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Things to Do in Patagonia

A vast and rugged wilderness stretching more than 260,000 square miles across Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is South America’s southern frontier, the starting point for cruises to Antarctica and home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural landscapes. Both the Argentine and Chilean sides are equally worthwhile and with regular flights and coaches linking the two countries, border hopping is a popular pastime, with many tourists choosing to fly into one country and out of the other.

In Argentina, hikers flock to the jagged mountains and lush lakelands of Bariloche and El Calafate or the remote Tierra del Fuego National Park, but equally mesmerizing is sailing beneath the looming icebergs of the Perito Moreno Glacier, taking a whale watching cruise from Puerto Madryn or journeying to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city. On the western side of the border, Chilean Patagonia is home to the renowned Torres Del Paine National Park, the bustling port town of Punta Arenas and miles of otherworldly coastline, fringed by icy fjords, towering glaciers and unchartered isles.
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Fort Bulnes (Fuerte Bulnes)
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Reigning supreme over the Magellan Strait, Fort Bulnes (Fuerte Bulnes has been reconstructed to look exactly as it did when it was first built in the 19th century. As well as offering panoramic vistas of Punta Arenas from its watchtower, the fortress encompasses a museum that explores the colonial history of southern Chile.

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Milodon Cave (Cueva del Milodon)
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Milodon Cave (Cueva del Milodón is a Chilean Natural Monument and site of paleontological interest. It was here that, in 1896, German explorer Eberhard Hermann found the fur and bones of a Mylodon, an extinct huge ground sloth. With a small museum and displays, the site pays homage to its former inhabitant.

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Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery
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Opened in 1894, the Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery is known as the final resting place for some of the area’s most famous historical figures. Relevant families—like the Menendez-Behetys—even have their own chapels here. The massive iron gate stationed at the cemetery’s main entrance was donated by Sara Braun, a wealthy businesswoman, back in 1919, and local legend says it has remained closed and locked since the day it was completed at Sara’s request. While the grounds were originally reserved for bodies of British colonialists, it also includes those of famous German, French, Norwegian and Chilean residents as well.

Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery covers about 10 acres (four hectares) of city land, making it one of the most expansive burial grounds in the region. Visits are often included in city tours, and the cemetery’s main office has an incredible electronic database where travelers can search for individuals by name to find the location of specific plots.

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Nao Victoria Museum (Museo Nao Victoria)
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Visitors to the Nao Victoria Museum can travel back in time and experience the real-life thrill of a 16th-century sailing experience. Opened in 2011, this destination is celebrated by locals for promoting national identity and preserving much of what makes this area so unique. Visitors can wander through four real-life replicas of famous ships: the Nao Victoria, James Caird, HMS Beagle and Schooner Ancud—boats that played an important role in the discovery of Magallanes. Guides are included in the cost of admission, which makes for rich storytelling while travelers explore the ships.

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Osorno Volcano
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The snow-capped cone of Osorno Volcano is one of Chile’s most recognizable landmarks. Towering over Lake Todos Los Santos and Lake Llanquihue in the Andean mountain range, Osorno is the starting point of Chilean Patagonia and is a magnet for adventurous outdoor enthusiasts who come here to ski, hike, and trek.

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Grey Glacier
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Tumbling into Grey Lake (Lago Grey) in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, massive Grey Glacier is almost 100 feet (30 meters) high at its peak. An arresting backdrop of snowcapped mountains adds to the glacier’s frozen enchantment.

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Llanquihue Lake
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The second-largest lake in Chile, Llanquihue sits at the base of the near-perfect conically shaped Osorno Volcano, creating a defining image of the country’s Lake District. This is the starting point of Chilean Patagonia and—with its beautiful scenery and bounty of activities on offer—a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts.

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Plaza Muñoz Gamero
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This historic town square is among the most popular destinations in the Magallanes Region because of its unmistakable energy and close proximity to some of Punta Arenas’ major attractions. Travelers can easily walk from Plaza Munoz Gamero to Casa Braun-Menendez, the Sociedad Menendez Behety and the local cathedral, and many visitors agree that the best handmade crafts in town can be found here.

