Patagonia is probably already on top of your bucket list. But the completion of a new ‘Route of Parks’ on the Chilean side makes a trip to this stunning corner of the world even more compelling
2018 sees the completion of the final leg of the Carretera Austral, an all-weather road through Patagonia which was started over 40 years ago by the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
The road will form the basis of an exciting new road trip running through what is now the Patagonia National Parks Network, a 2,400km stretch that skewers 17 national parks between Hornopirén and the Beagle Channel. Ideally, you should allow 15 days to complete the route.
The rewards are immense. This ‘Route of Parks’ will steer you through some of the most dramatic land on Earth, with the opportunity to divert into Argentine Patagonia – providing you get your bureaucratic ducks in a row well beforehand.
Famous for Los Torres, the dramatic stone peaks that overlook the park, Torres del Paine National Park is one of the largest parks in Chile. The iconic peaks draw travellers (and climbers) from all over the world, and in many ways they have become the symbol of the region.
To experience the best that this park has to offer, you should consider hiking the breathtakingly beautiful W Trek. Over the course of a week, you will pass calving glaciers, amble through arid plains and scramble up picturesque peaks overlooking ethereal lakes. It provides the perfect overview of this unique corner of South America.
Created by over 6,000 years of waves washing against a peninsula of solid marble, the caves bordering Lake General Carrera, a remote lake in the far south of Chile, are regarded as the most beautiful in the world.
The ethereal colours are created by the azure blues of the glacial lake. The hues and tones change throughout the day, an extraordinary light show created by nature. The caves are only accessible by boat. Check in Chile Chico for operators who will take you to the caves and through their tunnels.
The glaciers in Chile make up 80% of the glacier coverage in South America, and you’ll find the most breathtaking ones in San Rafael National Park. Here, these icy behemoths inch their way towards Laguna San Rafael, calving huge icebergs into the milky blue waters.
The San Rafael Glacier is one of the major outlet glaciers of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field and is the nearest tidewater glacier to the equator.
Cruise ships operate in the lake, but to truly experience the majesty of the glacier, consider taking a Zodiac tour that will take you close to the ‘tongue’ of the glacier, where the icebergs calve. The huge blocks of ice crash into the water with a deafening roar, creating dangerous waves.
Sadly, climate change has seen the glacier retreat rapidly. In the 1800s it filled three-quarters of the lagoon. Scientists estimate it will be completely gone by 2030.
Garrulous and sociable, guanacos are an integral part of the landscape in Patagonia. Indeed, anywhere you turn your camera there is bound to be one in your view, providing a long-lashed focal point in your photos of these extraordinary vistas.
A close relative to camels (and llamas and alpaca, of course), the guanaco are perfectly suited to the Patagonian environment. Soft and sensitive lips let them forage successfully in the thorny undergrowth, and (like camels) they can store moisture from plants to survive in harsh and dry climates.
Guanacos don’t have Patagonia to themselves. Keep an eye out for condors, caracaras and ñandús, as well as pumas, the guanaco’s mortal enemy.