Santiago, Chile

  If you are flying into Chile, you will probably arrive in Santiago. It is unlikely to prove a highlight of your Patagonian adventures - it's 1000 km away for a start - but it's a good place to acclimatize and get over any jet lag. In a hollow surrounded by mountains with peaks over 5000 m (15,000 ft), no one can deny that the Chilean capital has a dramatic setting.

  Santiago is a vibrant, progressive city. Its many parks, excellent museums, glittering high-rises and boutiques, not to mention ebullient nightlife, burst with possibilities. Santiago has grown to become the sixth largest city in South America, as well as the political, economic and cultural capital of Chile. But life isn't easy for everyone here. Many people, particularly those originally from rural areas, live in appalling villas miserias on the city's outskirts.

  The region near the capital can be seen as a microcosm of the country as a whole. Coastal resorts are less than two hours away, and the city is within easy reach of the best ski resorts in South America, which are great spots for weekend hikes in summer. Meanwhile, the area south of Santiago is perhaps the best wine-producing area in Chile. Autumn is a particularly good time to visit the vineyards.

Torres del Paine

  Covering 242,242 ha, 145 km northwest of Puerto Natales, this Chilean national park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a must-visit thanks to its diverse wildlife and spectacular surroundings. Taking its name from the Tehuelche word Paine, meaning 'blue', the park encompasses some truly stunning scenery, with constantly changing panoramas of peaks, glaciers and icebergs, vividly colored lakes of turquoise, ultramarine and grey, and quiet green valleys filled with wild flowers. In the center of the park is one of the most impressive mountain areas on earth, a granite massif from which rise oddly shaped peaks of over 2600 m, known as the Torres (towers) and Cuernos (horns) of Paine.

  In total, there are 15 peaks above 2000 m, of which the highest is Cerro Paine Grande (3050 m); few places can compare to its steep forested talus slopes topped by 1000-m vertical shafts of basalt with conical caps. These are the remains of frozen magma in ancient volcanic throats, everything else having been eroded. On the western edge of the park is the enormous Campo de Hielo Sur icefield; four main glaciers - Grey, Dickson, Zapata and Tyndall - branch off it, their meltwater forming a complex of lakes and streams, which lead into Pacific fjords. Two other glaciers, Frances and Los Perros, descend on the western side of the central massif.

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

  Of all Argentina's impressive landscapes, the sight of the immense glaciers stretching out infinitely and silently before you, may stay with you longest. This is the second-largest national park in Argentina, extending along the Chilean border for over 170 km. Almost half of it is covered by the Southern Ice Cap; at 370 km long, it's the third largest in the world. From it, 13 major glaciers descend into two great lakes: Lago Argentino in the southeast and Lago Viedma to the northeast.

  There are two main areas to explore: the glaciers can be visited by bus and boat trips from El Calafate, while from El Chalten, 230 km northwest, there is superb trekking around the dramatic Fitz Roy massif and ice climbing near its summit. The central section, between Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma, is the Ice Cap National Reserve, inaccessible to visitors apart from a couple of estancias.

  East of the ice fields, there's southern beech forest before the land flattens to the wind-blasted Patagonian steppe. Birdlife is prolific; often spotted are black-necked swans, Magallenic woodpeckers, and, perhaps, even a torrent duck, diving in the rivers. Guanacos, grey foxes, skunks and rheas can be seen on the steppe, and the rare huemul inhabits the forest.

Government Links

Embassy of Chile - in Washington, DC

Chilean Consulate - in Los Angeles

Transportation Links

LAN - Chile's flagship airline

Sky Airline - Chilean airline that services Patagonia

Aerolineas Argentina - Argentinian airline that services Patagonia

Turismo Zaahj - provides bus service in Patagonia

Bus Sur - provides bus service in Patagonia

Buses Fernández - provides bus service in Patagonia

Accommodation Links

Site-seeing Links

Perito Moreno - glacier

Southern Patagonian Ice Field - largest non-Arctic glacier in the world

Torres del Paine - National Park

Monte Fitz Roy - large mountain within the Ice Field

Monumento Natural Los Pingüinos - massive colony of penguins

El Chalten - trekking capital of Argentina

Picada Ana Maria - Andrew Zimmern ate there, and I've never had abalone

Mayo-guacamole Hot Dog - something else AZ tried that I'd like to try

Movies & Books

Leg 5 « RTW 2009

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