How to Visit Patagonia
Covering large swaths of Southern Chile and Argentina, Patagonia contains the largest ice fields outside of the Polar region. Although beyond the ice, the scale of the landscapes overtakes the more mortal pursuits of human, immersing the visitor into a reality not created by human hands and helping us peer into a time before man roamed the earth. Still considered a frontier, the settlements and settlers of Patagonia are reliant on the nature around them as more than two centuries of a ranching economy is shifting to tourism and catering to outsiders wanting to experience its natural treasures in a bit more of an eco-friendly way.
Large ranch estates that were established by European settlers in the 19th century in Argentina were called Estancias. These Estancias held large swaths of land and were also given to these settlers to establish border rights between Chile and Argentina. Most Estancias' main activity in Patagonia was wool production with Patagonia becoming a major exporter of wool worldwide due to the development of the trade. Since the invention of synthetic wool in the 20th century, the price of natural wool collapsed along with the golden era of Patagonia's Estancias. Yet modern day Patagonia with its refocus in Ecotourism has been able to harness its rich history and pristine nature to become a destination for those in search of beauty and adventure.
The Gaucho - The key to the Estancia lifestyle, the Gaucho is a master horseman that roams the Patagonian range, and manages the daily aspects of sheep and cattle production. The Gaucho culture spans from the curious renegade vagabond that spends months on the open range with his Yerba Mate, sheep and huddled nightly over a fire to the more contemporary view of the chiseled, dark haired, horse whisperer that has retained more traditional and masculine pursuits among a modern world. Regardless of image, the Gaucho was and is the engine of the Estancia system.
Patagonian Lamb - For dedicated carnivores, Patagonia is a paradise. Grilled meat of all type, but specifically the Patagonian lamb is grilled on an open fire to a crispy perfection throughout the entire region. While fresh fruits and vegetables are not very abundant in the harsh Patagonian climate, the quality of the Lamb and a century of perfecting its preparation, makes it one of the most notable places to have this succulent and tender meat.
Estancia Cristina - Probably the most unique and remote Estancia of the Patagonian region, Estancia Cristina was founded by an English sailor, Joseph Percival Masters, who came to Patagonia with his wife and two children to establish an Estancia in the remote region around lake Argentina. After a year of living in tents and rebuilding an old steam boat, the family eventually came to have 22,000 hectares of land and 27,000 sheep. Upon the death of Joseph and his wife, their son Herbert and later his wife Janet McDonald were left to run the ranch. Herbert died in 1984 and Janet later in 1997 at which time the property was transitioned into a living museum of the endurance and effort of these old pioneers.
Perito Moreno Glacier
The most notorious and arguably the most beautiful and accessible glacier of the Patagonia region, at about 1 hour outside of the town of El Calafate, the Perito Moreno welcomes both soft and hard adventurers alike. The numerous foot paths that look out to the glacier are paved with soft inclines, is accessible by almost anyone, and gives the visitor an upfront and personal view of the entire glacier face as it goes into Lake Argentino. For the more intrepid, a hike onto the glacier surface, complete with crampons, ice picks and trekking guides is more the fit. Regardless of the approach, Perito Moreno immerses the visitor into an age when ice covered the earth and helps us understand this critical ecosystem.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
The infamous Chilean National Park is best known for its iconic granite towers that were shaped from the glacial forces of the region. The National Park has very remote areas accessible only by trekking, as well as some world class mountain lodges accessible along the few principal vehicle routes. Arriving to Torres Del Paine National Park can be done directly from El Calafate (5 hours by vehicle) or the town of Puerto Natales (3 hours by vehicle), which is often the base for visitors that do not overnight at one of the mountain lodges in the Park. Whether it's trekking, fishing, horseback riding or one of the outdoor activities in the Park, the visitor will be wondered by its spectacular scenery and wildlife.
Guanaco - This camelid native to the arid planes of the region, is an important part of the Patagonian landscape. A cousin of the Llama, Alpaca and Vicuna, it travels in herds grazing and licking dew from desert cacti. While it's numbers have been diminished in other mountainous parts of South America, Patagonia and especially Torres Del Paine National Park, they are still abundant.