also be a chance to spot some of the other inhabitants of the park, including Magellan penguins, sea lions, austral dolphins, albatross and sea elephants.
Ice Hike at Glacier Grey
There is nothing quite as impressive as walking on a glacier. With Big Foot Patagonia you can ice hike on Glacier Grey, and be on the only tourists there! With the assistance of an experienced guide, you will be supplied with the relevant equipment to climb and take the 2.5 hour trek through cracks, rivers, lagoons and tunnels of the pristine Grey Glacier. Visitors with knee problems should consult guides before booking.
Canter along winding trails along rocky slopes, across sparkling streams and past jade-green lakes surrounded by craggy mountain peaks . A horseback ride through Chile will reveal stunning remote scenery that you couldn’t see any other way.
Horseback riding is one of the best ways to see the rugged and beautiful countryside of Chile. You’re following in the hoofprints of the Chilean Huaso (cowboy) tradition, experiencing nature with all of your senses.
There are so many gorgeous places to ride horses in Chile, but here are a few of the most stunning opportunities to saddle up and hit the trail.
Torres Del Paine National Park
Mother Nature sometimes likes to show off what she is capable of and Torres Del Paine is a great example of this. The Torres del Paine, the mountains that give the park it’s name, are three distinctive peaks of granite piercing the sky. Enormous glaciers, towering rocky peaks, glittering lakes and thundering rivers fill every visitor with awe.
The terrain is perfect for long galloping rides and you can either stay in an estancia (a ranch house) or camp on a multi-day ride. You will be able to ride up to the glaciers, explore the foothills and skirt along the wetlands against the spectacular backdrop of the Paine Massif.
The wild and barren landscapes of Patagonia, with their snow capped mountains and enormous skies, are the perfect place for a horseback riding adventure. UNESCO has named this area as a World Biosphere Reserve and it is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
The wind can blow hard and the weather conditions can be extreme, so listen to the advice of your local guide for a safe and enjoyable ride. The horseback journeys in Patagonia will generally take the low trails through the valleys in order to avoid the heavy winds.
Cross Between Chile and Argentina on Horseback
For a truly epic horseback journey, you can cross the Andes on a trail that San Martin and his “Army of the Andes” used in 1817 as they freed the people of Chile from the European monarchs. You’ll journey through the steep mountain pass, flanked by the towering stone peaks of Mercedario and Aconcagua.
During the journey you will have lots of time to stop in local villages along the way and explore. You’ll have the option of ending up in Mendoza, Argentina where you can relax and sample one of the world-renowned wines that are produced here – you’ve earned it.
The Atacama Desert
The Atacama is a huge expanse of stony terrain dotted with salt lakes and felsic lava flowing towards the Andes. It is situated between two mountain chains that create a rain shadow on either side, making it the driest non-polar desert in the world. There are some weather stations here that have never received rain and sometimes the region goes for years without a drop.
Exploring this ancient, arid desert on horseback is like no other travel experience in the world. As you ride past the rusty ravines, vast white salt flats and coloured lakes, you will feel like you are on the surface of another planet.
The small town of San Pedro de Atacama is the ideal base for beginning your journey. Be sure to head to the Valle de la Luna, which has a moon-like landscape and looks surreal and hypnotic when illuminated by the golden glow of the setting sun. Most horseback riding tours will begin in San Pedro and travel along the Vilama River to the Valley of Arenoso, the Devil’s Throat and Coca Stone.
To create your perfect horseback riding adventure in Chile, check out our Design your Tour feature so that you can put together a custom tour.
Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile, is one of the world’s most spectacular regions. Flanked by glorious mountains, lakes and glaciers, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is a hot spot for backpackers and adventure travellers alike.
But when it comes to finding the most unique places to stay it can be tricky, that’s why we’ve put together a list of our favourite places to stay in Patagonia. From glamping in eco lodges inside the national park to enjoying warm log fires, spas and breathtaking views of the park. Patagonia’s accommodation has it all.
The award-winning EcoCamp is uniquely located in the stunning Paine massif in the heart of the Torres del Paine National Park. Stay in a sustainable lodge and enjoy community dining amid the natural surroundings of the mountains and glaciers of Patagonia. Spend your days trekking through the natural beauty of the region and finish your days in the warmth and comfort of your lodge, equipped with polar fleece blankets and a private bathroom. The camp offers four different types of lodges, with one large enough to accommodate a family of four.
The Singular is a hotel chain that has made its mark on Patagonia with the Puerto Bories Hotel. This five-star luxury hotel was refurbished from its original life as an old storage plant in the 20th century (by company Frigorifico Bories). The hotel is committed to protecting the environment and are always finding innovative ways to reduce their carbon fingerprint and water efficiency, including building the hotel with sustainable materials. This unique building is located just outside Puerto Natales and celebrates its heritage and history with so many original features still intact. Make use of world-class spa and stay in one of the 57 rooms and suites onsite. The hotel also offers a number of excursions to the Torres del Paine National Park, and has been voted one of the best hotels in Chile by the Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Awards.
The stunning Awasi Patagonia hotel is made up of 14 exclusive villas nestled amid the foliage of a private reserve, overlooking the region’s jewel: the Torres del Paine National Park. Every villa comes complete with a specialist private tour guide and vehicle to explore the park and allow you to get off the beaten track. Modelled old Patagonian outposts and shelters, every villa offers exclusive views of the forest and the Patagonian Steppe as well as unrivalled privacy, a warming hot tub and an open fire. Dine at the on-site restaurant, the Relais & Chateaux, and enjoy fresh, made-to-order dishes cooked by chef Federico Ziegler and picked from the natural landscape. Villa rentals start from $950 USD per day, per person.
