Patagonia’s Roadside Attractions

Mj 618_348_4x4ing through patagonia

Patagonia is nearly always referred to as though it is one cohesive place, but its snow-capped mountains and vast plains, which sprawl across the Chile-Argentina border, present travelers with a series of barriers and boundaries. The only way to explore a substantial chunk of this chilly landscape is on an extended tour. Rather than joining a group – solitude seems only natural under this vast sky – we signed on with Quasar Expedition’s new Wild Patagonia excursion. Created in partnership with Jeep, the trip requires that customers follow a course preprogrammed into a Garmin GPS installed in a 2013 Wrangler Rubicon. The device guides drivers to a series of wilderness lodges while offering a bit of historical and scientific commentary along the way. 

Quasar offers two basic programs, one tailored to naturalists and the other geared towards adventurers (they’ll craft custom itineraries for anyone whose tastes run in divergent directions). The trails are not totally different, so chances are you’ll pass some other like-minded roadsters along the way, which is kind of reassuring in the midst of all this space. 

The tour begins in the far southern port city of Punta Arenas, Chile. The first drive is a four-hour beat through the wind to Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, where adventurers can hike the Perito Moreno Glacier and go horseback riding around the Blue Lagoon, a remote crystalline pond, before ambling around the town of El Calafate, known for its wine and maté. The long day comes to a close at the Eolo Hotel, a well-appointed outpost so remote that its driveway alone stretches for miles.

On the way out of Argentina, Jeeps jerk down a service road – unexceptional except for the profusion of thin puddles that perfectly reflect the sky and clouds – through flocks of Rhea birds (South America’s 80-pound answer to Africa’s ostriches). Then it’s Chile’s turn to inspire. The hike up to the base of the Torres del Paine, a 12-mile round-trip trek through a painted forest, open cliffs, and scree is breathtaking in at least two ways. And the walk around Lago Grey, an otherworldly lake filled with brightly colored glaciers that feels like something out of a fantasy novel, is a suitable chaser. Quasar’s digs in Chile include luxe yurts replete with glass ceilings and views of the Paine Massif and the Tierra Patagonia Hotel and Spa, which is made almost entirely with beech wood and blends seamlessly into the landscape.

The journey ends at the Singular Hotel in Puerto Natales, a lodge-cum-museum housed in an old wool factory with its own funicular. A swim in the heated indoor-outdoor pool is a relief after so many miles. The trip was luxurious, but Patagonia takes its toll.

More Information: Quasar Expedition’s Wild Patagonia trip costs from $5,950 per person for eight days. LAN operates regular flights to Punta Arenas. Guides are required for the hike in Torres del Paine. Expect to pay $300. Worth it.

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