Reasons to go to Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

  • One of Chile's best maintained national parks, and a beacon project for community involvement in conservation.
  • Hiking options for all abilities, from short walks to challenging volcano ascents. Kayaking to sea lion colonies and thermal springs.
  • Easily accessible via the Carretera Austral.

About Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

PUMALIN(3)

Pumalín (or Parque Nacional Pumalín Douglas Tompkins to give it its full name) was founded in 2018 as part of the largest donation of private land to a state in the world: the culmination of a 27 private effort by the late philanthropist Douglas Tompkins to restore land that had originally given over to ranching. It is now a central component of Chile's 1700km-long Route of the Parks. 

Pumalín's spectacular landscape is pinched in between the Chilean fjords and the Andes, and its temperate rainforest is a biodiversity hotspot. The park, which is bisected by the Carretera Austral, contains around a quarter of Chile's ancient alerce trees, which can live for millennia. That number continues to grow thanks to extensive reforestation. Local communities have remained central to developing the park.

The park is split into a north (norte) and south (sur) sectors. The south is the main area of hiking, while the north has no roads and can only be accessed by boat or on a sea kayak trip. 

The park's main transport hub is at Chaitén. The town was rebuilt after 2008 when its eponymous volcano erupted, which released enough ash to cause the closure of the park for several years. 

What to see & do in Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

Hiking

Glacier El Amarillo, Pumalín Park, Patagonia, Chile

Glacier El Amarillo, Pumalín Park

Hike to the crater of a smouldering volcano and stand on petrified magma beds as you gaze at a glistening glacier; hike through lush, verdant rainforest and be mesmerised by cascading waterfalls. From simple 30 minutes hikes to more challenging eight hour ascents, the Caleta Gonzalo section of Pumalín Sur really does offer a huge variety and diversity of scenery accessible from its day hikes.

The hike to Chaitén Volcano is testament to nature's ability to restore itself, leading through lush new vegetation to the mouth of the volcano. A longer day hike is also possible to the base of Michimahuida Volcano, or to Laguna Tronador, which offers equally stunning views of the volcano. A shorter and easier hike is available to the sparkling waterfalls of Cascadas Escondidas.

The day hikes all start and end from various points along the Carretera Austral, interspersed with camping areas. The best way to access the trailheads is with your own vehicle but it is possible to also be dropped off by a rather infrequent public bus service that services the road. .

Kayaking

Pumalin kayaking

Kaying in Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

Combine breath-taking scenery, sea lion colonies and waterfalls plunging directly into the sea by kayaking through Pumalín Norte. Access to this part of the park is entirely from the water.

Kayak trips leave from Puerto Varas with four days needed to access the best of the fjords. The added bonus of kayaking in Pumalín Norte is that you will spend at least one night camping next to natural thermal springs - a lovely way to relax your weary muscles after a day of paddling.

Kayaking in Pumalín is best enjoyed by people with some kayaking experience as some parts are exposed to the open sea. For novices, we recommend taking on the two-day kayaking options on the more protected (but equally dramatic) Reloncaví Fjord just a little further north.

Cruise the fjords

Pumalin cruise

Aboard Alba, a small ten-person traditional wooden boat, cruise through the fjords of Pumalín Norte and the Chiloé archipelago with an experienced wildlife guide to see incredible forests, bird life and marine mammals.

Alba sleeps ten in five ensuite cabins, and freshly caught seafood is washed down with a good bottle of local wine. There are kayaks on board to allow exploration the fjords by paddle. This cruise also allows you the opportunity to get off in the Pumalín Sur part of the park and do a day hike with your guide.

The trip ends in the lovely little fishing village of Dalcahue on the island of Chiloé where the Alba was built. She is a private vessel but the owners offer her for rental several times a season for our clients. Exploring Pumalín and Chiloé from the comfort of this lovely boat is a real privilege.

Road trip the Carretera Austral

Pumalín is where the epic Carretera Austral highway feels like it really starts. The park is the natural first stop (or last stop) on any self-drive journey when driving between Puerto Montt and Coyhaique (or beyond). As the road runs through the middle of the park it is very easily accessible. If you are keen hikers, it is worth staying for a few nights to enjoy the network of day hiking trails with the clear highlight being the three hour trail to see the smouldering Chaitén Volcano.

A 4x4 is definitely needed as the road frequently becomes narrow, wild and pot-holed – but a driving trip here is never less than an extraordinary adventure. 

Driving the Carretera Austral in Pumalín Park, Patagonia, Chile

Driving the Carretera Austral in Pumalín Park

Swoop Says background image

Swoop says

The full 400,000 hectares of Parque Pumalin was created by the US organisation The Conservation Land Trust, with land endowed by the environmentalist Douglas Tompkins. It is a fascinating story and worth learning a little about before visiting.

Where to stay in Pumalín

The style of accommodation that you prefer will dictate where you should base yourself. If you are looking for a comfy place to rest your head, with good food and a lovely setting, then we would recommend spending two nights in Caleta Gonzalo and then a further 2-3 nights in the Lago Yelcho area (technically outside Pumalín but it has some really great lodge options and doesn't involve much more driving).

Where to stay in Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

Caleta Gonzalo is the best place to base yourself to enjoy the trails in the northern part of Pumalín Sur. At Caleta Gonzalo there are seven beautifully crafted, quaint shepherds’ cabins with simple but cosy interiors. The views out onto the fjord are breath-taking with the steep mountain sides in front as a backdrop.

Slightly outside the park boundaries Yelcho en la Patagonia on the shores of the Lago Yelcho is a very homely fly-fishing lodge with views out across Lake Yelcho and to the glaciers beyond. It’s a great base for exploring the El Amarillo trails and Yelcho hanging glacier trails, before returning each evening to a delicious meal, a sunset swim in the lake and a peaceful place to rest your head.

Pumalin Cabins at Caleta Gonzalo

How to get to Pumalín

Pumalín is considered the traditional starting point of the Carretera Austral, starting at Caleta Gonzalo and bisecting the park as it runs south. The region's main transport hub is at Chaitén, 56km south of Caleta Gonzalo, and 420km north of Coyhaique in Aysen.

There is a daily car ferry service between Hornopirén (for Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas) to Caleta Gonzalo (twice a day in high season), taking around six hours. Chaitén also has car ferry services several times a week to Puerto Montt (nine hours) and to Castro on Chiloé island (five hours).

Pumalín Norte can only really be accessed on multi-day kayak trips that start from Puerto Varas.

Swoop Says background image

Harriet says

To be able to complete the main day hike trails of Pumalin, it will involve quite a bit of driving. Don't be surprised by this or put off, I found that the views and experiences are worth it.

Harriet Pike Trekking, Mountaineering & Cycling Specialist

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