Reasons to go to Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

  • Visit one of Chile's best maintained national parks, a beacon project for community involvement in conservation.
  • Follow a wealth of hiking trails for all abilities, from walks to millennia-old trees to to more challenging ascents to the craters of volcanoes.
  • Dip your paddles to kayak to otherwise inaccessible locations, from seal lion colonies to hidden thermal springs
  • Explore a national park that's easily accessible from the Chilean Lake District or 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) is one of Chile’s most beautiful national parks. It completely bisects the country, stretching across 994,332 acres (317,00 hectares) from the northern fjords across to the Argentinian border, with the Carretera Austral highway running along its western edge.

Most of the park is covered with verdant temperate rainforest. Moist Pacific air makes everything green: as much as four metres of rain falls here every year. Pumalín’s signature species is the mighty alerce tree, along with the lenga or southern beech. A quarter of all Chile’s alerces are found here – some of them as here are a towering 3000 years old, but when hiking to them there’s as much pleasure to be had in examining the rich ecosystems that thrive around them. Every patch of ground seems covered in mosses, ferns or buzzes with hummingbirds feeding from fuschias. This is a real biodiversity hotspot: half of all the plant species here are found nowhere else on earth

Much of the park is highly mountainous, with steep trails leading to the snow line or to the craters of volcanoes.

Pumalín 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.

What to see & do in Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

Hiking

Glacier El Amarillo, Pumalín Park, Patagonia, Chile

Glacier El Amarillo, Pumalín Park

Pumalín is a hiker’s paradise: you could easily spend several days exploring the trails here without backtracking.

A real must is the Alerce Trail to one of the oldest known trees in the world – an alerce that has been growing for around 3000 years. It’s a short walk easily accessible to those even on a self-drive trip through the park, but watch out for neck strain as you look up.

One of the most spectacular walks is the Chaitén Volcano Hike to the caldera of the volcano that laid waste to swathes of the park in 2008. Pumice and obsidian from the eruption are clearly visible on the ascent. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow – expect to see lots of flowers and hummingbirds as you walk through the open forest, and then spectacular vistas when you climb above the treeline to out down to distant Chaitén town.

Some of the most impressive waterfalls and plunge pools are to be found on the Cascadas Escondidas Trail. This is all about nature putting on a wild show, following a trail through lush overgrown forest. Be prepared for steep and sometimes muddy descents here, though the scenery is more than worth it. The Cascadas Trail is a simpler hike on boardwalks, leading straight out of Caleta Gonzalo.

Longer day hikes include the short  Darwin’s Frog Trail with interpretation about ecosystem regeneration and the Hanging Glacier Trail to Volcán Michinmahuida. 

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.

Trips visiting Chiloé Island and Pumalín National Park

Highlights of the Chilean Lake District

Surrounded by a wealth of national parks and nature reserves, the charming lakeside town of Puerto Varas makes the perfect base for activities. Trek in Vicente Perez Rosales national park - the home of stunning volcanic landscapes, mountain bike to…

  • 5 Days
  • $1,310
Best of the Chilean Lake District

Connect the magic of Chiloé Island, the adventure of the Chilean Lake District and remote hiking trails in Pumalin Park, for the most complete experience the region has to offer. Explore the Route of Parks as you follow in Darwin's…

  • 8 Days
  • $4,100
Patagonian Peaks and Plains

Travel in a small group with an expert tour leader from Santiago all the way down through central Chile to Tierra del Fuego and back up to Buenos Aires. Experience some of Patagonia's best trekking in Torres del Paine National…

  • 20 Days
  • $6,300
Kayak Pumalín Park

This multi-day wilderness kayaking adventure explores the fjords of Pumalín Douglas Tompkins Park in the Chilean Lake District. Top guides will show you the wonders of this magical place from the water and help you navigate the intricate coast as…

  • 4 Days
  • $1,065
Classic Lake District with Chiloé Self-Drive

Enjoy views of the glistening lakes and smoking volcanoes of the Chilean Lake District from a base in the lakeside town of Puerto Varas, followed by immersing yourself in Chiloé Island, with its curious combination of traditional foods, folkloric tales…

