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Chile's Route of Parks protects 17 national parks, 24 ecosystems and 60 communities across 2,800km of Patagonia, from the forests of the north, down the Carretera Austral and beyond to the icefields, Torres del Paine and Cape Horn. For those of us who like our travels to ignite our explorer's spirit, there can be few better places in the world. Having started Pura in Chilean Patagonia, It is a source of great pride that we hosted Kristine Tompkins for the official European launch of a project that is so close to our hearts.
Described by Pura co-founder Thomas Power's 10 year old son as "the walk of life", the Pumalín National Park is home to one of the world's rarest and most precious eco-systems - temperate coastal rainforests. Most precious of all are the Alerce trees. The oldest here is thought to be about 3,000 years old – the world would have been a very different place when its shoots first burst through the soil.
On arrival at the park be sure to pay your respects to Douglas Tompkins, whose name the park carries and who started over 20 years of environmental protection in Patagonia with his purchase of the Reñihué Estancia in 1991. Douglas sadly passed away in a kayaking accident in 2015. Thanks to the extraordinary commitment of his wife Kristine, their legacy is forever protected in Chile's Route of Parks.
Suggested itinerary: Route of Parks Uncovered
Crossing the sparkling blue waters of the Lago General Carrera reveals one of the most unexpected sights in all of Chilean Patagonia. In the double rain shadow of the Jeinimeni National Reserve Patagonia's glaciers, snow-capped peaks and lakes are replaced by the lunar ridges, wind-eroded rock formations and desert scenery more readily associated with the Atacama in the north of the country. It's a real quirk of the Carretera and the sort of thing that we love sharing.
Suggested itinerary: Carretera Explorer
Cerro Castillo remains a little known gem of Chilean Patagonia and one of the most breathtakingly beautiful parts of the region. So walking here is a real treat, with fantastic landscapes and few other people.
The crowning glory of the national park is of course the jagged-edged, castle-impersonating, 2,320m high Cerro Castillo peak. Its distinctive form gives the park its name and takes centre stage in one of the most glorious vistas you can uncover on your road trip; a natural theatre of chiselled peaks rising out of the rock, dusted in snow and with the glacial turquoise waters of Laguna Verde at its feet. It’s a steep and long hike to get here, so you’ll enjoy it even more.
Suggested itinerary: Route of Parks Uncovered
It's not every night you get to sleep next to a glacier is it?
As the latitudes rise, the icefields begin to dominate the landscape. The great Patagonian icefield used to stretch the length and breadth of Southern Chile, covering an area the size of Spain. Now around 4-5% is thought to remain, split into two. In between these is the immensely charming village of Tortel, about as remote a settlement as you're likely to ever visit. But you're going further, right into the icefields, on a boat built by the craftsmen of Chiloé and kitted out by your host Noel.
Suggested itinerary: Carretera Uncovered
Patagonia is a place of ranchers and farmers, of cattle, sheep and horses. So if you want to understand Patagonia, you need to meet the people who call it home. We try not to complicate things too much, just you, your guide and your host as the daily rhythm of life on a countryside estancia takes its course. Think of it as a 'day in the life of a local', it just happens that the local in question is a neighbour of one of our longest-standing partners. So there's nothing contrived, nothing too slick or showy and it's as hands on as you want it to be.
Suggested itinerary: Carretera Uncovered
Most people who visit Paine stay in one of the luxury all-inclusive adventure lodges. But with your own set of wheels it's you who sets the agenda. You can (and should) still see all the iconic sights, but also reach the quieter parts, where you can find a bit of solitude, just you and the guanacos. It's a great way to get a real sense of Paine's raw, wild side, away from the heavy foot fall.
Better yet, this option really comes into its own if you cross over the border into Argentina to do some hiking in the Fitz Roy region, visit Perito Moreno Glacier (without the crowds) and stay on a traditional working cattle farm.
Suggested itinerary: Atacama & Patagonia
The only way to land at the Cape is to take a four-night cruise on the very comfortable 100-cabin Australis ships, which travel the beautiful, wild, fjords between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. Even then, nothing's guaranteed - there's a 70% chance you'll set foot on the island. All of which only adds to the drama, to the real sense of discovery.
But when you do, there are few places in the world that can give you a better sense of place; you're stood at the last vestiges of South America before lands gives way to ocean. Or perhaps it's the start of Patagonia, of South America? The first act of a continent that doesn't stop until it reaches the Caribbean. Soak it in, this is true once-in-a-lifetime stuff.
