Are you planning to travel to southern Chile? Our columnists embarked on a trip to get to know the Chilean Patagonia winter and tell a little about what they saw in the country
The southern region of Chile, also known as the Southern Zone, guards untouchable scenarios for those who want to know the beauties of the country. Traveling beyond Santiago and the more traditional destinations of the northern region, on the other side of the Chilean territory it is possible to find mountains, lagoons, forests, fjords, navigable channels and glaciers that are millions of years old.
In this part of Chile you can find extremely well-preserved scenes like in the Ice Age, you can touch the time (as icebergs are called) or even have a drink with an ancient ice cube. This is also the gateway for those visiting the military bases of the Antarctica and the South Pole, as well as being a paradise for travelers and explorers who love uninhabitable places.
When we talk about Chile, it is impossible not to remember the Andes mountain range, an immense natural wall formed by a mountain range. This formation surrounds a good part of South America, passing through all of Chile. But, apparently, it is with the low temperature in Patagonia that the landscape becomes even more majestic. With very little human influence, these scenarios became a stronghold for adventurers, explorers and mountaineers from all over the world, who found in these snowy mountains an extremely rich biome, hidden among landscapes that print postcards around the world.
In partnership with Chile Travel, our columnists travel better traveled to the extreme south of the Americas to get to know the unmissable points of the Province of Magellan and Chilean Antarctica, the last of the country's sixteen regions. Do you dream of visiting Patagonia? Check out some tips on what to see in southern Chile and see how this trip went:
The Chilean city of Puerto Natales part of the script known as End of the World Route, an emblematic route of the Patagonia which passes through cities in Chile and Argentina. Natales is located on the banks of the channel of Last Hope, surrounded by mountains and large hills, the city serves as a base for most travelers who want to know the glaciers of the southern region and the Torres del Paine National Park. The city has a relatively small urban area and a “city at the end of the world” atmosphere, but it is very well structured to receive tourists, with a good infrastructure of inns and restaurants specializing in Patagonian seafood and international cuisine. Even without leaving the city, you can already get an idea of the size of the mountains in this part of Chile: they are beautiful and they are everywhere!
As it is a port city, different boats leave the city to make boat trips through Patagonia, some just for day trips and others for longer trips, taking tourists and residents to other cities. THE navimag and the Austral Broom are the two main companies that make these distant routes, where passengers sleep on board, traveling for days between the Patagonian fjords (a must for those who have extra time).
For those who want to take day trips and get to know one of the glaciers up close, the receptive May 21 tourism offers excursions with frequent departures. The timetables may vary depending on the time of year, so it is best to check the exact timetable as soon as you arrive in Puerto Natales.
Last Hope channel navigation
The navigation through the channel of Última Esperanza (Ultima Esperanza), is one of the most awaited tours for those who visit Puerto Natales. The tour begins at the city's main pier and continues aboard catamaran-style boats, equipped to withstand the low temperatures of Patagonia and navigate safely. The inner side of the boat is fully air-conditioned, with comfortable armchairs and side tables, panoramic windows and a snack bar selling snacks, coffee, hot chocolate, tea and goodies throughout the voyage. Outside, the strong wind and the cold challenge the brave who take the risk to secure some photos from the outside of the boat or just to feel the sensation of that icy cold on their face.
These navigations are destined for a visit to the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers, the tour lasts all day, with a stop for lunch at a canalside resort. This is an opportunity to discover the typical dishes of the Patagonia, such as Chilean lamb and centella, a colossal-sized species of arctic crab, larger than a pressure cooker. Winter was just beginning, but we could already see some small frozen ponds and lots of snow everywhere.
During navigation, in addition to the beautiful mountains that surround both sides of the channel, it is possible to find some typical animals of Patagonia. The most common are Magellanic dolphins and sea lions that seem to pose for photos, in addition to them, an infinity of birds and birds are always “fishing” on the islets and shores.
Torres del Paine National Park
THE Torres del Paine National Park It is probably the best-known tourist spot in the southern region of Chile. All the immensity of Patagonia can be discovered in the more than 1,800 km² that are part of the park's territory, a nature reserve with the aim of preserving this unique biome. The activities most sought after by tourists are the circuits of trekking that work during the hottest seasons (circuit O and circuit W), ready-made itineraries for those who want to explore Torres del Paine walking for days (this activity requires excellent physical conditions).
If that doesn't suit you, know that there are also other ways to enjoy the beauties of this Chilean natural park. Some hotels offer extremely equipped accommodation, located inside the park, in strategic points and with surreal views. We talk about in this other article what it's like to sleep at the foot of Lake Gray. Want to have this experience? See this and some other hotel options inside Torres del Paine National Park: book here.
THE gray lake it is, like all other lakes in Patagonia, formed by a process of melting glaciers that have lasted thousands of years. Walking close to the lake it is possible to understand up close how this entire ecosystem works. In the middle of the water, some tempanos rest after falling from the Gray Glacier. Gradually, with the small current formed by the wind, these blocks of ice move towards the shores.
In the surrounding landscape, immense mountains surround much of the lake and it is already possible to see the top of the Paine massif, over 3,000 meters high, and in the background, a part of the Gray Glacier appears between the mountain. Glaciers are very common in this part of South America and are formed by a set of ice compacted over thousands of years.
At the edge of the lake it is possible to find pieces of time in its last solid stage, a few weeks before it thaws completely. The sound of shards of ice hitting the rocks on the ground resemble crystal rattles, beating in a systematic rhythm as the small waves advance.
Cueva del Milodon
The extremely cold temperature found in much of Patagonia allowed the natural conservation of different human and prehistoric fossils, which make the Chile one of the main points for studying archeology in the world. Visiting Cueva del Milodón, it is possible to perceive a little of what this isolation of years has generated. In 1895, a German accidentally found a cave with bones, skin and pieces of a large animal, initially not very well identified.
Some time later they realized that it was an extinct animal, the mylodon, a herbivore with at least 2 million years of history. With the cold of the region, and inside the cave causing an even lower thermal sensation, most of the fossils were very well preserved, attracting scholars from around the world. It is believed that the animal lived in this region at the end of the Pleistocene period. After further research, they also found human bones, dating back more than 8,000 years.
In addition to ski and snowboard activities, Chile is also one of the main winter destinations for those looking for rural tourism (also known as agrotourism). Farms and ranches offer activities in the countryside and experience with the gauchos of Patagonia, where it is possible to practice horseback riding and get to know a little about the routine of the natives. We talk about the agrotourism experience offered on the Antonio Varas Peninsula, in Puerto Natales, in the publication “A day with the gauchos of Chilean Patagonia“.
* This trip was made at the invitation of the Chile Travel in collaboration with the Better Travel Guide.
» Places to visit in Puerto Natales
» Patagonia: how to travel around the region by plane, bus and boat
» The most popular tourist destinations in Chile
» Chile launches Patagonia Parks Route, with 2,800 km of route
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