Ever since Europeans first saw the extreme southern latitudes of the Americas, Patagonia has held a legendary, even romantic allure. Most accounts, from Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle to Bruce Chatwin’s classic In Patagonia, deal with sprawling Argentine Patagonia, not the lesser-known narrow strip of Pacific Chile in the same latitudes.
Chilean Patagonia’s boundaries are imprecise because, in a sense, the region exists in the imagination. It has no juridical reality, though nearly everybody would agree that both Region XI (Aisén) and Region XII (Magallanes) are part of it. More northerly areas would like to be included, if only to partake of the Patagonian mystique.
Part of the problem in defining Patagonia may stem from the fact that, in Argentina, it is broadly agreed to be the area south of the Río Colorado, an enormous territory. The most northerly point of which is only slightly southeast of the Chilean heartland city of Talca, which nobody would consider Patagonia. Drawing any line, though, is sure to engender controversy.
I've chosen to take a utilitarian approach. While Puerto Montt, the formal starting point for the Carretera Austral Longitudinal (Southern Longitudinal Highway) may be the gateway, in practice Patagonia is that continental and insular area accessible only by long-distance ferry or airplane, or overland through Argentina. This excludes insular Chiloé, easily reached by shuttle ferries; it includes most of “continental Chiloé,” south of the town of Hornopirén, where a summer-only ferry sails to the tiny port of Caleta Gonzalo, the real start of the Carretera Austral.
The Southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego section also includes both Chilean and Argentine Tierra del Fuego, and southwestern Santa Cruz province, which is part of a popular circuit that includes Chile’s Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.
Throughout Chilean Patagonia, overland transportation schedules change from season to season and year to year, and may be disrupted by weather, particularly on the Aisén portion of the Carretera Austral.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition