3 circuit trails to hike Chilean Patagonia

December 28, 2017 in Travel Activities

Hiking and trekking circuits in Patagonia

The southern tip of Chile hosts some of the best hiking and trekking circuits in the world. This indomitable and unpredictable corner of the world is crossed by trails that outdoor fans from all parts of the world dream of.

The landscapes that this southern region offers are unique and a challenge for those who love hiking and trekking like yourself.

These are some of the trails that you must walk at least once in your lifetime.

1. Cerro Castillo/ XI Region of Aysén

Many people consider this circuit trail as the “new Torres Del Paine”. Indeed, the Cerro Castillo National Reserve depicts some landscapes as impressive as the famous blue peaks.

For this reason, the trail to Cerro Castillo (2,318 meters high) has lately drawn attention from specialised media and tourists alike. However, only a few people know this precious secret.

No wonder Lonely Planet magazine calls it it’s a must-see attraction to explore in the Aysen Region.

The reserve is located just over 60 kilometers from the city of Coyhaique and can be easily accessed from Carretera Austral highway. It covers more than 130 thousand hectares, and it’s not recommended for beginners.

What’s amusing about this circuit is that crosses many different scenarios; from dense forests to large rocks and snow. It is possible to observe rivers, lakes and glaciers in the northern sector of Lake General Carrera, for example.

If you are lucky enough, species in danger of extinction could cross your path, like the huemul and the condor, as well as pumas, guanacos, Patagonian skunks, and foxes.

The Path

First, we recommend that you visit between December and March to avoid snow, especially in high areas.

There are different ways to hike this place; it all depends on the physical conditions and the pace of the traveller.

There is a relatively common path that expands or shortens depending on the preferences of each person. The first thing is to pass by the CONAF post at Chiguay Lagoon to pay entry and register; it’s mandatory.

On the first day, the circuit begins in the Las Horquetas Grandes and ends at a camping site by Turbio River. During the hike, the visitor passes through forests of lenga wood, rivers, meadows, and could even have to jump a few wooden gates preventing animals from running off.

This part of the road is a visual delight that lasts between 6 and 7 hours.

The second day is more demanding, as it includes steeper paths. Perhaps its most challenging aspect is walking on loose rocks, so we recommend you always use a cane. Also, you must prepare for strong winds, which sometimes make the stones on the road roll.

The walk on the second day lasts 7 hours approximately. The last part is the most complicated, due to a descending slope and weariness. Probably the best thing at this stage is the landscape views of the Cerro El Peñón glaciers. The day ends at the Estero del Bosque camping site.

The third day starts with a climb of Cerro Castillo hill, followed by a visit to a lookout point from where you have the best view of the Ibañez River valley. Then begins the ascent to the New Zealander Camp where you’ll spend the night.

From this camp, you can also explore other hiking trails to Lake General Carrera, the Hudson Volcano and the basin of the Ibañez River.

The fourth day, generally, is quiet and focused on visiting the Duff Lagoon, a walk that takes no more than half a day.

To complete the circuit, on the last day you walk up to Villa Cerro Castillo through the valley of the Estero, then move south until you find the buses waiting to take you back.

2. Torres Del Paine/ Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica

The Torres del Paine National Park is located about an hour and a half from the city of Puerto Natales. It is perhaps one of the most well-known Chilean landmarks and, as described by travel website Traveler.es, "one of the best natural destinations on the planet."

It’s not just because of its famous and over-photographed blue peaks. Everything here seems to be wild and spectacular; hellish winds, turquoise lakes, glaciers, snow-capped summits, beautiful gorges, waterfalls, crystal waters, and more than 500 animal species.

So much so, that these landscapes attract more than 200,000 tourists per year.

As Lonely Planet explains, many people visit the park mainly because of its blue peaks, but once they arrive there, they realise that there is so much more to the towers.

Do you know how to take the W?

The W is a trekking route named like that because of its shape. It would take you between 4 and 5 days to complete the circuit, crossing a little more than 70 kilometres. There are several strategic resting points designed for a person in reasonable physical conditions to reach them without a problem.

