Much like the Norwegian coastline, the west coast of Chile is sliced by dramatic inlets, or fjords, lined with rugged mountains and glacier-covered valleys. This spectacular stretch of coastline starts near the Reloncaví Estuary (roughly halfway down the long spine of Chile) and extends south to the very end of the continent, at Tierra del Fuego. It’s a distance of some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles), as the crow flies. Travel here, however, is never in a straight line — instead ships follow meandering paths along the many fjords and channels.
The area is known for its desolate beauty and not surprisingly it’s home to many of Chile’s national parks, including Alerce Andino, Hornopirén and Vicente Pérez Rosales, as well as the Llanquihue National Reserve and the Cochamó Valley. Early Spanish explorers came here in search of the mythical City of the Caesars, whose people were believed to be rich in gold and diamonds. Though the city was never found, the explorers added much to the world’s navigational knowledge and at the same time established shipping routes that have been used ever since. Similarly, the riches that travelers to the region today discover are measured not in ounces or carats but in gasps of wonder at the stunning scenery of this windswept, dramatic land and its unusual animal residents.