Category Archives: Wildlife

The Top Things To Do In Mindo, Ecuador

One of top natural escapes from Quito is undoubtedly Mindo.

Just a 2-hour trip, Mindo is a valley and small village in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains.

For budget-minded travelers, the bus ride to Mindo will only cost you $2.50. The view from the bus is merely a tease, as you pass from the highland paramos of the andes into the lush cloud forests below spectacular views reign everywhere. But, it’s off of the main roads where the action in Mindo really is taking place.

Below are the top things to do when in visiting Mindo.

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Hike up the mountain to the waterfalls

If you enjoy walking and exploring at a slower pace, then this  hike is for you. A cable car will take you across the rain forest to the hiking trails (the cable car is also a great preview of the zip lines). Once you get off the cable car, an hour long trail to your left will lead you to a huge waterfall. On your right – a shorter, 15 minute trail will take you to a  waterfall and river where you can swim and slide down the mountain into the river – a natural water park. Be sure to wear hiking sandals or boots and bring food and water.

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Zip line above the rain forest 

At the “canopy” (Ecuadorian term for a zip line)  one of the most popular traveler’s spots in Mindo, you can zip line across ten different cables through the tropical rain forest. The cables are not very fast at first. If you are afraid of heights you’ll have plenty of time to warm up on the slower cables. Your fear will be overcome by the beauty of your surroundings.

At about the fourth cable, you will be able to test your adventurous side with different positions on the cables – superman and butterfly. The superman is a horizontal flying position and the butterfly is upside down.

Tube down Mindo river 

At first glance, tubing appears to be quite risky because of the rocks jutting out of the fast-flowing whitewater. But the tube(s) frequently tied together to form a makeshift raft is designed to navigate over and through the rocks and are quite adequate for the Class II rapids.  Keep your feet (and head!) above the tube to avoid injury. The guide will help maintain the tube’s trajectory all the way down the river.

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

Marisposario de Mindo

In this top-notch butterfly farm, change is a beautiful thing – the butterflies told me so. Here, you will witness firsthand the four stages in the life of a butterfly – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. The butterfly  pupae looks like a collection of  gold and silver earrings because of the different colors necessary to blend in with the butterfly’s natural habitat. 

El Quetzal

Here, a Quetzal isn’t a bird, it’s even better, it’s chocolate! At 4:00 you can tour Mindo’s chocolate factory and see how chocolate is made from the cocoa bean to the bar. Afterwards, enjoy a taste test!

Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

A little treat from Quetzal. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

And the winner of the top thing to do in Mindo is… Birding 

Mindo mixes the birds from the Andean highlands with birds the rainforest to create a spectacular cacophony of avian paradise!

According to the book “Birds of Ecuador”, by Ridgley and Greenfield, Mindo is home to the greatest number of endemic montane birds species of any place on the planet!

During the 2000 to 2005 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by the Audubon Society, Mindo has been among the top 3 highest bird counts in the world over 6 years, with over 2,000 locations participating. Each location is a 25 kilometer radius, and the count lasts for 24 hours. Mindo had the highest count in 2000 with 350 bird species recorded, and in past years has exceeded the 400 bird species mark.

The highlight of birding in Mindo may be the Cock-of-the-Rock Lek. As Tom Quisenberry of El Monte Lodge in Mindo says:

“Sometimes described as a “singles bar”, a lek is a meeting place for male and female birds. The singles bar description seems even more appropriate when you consider that the males dance wildly and engage in all sorts of displaying behavior…

The Cock-of-the-Rocks in Mindo are bright red, with black wings and a bit of white on the rump and have a crazy pompadour-looking crest. The males come together at precisely 6:00 AM to dance, squawk, mock fight and sometimes to actually physically fight to maintain territory to impress the occasional female who may fly into the lek.

Males are able to spend all this energy and time (sometimes up to 6 hours a day!) to attract the females because they have no parental responsibilities at the nest. They don’t help build the nest, nor help feed the chicks… but prefer to hang out at the “bar” trying to pass on their genes.”

Stay a While

As you can see, there is so much to do, it’s difficult to fully appreciate Mindo in a single night or two stay. Many people stay a few nights in Mindo to have more time to see all that it has to offer. Take your time and savor the experience because it’s well-worth every minute.

New Species Discovered in Peru

National Geographic reports that a new species of night monkey has been discovered in a cloud forest in northern Peru.

The as-yet unnamed species was found by a team of Peruvian and Mexican scientists during a 2009-2011 expedition in Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary, which lies east of Huancabamba, near the Euadorian border.

In total, the biologists found eight new species of mammals related to the common shrew opossum, enigmatic porcupine, small-eared shrew, gray fox, olingo (related to raccoons), and four types of rodents. Additionally, three new varieties of frogs were encountered, including Pristimantis bustamante.

The 28,000-hectare (70,000-acre) Santuario Nacional Tabaconas Namballe protects not only cloud forest, but also páramo grasslands. It is home to an estimated 326 species of bird, 85 species of mammals and 23 species of amphibians and reptiles. The threat of deforestation endangers this reserve, which is also habitat for the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear, both endangered species.

The team of researchers will be returning to Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary this November to continue their explorations for more new species, including an orange-skinned porcupine that locals report seeing.

To get a look at these new discoveries, check out the photos at Mongabay.

 

The new edition of V!VA Travel Guides Peru will soon be hitting bookshelves! Be sure to pick up yours – in print of e-book format – before heading out to Peru’s great national parks and ruins.

A New Season in Torres del Paine

After closing last year’s tourism season with a devastating wildfire, Torres del Paine National Park is gearing up for another high season. The thousands of tourists that will be arriving should expect changes.

 

The wildfire began at the end of December 2011, and raged for nearly two months. By the end of February 2012, an estimated 17,606 hectares (43,505 acres) of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine had been destroyed, according to Conaf, the national forest service. The entire park was forced closed until the blaze could be contained. Eventually the northern sector reopened.

 

The Puerto Natales hostel, erratic rock, informs V!VA Travel Guides that burned areas include along the trails in the Las Carretas, Paine Grande Italiano and Paine Grande Grey sectors. Ruth, an erratic rock volunteer says, “There is already new green grass growing, which makes the black even darker, so it is pretty impressive.”

 

Reforestation of the burnt areas of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine has been slow. Thus far, only 10,000 native lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio) have been planted. Conaf takes national and international volunteers in a variety of positions.

 

The high season opened on October 1. Since then, regular bus service has begun and most refuges opened. The ones at Los Cuernos and Chileno are slated to open October 15, and Refugio Dikson, which forms part of the circuit, will be online November 1. Catamaran service also has begun once daily; at the end of October, it will run twice daily, and as of November 5, three times per day.

 

Prices for the 2012-2013 season are:

* Park entry: 18,000 Chilean pesos (CLP) or $36 USD

* Public bus from Puerto Natales: 15,000 CLP ($30 USD) round trip

* Lago Pehoe catamaran: 12,000 CLP ($24 USD) one way; 22,000 CLP ($44 USD) round trip

* Refuges: 22,500 CLP ($45 USD) per bed, without sheets or meals

* Meals: breakfast 5,500 CLP ($11 USD), lunch 8,000 CLP ($16 USD), dinner 11,000 CLP ($22 USD)

 

Tourists will face many more regulations, especially concerning camping, and more education about park rules. Also, many more patrols will be on the lookout for people who camp in non-designated areas. Drop by erratic rock’s free daily information sessions at 3 p.m. to learn about new changes and about all the challenges you’ll face in Torres del Paine National Park.

 

 

A big thank you to the staff of erratic rock for the above information. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and the other wonder destinations of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Nine Great Jurassic Park Adventures in Argentina

Argentina is an ancient land, geologically speaking. Once upon a time, its landscape was covered by jungles and seas where dinosaurs and other mythical creatures roamed. Today, you can venture into those lands of Jurassic and other monsters.

Dinosaurs roaming across the Argentine plains. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

During the Permian Period of the Palaeozoic Era (251-299 million years ago), South America was still part of Pangaea. This supercontinent began tearing apart. South America and Africa were still one continent during the Jurassic Period (150 million years ago), the most famous dinosaur era. Those great jungle forests were covered with ash when this great continent tore apart, forming the Andes. The landscape then was covered by sea about 40 million years ago.

 

Fossils from all these eras scatter the pampas of western Argentina and the Patagonia. Some dinosaur species are unique to Argentina.

 

The most famous dinosaur fields are near Neuquén, on the northern edge of Argentina’s Lake District. Plaza Huincul (106 km / 65 mi) west of Neuquén towards Zapala) has a museum that displays dinosaur eggs and a skeleton of the 35-meter-long herbivore dinosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest ever found in the world. You can see a replica of the biggest largest carnivorous dinosaur in the world, Giganotosaurus carolinii, at the museum in Villa El Chocón (80 km / 50 mi southwest of Neuquén). Three kilometers away, near Lake Ezequiel Ramos Mexia, are well-preserved, 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. Centro Paleontológico Lago Barreales, 95 kilometers (58 mi) northwest of Neuquén, is an active dig.

 

North of Neuquén, is San Agustín del Valle Fértil, located between San Juan and La Rioja cities. San Agustín is the gateway to two parks that preserve prehistoric remains. Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) has rain and wind-sculpted, 45-50 million-year-old rocks that are said to be the best fossil fields in the country. The most primitive dinosaur, Eoraptor lunensis, was found here. Adjacent to the Valley of the Moon is Parque Nacional Talampaya, a national park protecting more dinosaur fossils.

 

To see life-size dinosaurs roaming across the Patagonian plains, head to Sarmiento and its Parque Temático Paleontológico Valle De Los Gigantes. This is a Cretaceous Park, featuring great—and small—reptiles from the last dinosaur era, like Aniksosaurus Darwini, which weighed only 50 kilograms (110 lb), Notohypsilophodon comodorensi (25 kg / 55 lb) and Epachthosaurus sciuttoi (10 metric tons / 11 tons). Some 38 kilometers (24 mi) southeast of Sarmiento is Monumento Natural Provincial Bosque Petrificado Sarmiento, a petrified forest created 65 million years ago during the great geologic upheavals.

 

The largest, most impressive petrified forest in Argentina is Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, also known as Bosque Petrificado Jaramilo, located 220 kilometers (132 mi) south of Caleta Olivia and 230 kilometers (138 mi) north of Puerto Deseado. This national park contains not only the remains of the semi-tropical forests that carpeted these prairies during the Devonic and  Jurassic periods, but also fossils of oysters, shark teeth and ancient other marine life from when this was a massive sea.

 

Cabo Curioso. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

More remnants of that sea can be seen at Cabo Curioso, 11 kilometers (6.6 mi) north of Puerto San Julián. The cliffs are rife with 35-75-million-year-old, gigantic oyster fossils that piqued the curiosity of Charles Darwin.

 

The dinosaurs and forests that once carpeted southern Argentina from Neuquén to Puerto Deseado left behind petroleum that the region’s economy thrives upon. The landscape is dotted with oil wells dipping and rising, pumping the rich, black blood to the surface.

 

With the austral spring approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other palaeontological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s Jurassic, Devonian and Cretaceous Parks, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina.

On the Road – Peru: Free Hiking Near Arequipa

Last week, I filled you in on 10 free attractions awaiting travelers in Arequipa. But many tourists arrive here to do some trekking in the Colca Canyon. The recent increase of the canyon’s entry fee to a staggering $26 for non-Latin Americans will leave many shoestring travelers in the dust.

 

Not to fear, though. Arequipa’s campiña (countryside) offers several great opportunities to get out of the city for some fresh sunshine and incredible vistas. The awards along the way include waterfalls, ancient rock paintings and traditional villages.

El Misti from Yanahuara’s mirador. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Two miradores just west of downtown give splendid views of the volcanoes: one in Yanahuara (2 km / 1.2 mi from downtown Arequipa) and another called Carmen Alto (6.7 km / 4 mi north of Ca Puente Grau and Av Bolognesi; follow the signs).

 

In the Cayma district west of Arequipa, a 15-kilometer (9.2-mile) Inca trail runs through the Valle de Chilina, along west bank of the Río Chili to the Santuario La Virgen de Chapi de Charcani (General Varela 1070, Acequia, Alta Cayma). Along the way are waterfalls, and places to rock climb and fish. There is one campsite.

