Patagonia is mythical, one of those places that live as much in the imagination as in reality, which makes a trip there feel momentous: in an age when your neighbor has penetrated the monasteries of Bhutan and your boss has paid court to the mountain gorillas of Uganda, Patagonia has somehow retained the mystique of the frontier.
When to Go
Summer in Patagonia (North America’s winter) is the mildest and most popular time to visit, though temperatures rarely go much above 70 degrees and winds are strong.
There are daily flights from Buenos Aires to El Calafate and from Santiago to Puerto Natales. In high season, tickets go quickly, so book well in advance. Some visitors rent cars in Patagonia, but unpaved roads can be a challenge; many hotels provide transfers to and from the nearest airport. For travel overland between Argentina and Chile, there are three border crossings.
Planning a trip can weary even seasoned travelers, especially non-Spanish speakers, so work with a knowledgeable agent; call the the fantastic Betty Jo Currie of Explorations (800/451-9630; email@example.com). For more agents, see travelandleisure.com/alist.
What to Pack
Breathable waterproof layers, a hat, sunglasses, sturdy hiking boots, and high-SPF sunblock: the hole in the ozone over the South Pole lets in very strong sun. Note: Cell phones do not work in most of the area; if you must stay in touch, rent a satellite phone to take with you.
Where to Stay
Puerto Natales, Chile; 56-2/387-1500; www.remota.cl; doubles from $1,980 for a three-night stay, all-inclusive.
Where to Eat El Chaltén, Argentina Asador-Parilla Mi Viejo A good traditional Patagonian asador (barbecue restaurant). dinner for two $30.
What to Read:
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin (Penguin Classics, $15). A classic not only of writing on the region but also of the travel genre—an eccentric, elliptical, entertaining wander.