visit Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine explora hiking
7 reasons to visit Patagonia this year
Few places in the world are as wild and untouched as Patagonia. But that’s not the only reason to go there, writes “There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.” So wrote Bruce Chatwin in his 1977 classic In Patagonia and the southern tip of South America has barely changed since.   Apart from a few more lodges and trekking trails, Patagonia still exudes the mystique of a wild and unknowable place.   Named after a race of giants encountered by Portuguese explorer Magellan in the 1520s – the ‘patagones’ were said to be twice as tall as Magellan’s men – this largely uninhabited region occupies the curved tailbone of South America, jutting into the Southern Ocean further than any other non-polar land mass on Earth.   It’s a landscape of lonely peaks, wind-beaten grasslands and massive glaciers. And closer to Antarctica than to Santiago, Chile’s capital; the mercurial weather constantly reminds you of that. You soon get used to dressing in layers and carrying sunglasses, a down jacket and rain gear whenever you step outside, which just ramps up the adventure of being there.   To experience one of the most untouched places on the planet, Patagonia is hard to beat. Here are seven more reasons to put it on your must-see list this year: 1. To get far, far away You don’t have to be misanthropic to want to get away from the rest of humankind now and then, and Patagonia is the perfect place to escape to. Just getting there makes you feel you’re off the map. The first part is easy, particularly with LATAM Airlines now flying non-stop from Melbourne to Santiago (LATAM and Qantas also fly direct from Sydney to Santiago). From there it’s a three-hour flight to Punta Arenas at the bottom of Chile then a five-hour drive to Torres del Paine National Park, which is about as remote as you can get without crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica. 2. To see the Torres del Paine Imagine Patagonia and it probably looks like this: a monolith of three granite spires piercing the sky. While 90 per cent of Patagonia lies in Argentina, these Torres del Paine (‘blue towers’; paine means blue in the indigenous Aonikenk language) are in the Chilean part.   They’re made even more formidable by their southerly latitude; Everest was climbed before the highest of the three peaks, the 2884-metre Paine Grande (by an Italian mountaineer in 1957). See them on a rare blue-sky day and you’ll feel blessed by the gods, but they’re just as compelling when storm clouds and rain squalls play hide-and-seek with sheer rock faces and snow-dusted slopes. ‘Spectacular’ doesn’t even come close. [caption id="attachment_38930" align="alignnone" width="1500"] The summer snows of Torres del Paine National Park (photo: Louise Southerden).[/caption] 3. For the best ‘room with a view’ ever At first glance explora Patagonia, an award-winning lodge in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, looks like a ship that ran aground on the shore of a turquoise Lake Pehoé 25 years ago (it opened in 1993).   But it’s what’s inside that counts or, in this case, what you can see from inside. The Torres del Paine come to you when you stay in one of explora’s 50 rooms. Whatever you’re doing and wherever you are – lying in your king-sized bed, taking a bath, relaxing in the lounge with a glass of Chilean pinot noir, enjoying a meal in the lodge’s dining room – you’ll be distracted by unbeatable mountain views. [caption id="attachment_38931" align="alignnone" width="1500"] How's the view: Torres del Paine from the explora Patagonia lodge (photo: Louise Southerden).[/caption] 4. To brave the elements The room rate at explora Patagonia includes plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the scenery as well as look at it. Half-day guided hikes are a good start, taking you through Antarctic beech forests, across hanging bridges, along pebbled beaches fringing iceberg-choked lakes – and back to the lodge for an à la carte lunch.   There are also more challenging full-day hikes; you can even do the famous multi-day “W” trek, with transfers to the trailhead each morning and accommodation at the lodge each night. 5. To ride with huasos The other main activity in Patagonia is horse riding. You’ll wear suede half-chaps (knee-length coverings to stop the stirrups rubbing your legs) and ride with beret-wearing huasos, the Chilean equivalent of Argentinian gauchos.   The beauty of riding, in contrast to hiking, is that you don’t have to watch your feet; you can gaze as you go. Back at the stables afterwards, the hausos will make mate and pass around a mug with a metal straw – the traditional, social way of drinking this bitter, invigorating tea. [caption id="attachment_38932" align="alignnone" width="1500"] Hiking Patagonia takes you through Antarctic beech forests, across hanging bridges, along pebbled beaches fringing iceberg-choked lakes (photo: Louise Southerden).[/caption] 6. For photo ops It goes without saying that Patagonia is photogenic. But it’s not just the peaks that are Insta-worthy. There are surprisingly green deciduous beech forests that blaze with oranges and yellows in autumn.   There are Curacao-blue lakes, towering icebergs, vast glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the third largest in the world after those in Greenland and Antarctica. Then there’s the sublime and ever-changing light, thanks to Patagonia having the cleanest air in the world. 7. To see a puma There’s a good chance you’ll see one of these beige big cats in the national park and they’re not as dangerous as their North American cousins. But there are plenty of other, more benign, wild creatures to see too, including guanacos (long-necked orange and white llamas), rheas (small emus), condors (vulture-like birds with the second-largest wingspan in the world) and armadillos (armoured echidnas that can often be seen crossing the road).   Louise Southerden travelled to Patagonia with LATAM Airlines and Adventure World.
