Best Things To Do in Chilean Patagonia
With picturesque trails and verdant forests on the slopes of the Andes, Patagonia's untamed frontier is an adventurer's playground. Its attractions include everything from horseback riding to white-water rafting. Venture to Isla Magdalena to admire the Magellanic penguins that mingling on the shore before heading farther south to explore Torres del Paine National Park. Just don't skip out on strolling through Southern Chilean Patagonia's quaint fishing towns or sipping on a glass of the local vino as you gaze at the striking scenery.
Updated June 21, 2012
- #1View all Photos#1 in Chilean PatagoniaFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Occupying the southernmost area of the country, Southern Chilean Patagonia (SCP) draws visitors looking to admire the breathtaking landscape. Most visitors flock to Chile's southernmost province—also known as Magallanes (named after 16th-century conquistador Ferdinand Magellan)—to admire Patagonia's breathtaking landscape. From Magallanes' capital city, Punta Arenas, you can journey to Torres del Paine to admire its striking jagged peaks or head to Isla Magdalena to snap photos of thousands of Magellanic penguins scurrying along the shoreline.
Southern Chilean Patagonia is beyond secluded—separated by the Strait of Magellan and two soaring ice caps—but that only adds to its mystique as the gateway to Antarctica. The best way to reach Southern Chilean Patagonia is by plane from Santiago to Punta Arenas. It's also easy to access this region from Southern Argentine Patagonia. Cancha Carrera is a popular border-crossing, located between Torres del Paine and El Calafate (Argentina). Just be sure to acquire a visa before crossing; you can do so at an Argentine consulate in Santiago or before leaving home. For further details on how to navigate Southern Chilean Patagonia, consult our guide to Getting Around Chilean Patagonia.
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Exulted as one of the most scenic hiking venues on the planet, Torres del Paine National Park draws admirers from far and wide. You'll marvel at jaw-dropping vistas at nearly every point along the trails—aquamarine lakes, lush forests, glistening Glacier Grey, and, of course, the soaring granite Cuernos del Paine (Paine Horns). While hiking, you'll also notice clusters of adorable guanaco (animals that closely resembling llamas), candor, and sheep.
The park's two most picturesque trails are the "W" route and the "Circuit." The "W" is a four-day trek that, as its name suggests, zig-zags in a "W" formation around dramatic peaks. If you opt to take the "W" trail, you'll want to start at Laguna Amarga and then journey west. On the trail, you'll reach picture-perfect vantage points of Los Cuernos (Paine Horns). Most travelers say that the actual hiking is less challenging than combating Chile's heavy gusts of winds. One TripAdvisor user suggests, "Allow 4 nights [and] 5 days for the "W". […] It is not easy trekking due to wind and rocky surfaces and is so beautiful that it shouldn't be rushed." The "Circuit" on the other hand, encompasses the whole park, but requires seven to 10 days and plenty of hiking experience.
- #3View all PhotosfreeTierra del Fuego#3 in Chilean PatagoniaSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
This enchanting triangular archipelago is separated from the southernmost tip of Chilean Patagonia by the Strait of Magellan and has captivated the minds of explorers, scientists, and curious wanderers. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first arrived here about 500 years ago, cruising through Tierra del Fuego's remote straits on a quest for Asian spices. And in the 1800s, Charles Darwin sailed to the region's rustic frontier aboard the HMS Beagle. Tierra del Fuego's name (meaning "Land of Fire") stems from passing sailors who first stumbled upon the region and saw the indigenous Yámana tribe's campfires blazing across its shoreline.
Today, travelers come from across the globe to marvel at Tierra del Fuego's emerald-hued bodies of water and brightly gleaming glaciers. While visiting, you'll likely want to pay a visit to Tierra del Fuego National Park, which backs the Chilean Patagonian border on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego. This park boasts an array of wildlife and fauna as well as the green-hued Laguna Verde lagoon. Most importantly, Tierra del Fuego acts as a gateway to Antarctica. Hop on the Transbordador Austral Broom ferry to skirt Cape Horn by sea, which allows for some great views of "the end of the world."
- #4View all PhotosfreeCape Horn#4 in Chilean PatagoniaNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Notorious for welcoming guests with strong gusts of wind, icebergs, and rocky waters, Cape Horn's dark black cliff (known as the "Horn") has enchanted travelers since the 1600s. This alluring cape just south of Tierra del Fuego once served as the gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Before the Panama Canal was built in 1914, sailors had to brace themselves for a long journey around South America. On his voyage in 1892, Charles Darwin wrote, "On our weather-bow this notorious promontory in its proper form—veiled in a mist, and its dim outline surrounded by a storm of wind and water." Today, Cape Horn's grandeur still draws daring explorers from across the globe.
