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Patagonia's Must-See Sites: From Torres del Paine to Staten Island

Patagonia's mythic beauty blankets the southern end of South America with massive snow-covered mountains, glacial fjords, and temperate rainforests. In these hundreds of thousands of square miles of protected, diverse terrain, you'll also find pampas, rivers, lakes, and valleys inhabited by exceptionally interesting wildlife.

The ideal way to experience this vast, untrammeled region, which is mostly roadless and uninhabited, is by expedition ship. Chile is 4,300 miles long with 40,000 islands creating an intricate maze across its jagged coastline. It would be challenging and time-consuming—if not impossible—to cover the distances Lindblad Expeditions does and reach the wild, forested, and icy shores we do any other way. From the pinnacles of Torres del Paine National Park to the legendary Cape horn, to a restricted-access island at the end of the world, here are five epic Patagonia sites to look forward to on a Lindblad expedition.

Main image: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Torres del Paine

Explore this stunning national park, home to Andean condors, pumas, and herds of guanaco. Its iconic mountain range—with razor-sharp peaks resembling great granite horns—presides over the flat Patagonian steppe and is one of the region's most recognizable features. In addition to saw-toothed summits, discover the beautiful gem-colored lagoons, waterfalls, forests, grasslands, and glaciers of this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The Chilean Fjords and Pio IX Glacier

Patagonia's ice-carved coast is lined with spectacular fjords, locally called senos.
We'll venture deep into their extensive maze of channels, tiny islands, and azure lakes, exploring by foot, kayak, and Zodiac. The most massive glacier, Pio IX, extends for nearly 41 miles. It is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world and the longest glacier outside of Antarctica.

 

Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

 

Karukinka Natural Park

Tierrra del Fuego is one of Patagonia's crown jewels, and with special permission from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Lindblad Expeditions is privileged to visit its protected highlight, Karukinka Natural Park. A private reserve with more than 730,000 acres, its wind-bent forests, blue-tinged glacierrs, wetlands, meadows, and Andean peaks harbor more than 90 animal species. Notably, Chile's largest populations of guanaco, culpeo foxes, and Andean condors are found here.

 

Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Cape Horn

At the southern tip of South America, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, this point marks the northen end of the infamous Drake Passage. Before the Panama Canal was built and more than halved transit times, trade routes encircled South America. Raise a toast in tribute to all the mariners who have rounded the Horn, braving cross currents and often treacherous conditions. In the rare event that conditions are conducive to landing, you'll achieve an explorer's milestone. Once ashore, head up the steep wooden stairs to reach the sculpture of an albatross in flight, a seafaring symbol for souls lost at sea.

Argentina's Staten Island

Completely off limits for nearly a century and almost forgotten by time, the mountainous, forested landscapes and wildlife-rich rugged fjords of Isla de los Estados (Staten Island) have been very seldom seen. Lindblad Expeditions helped pave the way for sustainable eco-tourism to this special island: National Geographic Explorer was the first foreign-flagged vessel allowed access and is one of the few able to visit now. Magellanic penguins, fur seals, and a plethora of birds are just some of the wildlife that thrives in this untouched nature reserve. Hike through the last stands of forest before the Andes disappear into the Atlantic Ocean, to a knoll overlooking the placid bay where “the lighthouse at the end of the world” stands, the inspiration for Jules Verne’s eponymous adventure novel.

 

Photo: Jeff Mauritzen

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