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National Parks

Because of the danger in which many animal and floral species are in Chile, the government has delimited areas in which trees, birds and animals in general are protected from any harm. These areas are called National Parks or Reserves, and are kept by the government financially and educationally, to teach tourists that visit them to keep the fragile ecosystem alive, especially in Southern Chile, where many species are exclusive, meaning that they do not live in any other place on Earth.



PUMALIN PARK

It's the biggest private park in Chile with over 317 thousand hectares. It was created in 1991 by Douglas Tompkins, an American businessman, and in 1997 the Chilean government validated it. In 2005, it was named Sanctuary of the World, and the American organization called Conservation Land Trust donated the land to organization "Project Pumalin", which is now in charge of the administration and to keep the objectives of the project alive: to preserve and protect the species which live in Pumalin.

Even though it's a private park it does not function as one, there is no monetary charge to enter and the administration works with the government to maintain the ecosystems alive within the park. Because of its private nature, the park has encountered political opposition. In spite of that, it keeps on growing. Infrastructure is still being built to accommodate tourists, and to achieve a level of excellence already in place by other parks in the world. Without a doubt, Pumalin has nothing to envy them. Before Tompkins bought this piece of land it was abandoned, occupied only as a place in between the fields that cattle used for feeding, one of them -the biggest- was called Reñihue. It also was the home of over 7 thousand hectares of native forest, which had no commercial value, so it was not exploited at the time. That is why Tompkins' interest was born, to create a park of ecological value, formed only to preserve and protect the forest and animals inside its limits.

Pumalin is also a place to have fun; there are many activities which can be practiced within its doors. Because of its varied geography, which includes mountains and rivers, visitors can chose what to do while they're at the park: horseback riding, taking walks around a lake, climb a mountain or riding in a canoe down one of the many rivers in Pumalin. There is something for everyone.

The park was formed almost completely by glaciations, which created several paths that are now used for hiking. Parque Pumalin has prepared at least nine of them: Puelo-Ventisquero, Cahuelmó-Laguna Abascal, Mirador, Cascada, Tronador, Alerces, Cascadas Escondidas, Lago Negro-Punta del Lago y Michimauida.

QUEULAT NATIONAL PARK

Crossing more than 40 kilometres through the Austral Road, the National Park Queulat is a good representation of the ecosystem of Patagonia. Summits, rivers, fauna and vegetation are part of the attractiveness that this place offers to the tourist, with the possibility to stop the time and recreate the landscapes that we have always imagined to explore. This park is unique for its characteristics in Chile and you can arrive to it in car. With a surface of 154.093 hectares, it has a relief conformed in great measure by the Patagonic mountain range of los Andes. It has ten places for camping, with the basic services for the survival and 24 hours park guards of the National Forest Corporation, CONAF, to offer orientation for people that visits this place.

The countless paths around the park allow to appreciate the different forms of the relief on the region, through activities like trekking, equestrian trips, mountaineering and observation, among many more.

One of the biggest attractions is the hanging snowcap, that shows the real effects of the glaciations in Patagonia; it borns from the highest summit in the park the Alto Nevado Hill (2.225 mts).To get here you can get through the paths programmed for walkings and it is possible to contemplate it from a watching place. Without doubt, the always green flore of the place charms most of the visitors; because in very few places of the country you can observe the different arboreal species like maitén, cinnamon tree, coihue, tepú and perennial bushes of leaves and wild flowers.

The National Park Queulat is divided in several sectors, where stands out the mentioned big formations of glaciers, the rivers and, especially, the virgin vegetation, a territory that still hasn't been explored completely.

The main attractions are Queulat hanging snowcap, Témpanos Lagoon, Risopatrón Lake, Queulat Slope, Glaciers strong wall, Padre García Salt, Portezuelo Queulat, Condor Salt and Cat Rock, all of them excellent places you can't miss.

SAN RAFAEL NATIONAL PARK

Beautiful landscapes of millennial ices, crystalline waters and enormous mounts are part of the offering of National Park Laguna San Rafael to those who venture in sailing that will have an unforgettable visit. Incorporated in 1979 to the world network of UNESCO biosphere reserves for their natural values, the park gathers the entirety of Northern Ice Fields where originate numerous snowcaps, rivers and lagoons.

