Isla Jéchica Marina y Refugio, Patagonia Aysén, Chile
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PATAGONIA & TIERRA DEL FUEGO


Patagonia begins south of Puerto Montt and ends in Cape Horn and is one of the most magnificent regions in Chile given its extreme climate and terrain, extraordinary beauty, virgin forests, windswept prairies, fjords and glaciers. Hernando Magallanes, a Portuguese navigator, was the first European to discover the territory in 1520, and for centuries the "Strait of Magellan" was the only seafaring pass that existed between Europe and the Pacific Coast. The indigenous groups Tehuelche, Ona, Yamana and Kaweskar who resided throughout Patagonia clashed with colonial groups and missionaries, and eventually died from illness or were wiped out by sheep farmers. There are very few representatives of indigenous groups left, and in the case of the Ona, none at all.

Patagonia the name refers to the entire southern region of Argentina and Chile . In Chile, Patagonia begins with the Austral Road (Carretera Austral), an unpaved road that hugs coastal fjords and passes through thick, emerald rainforest and past glaciers and stunning alpine scenery. The road is transited by few vehicles and the sense of solitude among the grandeur of the area is truly enjoyable. Farther south the pampa begins to dominate the landscape on both sides of the Andes Mountains, which peter out toward South America’s tip, ending near the country's treasure, Torres del Paine National Park. On the northern shore of the Magellan Strait is Punta Arenas, a dynamic city and jumping off point for cruises or flights to Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica, and farther south the continent ends at Cape Horn National Park and Puerto Williams, the southernmost town in the World Scoured and sculpted by the last glacial period, the Chilean fjords are a rough geography of channels and hundreds of islands blanketed in dense vegetation. The region's southern sea elephants, prancing dolphins and sea birds such as imperial and red legged cormorants put on a show.

Throughout the southern region down to Punta Arenas there are Magellanic penguin colonies that can be visited from November to March. Few sailing regions in the world can compare to the fjords of Chile for natural beauty and absolute solitude, and further south, the Pío XI, Balmaceda and Grey glaciers, together with the canals around Tierra del Fuego and the famous Beagle Canal, offer majestic scenery.

More than 30% of Chile’s national park and reserve acreage is found in Patagonia, including Torres Del Paine, Laguna San Rafael, Queulat, Bernardo O´Higgins and Pumalín. Torres del Paine National Park is considered one of the most magnificent national parks in the world. Turquoise lakes, beech forests, and grass-covered steppe are home to the deer huemul, condors, ñandús (Darwin 's rhea), pumas and guanacos, a relative of the llama. Torres del Paine is Chile’s prime trekking region, with day hikes and 2 to 8-day backpacking trails. Given the region's sheep-ranching history and dependence on horses, a trip to Patagonia isn't complete without a visit to an estancia ranch and a horse-back ride with gauchos, or baquedanos (Patagonian cowboys) who still dress with flare in baggy pants, a beret and leather finery.