Most travelers agree that embarking on a cruise to this natural wonder is an extraordinary experience. One TripAdvisor user raves, "Rounding Cape Horn was almost a spiritual event, as this is the southernmost land mass north of Antarctica." However, previous visitors warn that the wind and seas can be brutal: Be sure to hold on to your hat as you pass Cape Horn’s windy perch.
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Skirting the Strait of Magellan, this bustling city serves as the central base for exploring Southern Chilean Patagonia's premier attractions. Here, you'll spot throngs of intrepid hikers gearing up for exploring Torres del Paine and wildlife-enthusiasts flocking to Isla Magdalena to mingle with Magellanic penguins.
If you have time to explore around town, head to the main square, Plaza Muñoz Gamero. You'll discover bright, newly developed residential homes next to ornate 19th- and early 20th-century mansions that arose from the prosperous wool industry. According to one TripAdvisor user, "A visit to Punta Arenas wouldn't be complete without stopping at the Memorial to Ferdinand Magellan and rubbing the foot on the statue (a local custom)." A short but fun walk is from the Plaza Muñoz Gamero to the Mirador Cerro la Cruz, a steep lookout that boasts breathtaking vistas of the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego.
- #6View all PhotosfreeCoyhaique#6 in Chilean PatagoniaFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Perched below an immense basalt cliff and enclosed by rolling hills and emerald lakes, Coyhaique boasts dramatic vistas from almost every angle. From November through May, fly-fishermen congregate here to cast their lines in the Simpson and Coyhaique rivers, which are known for their trout and salmon populations. While exploring this quaint town, you're bound to stumble upon the Feria Artesanal (an outdoor street fair lined with colorful craft stands).
Recent visitors recommend staying at the Coyhaique River Lodge, which offers many excursions, including horseback riding, rafting, and fishing. One TripAdvisor user raves, "Every day was an adventure. Activities suggested by hosts included fabulous guided fishing, birding, horseback riding, Condor sighting, kayaks, mountain bikes, and trekking."
- #7View all PhotosfreePorvenir#7 in Chilean PatagoniaFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Porvenir (meaning "future") is a beautiful settlement in Southern Chilean Patagonia, located on Chile's sliver of Tierra del Fuego. As a former port for European immigrants during the 1800s gold rush, Porvenir has played host to a diverse mix of residents. Today, however, its population is primarily comprised of Croatians and northern Chileans who have migrated south. Here, Victorian homes rub shoulders with the Fernando Cordero Rusque Museum, a small museum with exhibits ranging from filmmaking to gold-rush memorabilia.
Recent visitors recommend making the short trek to Lago Blanco, a pristine fishing spot located about 150 miles east of Porvenir. According to one VirtualTourist user, "Lago Blanco is a great place for camping and fishing. […] Except for some other lone fishermen we had it all to ourselves."
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Over 120,000 Magellanic penguins flock to Isla Magdalena's Monumento Natural Los Pingüinos. Located about two and a half hours northeast of Punta Arenas by boat, Isla Magdalena features a well-marked trail that visitors can take to follow the path of the penguin colonies. These playful penguins entertain visitors as they call out to one another and strut their stuff along the shore.
While some travelers were dissatisfied with Magdalena's dirty sands and the pungent odor stemming from its fowl dwellers, most were delighted to observe the interactions of its quirky tuxedoed residents. One TripAdvisor exclaims, "Forget all the other penguin sites around [South] America. This is the place. If you cannot go to Antarctica, Isla Magdalena is the closest thing to it."
- #9View all PhotosfreePuerto Natales#9 in Chilean PatagoniaFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
This coastal town perched above Seno Última Esperanza (Last Hope Sound) serves as the base for exploring Torres del Paine National Park. The town itself may not seem all that exciting, with only a small collection of restaurants and wooden shack-like homes. But take a closer look and you'll discover this fishing port's subtle charms. Early in the morning, you can admire the sunlight pouring over steep glaciers to the west. When night falls, feast on succulent seafood and rest your head at one of the cozy town inns to prep for a once-in-a-lifetime hike in Torres.
It's easy to get around Puerto Natales on foot. The town pivots around Plaza de Armas, an open square that boasts a scenic lookout over Last Hope Sound. One TripAdvisor user raves, "Something about this [view] just tugs at your heartstrings. […] This is no ordinary water body!" Within walking distance of Plaza de Armas, you'll find the Municipal History Museum (Museo Historico), a compact museum that features artifacts (like spear points and canoes) from the local indigenous peoples.
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