Patagonia is a sparsely populated region located at the southernmost tip of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile and home to fantastic mountain peaks, vast and empty steppes, glaciers and icefields, and stunning national parks. As the travel writer Bruce Chatwin famously declared, it is "the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origin.”
The region comprises the southern section of the Andes mountains as well as the deserts, pampas and grasslands east of the Andes. Patagonia has two coasts: western facing the Pacific Ocean and eastern facing the Atlantic Ocean. Originally a remote backpacking destination, Patagonia has attracted increasing numbers of upmarket visitors, cruise passengers rounding Cape Horn or visiting Antarctica, and adventure and activity holiday-makers.
Chilean Patagonia is a melting pot of extremes, geologically rich in porphyry, granite, and basalt lavas, with abundant animal life and luxuriant vegetation, consisting principally of southern beech and conifers. The high rainfall against the western Andes and the low sea surface temperatures offshore give rise to cold and humid air masses, contributing to the ice-fields and glaciers; Chilean Patagonia hosts the largest ice-fields in the Southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica.
Torres del Paine National Park is a major highlight of Chilean Patagonia, encompassing mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers. The landscape of the park is dominated by the Paine massif, which is an eastern spur of the Andes located on the east side of the Grey Glacier, rising dramatically above the Patagonian steppe. Small valleys separate the spectacular granite spires and mountains of the massif. These are: Valle del Francés (French Valley), Valle Bader, Valle Ascencio, and Valle del Silencio (Silence Valley). The Southern Patagonian Ice Field mantles a great portion of the park, with impressive glaciers including the Dickson, the Grey, and the Tyndall.