How to get there
Routes: from Santiago-SCL and Puerto Montt-PMC
Flight time: 3hr 25 minutes nonstop from SCL, or 4hr 35 minutes including a stop at Puerto Montt
Aircraft: all-economy class Airbus A320
Average price: $800 roundtrip from SCL, or loop it in with your flight from the US for a better deal, with total prices like $2,000 roundtrip from New York via Santiago. LAN is also a member of the Oneworld alliance, so mileage redemptions are possible for this route.
What to know about flying in/out of Punta Arenas Airport
· If you're flying in from an international destination to Santiago, to connect to Punta Arenas, you'll have to collect your checked luggage and pass through immigration and customs before re-checking and re-clearing security, this time through the domestic flight terminal portion, "Embarques Nacionales."
· There is no free WiFi at Santiago Airport, but various cafes (like Dunkin Donuts, Gatsby and La Pausa) do offer a password with purchase.
· Liquids over 3oz are allowed on Chilean domestic flights, and you won't be required to remove your shoes or laptop at domestic security check, unless your shoes are really heavy-duty.
· Unlike on US flights, you'll be fed free snack and drinks on the 2-hour flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt, and also on the second 2-hour leg from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas. LAN provides beverages and your choice of two snacks from four options (nut mix, coffee cake, fruit cup or savory breadsticks).
· When booking your flights and selecting seats, choose the left side of the plane from SCL - PUQ and the right side from PUQ-SCL. This means you'll be on the side of the plane facing the most mountains and glaciers. The opposite sides will have a view of the Chilean coast and fjords.
· Bring your own in-flight entertainment. It's 4-ish hours from Santiago to Punta Arenas, and though the LAN A320 has an overhead TV system that plays sitcoms and South America documentaries (with free headphones), it's still a great flight for making progress on a big novel before you spend your days adventuring in Patagonia.
· PUQ does not have a working free WiFi network, but the VIP lounge (accessible to holders of AMEX Platinum and other elite credit cards) has a strong signal with password.
· Punta Arenas Airport, being near to the tip of the continent and the crazy environment of Antarctica, is itself prone to wild weather fluctuations. Prepare for strong winds, but also don't be shocked if you witness hail and a snowstorm in the same hour. Flight delays and cancellations can happen, but our flights were on time despite Mother Nature's mood swings.
· If you enjoy planespotting, have your camera out and ready upon landing at PUQ, since the tarmac frequently hosts exotic visitors like Chilean Air Force jets, DC-3s on skis, and Antarctic survey aircraft.
· It's three hours north of PUQ, along Chile's Route 9 "La Ruta del Fin del Mundo" (The Highway to the End of the World"), that you'll find the major attraction of Torres del Paine National Park.
We traveled to Patagonia as a guest of LAN, but all photos, observations and opinions are completely our own.
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]