If you are planning your Patagonia travel, you may be interested to know about one of the most recent protected areas in Argentina and Chile and the efforts of great people and foundations to conserve these magnificent places of Patagonia.
Patagonia National Park is a binational tourist circuit created to promote the restoration of wildlands and wildlife, inspire care for the natural world and create healthy economic opportunities for local communities.
The park is shared between Argentina and Chile, enclosed between the two most famous scenic routes in both countries, Route 7, known as Carretera Austral in Chile and Route 40 in Argentina. The northern limit is Lake Buenos Aires / General Carrera and the southern limit is Lake Pueyrredón / Cochrane, both lakes shared by Chile and Argentina.
HOW TO GET
The best option is to rent a car or motorhome, since there are regular bus companies but they don’t offer a daily service.
If you plan to fly from Buenos Aires or Santiago to Patagonia, these are the nearest airports to arrive to Patagonia National Park. Note that not all of them offer daily flight frequencies.
Balmaceda (Chile): It has the closest airport as well as the possibility of renting cars or motorhomes, and it is 40 km from Coyhaique, a city that offers many services including car rental
Comodoro Rivadavia (Argentina): it is the closest airport with the highest frequency of flights and services
Esquel (Argentina): in Chubut Province, 544 km north of Perito Moreno
El Calafate (Argentina): In Santa Cruz Province, 727 km south of Perito Moreno
The initiative for the creation of the Patagonia National Park had its starting point in the NGOs efforts , Fundación Flora y Fauna Argentina bought and donated the Estancia El Sauco and Aves Argentinas and Ambiente Sur work for the protection of Maca Tobiano. The lakes and lagoons present in the area of Patagonia National Park in Argentina are the habitat of this endangered diving bird species, the Maca Tobiano, discovered in the 1970s. Although it has few records from Chile, it is considered endemic to Argentina.
In Chile The Patagonia National Park was officially created in 2018, consisting of a total area of 304,527.75 ha. Most of the territory that currently forms this park in the Chilean Patagonia, integrates the surface of the former Lago Jeinimeni National Reserve and the former Lago Cochrane National Reserve (Tamango); including the Valle Chacabuco sector, an area donated to the goverment by the Tompkins Conservation Foundation, within the framework of the Patagonia Parks Network initiative.
The Binational Circuit has many Access Portals
Jeinimeni Portal: This Portal is located in the south of Chile Chico and allows access to a wide variety of environments. The route follows the course of the Jeinimeni River, first in the steppe where trails to the Valley of the Moon and Enclaved Stone lead to a cave with cave paintings and a stunning panoramic view. As the forest increases in height, a mountain range landscape starts. The path culminates where the river is born from the Jeinimeni Lake. A track continues to the south bordering the lake. It is possible to make a short excursion on foot to the Green Lake. The glaciers visible on the summits are a sample of the glaciations that carved the deep valleys of the area. Through one of those valleys, a path in the forest allows you to cross the Patagonia Park in a challenging expedition of several days that ends at the Portal Casa de Piedra in the Chacabuco Valley.
Chacabuco Valley Portal: The Portal Valle Chacabuco corresponds to the helmet of the former Estancia Valle Chacabuco. Today the administrative center of the protected area is located there. An important infrastructure with Visitor Center, accommodation and restaurant awaits the visitors. A campsite with services is located a short distance from there, dominating a wide valley framed by the mountains. Visitors can take walks of varying distances between Andean Patagonian forests that stand out for their particular beauty and attractiveness during the autumn months. To the east of the administrative center is the confluence of the Chacabuco river with the Baker River, the largest in Chile. A path descends from the administrative center towards that place where the different colors that the suspended material gives them merge. It is the westernmost point of the Patagonia Park and the entrance to the scenic route X-83 Paso Roballos that records the Chacabuco Valley up to the border.
Casa de Piedra Portal: Attractive organized camping site accessible on foot by means of a solid bridge over the Chacabuco river. There is, between ñire forests, a construction that dates back to the 1940s and was used as a post by the old ranch. In this portal, part of the path to the Avilés river valley, thanks to its two hanging walkways, allows a circuit to be made on both sides. The valley connects with the Portal Jeinimeni through a long-lasting trail.