 

Cayma’s Oficina de Desarrollo Turístico publishes a rough map of the route (Plaza de Cayma 408, Cayma. Tel: 054-254-648, E-mail: turismo@municayma.gob.pe, URL: www.municayma.gob.pe).

 

The Valle de Chilina may also be hiked along the eastern bank of the river. From downtown Arequipa, walk north to Parque Selva Alegre, turn left to the end of that road, then right at the end of that one. Continue straight and take the third path down. This road also leads hikers through a landscape of ancient terraced farm fields, forests and scrub-brush lands overshadowed by Chachani and El Misti volcanoes.

Paisaje Arequipeño. Photo by Carlos Zúñiga.

Just to the southeast of Arequipa is the Ruta del Loncco, places where you may hike through the bucolic countryside, to waterfalls, petroglyphs (petroglifos) and traditional villages. Yarabamba (15 km / 9 mi from Arequipa) are the Petroglifos Gayalopo y Guanaqueros. A few kilometers to the south is Quequeña, where you may hike to the Petroglifos Cerro Boracho, Trompín Chico and Quebrada de la Zorra creek. Further south is Sogay, with waterfalls. In these towns, there are campsites.

 

These villages’ websites have more information about their attractions: Yarabamba (URL: http://www.peru.gob.pe/Nuevo_Portal_Municipal/portales/municipalidades/358/entidad/pm_municipalidad_tematicos.asp?cod_tema=39505), Quequeña (URL: www.muniquequena.gob.pe) and Sogay (URL: www.sogayarequipa.com). Minibuses for Yarabamba and Quequeña pass by Venezuela and Avenida Mariscal Castilla ($0.60).

Waterfall. Photo by Carlos Zúñiga.

Any of these hikes may be done as day trips from Arequipa. Bring along food (a picnic would be perfect) and water, sun protection (hat, sun screen) and good walking shoes. Keep valuables back at the hostel. The more tranquil hikes are in the three villages south of the city.

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

 

 

On the Road – Peru: Everyone’s Choosing Peru as THE Destination to Visit

In the past few months, Peru has become a hot destination choice for many international publications.

 

National Geographic has chosen Peru as one of the Best Pick destinations for 2012. Beyond Machu Picchu, hikes in some of the world’s deepest canyons and exotic birds, this publication also cites the regional foods as being a major reason to come to this Andean nation.

 

Peru's famous ceviche.

And Peru's infamous cuy.

 

Reuters recently did an article on what to do and see in Lima during 48 hours, as part of its “Postcard” series. The Amazon Basin – part of which lies in Peru – was declared a New Seven Natural Wonder of the World last year. In December 2011, the History Travel Channel focused on Peru as its country of the month. And V!VA Travel Guides is once more on the ground searching out the best to know here.

 

Crowds welcoming the 2012 Dakar to Lima.

 

Join V!VA Travel Guides on our exploration of Peru in the new series of blogs, “On the Road: Peru.” V!VA has already brought you the arrival to Lima of the 2012 Dakar road rally and filled you in on Viringos, the native hairless dog. Each week, you can learn more about the sights and flavors that await you in this diverse Andean nation.

 

What would you like to know about Peru? Let us know – and we’ll root it out on our Peruvian journeys.

 

Torres del Paine National Park Reopens

Wednesday morning, just a week after a devastating wildfire broke out in Southern Chile’s Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the government announced the reopening of the park.

 

Torres del Paine National Park, showing open sectors. Map by: www.laprensaaustral.cl

 

The northern part of Torres del Paine, which is unaffected by the fire, is now open to tourists. These include these sectors: Laguna Sur and Amerga, Valle Ascencio, Hotel Las Torres, Campamentos Cuernos and Cerón, and the Los Perros and Dichoso rivers. For complete details, visit the website of the national tourism board, Sernatur. Click here for a map of the open areas.

 

Local guides, hostels and other businesses are joining efforts to give informative talks at the park entrance, to instruct visitors on safety and environmental issues. They also are forming protection patrols to walk the trails, looking for campfires, illegal camping and other park rule violations.

 

Ecologists, however, are not happy with the government’s decision. They fear that the patrolling of the park will draw necessary manpower from the tasks of fighting the wildfire and reforestation efforts.

