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January 15, 2014 Atila XimenesLeave a comment
Nowhere is nature wilder and more striking than at South America’s southernmost reaches, its dense forests and Andes mountains cinematically spectacular and crammed with wildlife including llamas, pumas, and grey foxes, its beaches and frigid waters full of penguins, whales, and sea lions.
Just over 402,000 square miles (1,043,000 square kilometres) in size, Patagonia straddles two countries, covering Argentina’s provinces of Neuquén, Chubut, Santa Cruz, Río Negro and the eastern part of Tierra del Fuego, and in Chile part of Valdivia province, the Monte Verde archaeological site, Avsén, and Magallanes, including the west side of Tierra del Fuego, the Cape of Hornos, and the lakes region (Llanquilhue , Puerto Montt, and Chiloé). Here are the top spots, all with a good variety of lodging, dining, and transportation options:
El Calafate, Argentina
This city of 22,000 is one of Patagonia’s top destinations, being the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park and its star Perito Moreno glacier with its own airport. In addition to plenty of bars and restaurants, the city’s main drag is lined with outdoors outfitters and shops selling the famous chocolates and jams made from the eponymous calafate berry. But El Calafate is more than just rivers of ice; other stupendous local attractions include Laguna Nimez Reserve, the (literally) cool Glaciarium Patagonian Ice Museum, and the trekking centre of El Chaltén.
Torres del Paine, Chile
One of South America’s loveliest national parks as well as Chile’s top trekking mecca, it amply merits its sterling reputation (millions recently voted it “eighth wonder of the world” on an influential travel website). At the start of the annual season in October, hundreds of travelers arrive here via the famous W Circuit, one of the Americas’ top trails (the season runs through March). In spite of a growing tourism business in recent years, Torres del Paine has managed to remain practically pristine thanks to good conservation practices. Lodging in the park ranges from basic bush camping to the luxury likes of the Resort Tierra Patagonia.
Punta Arenas, Chile
Capital of the Chilean Antarctic, Punta Arenas is the jumpoff point for adventure travelers departing on expedition cruises to Tierra del Fuego. Here folks can enjoy some great restaurants, plus local attractions such as the central market, the Plaza de Armas and cathedral, various museums such as Magallanes Regional Museum, and for those who have a little more time to spare, an excursion to a town that’s another trekking centre, Puerto Natales. Punta Arenas also has a duty-free zone where you can get outdoor and winter sports gear at less than half the prices you’d find in the large cities.
Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego Expedition Cruises
Two Australis ships take nature and adventure lovers on incredible itineraries through Tierra del Fuego by way of Chilean fjords, innumerable glaciers, and the Beagle Channel – the same route taken by Charles Darwin in 1833 – until reaching Cape Horn, the southernmost continental land point outside Antarctica. The ships operate September through April.
This city of 57,000 is the jump-off point for cruises to Antarctica, but if you can’t quite swing the usually five-figure price tags of that, there are plenty of other fabulous expeditions you can take from here as well, such as those out into the Beagle Channel to Sea Lions Island and Bird Island and Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, or take a ride on the “End of the World Train” in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
images | Ludmy Paiva, Átila Ximenes, VouContigo