Tamango Portal: it is ocated on the banks of the attractive Cochrane River and less than five kilometers from the city of the same name. Lake Cochrane receives waters from Lake Posadas on the other side of the border. The Portal Tamango transition forest area offers the possibility of spotting huemules (South Andean Deer), an emblematic threatened species that has a significant population in the area.
La Ascencion Portal: Important and renowned ranch whose fields connect the shore of Lake Buenos Aires with the edge of the Plateau of the same name. Important episodes of the settlement of the region took place in its historic center. Poplar trees lead to the lake and the historic matera invites to share stories. La Ascensión has a large number of meadows and pastures in a good state of conservation and large native flora. It is a representative sample of different altitudinal environments in the steppe. The recent geological past can be interpreted in its landscape. The area is an ideal wildlife refuge for wildlife watching and its lagoons are a magnet for bird watchers. The trails in La Ascensión allow you to explore different environments between the lake and the plateau. Its natural viewpoints offer wide panoramas of the Andes Mountains and distant horizons of the Patagonian steppe.
Paso Roballos Portal: Historic crossroads and paths, currently an international crossing. This portal is in a strategic area but little explored. It stands out for the striking hills Colmillo and Lapiz, the Zeballos Volcanic Complex and the Columna Lake. The roads that lead to Paso Roballos offers amazing panoramic views of this amazing corner of Patagonia.
Rio Pinturas Portal: This portal of the Patagonia Park covers the upper basin of the Pinturas River and neighboring sectors such as the Cañadón Caracoles. It stands out for its deep valleys of varied colors and for having among its attractions the most important archaeological site of Patagonia: the Cueva de las Manos, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. More than 9,000 years ago, under the shelter of these canyons, the first hunter-gatherers lived, leaving their artistic mark with scenes from their daily lives, geometric figures and fauna from the region. In the deep valley is the old Estancia Alto Río Pinturas, today known as “Stone Post”, from where trails start on the other side of the river and towards the Cañadón Caracoles. The little-known orange chinchillón can be seen on the walls of the area. The Río Pinturas Portal contains the most important exponents of the cultural and natural heritage of Patagonia in one of the most impressive places in the Santa Cruz steppe.
Petroglifos Portal: Through this portal you can access the upper part of the Patagonia National Park, Argentina, on the volcanic plateau where most of the nesting lagoons of the Macá Tobiano, an endemic bird at risk of extinction, are found. High value area for its archaeological sites with petroglyphs. The sector is accessed through the Biological Station at Estancia 9 de Julio, base of the Macá Tobiano Project, where researchers study this emblematic species and carry out actions to conserve it.
The amazing work of Douglas Tompkins and Kristine McDivitt
For two decades, Tompkins Conservation team has been creating national parks, recovering imperiled wildlife, implementing ecological agriculture, promoting healthy local communities, and supporting leading-edge activism. In Chile and Argentina, they’ve developed a set of projects to create parklands, restore biodiversity, develop ecological agriculture, and promote leading-edge activism.
Both Doug and Kris got started as outdoor adventurers and entrepreneurs. Mountaineering expeditions in the Andes and Himalayas, first descents of challenging rivers, putting up new routes in the Sierras, these experiences in wild places profoundly shaped their worldview. Protecting what wilderness remains and encouraging future generations to experience wild nature seems a natural payback. As businesspeople, they created unconventional companies—The North Face, Esprit, and Patagonia—that epitomized their values: deep environmental ethics, dynamic workplace cultures, strong brand identities, well-designed products, and a willingness to try new ideas. These entrepreneurial backgrounds inform their approach to conservation.
Doug first came to Chile in 1961 to ski race; he returned numerous times in the following decades, gaining experience of the country’s wildest rivers and mountains. As he left the business world and looked around the planet for conservation opportunities, Chile stood out as a place with big potential. South Chile had growing threats to its wild character from forestry, mining, hydro dams, and industrial aquaculture. When Kris visited Patagonia, she fell in love with its vast grasslands, diverse landscapes, and bountiful wildlife.