Situated close to the breathtaking Lake Sarmiento, Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa is a relaxing retreat for visitors looking to escape city life. Immersed in the hillsides of Patagonia, the hotel offers incredible vistas of the Torres del Paine National Park. The wood clad walls and Chilean furnishings and craftsmanship are a cosy space to spend a cold evening in the park after a day of hiking. When your legs are tired you can make use of the hotel’s exceptional Uma Spa, with its adventure spa philosophy that includes indoor and outdoor pools, a jacuzzi, steam bath, sauna and spa treatments, all of which come with extraordinary views of the national park.
Get up-close to the wondrous Torres del Paine National Park, one of the finest natural sights in the world, when you stay at Altiplanico Hotel Puero Natales. Popular amongst backpackers, eco-lovers and adventurous sports-people, the hotel has all of the mod-cons and luxuries you can expect from a luxury hotel, including free internet, a bar and a restaurant with a varied daily menu, massages and laundry service. The hotel’s ethos is all about being at one with nature, and instead of imposing on nature the architecture actually merges in with its surroundings. The interior and exterior design reiterate a respect for the environment and the native culture that inspired the design.
The temperate rain forest is one of the gems of our country, even though you can also find them in some border areas of Argentina, their larger extensions are here, in the south of Chile, from Valdivia to Chiloé. It is wonderful to be in the middle of one of these forests, despite their darkness, in them you feel how life sprouts from below, everything emerges seeking for the sunrays that appear like extraterrestrial spotlights that cross the branches and leaves to the floor. A bed of rotten leaves, new ones, sprouts, lichens, mosses, renews, seedlings, shrubs, flowers and an endless list of native fauna thrives thick while being escorted above by evergreens, creating a perfect and unique jungle climate where we will feel astonished by the mere life anxious to come out on stage.
Also called the “Valdivian jungle”, this forest appears in a temperate rainy climate, unique, given the fact that it hosts more than two thousand endemic species, which means that you will only be able to see them there, in no other place in the world.
Not only you will be able to see the green color in all of its memories, you will also feel it, breathe it and keep it forever within yourself. Somewhere there, where certain emotions are recollected and kept, those that once you feel them allow you to come back to them mentally, whenever you want, when you feel the need for.
If you feel emptiness in any area of your life, you should visit this place, its density, diversity and beauty will fill this gap for sure, and the smell of its fertile and fruitful floors will make you walk happily between ferns and water courses. You will feel protected as you walk, the same way that the tallest treetops protect these lands that are real cradles of life, hope oasis for the world we live in.
Some of the species that you will be able to see are: Chilean myrtle (Luma apiculata), Chilean hazel, (Gevuina avellana), Coihue (Nothofagus dombeyi), Hardy fuchsia (Fucsia magellanica), Maqui (Aristotelia chilensis), Ulmo (Eucryphia cordifolia), Tineo (Weinmannia trichosperma), Olivillo (Aextoxicon punctatum), Colihue (Chusquea culeou), Bellflower (Lapageria rosea), Chilean mitre flower (Mitraria coccinea), Ferns (Lophosoria quadripinnata), Luma (Amomyrtus luma), Chilean guava (Ugni molinae), Chilean firetree (Embothrium coccineum), Quila (Chusquea quila), among many others, as fungus, mosses, lichens, creepers, birds, frogs, insects and mammals.
“200km northeast of Punta Arenas, and on the border with Argentina, is the little-known Pali Aike National Park. Landscapes that blend an arid magellanic steppe, fields of volcanic rock, archaeological sites of ancient aboriginal peoples, and richly diverse fauna – pumas, rheas, and flamingos, to name but a few. These make Pali Aike a great tourist and cultural destination. ”
It is below the towering Torres del Paine National Park, full of the vast majority of visitors to the Magallanes Region. Our destination is still undiscovered by the masses, its traces of the past still intact. In this remote corner of the planet, you can see how prehistorical Patagonian geological, natural and archaeological history come together in harmony.
The puma is king in this territory. The caves formed by the park’s rocks and craters are home to the predator. Guanacos, like llamas, abound throughout the magellanic steppe and are the puma’s favorite food. In the park, we can find diverse panoramas – such as the beautiful Santa Ana Laguna, and the paths inviting you to observe a huge flamingo colony.
Aborigenes and Volcanos
Their namesake is the aborigines who inhabited the area thousands of years ago. The Aonikeks, also known as Tehuelches, were nomads who moved through Patagonia between the Santa Cruz River (Argentina) and the Strait of Magellan (Chile). They hunted guanacos, rheas and other animals that suited their dietary needs, and were constantly visiting the area that makes up the park today. They were drawn there by the great volcanic field of the region, reminiscent of a lunar landscape and completely different from the rest of the Patagonian landscape. Its odd geographical characteristics led the Aonikeks to believe that there were evil spirits there – so they called it Pali Aike (desolate place).
Here, it is also possible to see the caves used by the Aonikeks as shelter. Excavations on the archaelogical sites of Pali Aike Cave and Fell Cave have proven the existence of early humans in Patagonia. The discoveries – stoves, ‘fishtail’ stones and remains of extinct animals such as the milodon and the native American horse – and studies on them have enabled archaeologists to estimate that humans inhabited this area more than 8000 years.
There are several paths in the park that lead to each of the sights and are not too challenging. In just one day, you can experience a hike over a millennia-old volcanic field, go inside the crater left by an extinct volcano, sit in a cave, close your eyes and imagine the prehistoric people who inhabited these lands. You can also visit a small lagoon, home to hundreds of flamingos, or feel the adrenaline rush of knowing there could be a puma hiding somewhere nearby. With a bit of luck, it can all be rounded off with a picture-perfect sunset; a largely undiscovered gem of Patagonia.