Kathy's Northern Patagonia off the beaten path expedition
Kathy Jarvis, director of Andean Trails, has just returned from a research foray into Chilean Patagonia, South America. Here are the answers to our questions - they will make you want to go!
Where have you just been?
What did you see and do?
We spent a month travelling south, from Balmaceda to Punta Arenas.
For the first 2 weeks of the trip I wanted to explore an area of Chile I had not been to before but had been meaning to visit since 1994 , my first visit to Chile. On that trip I got down the Carretera Austral as far as Puerto Montt, Chiloe and Chaiten. On this trip I wanted to go further south, to the end of the Carretera Austral. After flying into Balmaceda, a remote airport 2 hours south of Santiago where the terminal building is little more than a large shed, we were picked up by a local driver and set off to explore the Aysen region.
First stop was some hiking in the Cerro Castillo mountains, a bit of a shock to the system, as this turned out to be some tough walking, and at 9 hours our longest day in the mountains. I'd seen beautiful photos of the Marble caves in Lake General Carrrera - so that was our next stop. The caves are impressive, best seen early morning for good light. A 4 day expedition into the Los Leones mountain area followed. We set off each day from a base camp deep in the mountains, travelled by jet boat and zodiac, scaled glaciers, crossed zip-lines and saw some of the most amazing wilderness I have ever seen. Vast empty mountain areas, lichen clad southern beech forests, glaciers flowing off the north Patagonia ice-cap, endless deep blue lakes, fast flowing rivers, marine fossils and very few people.
We travelled on southwards by 4wd with several ferry crossings to reach Villa O'Higgins at the end of the road. From there two boat journeys, a long walk and 30km by car would take us over the border and into El Chalten at the heart of Argentinean Patagonia. This must be one of the most remote border posts in the world. The guards operate from a simple office and work 8 weeks on then 2 weeks off, of which it takes 2 days to get home and 2 days to get back again. The actual border is a signpost deep in the forest. It is a 21 km walk to cross from one country to the other, through beautiful forested mountains.
The second part of our trip was spent in the Fitzroy area with El Chalten our base. We made a short stop in El Calafate, then spent a week in the fabulous Torres del Paine National Park. I knew both well from tour leading there, but my last visit had been several years ago. Of course the mountains haven't changed but the towns and facilities for tourists have certainly developed and grown.
In 20 words, describe your favourite…
Place: The journey from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten was beautiful, remote and a wonderful way to travel. On the way we stayed in the home of a local family. The farm of 10,000 hectares is run by 3 sons, the 3rd generation to live there. The views of the Fitzroy peaks were astonishing.
Hotel: In Torres del Paine the eco-camp is exceptional.
Excursion: The jet boat on Rio Leones was an exhilarating experience.
Who would love these treks/trips?
Anyone with a sense of adventure who loves big wilderness areas.
Essentials to bring to Patagonia?
1. Good waterproofs,
3. Plenty of storage space for photos.
Best place for….
Food: Puerto Natales for sea food, definitely.
Beer: El Chalten has the same good micro brewery that was there 15 years ago.
Coffee: The coffee is pretty rubbish through most of Chile. At the camp we fashioned a filter using serviettes and managed to get a half decent cup.
Advice or top tips?
Think about travelling in March or April as autumn colours are stunning and the Patagonian wind tends to be less strong.
Get in touch for a chat as there are loads of options - too many to write down.
Holiday in a nutshell?
Wilderness and adventure.
Where to find out more?
For a Northern Patagonia holiday see Northern Patagonia Adventure Aysen Chile.
Kathy's trip photos can be found on facebook