If you love flatwater or whitewater kayaking, or both, you must know that Patagonia hosts some of the best places to live the most amazing kayaking experiences. Here are a few tips for you to have a fun time!
That's right! The remotest region in the world hosts some of the most amazing rivers and a network of fjord routes that make it “a kayaker’s paradise of islands, channels, and utter wilderness,” in words of professional kayaker and coach Erin Bastian.
It comes as no surprise that professional and amateur kayakers alike believe that in Patagonia you really can't go wrong when picking a spot to paddle around.
Where to start?
Several kayaking forums recommend first timers or novice kayakers to start with the easy routes, given the changing weather and sneaky waters.
For those who want to look at beautiful landscapes and not to worry too much about swollen water, the right places for flatwater kayaking are:
Are you in for more adventure?
If whitewater kayaking is your thing, the Futaleufú river is by far the most voted experience by kayakers from all over the world when it comes to go kayaking in Patagonia.
It is known as one of the best whitewater rivers in the world, due to its combination of rapids at various grades and isolation (and for being far from any human settlement).
Also, there’s a reason why one of its rapids classifies as a Class 4/5 Terminator section, through which even the most skilled kayakers in the world struggle to pass.
Here are a few tips to get the utmost from kayaking “el Futa,” as locals call it, from whitewater experts:
Never go during off-season. The heavy weather and rapid waters make it a dangerous river during winter. It gets much easier during the high season, between December and March.
- Hire a local outfitter. Even the most experienced kayakers need the “local knowhow” when it comes to kayaking the Futa’s pushy waters.
- Start with the Entrada rapid. According to the Whitewater’s Guidebook, this Class 4+ rapid will provide a good sense of what the Futa is all about.
Photographers, both professional and amateur, can’t get enough of Patagonia. Its breath-taking landscapes, wildlife and light conditions reward photography lovers from all over the world.
The alternatives are endless, however we’ve selected some of the most popular places and attractions to visit in Chilean Patagonia. Prepare your glasses, photo's!
Living the Puma tracking experience
Many photographers travel thousands of miles to Patagonia between October and May to photograph and watch pumas in Torres del Paine National Park, which houses around 50 pumas.
This wild mountain lion is a threatened species, therefore Chilean conservation authorities have imposed very strict rules to prevent visitors from endangering their natural habitat, and that includes kicking out and fining rude travelers that try to do the impossible to get the perfect shot all the while interrupting the local wildlife.
Our recommendation is that you take one of the several tourism agencies that offer sophisticated, customized tour packages to photograph this wild cat, besides other native wildlife and ecosystems, accompanied by professional photographers and wildlife experts.
If you’re thinking of going solo, think again. Tight regulation prohibit wandering off the specified hiking circuits established at the park. However, if you insist in photographing the puma just by yourself, hire the help of expert puma trackers.
Looking for the “golden hour” at Torres del Paine
It’s a mandatory destination for all travelers that come to Chilean Patagonia. The characteristic “blue peaks” of the Paine Mass welcome all visitors who want to hike or trek the park’s mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers.
It is a great inspiration for photographers who seek particular compositions, light conditions and flares, specially during sunrise or sundown.
There are plenty of tour alternatives to visit the park and photography-focused programmes for all sorts of photographers. The challenge is to pick the one that fits your thirst for jaw-dropping images.
Going back in time in Monte Verde
Arguably, it is the earliest site known to man of the first human settlements in America, dating back to 14,000 years BP (Before Present).
Since its discovery in 1977, archeologists continue to dispute the antiquity of the “Machu Picchu of the Ice Age,” located 26 kms from Puerto Montt city.
The ongoing dispute with what some archeologists continue to believe is the earliest human settlement in the continent, the Clovis site in North America, which dates back 11,500 years ago, has drawn plenty of archaeology tourists and photographers to the area for the past 30 years.
The only manner to photograph the site is participating in some of the few walking tours allowed in the area, or being shown around by one of the members of the Kuschel family, which owns the property.
Where once stood Chaitén, ashes remain
Since the eruption of the Chaitén volcano in 2008, things haven’t been the same for the town located at its feet, also called Chaitén.
The ashes continue to cover what once stood as the capital city of Palena province and a burgeoning tourism and rest stop at the northern end of Carretera Austral highway. Reconstruction works began in 2009, but still some areas of the town remain buried under the debris.
Also, surrounding forests and lakes continue petrified under a thick layer of black and gray ash until today, offering a somewhat eerie spectacle to photograph. In some areas, travelers can drive through and even touch the crop of trees that once stood many meters above ground.
