Patagonia has long been one of Chile’s most important attractions, drawing visitors from around the world to marvel at the mountains, lakes and glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park, or follow in the footsteps of European explorers on the Strait of Magellan. But thanks to its massive parks, roadless green expanses, and sheer distance from the rest of the world, Chilean Patagonia remains a one of the world’s most stunning, untouched regions. That’s why Lonely Planet has selected it as one of its top ten regions for 2011.
“The landscape of Chilean Patagonia is not for the faint of heart,” says Lonely Planet in its annual ‘Best in Travel’ book (more info), noting the rugged isolation and awe-inspiring beauty of the Chilean south as its most prominent features.
Over the years visitors have found increasingly creative ways to navigate this remote and forbidding territory. Begun in 1976, opened to traffic in 1988, and only finally completed in 2003, the Carretera Austral provides access by road through the forests, lakes, rivers and mountains of remote northern Patagonia, connecting Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins along 770 miles (1,240 km) of rough, isolated terrain. Other travelers go by sea, using the Navimag Ferry service to ply the otherwise-inaccessible canals that weave through the verdant islands that separate the mainland coast from the Pacific Ocean.
The star attraction of Chile’s far south, Torres del Paine, remains the end goal for many travelers here at the end of the world. Still, it is the untouched and seemingly untouchable backwoods of the region that have earned it the attention of Lonely Planet’s editorial team, who hail its “wide open spaces where GPS devices may not help you find your destination and your Gore-Tex jacket does little to protect you from the elements.”
Responding to increased interest in the lost corners of Chilean Patagonia, routes and tour operators through the wilds of Aysén and the Tierra del Fuego are gradually springing up, making access to the region just that much easier. But Chilean Patagonia truly remains, as Lonely Planet says, “the great outdoors,” inhabited sparsely by the farmers and fisherman strong enough to brave its extreme temperatures and extreme isolation.
Chilean Patagonia shares its place on Lonely Planet’s list with such diverse regions as the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, and Turkey’s Cappadoccia.
Most trips to Chilean Patagonia require a stop in the capital city of Santiago, selected as the New York Times top travel destination in 2011. Combining the largest city in Chile with one its least populous regions will give visitors a chance to experience the incredible diversity that makes Chile into one of the most vibrant, dynamic an exciting destinations in the world.
This post is also available in Spanish