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Landscape of mountains and coast of Darwin Channel, Chile

Scenic cruising Darwin Channel

Chile famously stretches for some 4,300 kilometers (2,700 miles) along the Pacific Ocean, a long, narrow country. Over its bottom half, countless channels, fjords, islands and massive glaciers, all formed by tectonic pressure, resemble scattered puzzle pieces. Those glaciers, which once covered every inch below, roughly, the 42nd parallel south, now account for less than 3 percent of the nation’s surface. But what a 3 percent. To reach these glaciers, skilled pilots lead ships of intrepid travelers through the labyrinthine waterways that can be found from Chiloé Island to rugged Cape Horn in Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of the Earth. Down in this sparsely populated region, it’s not hard to imagine the days when sailors first encountered this foreboding world as they worked their way through icy-cold waters and past forested mountains and snowy peaks. One early visitor to the region, Charles Darwin, spent far more time at the bottom of the globe than he did in the Galápagos Islands. His time here was crucial for developing his insights into the origins of man and other species, even if the Galápagos tend to get all the glory in the public imagination. While many of the landscapes and sunsets would look familiar to Darwin, much has changed as many of the region's glaciers retreat. A journey to see Chile's fjords is also an opportunity to view a corner of the world in transition.