Thanks to the Torres del Paine, the magnificent granite needles that rise above the Patagonian plains, Chile’s most southerly region has acquired international fame. Pacific storms drench the nearly uninhabited western cordillera, feeding alpine and continental glaciers and rushing rivers, but relentless winds buffet the rolling eastern grasslands of the Andean rain shadow. Along the Strait of Magellan, the city of Punta Arenas is the center for excursions to various attractions, including easily accessible penguin colonies and Tierra del Fuego’s remote fjords. The region has no direct road connections to the rest of Chile—travelers arrive by air, sea, and through Argentine Patagonia.
Administratively, Region XII (Magallanes) includes all Chilean territory beyond 49° south latitude—technically to the South Pole, as Chile claims a slice of Antarctica between 53° and 90° west longitude. It also takes in the Chilean sector of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago.
Over the past decade, improved communications have meant that many visitors to southern Argentina also visit Chile to see Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine, and other attractions. While prices are now higher in Chile than in Argentina, they are also stable; after the initial surprise, most visitors adapt accordingly.
January and February are the peak months, but the tourist season is lengthening. Prices drop considerably in winter, though many places may close.
For convenience, I have chosen to cover southeasterly parts of Argentina’s Santa Cruz province and the Argentine sector of Tierra del Fuego, both of which pull many visitors over the border.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition