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Chile See And Do

Fishing and Marine Life in Chilean Patagonia
Chile

The native salmon and introduced trout in Patagonia's rivers and lakes draw the world's most renowned and avid anglers. Dozens of exclusive estancias offer visitors the chance to troll, fly-fish, and spin in transparent, ice-cold water. Some of the best lodges, including Yelcho en la Patagonia (www.yelcho.cl), Isla Monita Fishing Lodge (www.islamonita.cl), and El Yungue Lodge (www.burcoadventure.com/elyungue_en.html), are mostly clustered around Lago Yelcho and its tributaries, where anglers have landed record-breaking salmon. Chile's Pacific coastal waters are also bursting with life: Bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, Magellanic penguins, and sea lions are all to be found. Sea voyages, including the four-day Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales (www.navimag.com), offer an excellent way to commune with nature while getting around; shorter expeditions by yacht or sea kayak offer the only practicable way to explore Chile's southern archipelago.

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Hiking and Climbing in Chilean Patagonia
Chile

With so many peaks, valleys, fjords, and glaciers, Chilean Patagonia is a paradise for climbers and hikers. Dozens of national parks are found around the region, most accessible from the main road, the Carretera Austral. Park trails and those in the government-run Ruta Patrimonial series (www.bienes.gob.cl/terra/rutas.htm) are well-marked and well-maintained; others are so remote that bushwhacking, river crossings, and orienteering through unmapped valleys are required. Trails range in difficulty from easy one-day strolls to demanding ten-day hauls across the Continental Ice Field. Hikers rarely encounter altitude problems, but adequate protection against rain, snow, and wind is essential: Fickle weather can turn a casual stroll into a dangerous gamble, and sunny days can transform glacier-fed streams into roaring torrents. Even independent spirits should think seriously about using a guide employed by one of Patagonia's many outfitters. We strongly urge at least checking in with one of the services found within Condé Nast Traveler's Travel Agent Finder. Another excellent option is to sign up for wilderness survival and guiding courses run by U.S.-owned National Outdoor Leadership School, which operates from Coihaique (www.nols.cl).

 

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Horseback Riding in Chilean Patagonia
Chile

Settlers in the austere geography of the Aisén and Magallanes provinces depended on horses to venture beyond village boundaries, and even today the horse is the standard mode of transport for huasos, Chilean cowboys. Riding their trails is a great way for visitors to explore Patagonia's landscape, too. Estancias such as Bahía Mala on the Aisén coast maintain their own stables; others contract out to local farmers. Outstanding routes include guided, multiday sallies in the Futaleufú River valley (Expediciones Chile; 888-488-9082; www.exchile.com), a 14-day traverse of the legendary settlers' route from Cochrane to Villa O'Higgins (Adventure Patagonia; 56-67-219-894; www.adventurepatagonia.com), and a five-day exploration of Torres del Paine (Cascada Expediciones; 800-901-6987; www.cascada.travel).

 

Lake District and Northern Aisén Province
Aisén
Chile

South of Puerto Montt is the turnoff to Alerce Andino National Park, named after its 4,000-year-old alerce trees, which look like redwoods. You'll find an easily hiked volcano, thermal springs, and prime fishing rivers. The village of Chaitén is a useful base for exploring the Volcán Corcovado, whose flanks are cut with glaciers and covered in lush trees. Farther south, a spur from the Carretera leads east to the Futaleufú gorge, with its Class V rapids and national reserve. A second spur connects to the Río Palena Valley, ideal for horse riding (it's a bum-busting five days to isolated but trout-rich Lago Palena), hiking (options include a three-day saunter to Valle California), and rafting or kayaking down the Río Palena toward the Pacific. The region has plenty of luxury estancias and lodges such as the Alerce Mountain Lodge. Alternatively, stay at the quaint hamlet of Puerto Cisnes to marvel at the hanging glaciers in Queulat National Park, where chunks of ice regularly break off, falling hundreds of feet to the rocks below.

