Chilean Patagonia, Chile - Stein Travel

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Welcome to Chilean Patagonia

The fjords, glaciers and magnificent scenery of the Patagonian region are what attract visitors to this vast wilderness territory. The north, or Aisén region, can be likened to the Inside Passage of Alaska or New Zealand's Fjordland on South Island with its dramatic ice and waterway scenery. Southern Patagonia or Magallanes, is rugged, mountainous and stormy.

It was nearly 500 years ago that Ferdinand Magellan guided four ships through the treacherous passages that are still today thought of as the End of the World. Today Patagonia is inhabited by nearly 2 million people, but is still almost entirely made up of pristine and untouched nature.

The gravel highway known as the Camino Austral is the access point to one of the world's last great expanses of wilderness that makes up northern Patagonia. It begins at the port of Chaitén and continues to the capital of the region, Coihaique, and both are good bases for trips in the area. The most popular attraction in this region, despite the difficulty and expense of getting here, is the two million-hectare (four million-acre), glacier-filled Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, which has some of the world's most spectacular mountain and fjord scenery.

Magallanes features glacially sculpted mountains and harsh landscapes with Torres del Paine National Park the most famous of the southern region's protected areas. Further south is the town of Puerto Natales, terminus of the extraordinary ferry trip through the fjords from Puerto Montt, and exploration base for the region. Beyond the continent lies the harsh and stormy archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, stretching further south, and closer to Antarctica, than any other inhabited place.


The Chilean Patagonia experiences much less severe weather conditions than one might think with the east slope featuring a warmer climate than the west. In the extreme south of Chilean Patagonia the weather is moderated by its proximity to the ocean and small variety in temperature from season to season is experienced. The months of April and May are the wettest with reliable snowfall from June through until September. The depletion of the ozone layer over the South Pole is a growing concern and is thought to be the reason for blindness and skin cancer in sheep in the Tierra del Fuego. Travellers visiting the Chilean Patagonia are advised to bring plenty of sunscreen, regardless of the time of year.

The official language is Spanish.

The local currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP), which is divided into 100 centavos. Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club and to a lesser extent, American Express, are accepted in most large shops and hotels. Travellers cheques, particularly in US Dollars, are welcome in major towns, where there are banks and cambiosoffering currency exchange services. ATMs are widely available.

Mainland is GMT -4 (GMT -3 from October to March). Easter Island is GMT -6 (GMT -5 from October to March).

At the very tip of Patagonia, beyond Chile and even South America, lies the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, whose name translates to 'Land of Fire'. It's a dramatic name for a dramatic place, as the harsh winds of the sub-polar climate sweep over rocky mountains, sparse tundra, and hardy forests. Tierra del Fuego is an increasingly popular ecotravel destination, and adventurous travellers come to see wildlife that includes sea lions, foxes, condors, owls, and firecrown hummingbirds. Hiking and camping are popular activities, and the archipelago offers some of the best trout fishing in South America.

Much of the tourism in Tierra del Fuego revolves around 'southernmost' things: the port town of Puerto Williams claims to be the southernmost city in the world, while the southernmost cathedral and temple are located in Punta Arenas. While Cape Horn is widely thought to be the southernmost island in South America, that title actually goes to The Diego Ramírez Islands, which are nesting grounds for many species of southern seabirds, including albatross, penguins and petrels.

A paradise for birdwatchers, Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve is located 21.7 miles (35km) south of Punta Arenas. Magdalena Island is a natural bird sanctuary, and is home to more than 100,000 birds, including 95 percent of the world's population of Magellanic Penguins as well as cormorants and seagulls. Because it is a sanctuary, the only facilities on Magdalena Island are for scientific research and not tourism. Guided tours are available to see the penguins in their natural habitat, and the lighthouse at the Environmental Interpretation Centre provides stunning panoramic views of the region. There are ferries available from Puntas Arenas, which take approximately two hours each way and provide snacks and coffee.

Created in 1959, Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael covers an area of 6,726 square miles (17,420 sq km) and includes the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. It was named for the San Rafael Lagoon that was created by the retreat of the San Rafael Glacier, and has been designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. A fjord more than 10 miles (16km) long is one of the park's principle attractions, along with some of the highest peaks in Patagonia, several glaciers, lakes and a rich variety of bird and sea life. While the majority of visitors to Laguna San Rafael never set foot on land, the magificent views from the boat are such that will stay with you for a lifetime.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the 180,000-hectare (442-acre) park is the pride and joy of southern Chile. The park takes its name after the towering granite pillars that rise over 6,560 feet (2,000m) above the Patagonian plains. It is a hiker's paradise with many excellent, well-developed trails through astounding changes in scenery. Turquoise lakes and roaring waterfalls, forests and magnificent rambling glaciers, icy rivers, daisy-filled meadows, harsh mountain passes and plenty of wildlife, including the protected guanaco (wild relative of the llama), are some of its attractions, while visitors can try their hand at outdoor activities like horseback riding, sailing and kayaking, rock climbing and fly-fishing.

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