Located in the shore zone of Aysén, in part of Taitao Peninsula, the extension is 1,742,000 hectare, and is the most extend national park in this zone.

Main attractiveness are San Rafael Glacier that born in San Valentín Hill of 4,058 meters and is the highest peak in southern Andes and that it ends in the San Rafael Lagoon after 45 kms. of journey.

The lagoon, impressive for its beauty and brightness, is formed by a small entrance of the Ocean Pacific of 15 by 10 kilometres. Here flows an enormous glacier with more than 30.000 years old. Giant blocks of ice fall off from the glacier to the lagoon in a fabulous spectacle magnificent for its beauty.

Although the biggest attractiveness is the lagoon, is not possible to forget the great flore and fauna variety that offeres the park.

Here is possible to observe numerous species of birds both marine as well as terrestrial. Between them are the `albatros ceja negra', huala duck and swans of black neck, among others. The flore also highlights for its wealth and is represented by a dense population of trees, bushes and grasses like the cypress, lenga, siempreverde and the coihue that grow taking advantage of the humidity of the area. Also, it is possible to carry out recreational activities as climbing, trekking, sailing, fishing and more.

It is also important to mention the environmental educational information available in the park, since it was declared as a Worldwide Biosphere Reserve their natural resources are studied by geology investigators, botany, ecology and glaciology. Sailing among eternal ices, glaciers and mirrors of water; observation of beautiful species animals that inhabit the place, to venture into the forests of the National Park Laguna San Rafael and, of course, have the opportunity to drink a whisky with millennial ices just extracted from the lagoon constitute the biggest attractiveness in this wonderful destination. Also is not possible forget the amusing activities that can be carried out as mountaineering, panoramic observation, photographs, fishing, among many others. Without a doubt this it is the ideal place for the lovers of the nature and the adventure.

FUTALEUFU

It's 12.000 hectares filled with wonderful forests and protected animals, right where the Chilean Patagonia begins. The Futaleufu National Reserve is known for the river of the same name, Futaleufu which means "Big River" in mapudungun, the native's language. It's one of the most visited places in the Austral Road, and it is considered as the best rapids river in the globe.

It was created to protect native species, like the Andes' Cyprus and the Huemul, both of which are nearly extinct. That is why it is administrated now by the National Corporation of Forests, which keeps two forest rangers at the reserve at all times, looking after the species and giving information to anyone who asks.

The Futaleufu reserve is the habitat of a wonderful ecosystem. It's a small reserve, but it shelters many endangered species. We already mentioned the Huemul, but you can also find vizcachas and quirquinchos, which are small animals similar to beavers; condors, Chile's typical animal, which looks like an hybrid of an eagle and a raven; amphibians and the Argentinian wild cat.

Only ten kilometers away from the Argentinian border, it was first populated by people who came from that country, and crossed the border over a hundred years ago. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has been close in this part of the frontier.

In the reserve you can also find the Espolon river, which runs just by the side of the Futaleufu, and is born from the beautiful lake of the same name. It's a smaller and quieter river, ideal to practice kayak and rafting, and its border is simply fantastic to walk around with family.

The Futaleufu and the Espolon rivers are filled with trouts and salmons, so it's very common to see many fishermen with their equipment trying to catch something along them.

Because of its location, the reserve was visited by only 300 people in 2004, with no promotion or advertisements of any kind. At the same time, because of the size of the park, people are very hospitable, and eager to welcome Chileans, as well as people from all over the world.

NATIONAL RESERVE LAGO PALENA

To go to this national reserve you need the authorization of CONAF, the government organization which is in charge of all the forests and reserves in the country. In anyway, the journey makes the ride worth it. Located 14 miles from the small city of Palena, it's a big reserve, with 40.500 hectares where you can find high mountains, huge blocks of ice and a big forest which ends in the lake itself.

The lake it's placed in Chilean and Argentinean territory, where it's called Lago General Witter.

