Patagonia’s newest national park is also one of its wildest and one of its most visionary. The ‘Yellowstone of South America’ is an incredible mix of emerald lakes, soaring peaks, and sparkling icefields which support critical populations of puma, guanaco, and Andean condor. Combining three distinct protected areas – the Reserva Nacional Jeinimeni, Parque Patagonia, and Reserva Nacional Tamango – the new Patagonia National Park covers a huge 650,000 acres. Around 1.5 times the size of the world-famous Torres del Paine, but with only a fraction of the visitors, Patagonia National Park is a secret waiting to be discovered!
At its heart lies the Parque Patagonia in the Chacabuco Valley – a biologically important valley that forms a transition between the steppe grasslands of Argentinian Patagonia in the east, the Andes Mountains through the centre, and the southern beech forests of Chilean Patagonia to the west. The land was purchased by Tompkins Conservation in 2004. Fed up with running outdoor clothing company Patagonia, Doug and Kris Tompkins set out on a journey to purchase and restore the land which inspired their brand.
After many years of hunting and overgrazing, the Chacabuco Valley was degraded and its wildlife was suffering. Tompkins Conservation began a process of rewilding the area, restoring habitat, reintroducing species, and allowing natural processes to take over. This was a controversial process which was met by suspicion in the surrounding communities and accusations of stealing land and killing jobs. It took many years of listening to and working with those communities to build trust and support for the idea.
Today this is a thriving ecosystem where nature is starting to make an astonishing recovery. But what makes this a truly special project is that in 2018, Tompkins Conservation gifted the land back to the people of Chile. Along with the other areas they own this created a total of five new national parks. Check out Kris’s incredible story in her own words and find out how you can help to make the world wild!
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: entrance to the park costs around $4 and camping costs a further $14.
Best time to visit: the park is open from October to April and closes during the colder winter months when the weather can be extreme.
How to get there: the park is remote and only accessible by car. The nearest airport is Balmaceda. From here it’s a 300 km drive on the Carretera Austral to the park – which in itself is an amazing road and well worth a trip! There is a lodge and a tourist base at Valle Chacabuco in the centre of the park. As well as several excellent campgrounds throughout the park. If you’re planning a trip check out this essential guide.
Typical activities: bird watching, camping, hiking
Number of reports: 1
WILDLIFE IN Patagonia National Park
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Puma – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
After years of persecution, the puma population in Patagonia National Park is now rebounding. A 2012 study estimated a population density of around 3.4 pumas per 100 km2, although nowadays that figure is likely to be even higher. The good-sized population of pumas mean the park is a fantastic place to spot these amazing predators. We saw one when trekking through the park and it was one of the highlights of our trip through Patagonia (and the only place we managed to see one!).
That said, pumas are notoriously difficult to spot. Some tips to boost your chances. (1) Watch out for the guanacos’ alarm cry, panicked running, or suddenly standing rigid when they sense a puma. (2) Look out for vultures and eagles circling over kills. (3) Get out early as pumas are most active at dawn and dusk. (4) Ask at the visitor centre for details on the latest sightings. (5) Take some binoculars and some warm clothes. Their camouflage is excellent and you may be sitting still for a while! You can find out more about the pumas of the park here.
Andean Condor – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Andean condors also faced years of persecution in Patagonia National Park, often falling victim to poisonings after eating sheep carcasses laced with herbicides. Nowadays there is a large population of condors in the park which are easily viewable throughout the area. The condors are there year-round although the park is closed during the winter months (May – September). The best times to see them are on warm, calm days. Take some binoculars for close up views of these magnificent birds!
GUanaco – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
As with pretty much everywhere in Patagonia, guanacos are not hard to spot in the park. While its hard to guarantee sightings of a wild animal, if you don’t see guanacos you can consider yourself extremely unlucky! They are encountered throughout the park and are easy to spot year-round. Take care when driving as they can jump out right in front of you. It’s not uncommon to see dead guanacos lining the roads. These hardy animals are essential to the functioning of the grassland ecosystems across Patagonia. Eating around 75% of all plant species found in the Patagonian steppe, guanacos prevent any one species from taking over. As well as dispersing seeds and fertilising them with their droppings. And if that’s not enough, they are an essential food source for the most secretive and charismatic of Patagonia’s wildlife – the puma.
Photo credit: WildSide team member Adam Eagle