The Complete Guide to Chilean Patagonia

Lenticular clouds at dawn in Torres del Paine, Chile

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Chilean Patagonia is the wilderness with good infrastructure. Expect solid campsites, good roads, and comfortable and frequent buses. Explore islands, inlets, channels, volcanoes, hot springs, glaciers, and rainforests. See the guanaco and huemul deer roam, flamingos saunter on lakes, and little grey foxes scurry. Enjoy all of this in peace and quite, as Chilean Patagonia is one of the most uninhabited places on earth.

Far smaller than Argentine Patagonia, Chilean Patagonia encompasses the regions of Araucanía, Los Rios, Los Lagos, Aysén, and Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica. While it's disputed where Chilean Patagonia actually starts, it’s definitely longer than 1,740 miles (2,800 kilometers), which is length of its longest hiking trail, the Route of Parks. (The Route of Parks connects 17 of Chile’s national parks.) A popular option for many visitors is to rent a car and drive the Carrera Astral (Chile’s Route 7), a 770-mile (1,240-kilometer) winding road from Puerto Montt to Villa O'Higgins, rife with opportunities for side trips to hike through temperate rainforests, paddle through marble caves, or swim in emerald lakes.

Best Time to Visit Chilean Patagonia

Chilean Patagonia’s warmest weather is from December through February. For much of the southern part of the region, the highest temperatures will usually hover around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), while the northern parts see highs around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). Summer comes with the highest price tag for accommodation and tours, but stunning hiking weather as a reward. March is the best month for warm weather, few crowds, a decent amount of sunshine, and decently-priced accommodation. Skiers, snowboarders, and those wanting to dogsled come in winter (June through August), when not much more than the ski resorts are open. July is the mini high season within winter, therefore try to go in June or August for lower prices, fewer crowds, and plenty of snow. If your main draw is to see the region’s wildlife, fall will be best and have fantastical orange, yellow, and red-leafed trees cutting swaths of color through the valleys.

Torres del Paine National Park

What to do: Trek the famous the “W” or “O” routes, both multi-day hikes and the most immersive way to see the park’s grasslands, forests, glaciers, lagoons, and steely granite peaks (the Cuernos del Paine). Traverse the Patagonian Icefield by taking a tour to Grey Glacier, or hop on a sail boat to cruise alongside it. Go puma tracking, kayak through the icebergs, or ride horses, all while Andean Condors soar overhead and guanacos roam through nearby fields.

Where to stay: Inside the park are many accommodation options: hotels, refugios (mountain huts), tent camping, or eco-friendly glamping. Puerto Natales is the closest town and has a range of accommodation from lodges to hostels. However, the bus ride there and back will take two-and-a-half hours each way. Book accommodation early.

How to get there: From December to March, Puerto Natales’s small airport receives several flights a week from Santiago and Punta Arenas. Flights are far more common and plentiful from Santiago to Punta Areas, where you can then get a bus transfer to Puerto Natales. Once in Puerto Natales, hop on a bus or rent a car to go the remaining 37 miles (60 kilometers) to Torres del Paine.

Palafitos houses on Chiloe Island, Chile
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Chiloé

What to do: Kayak around the Chiloé archipelago and see the colorful "palafitos" (stilted houses). Tour its 16 UNESCO World Heritage Site wooden churches, which combine Spanish design and Chilota boat-building technique with funky interiors. Trek through the forests of Chiloé National Park, home to more than 100 different types of birds, and see the sunset over the Dock of Souls (Muelle de Las Almas). Eat a big bowl of curanto, seafood and potatoes put in the ground and covered with rhubarb leaves to bake, a traditional cooking method of the Chonos people native to Chiloé.

Where to stay: Stay in Castro, the biggest city on Chiloé Island (the archipelago and the island have the same name). However, if you want to enjoy misty mornings on the water, consider renting a palafito in Castro or camping along the coast. For comfort and luxury, book one of the lodges on the Rilán Peninsula.