In Chile, the rough weather conditions and the tricky access make it difficult to get to the lake, so much so that CONAF keeps a forest ranger in the park only in summertime, and is forced to close the premises for the rest of the year.

In the reserve you can find the first part of the Chilean Path, a bi-regional road of 37 miles long, which goes all the way down in Patagonia. The so-called Cordon Patagonico Oriental (Eastern Cord of Patagonia), has shaped the place, giving it singular beauty, all because of the action of glaciers.

You can get to the lake by a path apt for horses and hikers, although it is also possible to get there from Argentina, using a road that goes by the border of Lago Witter.

BERNARDO O'HIGGINS NATIONAL PARK

It's the biggest National Park in all of Chile, with 3.525.901 hectares long. Its flora, fauna and sceneries make it one of the most beautiful places in Patagonia, and the most important reserve in the Magallanes region. It was created in 1969, and it goes from Tortel in Region XI to Cape Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope) in region XII, including a big part of the Patagonia Southern Ice fields, the biggest water reserve in the world.

The park is known for its big ice blocks, the main one being the Pio XI glacier, which is a 75 meters high wall of ice (like a building ten stories high), that sometimes lets blocks of ice flowing in the water, creating huge waves that have reached ten meters high, that -however- only move a little the boats near it. It's the biggest glacier in the southern hemisphere and the only one which gets bigger each year, unlike every other glacier in the world. The Pio Xi Glacier has gained over 10 kilometres in the last fifty years, reaching the 1.265 kms, meaning it has grown over 20 cms each year.

Another important place in the park is the Southern Ice Fields, the most important water reserve in the planet; Juan Bruggen Ice Field and the Patagonia Ice Field, which are all over 1.100.500 hectares.

But ice is not the only thing you can see in this place. Leaving snow behind, you can see vegetation formations like the Aysen Forest, which is home of several native species such as the Lenga, the Coigue and the Magallanes Coihue. In this area there are several species that are exclusive of Southern Chile, meaning that you cannot see them in any other part of the world. When it comes to fauna, you can see many penguins, ducks, and Chile's typical animals: the condor and the huemul, which are part of the national emblem.

The best way to get a clear view of all the wonders that live in the park, is to get there by water. There are excursions prepared inside the park everyday, when it's visitor season, sailing by the Ultima Esperanza sine to the Balmaceda, Serrano and Pio XI glaciers. There's even the possibility of disembarking there and take a walk by the border of the huge ice wall, looking at the ice floes in the surface of the lake. The Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers both are connected to the base of Mount Balmaceda; the first one leaves its ice floes in the Ultima Esperanza sine (Last Hope sine), and the second leaves its own ice floes in the lagoon you see in front of it.

In 2004, the park was visited by over 14 thousand people, and 76% of them came from outside the country.

TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK

Named Reserve of the Biosphere in 1978, the Torres del Paine National Park is the third most visited park in Chile. Its green and white landscapes are protected by the government and by UNESCO. It's placed in the Magellan's region and the Chilean Antarctic territory, 240 miles to the north of Punta Arenas and 1550 miles, from Santiago, Chile's capital city. With almost 3.400 meters of altitude, the Central Tower in Paine is the highest of the three granite peaks, formed by glacier movements, which was escalated for the first time in 1963.

The Park, which is about 2.400 km², has established many ways to access it, refugees, camping places and other services for tourists. Many activities can be practiced here, as well, such as fishing, hiking, excursions, photography, climbing, trekking, walking around and mountain climbing, among other things.

The main attractions inside the Park are Bitter Lagoon (Laguna Amarga) and the lakes Grey and Pehoe, both of which have a magnificent view of the Towers and the glaciers. They also leave pieces of ice fall into the lakes below them, a wonderful postcard to remember.

PALI-AIKE NATIONAL PARK

Pali Aike means "devastated place" in aónikenk, language used by the native ethnic groups of Patagonia; although it is also known as "The Devil's scum".

