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This route through the southernmost Chile has many places that will leave you speechless. Starting with the steppes and plains of the end of the world inhabited by intrepid guanacos... And continuing through the historic Strait of Magellan. Many of them are not easily accessible... Others are feasible to visit. Some of the most incredible places in this little corner of the planet are:


  • Parque Pingüino Rey (King Penguin Park)

  • Punta Arenas

  • Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine National Park

Parque Pingüino Rey (King Penguin Park)

Chile has the honor of hosting the only reserve of this kind of penguin (the second largest after the emperor penguin) a backpacker can afford to visit (the rest of king penguins are in Antarctica). Apparently, these penguins came here a few years ago as if by accident and decided to settle... They are not stupid, even Tierra de Fuego is a warm place for a native species of Antarctica! It is worth taking a whole day to marvel at these majestic swimming birds in a unique and recondite space. You can come both from Ushuaia (road) and from Punta Arenas (boat to Porvenir plus bus to the penguin colony). Oh, and take some binoculars!

Punta Arenas

The capital of the province of Magallanes is the most populated (around 120000 people) and cosmopolitan city of Chilean Patagonia. This is mainly due to its geographical location in the Strait of Magellan (passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans), which makes it a strategic point, both politically, touristy and economically. Some points of interest are: The Plaza de Armas and its handicraft market; Cerro de la Cruz and its views of the city; the Magallanes Ecological Reserve, with its forests of "southern" trees: lenga, coigue de Magallanes and ñirre (all belong to the Nothofagus family).

Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine National Park

The star destination of Chilean Patagonia is called Torres del Paine. This Park, accessible from the town of Puerto Natales (interesting city tucked away in a beautiful setting), is an ode to lovers of hiking and adventure. Mountains, valleys, lakes, glaciers, wild and pure rivers from these gigantic and blue blocks of ice, forests, open meadows... All that awaits you in an environment in which the main characters are the peaks of Torres del Paine. In terms of fauna, there are many birds (eagles and condors among them), and guanacos are the easiest to see among mammals. But if you are lucky you might also see armadillos, foxes, huemules (Southern Andean deer) and even pumas. The Park can be visited with a guided day tour (even from El Calafate, Argentina), but this is expensive and it is not the same. The backpacker can go on their own perfectly (by hitchhiking or by bus from Puerto Natales to the entrance) and get into that Patagonian nature by hiking one of the two most popular circuits: the “O” or the “W”.


Differences between circuits:

  • W: Shorter (80 km) and less vertical (3000 m vertical drop in total), it takes about 4 days on average.

  • O: Longer (130 km) and more uneven (6000 m vertical drop in total), it takes about 8 days on average.


The W is actually part of the O. I did not do the O, but from what I have heard/read it is worth doing the whole thing, and it is not necessary experience or being super fit. In the O, the variety of landscapes will be even greater, and you will be more time in contact with that wild and incredible nature. The main disadvantage is that you will have to carry more weight (food and clothes). The W is awesome anyways, perfect for those who have no so much time and/or feel like a four-day hiking in the woods is more than enough for them.


Throughout the Park there are campsites (and shelters/hostels for those without a tent). Some campsites are free (at least back in March 2014), so if your budget is tight try to organize your route to camp in those free of charge. What you will not get rid of is the cost of the ticket (entrance to the Park), which is quite expensive (21000 Chilean pesos; 6000 for nationals). Along the way you will also find a couple of hostels/restaurants where they serve food and hot drinks to recover your energies and forget a little about the packet soups.


As for the best time to visit, according to the weather it would be between December and February, but in those dates it is also overcrowded. Maybe the perfect moment is the beginning of March (April is already very cold). Two final tips. 1) Try to carry only the essentials, leaving the rest of the luggage in a hostel in Puerto Natales. 2) To leave the Park in the W (in the O you return to the starting point) there is a stretch of about 15 additional km that you can do on foot instead of taking the boat (very expensive).

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