The place "Patagonia" is emblazoned in the minds of many who love the outdoors, yet the specifics are more of a mystery. Even the borders are not strictly defined—the region encompasses the large cone-shaped landmass at the southern end of South America shared between Chile and Argentina. Rough boundaries are Argentina’s Neuquén province in the north and Chile’s Cape Horn on the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago in the south.

This area contains some of the most impressive and rugged terrain on earth. The Andean Cordillera runs the length of Patagonia and creates a constantly changing backdrop of jagged peaks. The Southern Patagonia Ice Fields, the world’s third-largest frozen landmass after Antarctica and Greenland, feed a complex system of glaciers, milky blue lakes lined with icebergs, and powerful rivers. Southern Patagonia is wind-whipped and extreme; northern Patagonia is more temperate and lush with volcanoes and monkey puzzle trees.

It’s true that Patagonia isn’t quite as as far-flung as it once was. Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina, in particular, have seen steady increases in tourism. Upscale hotels and good restaurants are more commonplace than ever before. But Patagonia has retained a far-off frontier feel, and the places most people visit represent only a tiny fraction of all that there is to explore. Below are the prime areas of interest for those traveling to Patagonia, along with valuable trip planning information that is tough to come by for the region.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine (pronounced PIE-nay) National Park in southern Chile is the crown jewel of Patagonia. Rising high is the Cordillera del Paine, one of the world’s most dramatic mountain ranges, including the famed rock formations...
Perito Moreno Patagonia

El Calafate and Perito Moreno

The town of El Calafate is the hub for the mammoth Perito Moreno glacier, one of Patagonia’s most impressive sites. Located 80 kilometers west of town, the terminal face...
 Los Glaciares Patagonia

El Chaltén and Los Glaciares

El Chaltén is a dusty climbing town with a contagious outdoor vibe. The self-proclaimed “trekking capital of Argentina” sprang up in the 1980’s for political purposes but is now supported entirely by outdoor tourism. Towering above...
Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia, located at the southern reaches of Argentina on the island of Tierra del Fuego, often is referred to as, "The End of the World." It’s arguably the world’s southernmost city (the small Chilean settlement of Puerto Williams...
Patagonia National Park

Patagonia National Park

The new Patagonia National Park in southern Chile’s XI (Aysen) region is scheduled to officially open in 2015 (you are welcome to visit now but the park is still under construction). This one-of-a-kind project led by Conservacion...
 Lake District Patagonia

Patagonia's Lake District

Northern Patagonia is home to the Lake District, a region encompassing parts of both Chile and Argentina with a high concentration of ancient forests, blue lakes, volcanoes, and picturesque alpine villages. Compared to the windswept...
Ruta 40, Patagonia

Ruta 40, Patagonia

Argentina’s legendary Ruta 40, also known as RN 40 or Route 40, is one of the world’s great driving adventures, running parallel to the Andes Mountains for nearly 5,000 km from La Quiaca in the north down to Cabo Virgenes...
Antarctica

Antarctica: Photos from the Frozen Continent

Switchback Travel has not yet been to Antarctica, but we have been organizing information, talking with people who have, and keeping an eye out for good leads. With perfect timing..
Torres del Paine W Circuit

"W" Circuit in Torres del Paine

The "W" Circuit in Torres del Paine is Patagonia’s most famous trek and often gets mentioned among the world’s top trails. Over the course of 4 to 6 days—depending on your specific route and hiking speed—the 60-plus kilometer "W" makes its way...
Torres del Paine O Circuit

"O" Circuit in Torres del Paine

The Torres del Paine "O" Circuit (6–10 days) is the full loop around the Cordillera del Paine—the "W" plus the more remote backside that gets fewer trekkers. All told, the total distance of the...
Torres del Paine Park

How to Get to Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park is located in southern Chile five hours north of Punta Arenas, the closest airport (Puerto Natales has a small airport but flights there are virtually non-existent). Below is the relevant information on...
Cochamo Journals Part 1

The Cochamó Journals Part I

I had the dream again last night.  The dream is always the same—some details change here and there, different faces emerge and fade, lines of travel crisscross and follow different plans or lack thereof—but the dream is always...
Cochamo Chile climbers

The Cochamó Journals Part II

There is a short squat bird I know well who frequents the “Bivy Boulder” in Cochamó Valley’s Anfiteatro. While his latin name escapes me, I refer to him fondly as the "Work Work Work" bird.  His call sounds eerily similar...
Cochamó, Chile sunset

The Cochamó Journals Part III

When it rains in Cochamó, it rains long and hard. Now, it is raining. It has been raining, it is raining, it will continue to rain. The Cochamó season is finally over. And well enough, after a stellar February with fantastic weather, my body needs a...