Chile, the Private Tour

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, June 1998

Chile, the Private Tour

By Stephanie Gregory                                                                   Lord of All He Surveys

In Doug Tompkins's words, 617,500-acre Pumalín Park is one of the last places left in the world where "the marvelous awe of creation unfolds." Not a bad description, in fact, for a spectacular stretch of land that boasts active volcanoes, calving glaciers, 4,000-year-old trees, and a wildlife list that reads like a who's who of protected species. Tompkins has not only opened this bounty to the public; he's also made it free of charge. If you visit, pack a hefty set of raingear and travel in the "dry" season — December to April — or you just may unfold into a human sponge.

Since much of the park is roadless, the ideal way to get a feel for Pumalín is to paddle its 53-mile shoreline. Latin American Escapes (800-510-5999) offers a nine-day kayaking trip for $1,475 and an eight-day kayaking and hiking trip for $1,015. For less assured paddlers, Ecol‰ Adventures International ($725; 800-447-1483) bases its five-day itinerary out of a 65-foot sailboat with short day-trips by kayak.

Before traveling to Pumalín, call its project office (011-56-65-25-00-79) in Puerto Montt. The office can give detailed directions to the park and will reserve accommodations for you. Take care of last-minute necessities at Caleta Gonzalo, the information center at the south entrance to Pumalín. Here you can buy firewood, find a climbing or fishing guide, or hire a boat that will take you sightseeing on Re±ihu‰ Fjord. Be sure to stock up on homemade pastries at the caf‰ before tackling the trail that leads to a stand of ancient alerce trees.

Camping in Pumalín costs $1.50 per person per night for a site with toilet and shower facilities. (Bring your own gear; there are no rentals available.) If you prefer a roof between you and the drizzle, try one of the seven environmentally correct, Tompkins-designed cabanas located on the edge of Re±ihu‰ Fjord at Caleto Gonzalo. The cabanas sleep three to six people, have a full bath and hot water, but no kitchen (doubles, $60 per night, including breakfast). For cabana reservations, fax the Pumalin project office at 011-56-65-25-51-45.

United Airlines (800-241-6522) and LAN Chile (800-735-5526) have two-stop flights between New York and Puerto Montt for $1,188-$1,858 round-trip, depending on the season; flights out of Los Angeles run $1,321-$2,200. There are a number of travel options from Puerto Montt to Pumalin — it's just a matter of how much time you want to spend in transit. Pumalín's Puerto Montt office can provide complete information on plane, bus, and ferry prices and schedules.

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin (Penguin USA, $13) gives an evocative and historical description of the remote and stark landscape of Patagonia, the region in which Pumalín is located. Chile Insight Guide by Tony Perrottet (Langenscheidt Publishers, $23) is a lively and user-friendly guide to travel in Chile.

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