Walking the plaza takes only a few minutes, but most visitors gather at park benches or relax in the shade of trees to take in the sights and sounds of local life. Local folklore states kissing the statue of Magellan’s feet is good luck, so visitors looking to change their fortune should be sure to do so before leaving the plaza. A central information center also offers travelers maps and recommendations, making this a perfect first stop on a trip to Punta Arenas.

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Nordenskjold Lake
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In the early 20th century, Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjold discovered a blue alpine lake that would later be named after him. Located within Torres del Paine National Park, the lake is famous for its beautifully colored waters, as well as its outfall, the Salto Grande waterfall.

While the national park is famous for its multi-day hiking circuits, visitors can make a shorter, easier day hike to Mirador Nordenskjold, an overlook offering stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The trail passes through fields of wildflowers in the spring, and it also brings hikers up close to the Salto Grande waterfall.

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Magallanes Regional Museum (Braun-Menendez Palace)
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This elegant and well-preserved residence was once home to Braun Menendez—an intrepid pioneer who called Punta Arenas home. Just beyond the ornate iron gates travelers will find an incredible array of artifacts that explore the rich history and cultural diversity of the Magallanes region. From lush tapestries and shimmering hardwood floors to handcrafted furniture and beautiful statues, the Magallanes Regional Museum showcases how European influences made their way to South America.

The palace is divided into three major areas, and travelers can venture through collections of artifacts brought by the family from Europe, or delve into an array of maps and photographs that explain the region’s history. And a visit to the restored servants’ quarters showcases the day-to-day routines from the Braun Menendez family’s earliest days.

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More Things to Do in Patagonia

Angelmo

Angelmo

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Located at the west end of Puerto Montt, the small fishing port of Angelmo got its name — according to local legend — from the mispronunciation by indigenous locals of the name of a local doctor, Angel Montt, when the town was first getting established.

Avenida Angelmo leads toward the port, lined with seafood restaurants and crammed with vendors selling handicrafts and souvenirs. Popular items include knickknacks made from the Alerce tree, a species native to Chile’s Lake District, as well as bottles of Licor de Oro. A fish market right on the banks of the bay sells the fresh catches brought in from local fishing boats, and restaurants — some built on stilts over the water — serve some of the best quality seafood in the area.

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Maggiorino Borgatello Salesian Museum (Museo Salesian)

Maggiorino Borgatello Salesian Museum (Museo Salesian)

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This 1,700-square-foot mecca of Patagonia heritage covers an entire history, culture and tradition in just four floors. Travelers can explore the well-organized galleries created by Salesian missionaries back in the late 1800s and learn about the rich ethnology, archaeology, wildlife and diversity of the region.

Visitors rave about the Cave of the Hands replica, which is displayed in a room dedicated to Southern Patagonia, and many applaud the museum’s honest handling of colonists, too. The Salesians made every effort to preserve artifacts from the Ona, Tehuelche, Alacalufe and Yamana people, while also explaining the impact of European colonists on local traditions and the role of pioneers in helping to create modern day Punta Arenas.

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Calbuco Volcano

Calbuco Volcano

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The Calbuco Volcano, one of two snow-capped volcanic cones rising above the town of Puerto Varas on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, is also one of Chile’s most active volcanoes with 36 confirmed eruptions — 13 recorded since 1893. In April 2015, Calbuco erupted three times in a period of eight days. While not a perfect cone like neighboring Osorno Volcano, the sight of Calbuco is equally magnificent.

Calbuco Volcano is located within Llanquihue National Reserve. Some of the best views of the peak can be seen while trekking through the park.

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Channel of Last Hope (Ultima Esperanza)

Channel of Last Hope (Ultima Esperanza)

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In spite of its ominous name, the Channel of Last Hope (Ultima Esperanza is a calm inlet stretching from Eberhard Fjord to Monte Balmaceda in Chilean Patagonia. The 16th-century Spanish explorer Juan Ladrillero gave it its name in the belief that navigating it was his last opportunity to reach the Strait of Magellan.