 

The fire has consumed 14,504 hectares (35,840 acres) of the nature reserve, as well as about 1,000 hectares of Estancia Lazo, a ranch neighboring the park. Grey Glacier was in danger of partial melting from the intense heat. As of Wednesday afternoon, only one hotspot of the fire remained out of control.

 

Over 700 firefighters from four countries have battled the blaze. Water is still being collected for the crews.

 

Already four Israeli experts have arrived to lend their expertise in reforestation. Volunteers are also being enlisted to help with recovery efforts (see UPDATE: Torres del Paine National Park Wildfire for details). The extent of environmental damage is severe. Experts estimate it will take up to 80 years for the park to fully recover.

 

La Prensa Austral has several stunning photo gallery showing the fire’s aftermath.

Torres del Paine: Before the fire

 

Forest fires are burning in other parts of Chile, including in the Maule and Bío-Bío regions. In Pichiqueime, over 22,500 hectares (55,600 acres) of forest, 100 homes and a cellulose refining plant have been destroyed, and one death has resulted.  The Catholic Church has begun an aid drive to help the affected in these areas.

 

Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera is proposing a new law to replace the present one, passed in the 1930s. The forest fire reform act would reorganize emergency response mechanisms, and increase fines and jail time for individuals that cause forest fires.

UPDATE: Torres del Paine National Park Wildfire

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine: Before the fire

Last Friday evening, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that Parque Nacional Torres del Paine will remain closed through January 2012.

 

As of this morning (Monday), the fire has consumed almost 13,000 hectares (32,423 acres) of the national park. Seven hundred and fifty firefighters from all over Chile, as well as from Argentina, Uruguay and the US, have joined efforts to bring the blaze under control. The entire area has been declared a disaster area.

 

Winds as high as 120 kilometers per hour (73 mph) hampered efforts on Friday. Saturday, a light rain began falling and winds calmed, allowing six helicopters to join in the fight. Three of the six foci of the wildfire were extinguished.

 

Also on Saturday, Israeli citizen Rotem Singer was arrested on charges for starting the blaze. News reports stated he confessed to authorities, which Singer now denies, blaming bad translations. He is on conditional freedom for 41-61 days until investigations are completed.

 

The government has been criticized for its slow response to the unfolding disaster. In the national legislature, Representative Carlos Recondo of X Región de los Lagos is proposing to privatize the park, which he believes will improve its administration.

 

Patagon Journal posts that volunteers for the recovery of Torres del Paine may now sign up. Send your name, age, profession, city and dates available to voluntarios@torresdelpaine.com. The program, which start date is yet to be set, is being organized by Conaf (national park service) and local operators.

 

The park closure is expected to have a tremendous impact on Puerto Natales’ economy. In one season, the tourism sector generates $200 million dollars, as well as 8,000 direct and 24,000 associated jobs.

 

Puerto Natales, though, has much more to offer tourists than just Torres del Paine. For those needing to get out into nature, another reserve may be accessed from this coastal village: Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins. This is Chile’s largest national park, covering 3,525,091 hectares (8,710,689 acres). A boat treads across Seno de Última Esperanza to the foot of Glaciar Balmaceda to the ranger station at Sector Balmaceda. During the voyage, dolphins, sea lions, fur seals and a variety of waterfowl can be spotted, as well as. Although this park doesn’t offer multi-day treks like Torres del Paine, it does have several short hikes into the stunningly beautiful landscape. From the ranger post, trails lead to the foot of the glacier and to a lookout point. Other activities in this part of the park are rappelling and kayaking, though the paddle down the Río Serrano from PN Torres del Paine not possible at this time.

 

Another nature reserve you can visit from Puerto Natales is Monumento Nacional Cueva del Milodón, a massive cave where the remains of a three meter ground sloth were discovered. Posada Hostería Río Verde on Skyring Fiord is not only a lodge at a working ranch, but also offers day packages that includes horseback riding, sailing and trout fishing. Río Verde village also has a small historical museum. Río Rubens is another place with terrific trout fishing.

 

The Museo Histórico Municipal in Puerto Natales.

