After our fun trip to little Rio Tranquilo, we planned to head to Valle Chacabuco, a piece of land designated by Conservacion Patagonica to become one of three parts of the future Patagonia National Park. Dubbed the Serengeti of South America, this park will also include Chile’s Reserva Nacional Tamango, just north of Cochrane, and Reserva Nacional Jeinemini, fifty kms south of Chile Chico. In between these two natural reserves lies Valle Chacabuco, a former grazing ranch (estancia) which is currently owned by Doug Tompkins, a co-founder of The North Face brand. At present, this private park is free for visitors, but has limited infrastructure and no access via public transport. For us this was just a small issue, nothing a little hitchhiking from Cochrane (17 kms) and a little walking couldn’t overcome. We had heard of a three or four day trek from Chacabuco up to Laguna Jeinemini, but from Jeinemini to the next town would mean an additional two or three more days walking, relatively expensive private transport, or hitchhiking in a remote area – we heard only four families live on the road between Jeinemini and Chile Chico. In light of realizing that is probably not the best trek for us, we decided on camping for a few days in one of the park’s two designated campsites and to do a day hike on the Lagunas Altas Trail.
The hike of about 13.5 miles started with 2 hours of switchbacks uphill skirting a few forested areas and leading up towards Cerro Tamanguito in the Tamango Reserve. It provided many views of the valley below. Then the trail wound through a variety of startlingly turquoise and blue mountain lakes and through forested patches before descending through the Patagonian steppe back towards the administration buildings. From there, one can either take a short 1.7 mile trail or the gravel road back to the West Winds campground where we had pitched our tent.
The lakes and snowy mountains bordering Chile’s Northern Ice Field made for great scenery, while an abundance of roaming guanaco, on the trail and at the campsite, added the wildlife element. Having the trail almost exclusively to ourselves for the entire day wasn’t a bad thing and coming back to hot solar powered showers didn’t hurt the experience either. On a more political note, the future Patagonia National Park is right near the place where there is a proposed dam that has sparked many heated debates over the future of Chilean Patagonia. For more information on this, we recommend checking out SinRepresas.com.
Tips for the area:
- There is a two day hike which begins in Reserva Tamango and connects with the Lagunas Altas Trail in Valle Chacabuco. The friendly people in the Cochrane’s CONAF office can help with a map and details.
- Bring all of your supplies unless you plan on eating all of your meals in the park’s single restaurant.
- There are stops for water from the lakes along the trail so don’t worry about carrying water for a full day.
- Though entry into the park is free (for now), camping in the West Winds campground is free only to citizens of Cochrane, but cost $5000 CLP per person for everyone else.