Remote and largely inaccessible, Patagonia is the essence of wildness—a maze of channels and islands. Venture deep into Chile’s glorious fjords past incandescent icebergs and massive glaciers. From the “land of fire,” Tierra del Fuego, to the jagged spires of Torres del Paine National Park, experience Patagonia at close range aboard National Geographic Explorer. And, thanks to our special access, we’ll enjoy the privilege of visiting the far-off, stunningly beautiful natural parklands of Karukinka and Yendegaia.

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Why We Love It

Venture through wildlife reserves not easily accessible to the public, including Karukinka Natural Park in Tierra del Fuego.

Explore the cultures and World Heritage sites of Chiloé Island, a place beloved by Chileans.

By special permission, be one of the few people ever to explore Isla de los Estados (Staten Island), located at the extreme end of South America.

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Day by day Itinerary

Epic Patagonia: Fjords, Peaks and Forests

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Day 1

Santiago, Chile

Arrive in Santiago, Chile. We check in to the Mandarin Oriental (or similar) centrally located in Santiago, and have the morning to relax. Santiago is nearly surrounded by the Andes, which form an inspiring backdrop to our afternoon guided overview of this vibrant city. We explore the Plaza de Armas, the main square, and nearby Presidential Palace, enjoying wonderful views from the many hills that dot the city. In the early evening, we gather for an informal reception and a drink at the hotel. (L)

Day 2

Puerto Montt

Today we fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt, Chile’s northern gateway to Patagonia. We'll visit the town of Puerto Varas, beautifully set on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, and if weather permits have views of dramatic, snow-covered Osorno, a volcano that Charles Darwin saw erupt in 1835. We'll have lunch, transfer to Puerto Montt, and embark National Geographic Explorer. (B,L,D)

Day 3

Chiloé Island

We spend the day exploring Chiloé’s culture and natural history, with a choice of excursions. One group will explore Chiloé's cultural history, seeing its attractive palafitos, colorful fishermen’s houses precariously built on stilts along the water’s edge. Some palafitos are now restaurants serving fine Chilean food, and we’ll have lunch at one of them. The town of Castro has little shops and a large open-air market where the Chileans show their indigenous wares, such as alpaca sweaters and lapis jewelry. Visit some of the welcoming small communities that dot the countryside and learn about a unique way of life. One of the unique features of the island's history and culture is its wooden churches, collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The churches and many of the houses are covered in protective shells of wooden shingles in artistic designs.

Alternatively, choose to visit Puñihuil Natural Monument and go out in a local boat to see the wildlife that inhabits the islets just offshore. Enterprising fishermen in the area started offering boat excursions to these exceptional places some years ago. Both Humboldt and Magellanic penguins live here, along with the handsome red-legged cormorant, American and blackish oystercatchers, Peruvian pelicans, Peruvian boobies, and a number of other species. We may also be fortunate enough to see marine otters. We'll have a traditional Chiloé-style lunch called curanto: mussels, clams, potatoes, chicken, sausage and a number of other ingredients, all cooked in a pit and covered with leaves. We then explore the historic and atmospheric town of Ancud, seeing the San Antonio Fortress, whose capture in 1826 marked the end of Spanish rule in the region; the central plaza, adorned with figures representing local mythology; the interesting market; and the foundation that helps preserve and restore the many churches of Chiloé, a number of which collectively are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We return to our ship in the late afternoon. (B,L,D)

Day 4

Pumalín National Park

Pumalín’s 750,000 acres in Chilean Patagonia are protected as one of the last areas where the unusual alerce forest remains. These huge trees are similar in dimension to California redwoods, with some specimens 2,000 years old. The Pumalín Project was established in 1995 by the late American conservationist Doug Tompkins, who wanted to preserve some of the remaining virgin forest in Chile. Have a choice of walks in the park with naturalists in the forest, visit a hidden waterfall, or, for the energetic, climb along a rushing stream and look for forest birds along the trail. In the afternoon, we head for the Golfo de Corcovado in search of marine wildlife, looking for Magellanic penguins, sooty shearwaters, dolphins, and with luck, whales. (B,L,D)

