Patagonia is a vast wilderness at the bottom of the globe, a windswept place where the peaks are jagged and the beauty austere. This southern tip of South America has entranced adventurers for decades; these days, hikers flock to the area to tread its many world-class trails. Here’s what you need to know before you go:  

When Should I Visit?

Most people visit during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer; the trails are less crowded in November and March, and the extreme wind gusts that hit the region in summer are less frequent then as well.

How Do I Get There?

The main airport for the Argentine side of Patagonia is El Calafate International Airport; on the Chilean side, it’s either Teniente Julio Gallardo Airport, in Puerto Natales, or Presidente Carlos Ibanez del Campo International Airport, in Punta Arenas. Wherever you’re coming from, you’ll generally have to connect through either Buenos Aires or Santiago.

Learn from one traveler’s experience: In Buenos Aires, international flights arrive in one airport and domestic flights typically depart from another – so give yourself several hours between flights to get across the city.

How Long Should I Stay?

To see the full scope of Patagonia, you’ll want to visit both countries, starting in one and ending in the other. That will take at least 10 days, as the drive between Argentina and Chile – including border crossing – eats up almost an entire day. In Argentina, divide your time between El Calafate, a base for the Perito Moreno Glacier, and El Chalten, the starting point for several iconic hikes.

Where Do I Sleep?

The Xelena Hotel & Suites sits on the edge of Lago Argentino, just outside El Calafate (a free shuttle runs downtown from the hotel). The rooms are a tad generic – as one traveler explains, “it is a five-star hotel locally, not internationally” – but there is a lovely indoor/outdoor pool, and the restaurant is quite good. In El Chalten, the Don Los Cerros Boutique Hotel & Spa sits on the highest point in town, with views to match; the staff has won the hearts of many a traveler. Get away from it all at Estancia Cristina Lodge; this homestead was built by English pioneers in the early 20th century and has now been turned into a lovely hotel (not to mention, a 2017 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice winner) that is accessible only by boat.

In Chile, you’ll want to stay either inside or just beyond the border of Torres del Paine National Park. Las Torres Patagonia’s main advantage is its location: You can walk straight from your room onto some of the park’s most popular hiking trails (which means that you can get a head-start on the trekkers who need a vehicle to get them there). Even if you don’t stay at Las Torres, stop in for one of their superb cocktails or a pint of the beer, brewed on site. The Rio Serrano Hotel, just outside the park, is a less expensive option; many of the rooms look onto a stunning panorama that takes in the entire Torres del Paine range. Says one traveler of the Rio Serrano, “the overall feel is of a large, welcoming mountain lodge, with plenty of wood and stone, and space to relax.”

What Should I Do While I’m There?

El Calafate is all about ice – either viewing it from a boat, walking atop the Perito Moreno Glacier or kayaking among the icebergs. From El Chalten, this two-day tour takes in two of the premiere hiking routes, with views of crystalline lakes and sharp-toothed peaks. And be sure not to miss the demanding but rewarding Towers hike in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park.