UPDATED FEBRUARY 2020
The latest addition to the Patagonian hiking scene, Parque Patagonia is just one more step towards the creation of one of the world’s largest protected nature reserves. In just three short years, Parque Patagonia has become one of Chile’s best highlights – although you certainly wouldn’t know it given the distinct lack of crowds.
What started as a grandiose dream for an intrepid and determined American couple has turned, initial controversy notwithstanding, into one of the most significant eco-projects ever undertaken in Latin America. The park is not yet complete although it is open to the public. Visit on your next tour to South America and you could be one of just a handful of visitors who are jumping on the bandwagon before the crowds descend.
Covering over 752,000 acres of pristine wilderness of immense Patagonian biodiversity, Parque Patagonia was created on privately-owned land and gifted to the government of Chile to be operated as a public reserve. As such, it now boasts an impressive array of hiking trails, camping facilities and a visitor centre where you can pick up maps and gather info.
Where is Parque Patagonia?
Parque Patagonia is in the Aysen Region of Chile and stretches alongside the border with Argentina, about halfway between the Chacabuco Valley and Villa O’Higgins, at the southern tip of the Carretera Austral.
In this remote and isolated corner of South America, just reaching the park is an adventure in itself. The landscapes along the 2,000km-long Carretera Austral are among the most dramatic in the entire continent. The scenery is breath-taking: sweeping valleys, vertiginous peaks, verdant rainforests, startling lakes and rivers are you constant companions, no matter which direction you’re coming from. Here, you’ll experience that overwhelming feeling of immense vastness which very few destinations in the world can gift.
How was the park created?
The brainchild of Doug and Kristine Tompkins (of Patagonia Inc, North Face and Esprit fame), the park represents just one of many extensive pockets of Patagonia wilderness purchased by the philanthropic power-couple over a number of years; lands they have turned into fiercely-protected nature reserves.
To call the Tompkins environmentalists would be far too simplistic. Together, they created Conservación Patagónica in a part of the world they have both loved for more than three decades and had been involved in conservation here since the 90s. Once their business exploits made them billionaires, the Tompkins started buying up swathes of land and returning them to their natural state, becoming among the largest private land-owners in the world.
The Tompkin’s Patagonia projects have helped empower local communities, restore wildlands and biodiversity, protect endangered wildlife, support local farming communities and, perhaps more importantly, brought much-needed focus to conservation in this remote yet coveted region of South America.
The need to keep these lands protected in Patagonia is not inconsequential. Deforestation, as well as gas and mining developments, have been threatening the region for years. There have also been talks of building a hydroelectric plant here, effectively damming two of the largest rivers in Patagonia. For flora and fauna, this would be catastrophic, to say the least. CP goal is to create a single Patagonia National Park which is set to be Latin America’s largest and most prized nature reserve.
Doug Tompkins tragically perished on an adventurous expedition in Patagonia in 2015, but Kris marches forth with great vigour, intent on seeing their dream come to full fruition.
When is Parque Patagonia open?
Open from 1st October to 30th April, (prime Patagonia hiking season) the park offers free public access and, as long as the last finishing touches are still in the making and services limited, you are advised to be completely self-sufficient during your visit. There are, however, a few beautiful lodges just outside the park boundaries which make for fantastic bases.
From Chile: The closest airport is at Balmaceda, approximately 6/8 hrs away by car along the Carretera Austral.
From Argentina: The park is easy to access if you’re taking a road trip down the famed Route 40 in Argentinian Patagonia, with the turn off at Paso Roballos taking you to the main entry point in about 1.5hrs.
Things to do in Parque Patagonia
Hiking is the main activity offered by the park, right now, although on an organised guided trip you can enjoy birdwatching, mountain biking and overnight camping as well. Just outside the boundaries of the park, we can also organise boat trips and fly-fishing excursions.
The park’s hiking trails vary in length and difficulty so you’ll be able to explore the stunning landscapes on foot no matter your age and fitness level. Here are the most popular:
Easy hiking trails – If you have just a couple of hours to hike in Parque Patagonia, you can opt either for the La Vega or La Confluencia trails. Both are low-intensity trails that offer sensational views, although the latter leads you to a gorgeous picnic spot right at the confluence of two major Patagonia rivers, so we know it’ll soon become an absolute crowd favourite. If you can brave the frosty water temps, a swim is a must!
Moderately difficult trails – Choose to spend the night nearby the park and you can tackle one of the longer and more difficult hiking trails, like the half-day loop around Lago Chico or the full-day Aviles Loop Trail, Lagunas Altas or the Furioso Trail. The last two are quite demanding and aimed at more experienced hikers, taking an average of 8 hours to complete.
No matter which hiking trail you decide to tackle, always remember to pack sunscreen, water and high-energy snacks and take along an experienced local guide for extra peace of mind.
Amazingly, you can also simply drive through the park in a little under two hours. This is an incredible opportunity for all those who wish to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Parque Patagonia but don’t want to – or can’t – include a strenuous hike.
Road tripping in South America is one of the most enchanting ways to slow down your travel experience – is Slow Travel Your Travel Trend for 2020?
Topping Patagonia’s already existing national parks is a hard thing to do. One of South America’s best hiking destinations and a place that takes ‘the end of the world to a whole new level, Patagonia is that stupendous southern tip of South America that’s shared by both Argentina and Chile. It is sparsely populated and filled, instead, by breathtaking natural wonders. It kisses the base of the Andes and is dotted with snow-capped peaks, glacial lakes, steppes, deserts and the most colour-intense forests you’ll ever see. Patagonia is over 1 million square kilometres of heaven on earth.
Torres del Paine is arguably Patagonia’s most celebrated highlight yet what many don’t know is that this is just a small portion of a spine-tingling ridge of peaks which stretches for more than 4,000 kilometres. You could hike in Patagonia every year, for decades on end, and never have to backtrack.
This is a nature lover’s utopia, a haven where you can truly immerse yourself in pristine wilderness, experience climate extremes and soak up an unrivalled sensory overload. One of those rare places left on earth where nature shines resplendent, in between those times when it howls with tremendous fierceness.
Dreaming of a nature-filled adventure at the end of the world? Don’t hike past Patagonia! Check out all the unforgettable Patagonia tours we offer or let us create a bespoke itinerary for your next South America adventure. After all, this is what we, at Chimu Adventures, do best. We can take you to Parque Patagonia, Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares National Park, among many other fantastic destinations. If you’re at all worried about the kind of accommodation options you’d have, let us assure you that the best Patagonian lodges will offer you superb comfort and spectacular viewing.