Getting to northern Patagonia in Chile usually begins with a two-hour flight south from the capital, Santiago, to the scruffy Lakes Region commercial hub of Puerto Montt. There you can catch a ferry, airplane or bus to more inviting places farther south.

Roads south of Puerto Montt are mostly gravel, and require a two-day drive to northern Patagonia. Single-engine charter planes are more expensive but cut the trip to an hour. They leave from a small, informal airport called La Paloma. Local agents booked our flights south from Puerto Montt.

The ferry from Puerto Montt to Chaitén has four weekly departures. The trip lasts nine hours.

Reach Puerto Montt's Tourist Information Office by e-mail at

Outfitters in northern Patagonia that can arrange horse packing, fishing, rafting and hiking trips in the region include:

• Chaitur Excursions in Chaitén (;

• Expediciones Chile in Palena (; 1-208-629-5032).

Patagonia's summer is November through March, with December and January considered the best weather.

Tony Brown