How to get there: Fly from Santiago to Chiloé Mocopulli Airport or fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt, then drive the remaining distance by car or take the bus. Take the bus from Santiago to Ancud (12 hours) or from Puerto Montt to Ancud (2 hours).

Punta Arenas

What to do: While the city itself offers views of the Straight of Magellan and a life-size replica of Magellan’s ship, Punta Arenas’s main draw is its ideal location as a base camp for seafaring and wildlife-viewing adventures. From here, venture to Isla Magdalena to see Chile’s largest penguin colony. Sail the fjords and search for jumping dolphins or take a cruise to Cape Horn. Coming in the winter? Go to Centro de Ski Andino to ski or snowboard at the end of the world.

Where to stay: Stay in the center if you want to be within walking distance of restaurants, bars, the bus station, and the port. Options in the center will be the swankiest, while boutique hotels and budget accommodation are mostly located a 15-minute walk from the center. To experience gaucho culture and get away from the bustle of town, head to an estancia.

How to get there: Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas. Buses come from Ushuaia (12 hours) and Puerto Natales (four hours). You can drive from Puerto Natales in about two hours and 45 minutes.

Pucón

What to do: Hike to the lava-filled crater of the Villarica Volcano or ski down the side of it. Bathe in the steamy waters of the Termas Geometricas Hot Springs. Trek through the monkey puzzle tree forests to find lakes, waterfalls, and panoramic views of the mountains at Huequehue National Park, and venture to nearby Curarrehue’s for white water rafting. In winter, you cross the Villarica region and the Andes themselves via dog sledding.

Where to stay: Stay along the waterfront of Lake Villarica for great views or in the center of town to be closest to the dining and transportation hubs. Camp at Parque La Posa for a beautiful, budget-friendly option or consider basing yourself out of the nearby city of Villarica on the other side of the lake if you want less pricey hotels.

How to get there: Fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt. From there you can hire a car and drive (four hours) or take the bus (six hours). Take a direct bus from Santiago (nine hours) or from San Martin de los Andes (five hours) in Argentina.

Punta Arenas
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Tierra del Fuego

What to do: With through-hikes, boating, and wildlife galore, travelers come here for solitude, space, and stunning, hard-to-reach scenery. Trek the edge of Navarino Island on the Dientes de Navarino Trail over the course of five days, or opt for the seven-day Tierra del Fuego Crossing Trail to wind through snowy mountain passes and along Lago Fagnano. Want something shorter? Karukinka Natural Park offers several day hiking options. Visit Parque Pingüino Rey to hear singing King penguins. Sail the Beagle Channel and cruise through Glacier Alley, and to see where the Atlantic and Pacific meet, book a boat to Cape Horn.

Where to stay: You can base yourself out of Punta Arenas to do some of the cruise options, but for the hikes in the south of the region, you’ll want to base yourself further south. If so, head to a lodge on Isla Navarino or stay in one of the few hotels in Puerto Williams. Hut camping is possible, but very basic.

How to get there: Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas, then take another flight to Porvenir to explore the north of Tierra del Fuego, or fly to Puerto Williams to explore the south. Taking the ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir is another option, and only two-and-a-half hours. You can take the 31-hour ferry from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams. Though more expensive and much longer, you’ll get to see much more of Tierro del Fuego’s terrain.

Aysén

What to do: Kayak through the emerald waters of the swirling Marble Caves. Wander through coigüe forests and wetlands in Patagonia National Park. Ice walk the Northern Patagonia Icefield, see the calving San Rafael Glacier by boat, and camp in the surrounding rainforest in Laguna San Rafael National Park.

Where to stay: Puerto Tranquilo, the closest town to the Marble Caves, offers camping and a few cabins. For Patagonia National Park, stay at one of the campsites or at the lodge within the park. For San Rafael, book a room at a boutique hotel, cabin, or hostel in Puerto Chacabuco, or stay in Puerto Tranquilo.

How to get there: From Santiago, fly to Puerto Montt then Balmaceda airport. From there, rent a car and drive to where you desire in the region. You can also take a ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Cisnes or Puerto Chacabuco. From the south, take the ferry from Puerto Natales to Caleta Torte

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