December 13 2022

The 4 UNESCO biosphere reserves in Chilean Patagonia


The best way to get to know the biodiversity of this southernmost destination is to visit its rich UNESCO biosphere reserves.

Chilean Patagonia's native wildlife is a key attraction that draws thousands of nature lovers, travelers, and researchers worldwide.

Preserving it is crucial to the survival of this geographical, natural, and tourist destination. The Chilean government is protecting it through UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere program.

Chilean Patagonia is home to four ecosystems recognized by this international organization as territories that reconcile biodiversity conservation and human activity.

Visiting them requires preparation and a deep respect for these unique habitats. Learn all about them and include them in your travel plans for an alternative trip if you want a fantastic experience with Patagonian nature.

1. Temperate Rainforests of the Southern Andes

This extensive area limits the north of Chilean Patagonia. It goes from the Andes Mountains in the commune of Panguipulli to Futaleufú in the commune of Los Lagos in the Los Ríos Region.

It includes several parks, national reserves, nature sanctuaries, and private conservation projects:

  • Vicente Perez Rosales
  • Puyehue
  • Andean Larch
  • Hornopirén 
  • Villarrica
  • Mocho 
  • Choshuenco
  • Pumalin
  • Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve

The territory qualifies as a biosphere reserve because it meets the four criteria that UNESCO requests:

  1. It is the ancestral territory of the Mapuche people.
  2. The Panguipulli Forestry and Timber Complex are social and economic actors.
  3. There is a Forest and Water Reserve
  4. Is subject to significant external economic pressures

Visitors who enter this reserve observe a vibrant biodiversity that includes two biogeographic regions of global importance to UNESCO: the South Andean province and the Valdivian Forest.

These forests are so unique that they were recognized as:

2. The Paine Towers

Chile's best-known biosphere reserve in the world is the most equipped to receive the thousands of visitors who seek to see its characteristic blue peaks every year. But Torres del Paine is more than that. 

The area is considered by UNESCO as a biosphere because it is home to perennial grasslands, forests of Coigüe de Magallanes, Lenga, and Ñirre, among other endemic tree species, distributed among wetlands, lakes, lagoons, waterfalls and rivers, glaciers and snow, channels, and fjords. Among the latter are the Última Esperanza fjord and the Señoret channel, which form a marine ecosystem with rich vertebrate fauna.

These areas are home to about 130 species of birds, and 34 species of mammals, including the Puma Concolor, three amphibians, six reptiles, and four species of native fish, two of which are in danger of extinction.

The reserve also includes the national park of the same name and the natural monuments Cueva del Milodón and Mount Balmaceda, which borders the Balmaceda glacier and adjoins the Bernardo O'Higgins National Park.

This unique fauna makes it a must-see destination in Chilean Patagonia. For example, it is the preferred place for professional and amateur photographers to observe the Patagonian puma with the help of a specialized guide. 

Now, whatever species visitors want to see and photograph, the reserve and the park have strict rules to prevent visitors from endangering the natural habitat. In some cases, Chilean courts have even banned the re-entry of tourists accused of disturbing wildlife.

3. San Rafael Lagoon

This reserve extends between the provinces of Aysen, Capitan Prat, and General Carrera in the Aysen Region. Its main attraction is the entire Northern Patagonian Ice Field, made of many glaciers. The San Rafael glacier is the most characteristic.

The territory includes the following national parks and reserves:

  • San Rafael Lagoon
  • Katalalixar

Visitors from all over the world arrive every year in the small town of Puerto Chacabuco to take the catamarans and boats that take them to the San Rafael lagoon to see this glacier up close.

We remind you that the Navimag ferry does not do a tour of the San Rafael lagoon.

Daily excursions to the reserve include ice hikes on the Exploradores and Steffen glaciers and expeditions to Mount San Valentín, the highest peak in Chilean Patagonia, according to Peakvisor.

However, recent ice breakoffs from the San Rafael glacier have made world news; it is unmistakable evidence of the effect of climate change in this southern region, Frame 24 reports.

4. Cape Horn

It is the southernmost, most isolated, and pristine reserve in Chile and is part of the Subpolar Evergreen Rainforest (or Sub-Antarctic) macro-ecoregion of the Magallanes Region.

Located on remote Navarina Island, its lakes and rivers contain the cleanest water on the planet, says Chile es Tuyo. Its isolation also allows the coexistence of extreme sub-Antarctic ecosystems, including subpolar evergreen rainforests, high Andean habitats, and the Magellan tundra.

Some of these forests are composed of tiny lichens and vegetation that can only be observed with magnifying glasses in the Omora Ethnobotanical Park.

Such exceptional biodiversity led to the reserve being recognized in 2016 as one of the top 100 sustainable destinations in the world by the Dutch organization Green Destinations.

The territory includes the following national parks:

  • Alberto de Agostini
  • Cape Horn

Meanwhile, its protected fauna also includes leopard seals, dolphins, whales, sea lions, and chungungos, which you can see if you take the hiking route through the Dientes de Navarino massif is the southernmost trek in the world, according to Lonely Planet.

Why is it vital to visit these biosphere reserves?

Visiting any of these biosphere reserves is one of the most inspiring trips you'll ever take. But these beautiful and challenging destinations are changing due to climate change.

This climate phenomenon's impact on the region is so crucial that National Geographic magazine considers Chilean Patagonia should be considered "a natural laboratory" to study this phenomenon.

So, for many generations to continue to enjoy the wonders of exploring this region, you need to practice responsible tourism when you visit Patagonia. Follow these ten tips so that your trip leaves a mark on your heart and not on the environment.

Biodiversity is necessary on your trip!

These four UNESCO biosphere reserves are crucial to the sustainability of the world's southernmost region. 

The best way to get to know Chilean Patagonia respectfully is by visiting these reserves and helping to protect them.

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