The ‘Yosemite of South America’: An Adventure Playground in Patagonia

By Ivan PetrenkoMay 21, 2024 23:30 PMNews
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Gray vehicle near mountain
Gray vehicle near mountain. Source: unsplash

Follow in the footsteps of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the rugged frontier of Chile's Cochamó District, a place of breathtaking natural beauty and adventure, far from the crowds.

Chile’s Cochamó District, often referred to as the "Yosemite of South America," boasts a central valley dominated by granite domes, temperate rainforests, and pristine wilderness. This secluded area near the Argentine border remains largely untouched, with many of its mountains and lakes still marked as "unexplored" on maps.

Encircled by national parks like Hornopirén, Alerce Andino, and Vicente Pérez Rosales, Cochamó requires a two-hour detour from Patagonia’s Carretera Austral highway. With recent infrastructure improvements, the region is now more accessible, attracting rock climbers, kayakers, and backpackers seeking solitude.

Despite its growing popularity, Cochamó remains uncrowded, home to just 4,000 residents. There are no stoplights or gas stations, and traffic jams occur only when sheep cross the road.

Rock Climbing in Cochamó Valley

Cochamó Valley is renowned for its towering alerce trees, some over 200 feet tall and 3,600 years old. The valley recently gained protection under the Cochamó Valley Nature Sanctuary, preserving 28,170 acres of wetlands, glaciers, and forests. This designation, unlike a national park, empowers the local community to protect their land and traditions.

The valley allows limited access to maintain its pristine condition, with only 320 overnight campers and 90 day-trippers permitted. The sanctuary's trails, including a seven-mile hike to La Junta, offer access to the base of 3,000-foot granite walls like Anfiteatro and Arcoiris. These paths, originally carved by rock climbers, now attract hikers as well.

Following the trails once used by American outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, modern-day trekkers can embark on a moderate four-day hike from La Junta to Paso El León on the Argentine border or a three-day route to El Manso. Both routes feature campgrounds and simple homestays along the way.

Rafting and Hot Springs in the Puelo Valley

As Cochamó Valley’s popularity grows, tourism is expanding south into the Puelo Valley. The Termas del Sol hot springs, opened in 2019, draw up to 700 visitors on rainy days. The complex features boardwalks linking 10 pools with waters heated by the Yates Volcano, overlooking an emerald lake.

The nearby village of Puelo has seen new developments, including bakeries, cafés, and the stylish eight-room Tawa Refugio del Puelo adventure lodge on Tagua Tagua Lake. Regular car ferries cross the lake, leading to the whitewater outpost of Primer Corral, where experienced kayakers tackle Class 5 rapids.

From Primer Corral, a nine-mile trek along the Puelo tributary, Ventisquero, leads to Rincón Bonito, an off-grid mountain lodge with cabins offering access to glacier-filled valleys. This area also connects to the remote back end of Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park, named after the philanthropist who conserved vast swaths of Patagonia.

Both Termas del Sol and Rincón Bonito support local economies by providing jobs and promoting sustainable tourism. "If we manage tourism responsibly," says Rodrigo Condeza of Puelo Patagonia, "we can help protect these valleys and create an economic motor for those living here."

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