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Rafting and Kayaking in Chilean Patagonia
Chile

Rafting aficionados who know little else about Patagonia have heard of the "Fu"—Chile's Río Futaleufú, whose adrenaline-pumping Class V rapids have become the embodiment of Patagonia's extreme outdoor challenges. The rapids themselves, with technically demanding "wave trains" that were long considered too dangerous to navigate, were conquered in 1990 by Earth River Expeditions. Today the company runs multiday expeditions linking five camps set on private stretches of river. (The camps are somewhat rustic and include lodgings in caves and tree houses—however, they do have flush toilets and showers.) Not for beginners or the faint of heart (800-643-2784; www.earthriver.com). Other Patagonian rivers offer less-stomach-churning adventures: The Lake District's Río Petrohué affords classic Class III runs through old-growth forests, while even sections of the roaring Palena and Baker rivers in Aisén province can be tackled with comparative ease. Increasingly, outfitters combine river rafting with sea kayaking in the fjords among sea lions and dolphins.

 

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Southern Aisén Province
Aisén
Chile

Traveling south from the Lake Region, travelers will come upon this remote, sparsely inhabited area of southern Aisén (also spelled Aysén), which encompasses some of Chilean Patagonia's most fearsome topography. Accommodations are rustic and the driving gets progressively tougher as you head south, but the rewards include raging melt-water rivers, majestic glaciers, temperate rain forests, and one of the largest expanses of permanent ice outside Antarctica. (Bring your rain gear: The coast here gets up to 200 inches per year.) The main hub is the town of Coihaique, a good base for exploring several nearby areas, including Cerro Castillo National Reserve, an insane jumble of basalt peaks. At Puerto Guadal, a lateral spur leads west to 13,200-foot Mount San Valentín, the highest peak in Patagonia, and the northern Continental Ice Field. Cochrane, a rough-hewn gaucho settlement on the surging Río Baker, is the last real town on the Carretera. The final section of road is long and bumpy (and, of course, gorgeous) and ends with a whimper at Villa O'Higgins (population: 400), a huddle of weathered cabins and base camp for expeditions to the southern Continental Ice Field.

Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn
Chile

Chile's Region XII, beginning around 49°S, includes the western half of Tierra del Fuego and hundreds of largely uninhabited islands running down the Pacific coast as far as Cape Horn (it's not technically within Patagonia). Hammered by near-constant westerly winds and frequent rain and snow, even in summer, the terrain is hostile but compelling. The community of Porvenir, with 5,000 inhabitants largely descended from Croatian gold prospectors, forms the largest human presence. As far as activities, hiking and glacier-climbing in the remote Cordillera Darwin range are growing in popularity among the hard-core contingent.

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Torres del Paine National Park
Magallanes
Chile

The jewel of Patagonia, Torres del Paine is isolated from the rest of northern Chile by the Continental Ice Fields and deep fjords. As the main road from the north dead-ends at Villa O'Higgins, you'll have to travel on the legendary Ruta 40 in neighboring Argentina. To skip the border-crossing hassle, fly directly to Puerto Natales, or consider a voyage by sea: From Puerto Montt, the converted transport ship run by Navimag chugs weekly through remote fjords, canals, and inlets, and you'll likely spy dolphins and albatrosses (four days; www.navimag.com). The Torres del Paine National Park, 93 miles to the northwest of Natales, is dominated by three ice-carved peaks that rise 10,000 feet above a glacier-riven landscape of lush valleys, high-altitude lakes, sheer-sided fjords, and a ring of 8,500-foot granite-and-basalt skewers known as the Cuernos del Paine. The park is laced with some of the best hiking trails in the world: Andean condors glide above paths that wind through birch groves. The most popular route is the seven-to-ten-day Paine Circuit, but its trails are now so well-trodden in the January–February high season that shorter, out-of-the-way sections can be more rewarding. If you want guidance in this rough region (or any part of Patagonia), go to Condé Nast Traveler's Travel Agent Finder for help.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.