Suggested itinerary: Ruta Uncovered
The young boys in the foreground are the offspring of Pura co-founder Thomas Power. In the background is the emblematic Ventisquero Colgante - the hanging glacier of Queulat. It would be a spectacular sight on its own, but sit it atop a mountain in a natural ampitheatre, surrounded by thickly-forested hills and with a milky green lagoon to catch its cascading ice and melt water and it is elevated into one of the most special views in all of Chilean Patagonia.
No wonder it made such a lasting impression on the youngsters, making the sodden hike through the rain worthwhile. A suitable reward indeed.
We couldn’t get over the similarities between Scotland and Patagonia. The beautiful wide blue skies, the white capped mountains and green fringe of trees in almost every view. It’s just the scale that’s slightly different. The most common description we heard, not just from the few other Scots that we strangely met along the way but also from many locals, was “It’s like Scotland… but on Steroids!”
Patagonia was so varied that picking an image to sum up the holiday is impossible. We haven’t included the wildlife, the fossils, the rustic frontier towns and villages, the amazing views from so many of our bedroom and bathroom windows, the locals, the food.
But we’ll finish with a shot of beautiful Lago General Carrera and a rare cloudfree shot of the summit of Cerro San Valentin, 4058m, the highest peak in Patagonia. Taken before breakfast at the beach of our lodge, a place Pura assured us where we would be happy to do nothing. Well, we never got round to doing nothing, and doing nothing isn’t on our bucket list. But if it was…
Read more: Our Carretera Adventure in 12 images
I never thought I’d see it, except on a photo-shopped postcard bought in Puerto Natales. But then I did. The sun rising on a clear morning over the towers of Torres del Paine. Turns out those postcards are not photo-shopped after all – the mountains really do turn that colour.
Hiking in Patagonia is its own wonderful adventure, doing so in the dead of night made more so with the constantly fabulous star filled skies. To be treated to one of nature’s great spectacles at the end of the trail makes this one of those moments in life where you feel at once very small and also immensely privileged.
Read more: Sunrise over the Torres
I knew there was only a 70% chance of landing at Cape Horn, so I kept my expectations firmly in check until I woke up to as clear and still a day as ever happens at the end of the world. I was with 167 passengers on board - a lot of people to disgorge from zodiacs 10 at a time onto an island with just two narrow wooden walkways. Add to it that everyone keeps their bright orange lifejackets on and you have long threads of vivid humanity shuffling across the landscape.
Sound like a bit of a crowded nightmare? Anyone who knows me will by now assume that I was getting quietly cross. In fact, I would have assumed the same. But I wasn’t...
Read more: Landing on Cape Horn
This part of Chile has long been special to Pura, principally because our three co-founders met one Christmas in the mid-nineties and walked virtually all the trails of Torres del Paine together. One of them - Xabier Etxarri - wrote the manual used by park authorities to train new guides, even today. Recently he was back, finding new ways for you to get away from the crowds and explore in a 4x4, under your own steam.
Another of the co-founders - Thomas Power - went on a bit of an adventure after meeting Xabier and Diego Martín, the third member of the group. From the far south, he hitchhiked all the way back to the capital Santiago, thousands of kilometres north. In doing so, he travelled along the Carretera Austral (Chile's Southern Highway) and was deeply moved by the unspoilt beauty and surprising diversity of the land and the warmth of the people that he met. He wanted to share it. They all did. Thus the seeds for Pura were sown.
In 2018, over two decades of experience, knowledge, relationships and contacts were consolidated into our Pura Chile office, headed up by our long-term friend and guide Camilo Silva. Being so close to the ground and working directly with our team of local partners allows us to share Patagonia in the same way it has always moved us, on thoughtfully-tailored holidays, made personal to you.
Torres del Paine, Cape Horn, Lake District & Parque Patagonia.
Pumalín, Queulat, Cerro Castillo, Jeinimeni & Tortel.
|Food & drink||
Asado, salmon, empanadas, ají chileno, yerba mate and every type of sandwich under the sun
14½ hours from London to Santiago (shortest flight time, non stop)
-3 to -5 (UK time)
Following 20 years of specialising in travel to this beautiful part of the world, it was with immense pride that Pura Aventura hosted the official European launch of Patagonia's Route of Parks.
On September 24th 2019 we welcomed UN Patron of Protected Areas and President of Tompkins Conservation, Kristine Tompkins to discuss her 25 years of work that resulted in one of the largest land donations in history for the creation of national parks across Chile and Argentina.