Shaped millions of years ago by drastic glaciological and geological transformations, Patagonia is now one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world. However, while few people call it home, it’s a hotspot for adventure seekers across the globe. Patagonia has so much to offer from landscapes that pictures can’t do justice to absolutely unforgettable experiences, that from day one you’ll be hunting for calafate berries. Legend has it that if you eat one of these berries native to the region, you’ll be destined to return to Patagonia for another one-of-a-kind adventure.
Even though Patagonia doesn’t have a large population, the region is rather massive, and in Chile it is often thought of in three major parts. There’s the northern region, which is also the Aysén Region of Chile and can be navigated on the famous Carretera Austral. The central region is mostly made up by Torres del Paine National Park. And then the southern region is home to Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan. Each region is a host to plenty of amazing experiences to be had, and weeks could easily be spent in any of them.
Thanks to a rather remote and inhospitable landscape, Patagonia held a longer resistance against Spanish, Chilean, and Argentine control than regions lying further north. The temperamental weather even caused indigenous groups of the area to be more nomadic as opposed to settling in one place.
The name Patagonia originated when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed in the region on his quest to be the first person to circumnavigate the globe, passing through what is now called the Strait of Magellan. He encountered the Tehuelche natives and called them “Patagones” for their size, pulling the name from a Spanish tale of dog-headed giants. This led many people to believe Patagonia was a land of giants. This has since been disproven, though the Tehuelche natives have since been wiped out among the immigration of sheep farmers into the territory.
Patagonia managed to remain almost wholly out of Spanish conquest, and it took until the late nineteenth century for Chile and Argentina to gain control in the region. Since then, these two countries have been at odds over Patagonia, both wanting to be the country this inspiring area is most closely associated with.
In heading to Chilean Patagonia, it’s likely you’ll be visiting Torres del Paine National Park. In the park your cheapest option will be camping, followed by staying in refugios (basically hostels). If you’re looking to splurge, hotels can be found throughout the park. In general, the park doesn’t have a ton of accommodation options, driving up prices all around.
When you inevitably end up in Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas in your trips in and out of Patagonia, you’ll be opened up to a much wider variety of accommodation options. Though considering Patagonia is still a remote area, prices will still be higher than you may be used to in northern Chile.
Best time to visit
Most people visit Patagonia during the region’s summer from December through February with good reason. Though weather in Patagonia is unpredictable at any time of year and winds are rougher in the summer months, it still remains the most mild season. Temperatures are higher and while precipitation is still common, it comes and goes more frequently instead of falling all throughout the day.
The shoulder seasons of November and March bring a higher risk of precipitation, but not too drastically and temperatures still remain fairly high. To avoid the biggest crowds, this becomes the recommended season.
While some people are adamant about making it to Patagonia in the winter to see the landscape shimmer while coated in snow, visiting in the winter isn’t particularly recommended. Many accommodations, hiking trails, and some other activities close for the season, making it hard to get a really full experience in your time there.
If you’re a meat lover, you’ll be in heaven in Patagonia. The delicacy the region is most known for is their spit-roasted lamb. The process gives the meat an incredible smoked flavor while cooking it to tender perfection that will slide right off the bone.
Aside from lamb, high quality meat of almost any kind can be found in Patagonia. Steaks and pork are popular, and if you’re looking for something a little different you can also find boar and guanaco (an animal in the same family as llamas). And the coast never tends to be very far in Patagonia, meaning delicious seafood isn’t hard to come by. From shellfish to salmon, you won’t be disappointed.
All that being said, there’s a good chance that if you’re in Patagonia you’re looking to do some camping. So it might be time to brush up on your propane-stove culinary skills. While supermarkets in Patagonia don’t tend to be outrageously expensive, there is still certainly room to save by bringing items from further north. Chile can be pretty strict about what food it allows into the country, but if you stock up in Santiago and are simply bringing it further south in the country you’ll have no problems. As as easy source of carbs that holds up effortlessly over time, pasta is about to be your new best friend if you’re going trekking.
One of the toughest things about Patagonia can be simply getting there. The area is so remote that it isn’t the easiest place to get to, nor the cheapest. If you’re looking to fly into Patagonia, your best bet is flying into Punta Arenas from Santiago. If you’re in the Lakes District anyway, flying from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas might be a better option, but if you’re not already in the Lakes District there isn’t much of a point in heading there first.
Once you’re in Patagonia, buses are set up pretty well to get you from place to place. Actually getting to Patagonia by bus isn’t exactly simple though. You’ll have to get a bus to Puerto Montt or Osorno, then from there you’ll have to get one from Puerto Natales to go anywhere else in Patagonia. These buses will also be travelling into Argentina to get from point A to point B so you might want to have your passport handy.
If you’re travelling with enough people, you should seriously consider renting a car. This comes with its own challenges. For example, you will have to keep in mind that filling up at pretty much any gas station you see is a good idea since you never know when the next one will be. However, in the end this could still wind up being the most economical option with the least logistics to figure out.
Patagonia is a wonderland of outdoor activities, drawing adventurers to it like moths to a flame. Some experiences in Chilean Patagonia include: