The fjords and islands of the far south of Chile are as about as remote as you can get. Punta Arenas, easily the largest and most important town and focal point of the region, where most visitors arrive to explore the Patagonian wilderness, is only accessible from northern Chile by air. Only one, solitary road leads out of it to Puerto Natales, three hours’ drive away and the jumping off point for visits to Torres del Paine National Park and onward into Argentinian Patagonia.
With its pre-Panama Canal history of affluence based on shipping and sheep production, English-influenced Punta Arenas is interesting enough, but you’ll be keen to heads off into the surrounding wilderness of savagely sculpted fjords and glaciers, at the point where the ice-spiked Andes finally crumble into the sea. There are forest reserves protecting ancient, wind-tortured trees, rivers alive with salmon, and the vestiges of human struggle including forts and churches. Darwin said of Puerto Hambre, (Fort Famine) “looking due southward –-the distant channels between the mountains appeared from their gloominess to lead beyond the confines of this world” .
The tip of South America is festooned with islands, small and large and many are virtually uninhabited. The largest, Tierra del Fuego, is divided politically between Chile and Argentina. On the less-populated Chilean side there are huge sheep farms on the plains but also virtually inaccessible ranges of snow-stifled mountains, shadowy fjords, hidden lakes plugged by glaciers and fringed by dense evergreen forest. Abundant wildlife, including penguin colonies, sea lions, and even condors live alongside shy guanacos.
South of the Beagle Channel the wild beauty of Navarino island hosts the continent’s most southerly settlement, Puerto Williams, and hundreds of archaeological sites pertaining to the original Yamaná Indians. Beyond lies Cape Horn, lashed by storms and savage seas, and the most southerly landmark before Antarctica.
For the modern day visitor the dangers and challenges lie in the past and you can enjoy these enchanting landscapes on an expedition cruise.
When's the best time to go to South Patagonia?
This far south, you will benefit from long daylight hours and mild temperatures between Dec (when it is light until 1am) and the end of Feb, though you can have snow flurries at any time of the year. In the winter, snowy landscapes are beautiful here but hiking is not practical.
What's the official language in South Patagonia?
How do I get local currency in South Patagonia?
Notes in local currency can be withdrawn from the ATMs in the centre of Punta Arenas.
What's the time difference between South Patagonia and UK?
GMT -3 hours.
What places combine well with South Patagonia?
Antarctic fly-cruises, the Chilean lake district, Torres del Paine National Park, Santiago. You can cross into Argentina on Tierra del Fuego, visit Ushuaia and fly to El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier. Most Antarctic cruises depart from Ushuaia; Buenos Aires (3.5hrs by air from Ushuaia).
How do I get to South Patagonia?
Direct flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas take about 4 hours.
What are the festivals, cultural and sport events in South Patagonia?
The skiing season is Jun-Sep.