May 28, 2024

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The Tempestuous Magic of Chilean Patagonia

The Tempestuous Magic of Chilean Patagonia

By the time I persuade Cristina and Marco Ríos, Mari Mari’s veterinarian and stable manager, to take me horseback riding on my final morning, the late-autumn weather has become almost storybook in its drama. We saddle up our horses at the stables, wind screeching, and I get to know Palta (meaning “avocado” in Chilean Spanish), the relatively young Chilean Criollo horse whom Ríos has matched with me. I run my hand across his side and can feel that he has already started growing his thick winter coat in preparation for the frigid months ahead.

Setting off up the trail, I feel overly confident in my horse-riding skills, assuming that the childhood lessons I took in the English countryside are enough for me to steer Palta along the cliffs and down onto the beach. But this, of course, is not southern England, and I quickly realize that no amount of whooping or nudging or, admittedly, pleading with this horse will persuade him to move. Thankfully, Ríos has a horse-whisperer quality (which also helps calm humans). Slowly but surely, we inch our way down the steep trail until horses’ hooves are kicking up sand. I’m soaked through and breathless after zigzagging across the deep streams splicing through the sand dunes, but Ríos talks me out of booking it back to the stables. Instead, we turn to face the raging ocean. Far off in the distance, a ray of sunlight breaks through the clouds.

How this trip was made:

I’d never visited Patagonia (or Chile, for that matter), so Plan South America founder Harry Hastings sought to craft an itinerary that showed me the breadth of the region’s northern reaches, with its wild, boundless terrain, without trying to cram too much into my schedule. I was traveling solo, which could have easily felt daunting, given the destination, but his team was always on hand; they set up a Whatsapp group before my departure date to offer tips and advice and regularly checked in throughout the trip. They even reminded me to book a massage at Mari Mari after a particularly long, soggy hike. The support was constant yet never overbearing, letting me enjoy the wilderness and embrace being 6,000 miles away from home.

The highlights:

Day 1: Stepping out of Pata Lodge on my first morning as mist rolled down the sides of the Andes. The only thing I could hear was the patter of rain and the sound of my own breathing; a stark contrast to the chaotic string of airports I’d passed through to get there. I’ve never been somewhere quite so isolated—or peaceful.

Day 2: The sheer diversity of hikes available in and around Futaleufú: one moment we were zipping up a steep mountain trail, the next stomping through thick forest towards the river as myriad bird species swooped above our heads.

Day 4: Arriving at Hotel Mari Mari by helicopter—specifically, the moment I spotted sea lions clinging to the rock face below, waves crashing dramatically around them. That, and landing straight onto the beach and jumping down onto the sand with my backpack.

Day 5: Horse riding while being battered by the elements. Few things have made me feel more alive than finally charging along that beach through ice-cold sheets of rain. I couldn’t stop grinning.

Harry Hastings and his team at Plan South America can arrange seven-day bespoke tours from $5,250. For more Iconic Itineraries, in which Condé Nast Traveler editors partner with top travel specialists on trips to our favorite destinations, here.

This article appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.