Day 5

Aysén - Coyhaique - Andes Mountain

Today offers a choice of two interesting excursions.
You may decide to take a morning excursion to a nearby, exceptionally beautiful privately owned park, Aiken del Sur. The park has well-maintained trails, set in evergreen forest with lovely waterfalls and lakes, including a 75-foot-high cascade. Bird possibilities include ringed kingfisher, woodpeckers, and a variety of forest birds. A Patagonian lamb barbecue (with vegetarian options) and entertainment by local musicians awaits at the end of the walk.
Alternatively, take a full-day excursion to the Coyhaique National Reserve, driving up into a beautiful valley nestled in the Andes, with views of the snow-covered peaks. Entering the reserve, drive through evergreen forest full of giant rhubarb and ferns to the transition zone of deciduous Nothofagus forest. The starting point for our hike is Laguna Verde, “Green Lake.” Coyhaique National Reserve is home to three Chilean woodpecker species, passerines, diurnal and nocturnal predatory birds, and other animals such as pumas and foxes. In places, the forest is native and pristine, and in others we have the chance to appreciate the colonization process that is following fires of recent years. After our hike, we’ll have a picnic lunch and we’ll visit the city of Coyhaique, seeing its central plaza and the artisans’ stalls, with excellent handicrafts. We'll then return to Chacabuco and National Geographic Explorer. (B,L,D)

Day 6

The Inland Passage & The Chilean Fjords

This huge region of incredible scenery provides days of adventure for us. A vast area of snowcapped mountains, gigantic glaciers, thousands of islands covered with forests and other vegetation, lakes, soaring granite walls, and waterfalls, the archipelago is untouched by humans except for a few fishing villages which perch at “the end of the world.” With a National Geographic photographer and a photo instructor by your side, you’ll have boundless photo options. One possibility is exploring Tortel, where a system of boardwalks connects the houses and publics spaces of this charming town of about 500 inhabitants. One of the many highlights is the Pio XI Glacier, the longest glacier in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica, running some 60 miles from the Patagonia icefield to the fjord where it noisily calves off gigantic ice masses, at a rate of one every several minutes. It is 2 miles wide and rises nearly 200 feet above sea level. We explore by Zodiac. These days offer us multiple opportunities to hike, and to use our Zodiacs, kayaks and undersea technology to explore the beautiful protected waters. En route to Puerto Natales, we transit the breathtaking 200-foot-wide White Narrows, a dogleg between unforgiving rock bluffs. (B,L,D)

Day 7

The Inland Passage & The Chilean Fjords

Please refer to day 6 for today's itinerary.

Day 8

The Inland Passage & The Chilean Fjords

Please refer to day 7 for today's itinerary.

Day 9

The Inland Passage & The Chilean Fjords

Please refer to day 7 for today's itinerary.

Day 10

Puerto Natales - Torres del Paine National Park

From Puerto Natales, drive to monumental Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere. This is one of the signature parks of Chile and for that matter the world, with the jagged horns and the granite towers of the central massif constantly drawing the eye to their varying aspects as the light and clouds change. The mountains are surrounded by Andean steppe, forest, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. You'll discover one of the most spectacular and wildlife-rich areas in the Americas, and will see herds of guanacos (cousins of llamas). You’ll also look for rheas, gray foxes, Andean condors soaring overhead, and if you're very lucky, a puma. Chileans themselves dream of visiting this magnificent park. You'll have a choice of excursions: either take a challenging hike along a beautiful trail between two of the lakes, or else to drive to some of the most scenic places in this great setting. (B,L,D)From Puerto Natales, drive to monumental Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere. The landscape is big, wide and sprawling, with razor-backed ridges, Andean condors, flamingos, and rheas. It’s hard to imagine that the park could top the drive, but the Torres del Paine are an amazing sight, jagged granite mountains topped with a thick layer of dark slate. Discover one of the most spectacular and wildlife-rich areas in the Americas, covering 450,000 acres of glaciers, forests and grasslands, rivers and colorful lagoons. Chileans themselves dream of visiting this magnificent park. You'll be able to choose whether to hike or else to drive to some of the most scenic places in this great setting. (B,L,D)