When the much-needed rains arrive, you can seek refuge in one of Puerto Natales’ museums. The Museo Histórico Municipal features archaeological artifacts and historical photographs, as well as an exhibit on the 19th century European settlement of the town. The Museo de Fauna Patagónica has a collection of over 350 taxidermied animals from around the area.  Just five kilometers (3 miles) north of town, Museo Frigorífico Puerto Bories offers interesting guided tours of the old meatpacking factory, which was awarded Monument status by the Chilean government. Out in Puerto Bories, you can also go horseback riding.

 

Puerto Natales is also the southern port for the Navemag ferry to Puerto Montt. The five-day north-bound journey goes through fiords, and past glaciers of the Southern and Northern ice fields (Campos del Hielo).

 

Turismo Aónikenk, a Punta Arenas-based tour operator, lists other things to see and do in the Puerto Natales area.

 

The famous Navimag ferry.

 

The US Embassy in Santiago has issued a travel advisory for its citizens planning to go to the region. If you are planning to visit the area, keep up-to-date with the news. Check the websites of the various national agencies: Conaf (park service), Onemi (emergency management) and Sernatur (tourism board). These media outlets are also dependable: Prensa Austral, Radio Polar and Cooperativa. Another excellent source is erratic rock in Puerto Natales.

 

Stay tuned to V!VA’s blog and facebook page for more developments.

 

Chile’s Carretera Austral: Ten Adventures to Get Your Adrenaline Fix

Taking a rest.

South America’s summer officially begins tonight, but already travelers have been hitting Chile’s Carretera Austral (Ruta 7), which extends 1,247 kilometers (775 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Bicyclists are battling the infamous Patagonian wind as gravel kicks up around their tires. Some backpackers stand by the roadsides, thumb outstretched, to explore the road that way. Very few travelers take the public buses or rent a car. This is a highway where dreams can be made reality.

If the adventure of biking or hitching the Carretera Austral isn’t enough for you, V!VA Travel Guides Chile presents you  with a cornucopia of high-adrenaline activities to keep you pumped going down the highway. This region has many legs of the national hiking trail network, the Sendero de Chile (www.senderodechile.cl). Local families provide homestay and guiding services for not only trekking, but also birdwatching, horseback riding, fly fishing, rock climbing and other sports.

So dig out the hiking boots and pack in the provisions because it’s time to hit the open road.

 

1 – Parque Nacional Horniporén

Parque Nacional Horniporén, near the start of the Carretera Austral, protects important transition zones of flora, fauna and geology. Over 13 kilometers (8 miles) of hiking trails wind through this fascinating landscape. The nearby village of Río Puelo is the starting point for an even more challenging trek: four nights, five days across the Paso Río Puelo border to El Bolsón, Argentina.

Kayaking on the Futaleufú River.

2 – Futaleufú

Rafters and kayakers, get your gear ready to shoot through the rapids of the Futa, one of the world’s three most challenging rivers. The toughest stretches are the “Infierno” (22 kilometers / 14 miles, Class III-IV) and the “Terminator” (7 kilometers / 4.2 miles, Class V). The Espolón River is renowned for its fly fishing. Dry land adventures are horseback riding and hiking near town and in Reserva Natural Futaleufú.

Further down the highway you can get another whitewater  fix on the Río Baker’s Class III rapids at Puerto Bertrand.

 

3 – Palena

Reserva Nacional Lago Palena offers horseback riding, fly fishing and a half-dozen hiking trails ranging from four kilometers (2.4 miles) to 13 kilometers (8 miles) in distance. It is also the staging ground for a 65-kilometer (39-mile) stretch of the Sendero de Chile, from Palena to Lago Verde (near La Junta).

 

A waterfall in Queulat National Park.

4 – Puyuhuapi

The delights around Puyuhuapi, a small German settlement on a fiord, never ceases to amaze travelers. After hiking to the hanging glaciers and waterfalls in Parque Nacional Queulat, soak your tired muscles in one of two hot springs near the village.

 

5 – Coyhaique

While you’re restocking on money and other necessary supplies in the Northern Patagonia’s major city, take some time out to explore the three national reserves near town: Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas, Reserva Nacional Río Simpson and Reserva Nacional Coyhaique. On the coast is Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, most known for its boat tours to the glaciers. But it also has several hiking trails, ice climbing (for the experienced and equipped) and camping.