  • 5 Days
  • $639
Highlights of Pumalín National Park

Just a short journey from the Chilean Lakes' main hubs, you'll be hiking in lush rainforest, past waterfalls, up snow-capped volcanoes and hanging glaciers. This trip includes a variety of day hikes of varying length and difficulty to allow you…

  • 3 Days
  • $1,750
Highlights of Chiloé Island

Experience the unique charm and ancient traditions of beautiful Chiloé Island. Explore this largely unknown corner of Chile at a relaxed pace, as you observe penguins and other wildlife. Savour traditional cuisine from the sea and the land, and explore…

  • 4 Days
  • $1,738
Explore Chiloé Island by Land and Sea

Relax in this stunning lodge on the shores of fabled Chiloé, where you'll base yourself and discover this fascinating island steeped in history. A flexible itinerary allows you to choose your daily excursions, with expert guides for both active and…

  • 5 Days
  • $4,160
Swoop Says background image

Harriet says

It's staggering to see so many trees in Pumalín that have been growing for thousands of years. You find yourself exploring all the tiny ferns, lichen and moss at eye level and then slowly follow the trunks of these behemoths up as they disappear into the sky.

Harriet Pike Head of Swoop Patagonia

History

A hiker stands at the sign showing the entrance to Pumalín Doug;as Tompkins National Park in Chile

At the entrance to Pumalín

There’s a fascinating story behind Pumalín to discover while exploring its hiking trails. The wood of the alerce tree makes a particularly strong and durable building material, and much of this region was clear cut for logging and then given over to ranching.

Starting in 1989, the late US philanthropist and environmentalist Douglas Tompkins began buying land here to preserve and restore it, and had it declared a national sanctuary in 2005. In 2018, the land was handed over in its entirety to Chile to create the Parque Nacional Pumalín Douglas Tompkins: part of the largest donation of private land to a state in the world. It is now a central component of Chile's 1700 km-long Route of the Parks.

The park's main transport hub is at Chaitén. In 2008 the town was devastated when its eponymous volcano erupted, covering the town with and causing the closure of the park for several years. The town has now been completely rebuilt, along with the nearby town of Amarillo, which has become a centre for community regeneration projects as part of the post-volcano redevelopment of the national park and local economy.

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What our customers think of Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

The park is gorgeous and we didn’t come across any other people. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

Kelsey Freeman - USA

Review:

Where to stay in Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

View from the balcony of the wooden cabin-style Caleta Gonzalo Lodge near Pumalin Douglas Tompkins National Park in Chile

Caleta Gonzalo Lodge

Most visitors to Pumalín base themselves at Caleta Gonzalo in the northern part of Pumalín Sur. The Caleta Gonzalo Lodge is home to a series of simple but very cosy wooden cabins with balconies tucked into the forest and looking out over the fjords, allowing you to wake to the sound of birdsong and watch dolphins from your bed. Home-cooked food is served in the restaurant, with vegetables grown in the lodge’s garden. The lodge backs straight onto the Cascadas Trail, making it a perfect place for hikers.

There is very basic accommodation available in Chaitén, but if you prefer to rough it we would suggest instead to head straight into the park and stay at one of the seven superb campsites in the park. These have well-maintained facilities including shower blocks and kitchen areas. Wild camping is not permitted inside the camp.

How to get to Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park

Aerocord plane to Chaitén and Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park at Puerto Montt's El Paloma Aerodrome in Chile

The plane to Chaitén from Puerto Montt

The best way to get to Pumalín is by air. There are daily flights (50 minutes) to Chaitén (code WCH) from La Paloma Aerodrome (code SCPF) in Puerto Montt. It’s important to note that this is separate from Puerto Montt’s main Tepual airport (code PMC).

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 is not accessible by road and can only really be reached by boat – including multi-day kayak trips that start from Puerto Varas.

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