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King George Island (Isla Rey Jorge)

King George Island (Isla Rey Jorge)

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King George Island is the largest of South Shetland Islands, and its scenic bays, which include Maxwell, Admiralty and King George Bays, are home to unique wildlife, like elephant and leopard seals and a variety of species of penguins.

Its protected fjords and diverse flora and fauna make the island one of the region’s premier research stations for bio-diversity, and although these scientists who come from around the world are the only human inhabitants on this unique island, there’s still some draw for travelers venturing to the area’s icy depths. The Arctowski lighthouse is known for being the southernmost lighthouse in the world, and every summer intrepid runners venture to the island for the Antarctic marathon.

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Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park

Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park

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Established in 1926, Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park is Chile’s oldest national park. Natural highlights include the Osorno, Puntiagudo, and Tronador volcanoes, and Lago Todos los Santos, hailed as one of the most beautiful lakes in Chile.

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Carretera Austral

Carretera Austral

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Whether by car or bike, it’s hard to dispute that the Carreterra Austral is one of South America's most rugged — and scenic — highway routes. Winding through the wilderness of Patagonia, the road is often remote and rough but grants access to some of the most naturally beautiful parts of Chile. Also known as Route 7 or Southern Highway, it runs north to south from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins for more than 1,200 kilometers.

Construction on the carretera began in 1976 under dictator Augusto Pinochet. It is not always one continuous road - in part it is connected only by ferry. Much of the paths are gravel, though more and more are being paved with time. It is particularly popular with cyclists in the summer months (December through February.)

Despite the length of the route, this area is sparsely populated by around only 100,000 people in rural communities — meaning you'll have much of the natural beauty to yourself.

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Lake Todos los Santos

Lake Todos los Santos

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Located in Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, Lake Todos los Santos is often referred to as Lago Esmerelda due to the vivid emerald color of its waters. Formed by both glacial and volcanic activity, the 69-square-mile (111-square-kilometer lake is ideal for kayaking, swimming, and fishing, and promises unobstructed views of the Osorno Volcano.

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Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine National Park

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The epic massifs at Torres del Paine National Park (Parque Nacional Torres del Paine) in Chile draw visitors to an area of unspoiled beauty, where green fields and chill glittering lakes spread out beneath the naked granite spires of the Cordillera del Paine.

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Puerto Montt Cruise Port

Puerto Montt Cruise Port

Located at the southern tip of the Chilean Lake District, Puerto Montt is an industrial city with strong German influence that’s also close to Bariloche and Argentine Patagonia. Given that there’s little to do in the city itself, the Puerto Montt Cruise Port serves primarily as a jumping-off point for trips to the nearby lakes and mountains.

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Punta Arenas Cruise Port

Punta Arenas Cruise Port

The Punta Arenas Cruise Port on the Strait of Magellan serves as the gateway to Punta Arenas, Chilean Patagonia’s largest and most commercially important city. A port of call for passengers looking to explore the region and a jumping-off point for expeditions to Antarctica and Magdalena Island, Punta Arenas Cruise Port is a must-visit for adventurous travelers.

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Petrohué Waterfalls

Petrohué Waterfalls

The roaring waters of Chile’s Petrohué Waterfalls (Saltos del Petrohué) tumble through the lush, volcanic landscape of Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park in Patagonia. The falls’ steps are made up of dramatic basalt formations, brought to the surface eons ago by the snow-capped Osorno Volcano, which rises photogenically above the cascade.

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Strait of Magellan

Strait of Magellan

Unforgiving winds, rugged coastline, and narrow passages made the Strait of Magellan one of the most deadly channels for early explorers of South America. Luckily, modern cruise ship technology means today’s travelers can safely cross the strait for a scenic voyage past rocky fjords, forested islands, and glaciers that spill into the sea.

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Salto Grande Waterfall

Salto Grande Waterfall

Situated in the popular Torres del Paine National Park, the Salto Grande Waterfall is fed by the ice-blue waters of Nordenskjöld Lake and tumbles 50 feet (15 meters) into Lake Pehoé below. Admire the Salto Grande Waterfall—one of the most impressive attractions in the park—during a beginner-friendly day hike and look out for grazing guanacos (camelids).

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