Coyahique is also home to Escuela de Guías de la Patagonia, a school that trains the region’s guides. During the summer, it also teaches travelers camping, rock climbing and other skills to survive Patagonian rigors.

 

Cerro Castillo.

6 – Cerro Castillo

With geological features much like Torres del Paine, Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo has a distinct advantage: It is virtually unvisited. The challenging 45-kilometer (28 mile) Valle de la Lima-Villa Cerro Castillo trek, which takes three to four days, wraps around the base of the mountain, with stunning views of icy lagoons and glaciers. If time is short, you can visit the park on horseback from the village.

 

7 – Bahía Exploradores

The boat tour of Río Tranquilo’s marble caves provides a respite from Chile’s Northern Patagonia’s trekking opportunities. But it’s now time for the next challenge: Hiking out the 59-kilometer (37-mile) road towards Bahía Exploradores, and ice trekking Glaciar Exploradores.

Capilla de Marmól, near Río Capilla.

8 – Cochrane

Besides being the last place along the highway where you can pick up on money and basic supplies, Cochrane has the Reserva Nacional Tamango. Also near town is Laguna Esmeralda with swimming, kayaking and great trout fishing. If you’re ready to roll up the ol’ sleeves and help restore natural habitats for huemul and puma, then volunteer at Valle Chacabuco nature reserve.

 

Caleta Tortel.

9 – Caleta Tortel

The entire village of Caleta Tortel is a hiking experience, with over seven kilometers (4.2 miles) of cypress-wood boardwalks. This is also where the southern sector of Parque Nacional San Rafael and Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins are accessed.  Both have hikes to glaciers. Caleta Tortel is also a prime kayaking destination.

 

10 – Villa O’Higgins

Villa O’Higgins is the last town on Chile’s Carretera Austral. From here, you’ll have to backtrack north to Cochrane or Lago General Carrera to cross over into Argentina. Or you can boat across Lago O’Higgins and hike to El Chaltén, Argentina—what has been called one of the world’s most beautiful border crossings (Paso Dos Lagunas). Before you leave this end-of-the-road town, though, take some time to hike or horseback ride one of the seven trails in the area, including two in the northern sector of Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins.

The highway’s end.

 

Traversing the Carretera Austral once the snows swirl in late autumn provides other ways to get the old adrenaline pumping. The road becomes impassable and many of towns remain isolated for weeks at a time. The best place to use as a base is Coyhaique. You can snowshoe and cross country ski in the three national reserves near that city or in Cerro Castillo just to the south. Coyhaique also has a downhill ski center, Centro de Ski el Fraile.

The Carretera Austral can be accessed by several border crossings from Argentina, or by boats arriving at Chaitén, Puerto Chacabuco (near Coyhaique) and other villages.

There are many other towns along the Carretera Austral that provide many other delights. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Three Towns in Chile Anyone Will Love

When travelers plan their trips to Chile, usually Santiago, Valparaiso and the wine country are at the top of their lists. But other parts of the country offer towns that anyone will love, places full of history, culinary delights and cultural diversity. Three cities that are often overlooked are Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir. V!VA Travel Guides Chile can help you explore the many facets of these places.

 

In the extreme north of Chile, just mere kilometers from the Peruvian border, is Arica. Among this city’s many distinctions are the world’s shortest railroad (from Arica to Tacna, Peru) and the oldest mummies (over 10,000 years old). It is a city steeped in history. This once-important Spanish colonial port was a major battleground during the War of the Pacific. It also was wiped out twice by tsunamis in the 19th century. Several structures by Gustave Eiffel decorate downtown.

Arica offers nature lovers bird watching at the Lluta River Mouth wetlands and boat tours along the coast to the Humboldt penguin colony at Caleta de Camarones. Adrenaline junkies can hit some of the world’s most challenging surf or go kitesurfing. And of course, the miles of beaches and Isla del Alacrán offer a bit of something for everyone.

Eiffel's cathedral in Arica.

On the cultural front, the city has several museums, like the Museo del Mar and El Morro hill with the Museo Histórico y de Armas. On any given day, you can see Aymara or African-descendent dance troupes dancing down the 21 de Mayo pedestrian street. This is also a favorite venue for the medieval-esque tuna music groups. Culinary delights include empanadas de jaiba-queso (crab and cheese pies) and sopa marinera (seafood soup).