Explora Salto Chico hotel, overlooking Lake Pehoé, the Salto Chico waterfall and the Torres del Paine range.
The best luxury hotels in Patagonia
If you've never thought of visiting Patagonia, you should - there's hidden gems a'plenty. Chilean Patagonia recently welcomed its first two new luxury resorts in over a decade. These are the four most dynamic digs at the end of the world. Explora Salto Chico [caption id="attachment_48203" align="alignnone" width="600"] Explora Patagonia was one of the first of its kind[/caption] A luxury trailblazer since 1993, Explora Salto Chico is still crazily beautiful after all these years.   Many of its 49 rooms and suites have private outdoor jacuzzis, and all have panoramic views of Lake Pehoé, the Salto Chico waterfall or the Torres del Paine range.   Expeditions include treks and horseback rides through the national park, comprising the Southern Ice Fields, Lakes Paine and Sarmiento, AsciendoRiverValley and Toro Heights.   Explora’s dining room also serves an exceptional selection of Chilean wines, and offers guided tastings.   From $2660 for a minimum of four nights. The Singular [caption id="attachment_48204" align="alignnone" width="600"] Overlook the Andes at The Singular[/caption] Opened in 2012, The Singular has 57 rooms overlooking the Andes, a chic spa and unparalleled connections to Chile’s culinary history.   Located in an impeccably renovated, 1915-era sheep processing plant, the industrial-chic property is run by descendants of the 19th century Spanish agriculturalist who first brought lambs to Patagonia.   Friendly guides lead exclusive excursions to the nearby fjords and mountains, and the exemplary onsite restaurant serves the best of the local bounty – like Patagonian hare, white strawberries and, yes, pasture-raised organic lamb.   From $550 per night. Tierra Patagonia [caption id="attachment_48206" align="alignnone" width="600"] Expect breathtaking views at Tierra[/caption] This 40-room resort also debuted in 2012, within southern Patagonia’s breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park.   Interiors have a Scandinavia-on-Lake-Sarmiento vibe, with sleek furniture made from indigenous blond wood alongside the occasional sheepskin throw or cowhide rug.   Floor-to-ceiling windows provide sweeping views of the lake, sky and grassy plains filled with grazing sheep and guanaco.   The resort also has guided excursions throughout the park, a welcoming restaurant and the fantastic Uma Spa, where an outdoor jacuzzi and indoor cascade pool overlook the park’s eponymous peaks.   From $1870 for a minimum of three nights. Indigo Patagonia [caption id="attachment_48202" align="alignnone" width="600"] Expect funky interiors and majestic views[/caption] The most urban of the group, Indigo Patagonia, is located in charmingly scruffy port town Puerto Natales.   In 2006, the boutique hotel underwent a major renovation by Chilean architect Sebastián Irrazával.   The result is a funky mix of Nordic furnishings, unadorned woodwork and a multi-story eucalyptus wall.   The 29 rooms are sparse but comfortable, and the knockout rooftop spa has three outdoor jacuzzis with views of the grey fjords and glaciers.   From $265 per night.
Patagonia's iconic Torres del Paine.
Deserted wonderland: Torres del Paine in the off-season
Craig Tansley visits one of the planet’s most lauded national parks – Patagonia’s Torres del Paine – out of season, and discovers a completely deserted wonderland.
Awasi Patagonia, overlooking Torres del Paine National Park.
Just open: Awasi, Patagonia
Talk about a room with a view! Welcome to Awasi Patagonia, overlooking Torres del Paine National Park.