The region's lakes with
abundant fishing (including several species of salmon and trout) pull
in adventurous visitors, as does the glacier of Laguna San Rafael. Cruisers
set sail from Puerto Montt and Puyuhuapi venture into the straits and
then suddenly come alongside picturesque inlets and barren islands as
they sail through the narrow Moraleda Channel. The cruisers sail practically
touching the thousand islands of the Chonos Archipelago until they reach
the Laguna San Rafael and its enormous wall of ice.
Another of Patagonia's great attractions is its thermal baths. The village of Puyuhuapi is not only famous for its woven fabrics that preserve the original designs of the huilliche and tehuelche indians, but also for its thermal waters. The visitor can bathe in the hot springs that come from the depths of the mountains and immediately take a swim in the freezing waters of the Seno Ventisquero. A stay in Puyuhuapi allows for boat tours, walks and long hours of sport fishing. Nearby, north of Puerto Cisnes, on the road between Coyhaique and Puyuhuapi, Queulat National Park harbours an untouched forest. It shows the forest as it was, that is before the settlers using fire and machetes made clearings for planting and grazing, leaving behind a graveyard of burnt out tree trunks. In this park more 150 thousand hectares of virgin territory enable the visitor to encounter a place where nature is intact and the only thing to be heard are the songs of the chucao and dozens of other birds with the background tenor a the river that rumbles through a deep canyon. Coïgues, lengas and over 200 native species of trees, enormous ferns and gigantic nalcas form a green mantle, humid and compact, spotted by fucsias and the red flower of the notro. Also from the park, one can admire Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Glacier), a spectacular glacier whose melting ice forms waterfalls from impressive heights.
This whole area is a paradise for fishermen, whether it is salmon or one of several kinds of trout (brown, rainbow or brook). Rivers like the Futaleufú, the Baker -with Chile's greatest volume of water- and the Palena, are ideal for "dry fishing." There are pure waters, virgin beaches and a catch that at times may seem never-ending. On several of these crystal clear rivers excursions may be undertaken in rafts, on which the nights are spend at bankside camps recovering from and recouping energy for the many rapids. Patagonia is a region of spectacular natural reserves and great areas have been declared national parks to preserve the environment with its native flora and wildlife. Thousands of years ago, nomad tribes from the country's north, hunting the guanaco and the ñandú, scoured this area. These peoples were called tehuelches or patagones, because of their large feet, and they were tireless wanderers of the patagonian mountain range.
From Coyhaique (the capital city of the region, founded in 1929 and which has developed around an unusual five-side central square) the traveller can visit some truly unique places, where nature has been perfectly preserved. In particular the Elizalde, Paloma, Castor and Pollux Lakes surrounded by green mountains and snow-capped peaks. Coyhaique is also the starting point to visit towns like Puerto Aisén -the name comes from the english "ice end"-, Puerto Cisnes on the mouth of the Cisnes river and its spectacular emerald waters, Mañihuales or Balmaceda, the site of the airport, surrounded by a golden pampa of coirones. Further south down the Austral Road, the beauty of the dark blue waters of Lake General Carrera (the deepest lake in South America and the seventh deepest in the world) leaves the visitor speechless. This lake crosses the border with Argentina and is called Buenos Aires on the Argentinean side. On the Chilean side is Puerto Tranquilo -a few houses and a wharf-, from which boats leave to visit the famous Catedral de Mármol (Marble Cathedral), a peninsula with caves to the water's edge into which the boats enter and the passengers find themselves moving between water-polished marble walls, an experience that is difficult to forget.
400 kilometers north of Punta Arenas, after crossing vast windswept plains, the visitor reaches Torres del Paine National Park (242 thousand hectares), declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Tectonic movements that took place 12 million years ago sculpted these mountains, giving them the shape of towers and horns. They are an imposing background to an area of glaciers, lakes, rivers and waterfalls; the habitat of foxes, pumas, guanacos, flamingos and ñandúes, and also of condors and migratory birds like queltehues, woodpeckers, bandurrias, Magellan Straits seagulls and black-back swallows that come all the way from the United States. This and other national parks have tourist facilities like hotels in different price ranges and a wide choice of guided tours. Further toward the south, in the company of the Southern Hemisphere's biggest ice masses (excluding those of the Antarctic continent) it is possible to feel you are the end of the world. On the shores of the Señoret channel (in front of the Patagonian Andes through which you can glimpse the glaciers of Campos de Hielo Sur) is Puerto Natales and its inhabitants of almost 16.000 people. This small city is the center of the cattle rearing activity in the area and from it you may visit the Cueva del Milodón (Mylodon Cave), a gigantic rock formation where the pre-historic animal remains which were found in 1896 are today replicated in fibre glass. Other important archaeological finds in caves in this area include, traces of human settlements over 12 thousand years old.
Hernando de Magallanes who named it Estrecho de Todos los Santos -All Saints Strait- discovered the Magellan Strait on November 1st 1520. The strait allowed Magallanes to make the historical crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The strait's physical setting is no less impressive than its historical one. When crossing through the strait Magellan's attention was struck by the campfires lit on the land to the south of the strait by the indigenous onas or selknam, for this reason he chose to call this land Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). Nowadays, the hundreds of fires that light the nights of this southern most tip of South America are no longer the onas' campfires, but those of the oil drillings that have produce natural gas since 1945. The hundreds of excursions and adventures in this great austral territory begin in the cities of Coyhaique -to the north- and Punta Arenas -to the south. Among the most popular trips are those that venture into the fjords and that cover the trip from Ushuaia sailing through the Magellan Strait. The ships are specially designed with the comfort of passengers in mind and during the voyages they may peacefully admire the landscape. Those who wish can get off the ships to see various points of interest and to visit small villages in the company of the villagers themselves who will proudly show them the area. One of the main attractions of the cruises through Tierra del Fuego are the penguin colonies. Among them, Magdalena Island where there is a teaming colony and where you can see the adults teaching their offspring how to survive in the freezing Antarctic waters.
Since its foundation in 1848 -on the northern shore of the Magellan Strait-, Punta Arenas takes pride in an intense trade in sheep wool, the origin of the great fortunes amassed by colonists living on huge estates. The splendour of the mansions of the time can still be seen in the city, next to excellent hotels, restaurants, museums and art centers. And for ski fanatics, Punta Arenas also has slopes overlooking the Strait, a unique experience and only one of the many that can be enjoyed in this region -located, quite literally, at the end of the world.
DAY 2 - Free day to enjoy Puerto Natales
DAY 3 - Full Day excursion to Torres del Paine National Park
- Transfer to airport
Other places to visit:
RIPIO TURISMO - Incoming
Tour Operator Argentina & Chile- Leg. 10.687 Secretaría de
Turismo de la Nación Argentina.