Two river valley oases hug Arica. To the north is Valle de Lluta, with many small Andean villages with colonial churches and the Eco-Truly yoga spa. Valle de Azapa, which is famous for its olives, begins south of the city. Along the road are dozens of geoglyphs, or designs etched into the hillsides, tombs and a pre-Columbian pukará fortress. The Museo de San Miguel has ancient mummies and fine textiles.

Arica is also a good jumping off point for trips to the Pre-Cordillera de Belén, where a dozen Aymara villages and ancient ruins nestle into the folds of the Andean foothills, Putre and Parque Nacional Lauca near the Bolivian border.

Riding the surf in Arica.

South of Santiago is Valdivia, in the heart of Chile’s famed Lake District. This city at the confluence of three rivers also has a fascinating history. In the dawn of the 17th century, the Mapuche indigenous forced the Spanish to abandon the port which was later occupied by Dutch pirates. In their efforts to reconquer their Pearl of the Pacific, the Spaniards built the America’s second largest fortress system, covering over 18 kilometers (11 miles). During the 19th century, thousands of Germans immigrated here. In 1960, the largest earthquake in modern history destroyed the city.

The Mapuche festival in Valdivia.

Today, Valdivia is a culturally and ethnically vibrant city. It has a full slate of museums covering everything from natural history to art, as well as a half-dozen performance art centers. The city’s ethnic diversity is celebrated with several festivals: Bierfest (January 29-February 1), Fiesta de las Tradiciones (September 17-21) and Expoarte y Cultura Mapuche (November 28-30).

 Visitors to Valdivia can join the national rowing team sculling the rivers. You can also spend a day boating towards the sea to visit the Spanish fortresses at Isla Mancera, Corral and Niebla, or upstream to Punucapa and the Cuello Negro brewery. Kunstmann, famous throughout Chile for its beer, also is headquartered near Valdivia.

A Spanish fortress.

At the end of a day of exploring Valdivia and its region, try some of its famous seafood or a crudo, a dish of its German origin. Of course, accompany any repast with one of the local beers (Café las Gringas serves all of Chile’s microbrews) and end it with some delectable chocolate.

Valdivia is a good point to launch any hiking expedition into the Lake District’s many national parks, like Villarrica, near Pucón, with a volcano to climb, or Puyehue, with an active volcano. Hot springs, fishing and other nature diversions spot the countryside around the Seven Lakes. The entire region is perfumed by the Mapuche and German cultures.

Black-neck Swans.

At the far end of Chile, on the eastern shore of the Magellan Strait, is our last destination: Porvenir. This town on the island of Tierra del Fuego also has a deep history and culture. It was where Selk’nam wandered and fished, Croats and Chilotes came looking for gold at the end of the rainbow and Chilean cinema was born.

Follow the rainbow to Porvenir.

Although the indigenous peoples of this land are long gone, you can learn about their culture at the Museo Provincial Fernando Cordero Rusque. Porvenir’s modern history began with a gold rush in the late 19th century. By following the Circuito Histórico Cultural into the mountains near Porvenir, you will find men still panning the chill streams for gold nuggets. This historic circuit also wends to the old sheep ranch Estancia Caleta Josefina and Onaisín.

The shores of Porvenir’s bay is a great place to learn about the town’s history and to birdwatch. Another refuge for avifauna is Monumento Nacional de los Cisnes. Out in the hinterlands of the island are Lago Blanco, a trout angler’s Paradise, and the Cordillera de Darwin, the ultimate adventure for trekkers.

Porvenir is accesible by ferry from Punta Arenas, or by private vehicle the Argentine cities Ushuaia and Río Gallegos. To visit sites in the countryside around Porvenir, rent a car in any of the major cities, hire a driver in Porvenir, go on tour or bicycle out. As in other parts of Chile, seafood is superb here. Porvenir is the best place to try centolla, or king crab.

 

Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir are all easy to get to from the neighboring countries. If you’re needing a break from Peru or Argentina, head over the border for the multi-faceted pleasures these three towns guarantee. Pack along V!VA’s other guidebooks to help you navigate into the lesser-known corners of all these countries.