Surrounding attractions like the Corcovado National Park and Corcovado volcano, the Pumalín Park, the Yelcho Lake and the Futaleufu River are also beautiful places for the lens to capture.
Let there be ice
If you love how the light reflects on ancient ice, you can have your pick of glaciers in Chilean Patagonia.
There are so many to choose from that photographers tend to stick to the ones easier to access or clearly show the dramatic changes that Climate Change is causing in the region, like San Rafael, Grey, Queulat or Cerro Castillo, or the Perito Moreno glacier on the Argentinean side of Patagonia.
If you’re looking for ice as far as the eye can see, then head to the Northern or Southern Chilean Ice fields. We promise you’ll be chimping all over the place.
Worshiping at Nature’s cathedral
Mother Nature has always surprised mankind, especially when it comes to its art-like creations. The Marble Cathedral is no exception.
Considered a natural wonder that could be the world's most beautiful cave network, visitors always leave this attraction in silence and in aw. Particularly, nature and landscape photographers who try to catch the right angle to capture how the light reflects the “finely ground glacial silt” that makes the water turquoise blue, which bounces off the marble walls of these water-sculpted caverns located in the middle of General Carrera lake.
Photography students travel there from all over the world to learn about different lighting conditions, given the color of the walls and the water change constantly throughout the year.
There are plenty of day-tours that take travellers to the Marble caves by either boat or kayak expeditions from Puerto Tranquilo port- the only way to get to this natural wonder.
When you go back home, you'll be able to show your friends and family these amazing shots of Patagonia; it may even encourge them to want to visit, too! Were you able to shoot the diverse bird life there? It may have been a bit difficult given they are always moving around, but if you did some birdwatching the memories will remain with you forever.
If you're on your way to Patagonia, I invite you to take your binoculars, or sharpen your eyes, to amaze yourself with some of the 70 bird species that Patagonia has to offer.
Can you imagine exploring Patagonia and coming across more than 70 types of birds only in just one location?
Sounds fantastic, right? Best of all, it is a dream that can easily come true.
Birdwatching is an activity that attracts people from all over the world who come to the remotest region in Chile only to watch the area’s vast amount of native species given the diversity of ecosystems found there.
Experts recommend going bird watching between September and March, whether on a full-day trek or before noon time, depending on the preferences of the visitor.
In Chile, from the north to Patagonia, it is possible to watch around 1,000 exotic species in different ecosystems. The region is the perfect setting to both see beautiful landscapes and watch unique animals in their habitats.
What would a typical bird watching tour in Patagonia be like?
Bird observer groups usually seek species either by trekking or on top a vehicle, stopping many times to observe the magical moments that birds in southern Chile provide.
Visitors often carry a book that can they can get in the different parks with the names and characteristics of all the birds found in the area; observers keep a record on their book of all the birds they watch.
It is also advisable to carry binoculars and put all senses on alert to listen for birds’ singing and chirping
Exploring Patagonia, with its incredible hiking trails and landscapes, is a wonder by itself. Nonetheless, listening to the song of birds is a value-added attribute that makes these walks a unique and indescribable experience.
The key is to live it and, if you are lucky enough, to take a picture of the birds that cross your path.
Birds such as the black-chinned siskin, the rufous-collared sparrow (also known as Chingolo) and the white-necked thrush live among old trees and in pronounced cliffs. All the while, it is possible to see beautiful white herons, Magellan geese, and Chilean flamingos in wetlands and other areas close to water.
Meanwhile, you may see eagles and hawks circling by in search of some dead animal to feed on. At the same time, deep in the forests, you can watch the spectacular colors of burrowing parrots and Austral parakeets, which are easy to spot, which fill the different Patagonian landscapes with life and their sounds.
How much does bird watching in Patagonia cost?
People can watch birds for free on their own, for which they only need a pair of good binoculars, appropriate hiking clothing, food, water, and a specialized guide book on Patagonia to help them discover the type of specimens that they may find along the way.
However, you can also pay a tour guide, who are usually biology professionals specialized in the subject, who may offer detailed information about each bird and its habitat.
If you wish to go bird watching all day and with all necessities included, including transportation, equipment, and food, the price can range between US$150 and US$350 per day per person.
Birdwatching helps improve physical and mental health
According to scientists from the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, in the US, visiting places in nature, like forests, squares, gardens, and even trees on pedestrian areas in cities, benefit their health self-esteem, improving their character and generating more confidence toward others.
Moreover, imagine how wonderful it would be to enjoy nature surrounded by different ecosystems and species of birds of all kinds, each providing a different energy vibe, in particular through their singing.
