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Chilean Patagonia is a vast land with very little population and can be divided into northern and southern regions.

Northern Patagonia includes continental Chile and the 11th region, of which the capital is Coihaique. The coastal area is a puzzle of islands and fjords, with the main attraction the San Rafael Glacier. The Andean area is difficult to access, with remote mountains, fast-flowing rivers, dense forested zones and glaciers frequently rendering ground transportation at best hazardous, at worst impossible. Towards the border with Argentina, the typical steppe of the pampas develops.

The area is certainly one with great future tourism potential once the highway and accommodation infrastructure has been further developed. Already inroads have been made and the region boasts very good fishing, white-water rafting and mountaineering options for the intrepid and adventurous soul.

Southern Patagonia is a region which is synonymous with the great explorers of centuries past. The west coast has fjords and archipelagos where rainfall is substantial and where human settlement is rarely found. Towards the east, precipitation decreases and a flat steppe gives rise to the region of "estancias". Estancias (farms) became the most important human settlements in rural areas. At the end of the last century, the Chilean government leased these lands to entrepreneurs, who invested in sheep-rearing, as did the Argentine government across the continental divide, so creating a great wool empire extending from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans.

The Magellan Strait, a name that evokes solitude, desolation, pirates and the struggle of many ships to cross this passage, divides the continent from Tierra del Fuego island. The first attempt to colonize this area was in 1584, although today only the location of Port Famine remains as testimony of this sad failure. It was not until centuries later that Punta Arenas, now a thriving and prosperous city, was founded in 1848.

To the south lies Tierra del Fuego (a territory part Chilean and part Argentine). The island has a steppe vegetation in the flat north, while the south is covered with forest and glaciers of the Darwin Cordillera.

Finally at the "uttermost end of the earth", south of Tierra del Fuego, lies the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn. Patagonia was thoroughly explored by the naturalist Charles Darwin who recorded his visits in 1833 and 1834.

Torres del Paine National Park

This is one of the most outstanding national parks in the Americas and it is the main reason for travelling to this region, its gateway being Punta Arenas. The park includes among its species 21 varieties of mammal and 115 of bird living in two major different contrasting habitats, one very similar to that of the Altiplano of northern Chile, the other formed mainly by Lenga forests. Among their number are guanaco, ñandu (Darwin's Rhea), varieties of geese and deer, armadillo, the mighty condor and the elusive but ever-present puma.

The granite mountains that give the name to the park are unique. They rise from near sea level to 3,050 m (10,004 ft), providing one of the most spectacular views you will observe in Chile. This mountain range has 3 distinct areas: the towers, the horn and Cerro Paine and is surrounded by lakes, glaciers and forest where the ecosystem has been preserved unaltered for centuries. The park is a sheer scenic delight, a must for wildlife and nature lovers, and for those who enjoy walking or trekking.



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