The region of Patagonia covers both Chile and Argentina. Chilean Patagonia stretches over a 1,000 miles north to south and includes the regions of AraucanÃa (IX), Los Rios (XIV), Los Lagos (X), Aisen (XI) and Magallanes (XII).
The geography of Chilean Patagonia is hugely varied and dramatic:
- the Torres del Paine National Park offers some of the best trekking in the world
- in the north there are over 500 active volcanoes
- the Lake District on the edge of the Andes mountains contains vast lakes and one of the world's top rivers for whitewater rafting
- Central Chilean Patagonia, on the Pacific coast is made up mainly of fjords, islands and inlets, ideal for kayaking and cruises
- the North and South Patagonian Ice Caps feeds dozens of glaciers and are some of the most wild, remote and unexplored destinations on the planet
- Tierra del Fuego offers wild landscapes and the last stop before Antarctica.
Here we'll help you find how to get there, places to visit, things to do and trips and tours to join.
Swoop's guide to Patagonia Chile
Places to Visit
Many of the best places to visit are protected with Parque Nacional status. There are 18 different National Parks in Chilean Patagonia including (from north to south):
PN Villarica has the Volcan Villarica at its heart. In the summer months it's a great trekking destination and it's possible to get to the mouth of the volcano. There's a ski resort here as well for the winter months. It's accessed by the nearby town of Pucon.
Hornopiren National Park, accessed via Puerto Montt, is a great destination for wildlife, fishing and trekking.
PN Laguna San Rafael in the Aisen region and comprises the North Patagonian Ice Cap (or Hielo Continental). The Ice Cap feeds many glaciers including the San Rafael which fills into Laguna San Rafael from which the National Park gets its name. San Rafael is one of the largest National Parks and is almost the size of Wales. A quarter of its area is made up of ice and mountains above the tree line, of with Monte San Valentin at 4,058m is the highest peak. The nearest towns are Chacabuco and Chile Chico.
Torres del Paine National Park happens to be one of the smallest National Parks and yet the most famous. Thanks to its glaciers (most notably the Grey Glacier), thousand metre granite peaks (from which the park gets it name), and its dramatic glacier-carved valleys Torres del Paine is the one of the world's top trekking destinations. The nearest town is Puerto Natales.
Bernado O Higgins NP is one of the biggest, stretching across both the Aisen and Magallanes regions, and including most of the South Patagonian IceCap. The most visited areas are along the Last Hope Sound (Ultima Esperanaza Fjord) on which it's possible to kayak up to the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers. The National Park sits alongside Torres del Paine NP and many visitors chose to return to Puerto Natales by kayak or zodiac boat through Bernado o Higgins. Nearby towns are Puerto Natales and Villa o Higgins.
PN Alberto de Agostini covers most of Chilean Tierra del Fuego, including the mighty Cordillera Darwin. It takes its name from the Italian missionary and explorer. The main town in Chilean Tierra del Fuego is Puerto Williams. And protecting Cape Horn and its surrounding islands is the PN Cabo de Hornos.
Things to do
With the Ice Cap, the Andes mountains, volcanoes, vast rivers and lakes, and thousands of miles of coastline and fjords Chilean Patagonia offers some incredible adventure activities. Most people visit the region to go trekking, but they normally take the opportunity to spend a few days exploring Patagonia's landscapes on horseback, by kayak, mountain bike or cruise boat.
Our most popular trips in Chilean Patagonia include:
How to get there
From the UK:
All flights from the UK to Patagonia Chile go via Santiago. Although Santiago has less to offer than its Argentinian counterpart the nearby town of Valparaiso is definitely worth a visit. Sadly there are no direct flights from the UK to Santiago (most involve a change in Madrid, Sao Paulo or the US). Many of our clients visiting Chilean Patagonia chose to fly via Buenos Aires (which does have a direct flight) and then cross into Chile by land (see below).
Within Patagonia Chile there are several airports you can use. The ones with a decent number of daily flights from Santiago are: Punta Arenas, PUQ, (for Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego), Puerto Montt. PMT, (for Cochamo, the Lake District and Chiloe), and Balmaceda, BBA, (for Aisen, the North Patagonian Ice Cap and the Carretera Austral).
See our guide for more information on flights to Patagonia, and the airports in Patagonia.
As mentioned above many people chose to fly into Argentina and then cross into Chile by land. The most popular crossing points are:
- the Dorotea Pass from Rio Turbio to Puerto Natales gets people from El Calafate in Argentina (which has an airport) to Torres del Paine. It's a 5 hour bus trip from Calafate to Puerto Natales. A common trip for people wanting to trek around El Chalten AND Torres del Paine)
- The Cruce Andino provides a great option for connecting from Bariloche in Argentina (which has an airport) to Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas, using the Perez Rosales pass
- the River Jeinemeni Pass (from Los Antiguos to Chile Chico in the Aisen region)
- Futaleufu Pass (connecting from Esquel (which has an airport) and Trevelin, to Futaleufu in the Los Lagos region)
- the Hua Hum Pass (connecting from San Martin de Los Andes to Panguipulli and the chosen pass for a number of mountain biking and horse-riding trips that take people into both Chile and Argentina.
Travel within Chilean Patagonia:
Whilst the Andes and Ice Cap present a near impenetrable barrier to ground travel in central Chilean Patagonia it is possible to get from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas by boat, likewise Punta Arenas to Tierra del Fuego.
LAN operate 1 to 3 flights per day between Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt, and there are regular buses between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.
Combining with a visit to Argentine Patagonia
There are some excellent ways to visit Chilean and Argentine Patagonia in one trip, and many of our clients find themselves flying to one country and out of another. For example:
- Hiking the best of Southern Patagonia: hiking the W Circuit of Torres del Paine (Chile) then crossing the border to trek in El Chalten/FitzRoy. See Paine and FitzRoy trekking tours.
- Cruising from Punta Arenas (Chile) to Ushuaia
- Using the Cruce Andino to get from Puerto Varas (Chile) to San Carlos de Bariloche
- Horse Riding from Chile into Argentina, or white water rafting from Argentina to the Chilean coast, or crossing the Andes on Mountain Bike.
- Or you might consider joining a tour that takes you to the best of Chile and Argentina.
Example Itineraries in Chilean Patagonia
The itineraries below are some of our suggestions for exploring several regions of Chilean Patagonia. These can be fully tailored to suit your timeframe, budget and interests. Also see our other inspirational itineraries, which take you through Chile and Argentina.
Alternatively, you could join a group tour, seeing some of the highlights of Patagonia as part of a small group of like-minded travellers.
Chile: Deep into Patagonia
21 nights, from USD $8,000 to $9,800
Combine the highlights of Chilean Patagonia with areas unvisited by many. See volcanoes, glaciers, lakes and the mighty towers of Torres del Paine, laze in hot springs, hike forgotten trails, ride with gauchos, cruise amongst icebergs and fly over Cape Horn. Ideal for first time visitors and those wanting to experience more.
Ultimate Chile: Deserts, Islands and Antarctica
20 nights, from USD $15,500 to $20,350
Experience the extremes of Chile: the multi-coloured spectacle of the Atacama Desert, the mythical ruins of Easter Island, the mighty granite peaks of Torres del Paine, and the vast glaciers and whales of Antarctica. This is the ultimate 3-week Chilean holiday experience.