The Best Things to Do in Chilean Patagonia

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

Chilean Patagonia is a place for adventures with nature in its truest form. The region at the bottom of the South American continent has clear skies, open prairies, rare wildlife and myriad outdoor activities to enjoy. Whether you wish to share mate with gauchos, ice trek along a glacier or kayak beneath towering snow-capped peaks, you can do it all in Chilean Patagonia.

Hike in Torres del Paine National Park

You’ll struggle to find anywhere better on earth to hike than in Chilean Patagonia. With wild, untamed terrain, towering snow-capped peaks and lakes of crystalline turquoise, its landscape easily captures the hearts of adventurers. There are several great hikes in Torres del Paine National Park. For occasional hikers, Paso Los Cuernos offers stunning scenery without too many steep pathways. This casual hike takes you along the northern shores of Nordenskjöld Lake lasting for around seven miles, taking four to five hours to complete. Keen photographers will enjoy a half-day hike to Mirador Las Torres – a route which transports you to the base of Torres del Paine, where you’ll be able to obtain picture-postcard photos and see jagged granite peaks up close.

If you’re a seasoned hiker preferring a more challenging route, experience the W Trek. This four-day hike is one of the region’s most scenic. Departing Puerto Natales, the trekking route takes you to Grey Glacier, French Valley and the famous towers themselves. You can stay in camp sites on the W Trek or if you prefer to experience shorter hikes and return to a luxury hotel in the evening. Hotels such as Explora Patagonia can organise a multitude of shorter excursions for you.

Torres del Paine over the Pehoe lake, Patagonia, Chile

Credit: David Ionut

Spend a Day on Horseback

Horseback riding is a way of life in Chilean Patagonia and you can fully immerse yourself in the gaucho culture if you stay in a local estancia. This allows you the opportunity to sample life on a working cattle ranch in remote natural settings with stunning rides right on your doorstep. You can enjoy daily horse-riding experiences across differing terrains, exploring lakes, forests and mountains to wild, unspoilt prairies. When you’re not out riding, there are places to swim, fish, kayak or hike. In the evenings when you return, sit around a log fire and feast on home-cooked food and barbecue, regaling each other with stories of your adventures.

Horesriding Torres del Paine, Chile

Credit: Amalia S

Go Ice Trekking at Grey Glacier

Grey Glacier dominates the Chilean Patagonian southern ice field stretching up to seventeen miles in length and peaking at over thirty metres tall in some areas. The glacier is melting each year with parts breaking off and crashing into the lakes below, so if you want to see it in all its glistening icy glory, now is the time to go. There are several ways to view Grey Glacier. Either on foot as part of the W Trek circuit, via a zodiac boat excursion or on a dedicated ice trek. The latter doesn’t require any previous experience as you’ll have a guide with you, but you get to stand on and trek along a real-life glacier and not many people can say that!

Ice Trekkers, Grey Glacier, Chilean Patagonia

Credit: D Jospeh Meyer

Kayak with Friends Along a Turquoise Lake

During your stay in Chilean Patagonia you’ve been hiking, horse riding and trekking across an icy glacier - now you have the opportunity to kayak in Patagonia too! There are several incredible routes in this region depending on what you wish to see. Beginners and intermediates can paddle along the gentle, winding Rio Serrano which runs along the edge of Torres del Paine National Park. The route offers the opportunity to picnic beneath majestic peaks and photograph untamed natural landscapes and wildlife.

Alternatively, if you plan to visit the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, you can enjoy a thrilling sea kayak adventure along the Beagle Channel. It’s here that Charles Darwin made many research observations for his Origin of the Species works. Departing from Ushuaia by boat, you paddle alongside ancient glacier walls and navigate icebergs marvelling at sea lions and a variety of bird species along the way.

Kayaking, Patagonia, Chile

Credit: Dudarev Mikhail

Learn about Patagonia’s Indigenous People

The Aónikenk are indigenous people of Patagonia. These nomadic hunters lived in the Pampas and throughout Patagonia travelling long distances to fish and hunt by canoe or on foot. Long before the phone was ever invented, indigenous tribes communicated with each other by leaving handprints and drawings on rocks and in caves across the region. They moved in circuits, and throughout the trekking routes of Torres del Paine you can still see remnants of messages they etched on rock faces. You’ll discover faint shapes of guanacos, early humans and even handprints dating back centuries.

If you are interested in discovering more about the native people of Patagonia, you could spend a couple of days across the border in Argentina at Cuevas de las Manos or the Cave of Hands. This UNESCO World Heritage Site features a more substantial selection of intricate rock paintings dating back around 13,000 years.

Ancient Cave Paintings in Patagonia

Credit: Buteo

Photograph Rare Wildlife

At the bottom of the world, some of the rarest breeds of animal thrive in Patagonia. Nature lovers will adore exploring its lakes, glaciers and forests and photographing over 500 species of wildlife and birdlife. Torres del Paine National Park is home to the graceful Patagonian puma which have increased in number recently due to the protective measures put in place. You will also see southern cousins of the llama – the guanaco, who thrive in large herds across most of Patagonia. Over 2000 are said to be in Torres del Paine National Park alone so don’t forget your camera. If you’re really lucky, you’ll also catch a glimpse of the Huemul deer. An endangered species with only 100 remaining in the wild, it has become the national symbol of Chile.

Bird watchers can seek out the Andean Condor which has the largest wingspan of any bird and the Southern Crested Caracara soaring above peaks. If you venture to the Strait of Magellan, Magdalena Island or Valdes Peninsula, you’ll also have the opportunity to view whales, dolphins, seals and penguins in their natural habitats.

Patagonian Puma

Credit: Buteo

Sip Mate With Gauchos at an Estancia

Introduced to South America in the Pre-Columbian era, mate is a traditional caffeine-infused drink consumed by gauchos and native people of Patagonia. The drink is prepared by soaking dried and chopped Yerba leaves in hot water and sipping through a nickel or silver straw. It’s a popular drink served in rural estancias, so after your horse-riding escapades, stay a while and get to know the gaucho lifestyle by sharing mate with your new friends.

Mate Yerba Tea, Patagonia

Credit: Grafvision

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