The Pali Aike National Park was created in 1970, and it includes 5 thousand hectares of forest, volcanoes, caved and pampas inhabited by guanacos, armadillos and ñandúes (rheas). One of the most well-known places in the National Park is the Pali Aike cave, where archeological evidence of life has been found, probing that people used to live there and use the cave as shelter over eleven thousand years ago.

In the park there are four paths and a variety of caves. If you have the proper authorization, you can go to Cueva Fell (Fell Cave), where you can see cave paintings over nine thousand years old. The Park is in the driest area of the Patagonia and there are signs of basaltic lava all around, which turn the landscape into something very much like what we know of the lunar territory.

LAGUNA PARRILLAR NATIONAL RESERVE

The Laguna Parrillar National Reserve was created in 1977. It has 18.414 hectares of area, and it was created to protect the hydrographic basin of Laguna Parrillar, the main water reserve of Punta Arenas.

With areas between the 300 and 650 meters above sea level, the biggest is called Laguna Parrillar with 970 hectares, which is completely frozen when winter comes because of its altitude and the low temperatures of the season. The ice, especially on its borders, sometimes it's about 11 inches thick. In other sectors the snow reaches the 2 feet tall, all the rivers and lagoons in the reserve turn into ice.

The reserve has a path where you can go hiking, it has seven stations and 19 marked places for camping, where you can fish if it's the right season, which is between october and march. On the walk you can take a closer look at the trees and woods, composed mainly of Lengas and native bushes. There are many animals in it as well.

ALBERTO DE AGOSTINI NATIONAL PARK

It is the third largest park in Chile, with 1.460.000 hectares. It is located about 800 nautical miles from Punta Arenas and to the west of Puerto Williams, and it includes fiods, islands and peninsulas, channels and seine, glaciers and snowdrifts. It was named after one of the most important Salesian priests in Chilean history, Father Alberto María de Agostini, who was in charge of drawing a series of maps of the Magallanes region and other portraits which are a fair reproduction of the beauty of the most southern part of the country.

The National Park is home of the Darwin mountain chain, which is the final presence of the Andes, a long chain of mountains that appears as small islands on this part of the globe; and the Beagle Channel. These are both important places used to describe the Tierra del Fuego area.

The Beagle is a place to travel to the Magellan's Strip and the Murray Channel, the latter is where Charles Darwin had a small encounter with the natives of this zone, encounter which would be of vital importance when the scientist sat down to write its theory on human evolution. Around this place was where Onas or Selk-nam and Yaganes built their homes and set with their families, becoming one of the most populated places in the region.

It's cultural value can only be overcome by the ecological and environmental importance, considering that the Agostini National Park is home of a series of native species, such as the coigue and the canelo.

One of the well-known places in the park is the Marinelli Glacier, the biggest in the park; the Agostini Glacier, surrounded by mountains where people can disembark for a while; and the Guanaco Pampa, ideal for those who like to practice recreational fishing. All these places are inhabited by animals, some of them in danger of extinction, such as the guanaco, sea dogs, sea elephants, otters and chunchungos, among others.

CABO DE HORNOS NATIONAL PARK

The Cape Horn National Park was created in 1945, and it was named Reserve of the Biosphere in 2005. it was a 63 thousand hectares of land, which includes the Wellington Islands and the smaller group called Hermite. There, you can find a monument built in honor of every seaman who lost their lives fighting against the moody southern sea. The sculpture was installed in 1992, for the 500t anniversary of the discovery of America.

There are many animals and sea birds in the Park, all of them have thick skin and are covered in strong feathers, to protect them from the low temperatures of the Islands. There is also a lot of vegetation, which is different from the rest of the trees and bushes in Tierra del Fuego, because it's lower and denser. At the same time, there are mountains over 200 meters high. The Park and the archipelago are part of the Chilean Antarctica province.

Just travelling to Cape Horn is a priceless experience. Wether you chose to go by air or water, the landscapes are covered in green and skyblue, like no other place on Earth. The archipelagos just come together, giving the visitors a paradisiac view. It's one of the latest places to be named Reserve of the Biosphere, protecting the species against any kind of danger at the hands of men. It's a distance place, but it promises to take your breath away.