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.