THE SEASON: November through March, summer in the Southern Hemisphere, is prime time in Patagonia, including Torres del Paine and General Carrera Lake; the Atacama Desert is temperate year-round.
Chile is on eastern standard time, so if you fly from New York or Miami you won't suffer a whit of jet lag. LanChile (800-735-5526; http://www.lanchile.com), the national airline, offers flights from Miami, New York, and Los Angeles starting at $915 round-trip.
GETTING AROUND: Renting cars and flying are usually the most efficient and cost-effective options. To get to Torres del Paine, LanChile offers flights to Punta Arenas, a 150-mile drive from the park, starting at $655 round-trip. For the Atacama Desert, two-hour-long flights from Santiago to Calama start at around $460 round-trip. And to get to Terra Luna, Santiago-to-Balmaceda fares start at $460 round-trip. (Bonus: free Chilean cabernet sauvignon in flight.) When you land in Punta Arenas and Calama, you'll want to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. In Punta Arenas, call Hertz ($140 per day; 011-56-61-248742); in Calama, call Budget (56-55-341-076; $117 per day). In Balmaceda, arrange for transportation with Terra Luna Lodge.
OUTFITTERS: Sergio Echeverría, a safety-conscious former NOLS instructor and owner of Big Foot Expeditions (56-61-414611; email@example.com) in Puerto Natales, offers climbing, camping, and sea-kayaking trips in Torres del Paine and beyond for $55 to $150 per day. Outfitter Azimut 360 (56-67-431-263), which juggles more than 150 cycling, climbing, hiking, and trekking trips in Chile per year, prefers guests who are knowledgeable, experienced, and self-sufficient. Prices vary depending on the itinerary.
LODGING: In Torres del Paine National Park, the Hostería las Torres (doubles, $89 per night including breakfast; 56-61-246054) offers basic rooms with hot showers. A shared room in Refugio Grey (56-61-412-592), the rustic hut at the base of Grey Glacier, costs $12 per night. In San Pedro de Atacama, Hostería la Casa de Don Tomás (doubles, $68 per night; 56-55-851055; http://www.rdc.cl/dontomas) has a private outdoor patio and is within walking distance of everything in town. En route to the Atacama Desert, the Hotel el Mirador in Calama (doubles, $60; 56-55-340329) has spotless, cheerful yellow rooms and an enclosed courtyard. At northern Patagonia's Terra Luna (56-67-431-263; firstname.lastname@example.org), prices range from $60 to $150 per night, breakfast included.