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Patagonia is one of those elusive bucket list destinations, one you really can’t appreciate until you’ve experienced it. It’s the Southernmost point in South America, straddling Argentina and Chile against the backdrop of the Andes Mountains. The region attracts outdoor enthusiasts for its diverse terrain, foodies for its hearty and soulful cuisine, and nature lovers who appreciate the flora and fauna. Its distance and geography might make it seem like a difficult trip, but with the right planning it doesn’t have to be.

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Most visitors head to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile where activities and awe-inspiring scenery are endless. The 600,000-acre park has no shortage of Instagram-worthy shots from mountains to icebergs and glaciers to waterfalls and crystal blue lakes. The park was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978 for its unique ecological zones.

Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia Chile

Getting there 

Unless you’re already in South America, getting to the region is neither quick nor easy (but absolutely worth the journey). Most travelers fly into Santiago, Chile and connect through Punta Arenas. From here, you’ll need to rent a car or take a bus for the 4-hour journey to the park. From Argentina, you can fly into El Calafate and hire a car for about a 6-hour drive to the park.

When to visit

The Southern Hemisphere’s spring (mid-September through November in the U.S.) and Autumn (late March through May) are the best times to visit Patagonia thanks to milder, more predictable temperatures. Summer (December through February) offers the most temperate climate, but you’ll likely battle the crowds and the wind, sometimes whipping up to 75 mph which can prohibit many activities. Daytime temps can feel tropical while cooler nighttime temperatures are perfect for sitting fireside.

Glamping in Patagonia at Patagonia Camp

Where to stay

If you’re looking for a unique way to experience the natural wonders of the region, stay in the luxury yurt domes at EcoCamp Patagonia. It’s glamping at its finest boasting high-end accommodations and free breakfast, not to mention skylights that offer amazing stargazing. If you’re looking for traditional accommodations, Hotel Lago Grey is a comfortable hotel a short walk to the Grey Glacier. If you need more of a town atmosphere (and free Wi-Fi), opt to stay in Puerto Natales, a charming village about a one-hour drive from the park. The Singular Patagonia is one of the town’s top choices.

What to pack

Because of the rapidly changing weather conditions in the region (remember that you’re straddling both desert and glaciers), you’ll want to pack gear for a range of temperatures and conditions, no matter what season you visit. Layering is your best option, so you can add or shed layers as needed. Water- and wind-proof outer layers are a must. You should pack the usual hiking gear of waterproof and comfortable boots, a daypack and sun protection, too. If you’re looking for specific outdoor sports gear, Puerto Natales has a few rental shops.

Hiking and trekking in Patagonia

Hiring a guide

Due to changing weather conditions and the unpredictability of the winds which can occur out of the blue, guides are recommended on most excursions. And unless you have multiple degrees in ornithology, geology and meteorology, you’ll get the most out of your visit with a knowledgeable guide. Think of them as museum curators, as the region really does offer museum-quality attractions. Highly skilled local guides know the region like the back of their hands.

What to see and do

There’s a reason this is one of the world’s foremost hiking and mountain climbing destinations. The two things to take into account when planning your daily activities: weather and ability level. If you’re staying at Patagonia Camp, you’ll meet with guides nightly who’ll discuss your options and offer recommendations. You can hike the famous “W,” a 17-mile trek that’s worth it for the views alone. You can take a boat ride among the icebergs to the iconic Grey Glacier. There are shorter hikes for spotting flora and fauna where you’ll see condors with their massive 10-foot wingspans and guanacos, Patagonia’s version of the llama. There’s also kayaking, horseback riding and plenty of spots to just relax with a picnic and stellar views. In May of each year, the Patagonia Camp Cup Trail Run & Party hosts hundreds of runners who come to participate in a farewell to the park’s tourist season. It’s more of a celebratory event than a competitive one. The event, and the tourist season, ends with a Patagonia-style party complete with a fireside lamb roast, Chilean wines and local music.

Icebergs and glaciers in Torres del Paine National Park

Estimating costs

Your biggest expense will most likely be gear and guides. But if you really want to enjoy the region, you’ll need both. If you’re hiring a company for your trek, you’ll want to book it in advance, especially if you’re traveling during high season. The food in the region is hearty yet affordable if you plan appropriately. Many tour companies provide meals as part of their excursion.

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Beth Graham
Beth writes about the things that feed her soul - food, wine and travel and blogs at

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