For most of the 1990s, Doug and Kris focused on creating Pumalín Park, a public-access 325,000 hectares nature reserve in the south of Chile’s Lakes Region. In 1997, conservation colleagues in Argentina introduced them to the biodiversity-rich Iberá wetlands in northeastern Argentina. While its subtropical, humid climate differed from Pumalín’s, its vibrant biodiversity made it an equally appealing opportunity to conserve critical habitat. In 2000, Kris founded Conservacion Patagonica to create national parks in Patagonia, the southernmost region of Chile and Argentina.
On April 26, 2019, the Tompkins Conservation Foundation officially gifted 407,625 hectares of private land to the Chilean government, completing the largest donation of private land to the state. The transfer marked the fulfillment of the 2017 agreement signed by then President Michelle Bachelet and Kristine Tompkins with the aim of creating a new network of national parks in Chile. The Tompkins Foundation grant, along with land contributed by the Chilean government, has created five new parks and expanded three more in the Patagonia region. It also allows for the creation of the new 1,700-mile Route of Parks hiking trail.
The Conservation Land Trust-Chile projects:
- Pumalín Park—southern Lakes Region
- Corcovado National Park—southern Lakes Region
- Yendegaia National Park—Magallanes Region
- Melimoyu—Aysén Region
- Isla Magdelena—Aysén Region
- Cabo León—Magallanes Region
- El Cañi Sanctuary—Araucania Region
The Conservation Land Trust-Argentina projects:
- Iberá National Park—Corrientes Province
- El Impenetrable National Park—Chaco Province
- El Piñalito Provincial Park—Corrientes Province
- El Rincón (Perito Moreno National Park)—Santa Cruz Province
Conservacion Patagonica projects:
- Patagonia National Park—Aysén Region
- Monte León National Park—Santa Cruz Province
Hansjörg Wyss’ huge contribution
In 2011, the conservationist businessman Douglas Tompkins invited his friend Hansjörg Wyss and his wife to know his Estancia in the Chacabuco Valley, in Aysen Region in Chile.
At that time Tompkins was buying farms in Chile to donate them to the goverment for what would be the Patagonia National Park and it was during this trip that Wyss proposed Tompkins to do the same on the Argentine side and create a binational park. Wyss would buy farms in Argentina, until both homonymous parks form one.
Tompkins thought it was a wonderful idea, they took a map and started identifying properties, making copies of maps, studying the owners and analyzing costs, etc.
Four years later, Douglas Tompkins was in the midst of a risky adventure, he was kayaking on General Carrera Lake without any protection from the cold when in a storm the boat turned around and the low temperatures caused him a heart attack and he died. However, Wyss did not lose enthusiasm. In 2013, he bought and donated the 34,000 hectares of the El Sauco ranch in Santa Cruz, which in 2015 became, along two other fiscal lots, in the Patagonia National Park. He bought eight of the 14 properties around it that expanded it to joined to its namesake from Chile and thus fulfill the dream designed with his friend Doug that autumn of 2011.
In addition to the lands for the expansion of the Patagonia National Park, Wyss bought other properties in the Chaco and helped create the El Impenetrable Park, inaugurated in 2017. And with the promise of handing them over to the national government when legal conditions are in place, he committed land in Santa Cruz (to expand the Los Glaciares National Park), and Córdoba (for the Aconquija, Traslasierra and Mar de Chiquita National Parks). Makes the donations from the Wyss Foundation to the Argentine NGOs Flora y Fauna, Aves Argentinas and Banco de Bosques, which are in charge of buying the land and donating it to the goverment.
Natural ecosystems provide us with services such as the absorption of carbon dioxide that causes the greenhouse effect and the consequent mitigation of global warming, the provision of clear water and air, among many others. Healthy natural environments also reduce the risk of the spread of disease. But degraded ecosystems either stop providing these services or do so less efficiently. Today we are isolated by the Coronavirus COVID19 pandemic. And its appearance and rapid spread is also caused by the degradation of natural ecosystems and loss of biodiversity. This period of quarantine should help all of us reflect on the importance of inhabiting a healthy ecosystem and recovering its species and ecological relationships. We can all contribute to the care and protection of ecosystems, visiting protected areas and informing us about their operation, respecting and coexisting with the imposing wildlife and supporting the development of local economies, more distributive and less impact on the environment. Fostering the development of sustainable tourism and creating a collective awareness of the importance of environmental education is everyone’s responsibility, and the only way out to safeguard our home. Let’s be part of the solution!