Day 11

Tierra del Fuego: Karukinka Natural Park

Tierra del Fuego is one of Patagonia’s crown jewels. We visit its newest and largest protected area: Karukinka Natural Park. Established in 2004 through a gift from Goldman Sachs, Karukinka is one of the largest donations ever made for conservation. We’re thrilled to have special permission from the Wildlife Conservation Society to visit this private reserve, which spans 1,160 square miles and harbors endangered culpeo fox, Andean condors, and many other kinds of wildlife. We may explore Jackson Bay, backed by a skyline of rugged mountains, and look for wildlife including blackbrowed albatross that nest on one of the nearby small islands. We may walk a trail to a lovely waterfall, and look for elephant seals resting on not only the beach but also high in the grass meadows and even in the small river draining the valley inland. Look for the Andean condors, massive Magellanic woodpeckers, black-necked swans, Austral parakeets, albatrosses, grebes, petrels, fulmars, shearwaters and many other birds that inhabit this otherworldly realm. (B,L,D)

Day 12

Tierra del Fuego: Karukinka Natural Park

Please refer to day 11 for today's itinerary. 

Day 13

The Beagle Channel & Exploring

Sail the Beagle Channel, named after HMS Beagle. The ship, commanded by Captain FitzRoy, surveyed the region between 1826 and 1830 and returned in 1833 with Charles Darwin on board. On seeing the area, Darwin wrote: “It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow.” We’ll explore more stunning wilderness as we see the fjords and glaciers of the region by Zodiac, kayak and on foot. A vast area of soaring, snow-capped mountains, gigantic glaciers, thousands of verdant islands, serene lakes, and waterfalls—the archipelago is scarcely touched by man. Take Zodiacs out to explore these protected waters and rugged shores, the blue and white of ice contrasting with greens of the forest highlighted by splashes of flowering plants. (B,L,D)

Day 14

Cape Horn

Today we visit Cape Horn, near the southernmost tip of the South American continent, named in 1616 for the Dutch town of Hoorn. These waters are famously difficult to navigate, and over the centuries have been the graveyard of many ships—which before the opening of the Panama Canal had to round the cape to sail between the Pacific and Atlantic. During the Age of Sail, sailing ships often had to struggle with the winds and currents for days or even weeks. Of course, we’ll use our modern equipment and decades of experience to explore safely. Weather permitting, we’ll take our Zodiacs ashore and walk to the top of a hill for panoramic views and to see the memorial placed there in 1992, showing an albatross in silhouette. There’s also a lighthouse and small museum, and moving plaques commemorate those who explored Cape Horn and those sailors who lost their lives in these waters. (B,L,D)

Day 15

Isla de Los Estados (Staten Island), Argentina

We have been given special permission to visit extraordinary Staten Island. National Geographic Explorer is one of the only expedition ships ever allowed here, and you will be among the few people ever to set foot here. It’s a place of superlatives, barely touched in recent decades and visited primarily by a few scientists and those who man the tiny naval observatory. The island was named by Dutch explorers in 1615. Its mountainous, forested landscapes and rugged fjords are beautiful, and we’ll find a great deal of interest here. Our exact schedule will remain flexible to take best advantage of conditions. We’ll look for southern rockhopper and Magellanic penguins, many other water birds, and fur seals and sea lions. With luck we may find marine otters on our landings ashore; and we’ll see the replica of the 1884 San Juan de Salvamento “lighthouse at the end of the world,” which inspired Jules Verne’s novel by the same name. Although Verne never came anywhere near Staten Island, the vivid depictions in his adventure story have inspired generations of readers. There will be chances to walk in the southern beech forests. And weather permitting, take a Zodiac cruise at remarkable Observatory Island, one of the largest and most diverse bird nesting areas in the entire region, with large numbers of southern sea lions and South American fur seals. These days are bound to stand out as a unique chance to explore a very remote place. To read Eric Guth's account of our pioneering 2015 visit to Staten Island. (B,L,D)

Day 16

Isla de Los Estados (Staten Island), Argentina

Please refer to day 15 for today's itinerary. 

Day 17

Isla de Los Estados (Staten Island), Argentina

Please refer to day 15 for today's itinerary. 

Day 18

Ushuaia - Buenos Aires

Disembark in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Take a charter flight to Buenos Aires and connect to your flight home. (B,L)

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