Adventure Travel

Southern Chile and Argentina

Feb 2, 2012
Outside Magazine

You Have: Two weeks off and enough money for a plane ticket to South America.
You Want:
To kayak huge fjords, hike through icefields, and catch fat trout.
The Trip:
For a DIY road trip in a foreign country, you can’t do much better than Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia. The crime is low, the food is great, and you can ramble between fjords, mountains, and trout-filled rivers. The roads can be crappy, though, so you do need a 4x4. Fly into Chile’s Punta Arenas (there are direct flights from Santiago) and pick up your rental. From there, drive six hours to the iconic Torres del Paine National Park and trek the French Valley. Stay at Cerro Guido (from $200), a working ranch that serves a mean roast lamb. Now start heading northeast. Next stop: El Calafate, Argentina, four hours away, where you’ll crash at the Hotel El Quijote (doubles, $104; 011-54-2902-491017) and fall asleep to the sound of cracking glaciers. Then it’s on to El Chalten, near 11,020-foot Fitz Roy. After hiking the surrounding icefields, head back into Chile on Route 40. Fill the tank first—it’s a 12.5-hour drive through empty desert, after which you’ll be ready to crash at the Hacienda Tres Lagos lodge (doubles from $150) near Chile Chico. Have the lodge’s fly-fishing guides take you hunting for fat brown trout on the Rio Baker (from $290 per person per day). Prefer to go it alone? Make for the emerald waters near Coihaique and hit the Rio Simpson for hot mayfly action. You can fly out of the nearby Balmaceda airport or (recommended) extend the trip with a 250-mile jaunt north on the famed Carretera Austral highway to fjord-punctuated Pumalin Park. Rent a sea kayak from Alsur Expeditions, located in the park (from $50 per day), then head to Quintupeo Fjord, floating under waterfalls and past towering granite walls.
Essential Gear:
This one’s simple—a passport, good travel insurance like Travel Guard (a $500 policy will protect you in the event of everything from health issues to car breakdowns), a six-weight fly rod with a variety of dry flies and woolly buggers, and a good vehicle. The most popular models here are the Toyota Hilux and Chevrolet Tundra. Both start at $1,000 for a two-week rental from Punta Arenas.