A masterwork of nature
One of the New World's final frontiers, Patagonia is a remote and pristine wilderness that has held an irresistible allure for explorers and adventurers across the ages. It's a sparsely populated land singular for its stark natural beauty and harsh, forbidding climate where only the toughest survive.
The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Patagonia on his way to the Indies in 1520 and is said to have named the region after the natives' large feet. Thanks to accounts left by his crew and later that of Sir Francis Drake, Patagonia earned fame as a land of giants, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries one of its towns, Punta Arenas, was a major stop on the trade route around South America until the opening of the Panama Canal.
Patagonia's main attraction is quite possibly South America's finest national park and premier hiking destination: Torres del Paine. Named for the breathtaking granite spires that rise up in the midst of forests, lakes and glaciers, it is home to rheas, condors, flamingos, falcons and pumas. Immediately to the southwest lies another national park, Bernardo O'Higgins, where visitors can hike and kayak alongside imposing glaciers.
For penguin sighting opportunities nothing beats Isla Magdalena and Seno Otway, the destination of thousands of Magellanic penguin couples which come to breed during the summer months. Among the volcanic craters of Pali Aike National Park there are Stone Age cave paintings, while the island of Tierra del Fuego is an untamed wilderness of mountains and lakes at the very end of Patagonia.
Patagonia's main city is the lively metropolis of Punta Arenas, which serves as a key transportation hub along the Magellanic Strait and preserves the history of its post-colonial fortune in opulent 19th-century mansions. Other towns in the region include Puerto Natales, gateway to Torres Del Paine National Park, the gold rush town of Porvenir, and Puerto Williams, which claims to be the world's southernmost city.
The best hotels in Patagonia are situated in Punta Arenas; however, Puerto Natales also has a lot to offer when it comes to simple, cozy inns. Even the Torres del Paine National Park can be explored in comfort thanks to the luxury hotels found within its boundaries. Other decent Patagonia hotels can be found in Porvenir and Puerto Williams.