Patagonia encompasses the vast southernmost tip of South America, and is shared by Argentina and Chile. The Andes Mountains is the natural divide between Argentine Patagonia (marked by arid steppes, grasslands and deserts) and Chilean Patagonia (which is known for its glacial fjords and temperate rainforest). Many visitors to Chilean Patagonia gravitate to Torres del Paine National Park for its waterfalls, lakes, verdant forests, mountains and the chance to see the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Also popular is Tierra del Fuego (“Land of Fire”), an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland. The archipelago includes Cape Horn, a rocky headland on Hornos Island, and the Diego Ramirez Islands, which are the southernmost albatross breeding grounds in the world.
Size1,043,000 square kilometres
Highest ElevationMonte San Valentin at 4,058 metres (13,313 ft)
TerrainMountains, rugged coastline, fjords, rainforest and small islands.
Points of Interest
Glacier Alley is a string of tidewater glaciers that tumble down to the edge of the sea from the massive Darwin Ice Field (also known as Cordillera Darwin), which covers an area that extends over 890 square miles (2,300 square kilometres). Located along the north shore of the Beagle Channel and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, most of the glaciers were named after European countries—Holland, Italy, Germany, Spain and France—by the 19th-century explorers who mapped the region.
Dramatic landscapes define Tierra del Fuego, an 18,572 square mile (48,100 sq-km) archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan. Shared by Chile and Argentina, the archipelago consists of the main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez islands. Tierra del Fuego is known for its glaciers, snow-covered mountains, vast tundra and wind-sculpted trees. Its main island, Isla Grande, is home to the Argentine resort town of Ushuaia, which is the starting point of many Antarctic expeditions.
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most stunning wilderness areas in South America, encompassing bright blue icebergs, vast glaciers, lakes, mountains and rivers in Chilean Patagonia. The 448,280 acre (181,412 hectare) park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978. The park was named after the three granite pillars that tower over the Paine mountain range: Torres d'Agostini, Torres Central and Torres Monzino, which rise up to 8,200 feet (2,500 metres) above sea level.
Top Things to Do
Marta Island Sea Lions
Marta Island (Isla Marta), situated in the middle of the Strait of Magellan, is home to abundant birdlife and more than a thousand Patagonian sea lions. Circumnavigating the island in a watercraft provides opportunities to observe and photograph the colony from a safe and respectful distance. Called lobos marinos (“sea wolves”) by local Chileans, these giant pinnipeds (males can weigh over 700 pounds/320 kg) form a noisy group as each sea lion competes for the best spot on the coastline. Other wildlife sightings include imperial cormorants, skuas, southern gulls, Antarctic pigeons, and, if visitors are lucky, dolphins.
Various species of penguins are found in Chilean Patagonia: magellanic, gentoo, rockhopper and macaroni. Birds species populations are impressive: an estimated 1.35 million pairs of blue petrels, 99,000 pairs of diving petrels, and 55,000 pairs of black-browed albatross. There are also grey-headed albatross and shy albatross. The ocean waters adjacent to Tierra del Fuego are home to southern right whales, humpbacks, blue whales and southern minkes. Dolphins, sea lions and seals (fur, leopard and southern elephant) are commonly observed here, as well.
Aerial Views of Patagonia
Helicopters offer guests stunning bird’s-eye views of the splendor of Patagonia from breath-taking summits to the seemingly endless Chilean fjords. The diversity of the Patagonian landscape appreciated from air is astounding. In addition to the fjords and snow-covered mountains, there are blue-tinted icebergs, glaciers, channels, fjords, rainforest, rugged shorelines abundant with wildlife.
Special Insights from our Guests
Journeying through the fjords of Chilean Patagonia was an incredible experience. From the majestic glaciers to the stunning wildlife on display, I couldn’t help but imagine myself as Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle when he first laid eyes on the pristine landscapes untouched by humans.