Meditation by singing
In these times, daily routine and stress can make people more prone to periods of melancholy and anguish, which naturally affects their mood and performance in everyday activities.
An exercise that could help to alleviate this emotional distress is as simple as stopping by a park in your city or, even better while hiking a forest in Patagonia, go to a tree and hug it as though you are hugging an old relative. All you have to do is close your eyes and for about 5 minutes listen and try to meditate along the singing of the birds.
It is a simple exercise that will let you relax while feeling the energy flowing from the tree to your body.
Academics from University of Essex, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland found that this is a useful exercise; the singing of the birds and bird watching not only raise the spirit but are also good for the health.
Even more, listening to the singing of the birds is like a deep meditation.
Go and try to do this while you are in the city, in the country or when you come down enjoy the beautiful landscapes that Patagonia offers.
What do you waiting for to travel to the remotest region in Chile and live the bird watching experience we have just described?
Looking forward to seeing you!
What do you think of these tips so far? There's plenty to do in Patagonia and, best of all, there will always be an ideal activity for each traveler's leisure.
We're reviewed those kayaking experiences for adrenaline junkies, the most beautiful places for photography buffs, and the best locations for birdwatching among the diverse species that this southern region can offer.
You can save time and both photograph your way through Patagonia and capture with your lens some of the most beautiful birds in the world while hiking, which is one of the best ways to experience Patagonia.
If this is the first time you come down to the region, perhaps you don't know where to begin your hike. Here's a list of the best places to go hiking in Patagonia for free!
Patagonia free for all
Trekking is not a competitive activity; it is possible for people of all sorts to stroll around the incredible mountains, trails and paths of this southernmost region of Chile.
Best of all, it is not necessary to use a tour guide to perform this activity, given many of these incredible places are perfectly identified for visitors, whether they go in groups, in pairs or alone. It is the best option for those travelling on a budget, too!
However, it is always important to give notice to Chilean forestry authority Conaf before the beginning and end of every trail journey, regardless of it is a full-on hiking or a mild trekking expedition, in addition to wearing suitable clothing and taking on enough food and water.
Before we go ahead and tell about these beautiful places, please keep in mind to take your garbage with you!
Each of the following best places to go trekking in Patagonia has its own level of difficulty and time duration:
Sendero Mirador – Pueblo Puyuhuapi:
This trail takes visitors to a beautiful vantage point from where they can appreciate the local town and bay area; there’s a privileged view of the Cerro Tesoro mountain range. The flora found in this area is unique given Puyuhuapi’s sea climate with abundant rainfall that keeps this beautiful village green all year round.
- Difficulty: Low.
-Time: One (1) hour approximately.
Sendero La Junta:
Located in the Rosselot National Reserve, starts in front of the town of La Junta, in Carretera Austral. This spectacular 2.5-kilometre trail takes travellers to two scenic lookouts: one offers a panoramic view of La Junta, and another one looks out at the connecting point between the Palena and Rosselot rivers. Can you imagine walking among the native vegetation, flora and fauna? It is definitely one of the mandatory budget hiking trips in Chilean Patagonia!
Time: (1) an hour.
Las Horquetas Trail:
Completing this trekking trail takes three days and is free of charge between May and August. The path starts at Las Horquetas sector in Carretera Austral and ends with travellers hiking Cerro Castillo hill.
For this adventure, it is important to have previous experience trekking in winter and in camping outdoors at low temperatures. If travellers go during the fall-winter season (May-August), it is crucial that they wear outdoor equipment in excellent condition, waterproof jackets that support low temperatures, and the proper footwear; a four-season tent and food and meals for the 3-day journey are also a must.
An excellent aspect of this route is that it offers landscapes that are entirely different from each other, including forests, various stream basins, and a magnificent lagoon at the foot of Cerro Castillo hill. Some lucky people have had the opportunity to even watch and photograph wild animals like foxes, huemules, condors, and an incredible variety of birds that are native to the region. There’s no doubt that this is one of the best places to go trekking in Patagonia.
Time: Three to four (3-4) days, (length) 52 km away.
This is a moderately-difficult hike where it is possible to observe an incredible variety of plant life like Chaura, Canelo, Coig, Tepu and Guitecas cypress ((Pilgerodendron uviferum).
For birdwatchers, some excellent specimens like the Black Woodpecker, Andean Tapaculo, Chucao, thorn-tailed Rayadito and Huet Huet make their appearance along the trail. In addition, for those who love fishing, there’s plenty of game in El Toro and Escondida lagoons.
Time: 30 minutes.
