A journey along Chile's Route of Parks

author photo
Steph Dyson
11/21/2019

1.

Another 150 miles and you reach a flagship project of Tompkins Conservation, Patagonia Park, with its six hiking trails, campgrounds and even luxury lodge accommodation, making it one of the most “tourist ready” of all the parks in the region.

But for a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, Patagonia has never felt wilder or more remote than at its southernmost tip.

Tierra del Fuego, an island separated from mainland Chile by the Strait of Magellan, is the epitome of inhospitable terrain, characterised by ragged mountains that slide dramatically into deep valleys lined with rust-coloured peat bogs and glacial lakes. This is where Yendegaia National Park, one of the route’s most southern parks, is located.

Nowhere else along the 1700-mile route are you left feeling quite so remote, so close to the ends of the earth.

On its doorstep, after a seven-hour drive down Chilean Tierra del Fuego’s only road (the island is neatly divided into Argentine and Chilean territory by the arching backbone of the Andes Mountains), Estancia Lago Fagnano makes a good base from which to absorb the wildness at the end of the Route of the Parks.

German and his wife Marisela offer me tea and freshly-baked bread rolls in their modest cabin on the skirts of Lago Fagnano, while Marisela talks about their journey here, over twenty years ago: “everything we needed to build the first cabin came on horseback all the way from Punta Arenas,” she tells me. “It took years before the road followed”.

The Route of Parks might have given a name and an identity to a seemingly disjointed squiggle of protected lands on the map, but it’s certainly not taken away any of the thrill of journeying to them.

I drive to Caleta Maria, an old harbour on the edge of Admiralty Sound near to where the end of the road currently lies (although the army is continuing to blast their way through the rock to etch a route south to link Tierra del Fuego with Isla Navarino).

This is the closest I’m getting to Cape Horn, the final national park and one that is only accessible by boat.

It’s here that I experience what Hernán Mladinic told me about the vision of the Route of the Parks: “it’s without a doubt a challenging invitation to live adventures in a mythical territory… but also a place to reconnect with oneself in the solitude of these places.”

Nowhere else along the 1700-mile route are you left feeling quite so remote, so close to the ends of the earth. The Route of Parks might have given a name and an identity to a seemingly disjointed squiggle of protected lands on the map, but it’s certainly not taken away any of the challenge – or thrill – of journeying to them.

Header image: VGranta/Shutterstock. Image credits top to bottom (left–right): reisegraf.ch/Shutterstock; sunsinger/Shutterstock; byvalet/Shutterstock; Alberto Loyo/Shutterstock; CarGe/Shutterstock; VGranta/Shutterstock; Pola Damonte/Shutterstock.

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