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Chile has always been a place to experience the raw nature of the wilderness, but it has not always been the most accessible.
Now, with the addition of an epic 2800 kilometre trail, the Patagonian Route of Parks, the country is quickly becoming a must-see destination for those who enjoy hiking, mountain climbing and other outdoor sports.
In March 2017, the Route of Parks was created when the Tompkins Conservation donated over 10 million acres of privately held land to Chile, the largest land donation in the world.
The Tompkins Conservation was founded by married couple, Kris and Doug Tompkins.
Over two decades, they purchased millions of acres of Chilean land with the purpose of conserving habitat and re-wilding.
Along with the Tompkins donation, the Chilean government pledged a further nine million acres to become protected national parks.
This has resulted in 91% of Chile’s Patagonian territory categorised as national parkland, over 28.4 million acres protected, as well as 46 species of mammal and 140 species of bird.
Chile is an example of how tourism and conservation can work as one. As well as the vast areas of natural habitats conserved, over 60 communities that rely on the land, as well as money the tourism brings, are supported.
On the Tompkins Conservation website, executive director Carolina Morgado says:
Popular national parks, such as Torres del Paine, already have much infrastructure in place to support tourists, and during peak season it can feel a little overcrowded with many hikers taking to the trails.
By opening up more of Chile’s stunning landscape, it lessens the pressure on the most accessible national parks, and offers more for travellers who want to experience the wilderness.
With many different ways to access the parks, such as paved roads, hiking trails, and ferry crossings, there is a wealth of opportunities for exploration. When you visit the Route of Parks you can take a road-trip, go kayaking or canoeing, have a multi-day hikes or cycle your way through Chile’s outstanding natural beauty.
The Route of Parks connects 17 of Chile’s national parks across three regions, Los Lagos, Aysén, and Magallanes.
It incorporates some of Chile’s well-known long-distance routes, such as the Southern Highway, Patagonian Channels and the End of the World Route. Some parks are open all year round, while others are seasonal.
The National Parks connected through the Route of Parks are:
Alerce Andino National Park
393 km2 of mountain, valleys, 50 lakes, and vast areas of native larch forests.
Hornopirén National Park
Mountains, rain forests and glaciers. The park is roughly half green with vegetation, and half white with glacial snow and ice.
Pumalín National Park
At 2893 km2 Pumalín Park is is one of the largest in South America. It features untouched, native rainforest that spread right up to the ocean, ancient Alerce trees and many endemic species of bird and mammal.
Corcovado National Park
This park is 2940 km2, and the fourth largest in Chile. Well off the tourist trail due to the location, there are 82 lakes and ancient forests that is home to the elusive puma. You may also spot migratory blue whales in the Bay of Corcovado.
Melimoyu National Park
Another remote park, there is no land access except for small, local paths. On the coast, this is another hub for blue whales.
Queulat National Park
This park consists of evergreen forests, deciduous shrub land, waterfalls, fjords, rivers, and the famous hanging glacier known as Ventisquero Colgante.
Isla Magdalena National Park
A coastal island park with wildlife such as penguins, sea lions and river otters. At the centre of Isla Magdalena the Mentolat Volcano, with a peak that rises 5,446 feet.
Laguna San Rafael National Park
Glaciers, ice and snow are the key features of this national park. At 17,500 km2, it is one of the largest park in Chile, and home to the highest peak in Patagonia, Monte San Valentín.
Cerro Castillo National Park
One of the lesser travelled national parks, Cerro Castillo is a place where you can feel alone with nature. Named after the tallest peak, Mount Castillo, this park is home to snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, forests and grasslands.
Patagonia National Park
This popular park has tourist infrastructure in place, including the 330 ft long footbridge over the Chacabuco River. There is sweeping mountain and valley scenery. After years of overgrazing in the region, it has transformed into a conservation success.
Bernardo O´Higgins National Park
The largest national park in Chile, the Bernardo O’Higgins is 35,259 km2. There are 49 glaciers, including Pío XI, the largest in the southern hemisphere, and an icefield that is only beaten in length by Antarctica and the icefield of Greenland.
Kawésqar National Park
Incorporates many small islands in the archipelagos of Magallanes and Última Esperanza, this park is a wilderness escape far from the tourist hotspots, filled with glaciers, fjords, lakes, and wetlands.
Torres del Paine National Park
One of the most visited of the national parks, this is where you’ll find the mountain Paine Massif, turquoise glacial lakes, forests and many species of mammal including pumas, huemal and guanaco. With many trails to explore, there is always something new to see.
Pali-Aike National Park
Known for its birdlife, including many birds of prey, this 50 km2 park has a desert-like climate, volcanos and craters.
Alberto de Agostini National Park
Highlights of this park are high peaks, evergreen forests, and rich marine life, such as American fur seals, whales and dolphins. So far, there is little in the way of infrastructure for tourists, but this adds to the remote charm.
Yendegaia National Park
A park that is not yet fully open to the public, it is an area of land that has seen few visitors. The landscape is one of mountains, forests and fjords. It is home to endangered species of mammal and bird.
Cabo de Hornos National Park
This park at the southern tip of Chile has a cold desert climate. It is an area rich in folklore, due to the sailing boats that once left there to head for the Antarctic.
Thanks to the Tompkins Conservation and the Chilean Government, the Route of Parks makes it possible for both native people and tourists to enjoy Chile’s untapped natural beauty.
Chile sets the standard for eco-tourism success, and since the opening of the Route of Parks there has been a fourteen percent increase in foreign visitors to the area.
So far, it’s a win-win situation. Local communities benefit from being able to earn money through tourist services, while having their lands and culture preserved.
Tourists can access some of the most beautiful, untouched wilderness environments, something that is becoming rare in the world. Perhaps most importantly, native species of animal and plant can thrive in an ever-protected environment.