Tips to go hiking in Chile: Hiking and trekking are activities that everyone can access, but it is important that all travellers are clear about the type of terrain they are going to walk into beforehand; hiking a moderate difficulty footpath is not the same as trekking the Las Horquetas trail, for example.
Now that you know more about these free hiking in Patagonia, we hope that they make your trip to the region much more stimulating, all the while you enjoy the treasures that Mother Nature has endowed us with.
Come on! There's still one last thing to do in patagonia. If you love sports cycling, here are some of the best biking opportunities if you’re looking to live an unforgettable expedition to Patagonia. You up for the ride?
Chile’s iconic Carretera Austral or Southern Highway is widely regarded as one of the world’s top 10 biking routes by both specialized publications and seasoned adventurers.
Also known as Route 7, the Carretera Austral stretches over 1,240 kms (770.5 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins, through rural Patagonia.
Despite its length, the area along the Southern Highway is sparsely populated.
Only about 100,000 people live in Puerto Montt and Coyhaique, the two largest urban centers in Chile’s General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo and Los Lagos regions.
1. Stock up in Puerto Montt
This is the start of your adventure, so make sure you start on the right foot. TDA Global Cycling recommends to get spare spare parts and adventure clothing in Puerto Montt before hitting the road.
The Carretera Austral is roughly 40% paved –more pavement is slowly added every year– so it will definitely put your bike to the test. Don’t forget to indulge in some pisco sours and seafood while you’re at it, though.
2. Visit the Termas del Amarillo hot springs
These thermal waters are located in the Pumalin National Park, some 25 kms to the south of of Chaitén. This town strategically close to the northern end of the Carretera Austral, where the highway goes inland.
Chaitén was evacuated in 2008 when when the Chaitén volcano erupted for the first time in more than 9,000 years.
El Amarillo is open all year round and offers the biggest camping site in the Pumalin National Park. The site is surrounded by rivers, mountains, woods and prairies ideal for mountain biking.
3. Factor the weather into your biking trip planning
Be warned, it takes a strong constitution to brave the Patagonian winter. The weather is ice-cold and winds can reach in excess of 100 km/h.
That is why virtually every guide out there recommends visiting Patagonia from December to February, when the weather is warmest and driest.
Temperatures range from a maximum of 13 degrees to a minimum of 5 degrees Celsius.
If visit in the summer you must, do not skimp on the sunscreen.
However, March is almost in the middle of autumn in Patagonia and the best time to visit according to locals, as the temperature is only lower by a few degrees.
Shoulder season in Patagonia –the period between peak and off-peak seasons– is October-November and March-April.
4. Get a good map
While Patagonia is a perfectly safe place, getting lost in the wilderness is a risky affair. You absolutely need a good map of Patagonia.
Lonely Planet recommends Hostería El Mosco in Villa O’Higgins as the hub for those going all the way, with plenty of travelers trading tips and a stock of detailed topographic maps.
Copec.cl is another good source for maps and tourist guides. Once in the home page, click on Mundo Copec and then Rutas de Chile.
For bike travels in Chile, including the southern part, you only to google “Chile and biking” or “biking carretera austral”.
5. Choose your bike wisely
The Carretera Austral will punish your bike like no other road. The unpaved sections are a never-ending stretch of dust, loose gravel and changes in road surface.
Some seasoned riders recommend buying a sturdy bike in Santiago and then selling it at the end of your trip.
You'll need time to advertise them long before your return fly date. Be sure to check out Mercadolibre.cl and Yapo.cl for used bikes and get an idea of what's available for your princing range.
6. Mind what you eat
According to Italian cyclist Tomas Balzk, the hardest part isn’t pedaling the terrain. It’s ingesting enough calories. Lonely Planet says locals can be exceedingly generous to bikers, often offering a space to camp or homemade bread.
Worldly Adventurer recommends to stock up with food in Coyhaique. All the other nearby towns only sell the very basics – you will particularly struggle to find fresh food.
In a nutshell, for long-distance riders all over the world Carretera Austral is a badge of courage that’s earned with grit, sweat and good planning.
You probably will not conquer the entire expanse of the Southern Highway in one trip. That’s why many travelers return on multiple visits.
The Carretera Austral is a definite must on the list of things to do in Patagonia, but it requires a little preparation. Use the tips in this blog to get yourself set-up, and you’ll have an incredible experience.
You may have read this guide in the comfort of your home, along a nice cup of coffee, sitting under the shade of a tree... longing to go camping in Patagonia. Wherever you are, what are ou waiting for? Grab your things and begin an unforgettable journey!