5. DON'T litter or disturb the environment in any way
Even dropping the contents of a sandwich on the ground during a snack stop can work towards altering the diet of the wildlife, and one candy bar wrapper blown by the wind may live on the banks of a pristine lake for decades. Be extra careful to leave the Torres del Paine National Park with everything you brought in, including all trash and scraps. Minimize waste by drinking from insulated, reusable water bottles which can slake your thirst for both hot or cold beverages.
In order to preserve the nature just as you see it, the park also will not hesitate to impose fines on anyone caught ignoring the rules, especially when it comes to using camp stoves. No fires whatsoever! Inevitably, during your trek through the park, you'll see the charred earth scars caused by tourists who didn't heed the warnings.
4. DON'T underestimate the freedom of having your own wheels
Fahrvergnügen. Know the word? It's a German term that roughly translates to "the pleasure of driving," and it's a feeling you'll encounter over and over, along the winding roads and wild vistas of Torres del Paine National Park.
Even typing this, our eyes well up at the happy thought of the many hours of pleasure derived from simply being behind the wheel in Patagonia. It was an incredible experience, made possible by the brilliant people at Quasar Expeditions, who've devised self-drive packages utilizing new Jeep Wrangler Rubicons outfitted with Garmin navigation and a geo-targeted guide device that describes points of interest as you near them.
There's also the option to have the personal Jeep experience, but in the company of a Quasar Expeditions leader. We recommend this for the first day at least, or if you'd just like to focus on taking the bazillion photographs Patagonia's scenery necessitates. Plus the Quasar packages (from $5,950 for 7 nights) include luxury hotel nights, most meals, airport transfers (by the way, it's a 3-hour drive from Punta Arenas Airport to Torres del Paine), entrance to museums and national parks, and the keys to the kitted-out Jeep.
Gravel roads skirting untouched lakes and off-road tracks to glacier edges are the norm, not the exception in Patagonia. Pass the tour buses and their itemized itineraries, hook up your smartphone to the Jeep's radio, tap "Patagonia playlist," and put the pedal to the metal. Traffic lights? Didn't see any for a week.
3. DON'T forget the sunscreen
Above: A deck off a yurt room at Patagonia Camp
You know that giant hole in the Ozone layer? Yeah, well, it's right over Patagonia and, as such, ultraviolet radiation proves a serious concern, especially in the southern summer months.
Walking outside to a sunny day may seem lovely, but prolonged exposure will have you sunburnt for sure and on the road to wrinkles. Slather exposed skin in SPF 30 or higher, with special attention to your face and scalp (or wear a hat too!). We recommend an SPF 50 facial moisturizing suncream, and a travel stick of SPF 30 for reapplication throughout the day.
2. DON'T turn up your nose at the local specialties
Above: The guanaco filet at The Singular Hotel Restaurant
The best red meat dish we've ever eaten is the "sous vide Tierra del Fuego guanaco filet with native wheat," found on the regular dinner menu at the restaurant at The Singular Hotel, Patagonia. Guanaco is a llama relative native to the mountainous regions of southern South America and, though they're protected in the Torres del Paine area, guanaco from Tierra del Fuego do find their way onto plates. Also order wild hare the lamb!
Not a meat eater? No problem. Don't leave Patagonia without tasting Calafate (red berries used in everything from jams to Pisco Sours), king crab, white strawberries, the local honey, and any number of fresh cheeses.
1. DON'T hole up in your hotel, even if it's all-inclusive
Above: The view from the lobby at Tierra Patagonia
Traveling all this way does allow for a recuperation day, time to enjoy the comforts of the spectacular hotels and lodges of Patagonia, but you've just gotta get out there. A frighteningly windy day with chance of hail is no excuse to stay inside by the fire, as that's the Patagonian forecast just about all the time.
If you've taken our earlier suggestion to arrange your own vehicle or venture out in a Quasar Jeep, you'll be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you, if you toss gloves, hats, extra socks and multiple layers in the trunk. After all, those ridiculously dramatic landscape photos don't take themselves!
In the end, part of the thrill of coming this close to Antarctica is feeling the forces of the ends of the Earth, which, years after your trip, gives you the opportunity to reply to weather complaints by saying, "oh, but this is nothing compared to Patagonia." And, in fact, that applies to far more than the weathernothing compares to Patagonia. Try heading into Starbucks for a latte 24 hours after standing on a precipice over a waterfall of such clarity, and such distance, that the two places seem separated not by continents, but by entire galaxies.
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]