Regarding accommodation, you can book camping sites that are free, or pay for specific camping areas or shelters.

The best time to visit the park is between October and April because shelters are open, days last longer, and the weather tends to be more benevolent. No wonder people say they live through the four seasons in one day.

There are many ways to do the W.

You can do it entirely on your own by riding a bus from Puerto Natales’ Bus Station; buses often leave passengers at three locations: Laguna Amarga, Pudeto, and by the Park Administration’s office.

  • Hire a guided tour that takes charge of everything.
  • There’s no specific direction in the W; you can start by crossing Pehoé Lake or through Amarga Lagoon.

A typical Itinerary of Torres Del Paine’s W hiking circuit generally considers:

  • A 2-hour hike on the first day, approximately, to reach the El Chileno refuge, where travellers can load off heavy gear to ascend to the Mirador Las Torres lookout.
  • The second day, the hiking surrounds the Paine massif and attractions like the Nordenskjöld Lake, hanging glaciers and, finally, the peaks, where you can take the best pictures. The walk takes between 4 and 5 hours.
  • The third day is often the most tiring, as it consists of 10 hours of walking. You’ll start hiking two hours towards the Campamento Italiano camping site, and then ascend for about an hour and a half through the Valley of the Francés River up to the Francés glacier lookout, then to the Mirador Británico lookout. Here you will find some of the best views of the park: Paine Grande, Catedral, Aleta de Tiburón and Cuerno Norte.
  • The return is through the same route, first reaching the Campamento Italiano camping site, and then Pehoé Lake.
  • The last day ends with a walk of one hour and a half to the Grey Glacier lookout. However, the mandatory destination is the Principal Mirador viewpoint, from where you can appreciate a better perspective of the Gray, Témpanos, and Cordón Olguín glaciers.
  • To complete the circuit, you must ride the ferry in Pehoe Lake to go where the buses wait to take you back to the city.

3. Dientes de Navarino/ Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica

The heritage trail of Cabo de Hornos-Dientes de Navarino is a stunning journey dotted with archipelagos, channels, fjords and impressive glaciers in the Fuegian Andes.

It is the best example of the untamed nature of Patagonia.

Here the difficulty is medium-high. However, there are no specific sites for camping or taking shelter. It takes between 5 and 6 days and should be done in the summer, ideally.

It is one of the southernmost and pristine trekking trails in the world. Thus, only a few can say they have come to this point.

As it surrounds the mountainous cord, the trail crosses many forests, lagoons, and waterfalls, providing a magnificent scenery.

In addition to the beauty of the place, it’s got a compelling story. For example, the Beagle Channel has been a strategic point for over five centuries as it connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Here some of the most remotes ecosystems of the planet exist, like the miniature forests in Omora Park and its waters, known as the freshest in the world.

Australian voyager Claus Lindenmayer is responsible for finding this route and speaking first about it on Lonely Planet magazine.

The starting point is Puerto Williams, south of Tierra del Fuego. Only 15 minutes from the city lies the first of a total of 38 landmarks paving the way.

These milestones are distributed in five tranches that walk you through the jagged peaks of the Dientes de Navarino massif, bordering 1,200 meters above sea level. From there, you can enjoy spectacular views of the Wollaston Islands, part of the vast archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.

Today, the circuit has been improved to generate the smallest impact on nature.

The first stage goes from Puerto Williams to Laguna El Salto. The second takes you around the lagon. The third takes you from El Salto all the way to the El Martillo lagoon. The fourth trench goes from El Martillo to Los Guanacos lagoon. And, finally, the last stage begins in Los Guanacos and ends in Puerto Williams.

One of the main difficulties of the Dientes de Navarino trekking circuit is that the path is unclear in some parts of the trail. That is why we recommend you study the journey very well beforehand if you plan to do it by yourself or travel with a specialised guide.

Conclusion

Challenging and lonely, a classic nevertheless; hiking and trekking Chilean Patagonia treasures wonders for all tastes; you must choose whichever suits you best and plan your Patagonia adventure.

Some circuits have the necessary structure, and others require more equipment and expertise. Without a doubt, all of them offer a unique life experience.

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