Parque Natural Pumalín
In 1991, U.S. businessman Douglas Tompkins and his wife Kristine McDivitt cashed out their equity from the Esprit and Patagonia clothing empires to purchase blocks of temperate rainforest to create the region’s largest destination—literally so—in Parque Pumalín, a 317,000-hectare private nature reserve straddling the highway north of Chaitén.
Since then, says the New York Times, only General Pinochet’s name has appeared more in the Chilean press than Tompkins, who’s even received death threats from ultranationalists who accuse him of trying to split the country in half. Tompkins has many Chilean supporters, though, and most criticisms are far less extreme.
Tompkins has allayed much of that criticism by building trails, cabins, campgrounds, and a restaurant and visitors center that have lured visitors from Chaitén to the summer ferry port of Caleta Gonzalo, on the Reñihué fjord, and other points along the highway and the park’s extensive shoreline.
In late 2004, in a ceremony in Santiago, Pumalín finally received formal legal recognition from President Ricardo Lagos’s government.
Al Sur Expediciones (Del Salvador 100, Puerto Varas, tel./fax 065/232300, www.alsurexpeditions.com) arranges activity-oriented excursions—hiking, sea kayaking, and sailing—throughout the park.
At Caleta Gonzalo, Pumalín’s Centro de Visitantes (tel. 1712/1964151) distributes brochures, provides information, and displays informational panels with large black-and-white photographs of the park; it also sells books, maps, film, park products like organic honey and jam, and local crafts. If it’s not open, café personnel can unlock it on request.
Pumalín maintains additional information offices in Chaitén (O’Higgins 62, tel./fax 065/731341); in Puerto Varas (Klenner 299, tel. 065/250079, fax 065/255145, pumalin [at] telsur [dot] cl); and in the United States (The Conservation Land Trust, Building 1062, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito, CA 94965, tel. 415/229-9339, fax 415/229-9340, www.theconservationlandtrust.org).
Pumalín also has a detailed website (www.parquepumalin.cl, in Spanish and English) and publishes the monthly magazine Puma Verde.
In January and February only, Naviera Austral’s ferry Mailén sails to Hornopirén (five hours) at 9 a.m. daily; reservations are advisable for vehicles. The return ferry leaves Hornopirén at 3 p.m. Passengers pay US$17 per person, while cyclists pay an extra US$11 and motorcyclists US$22. Automobiles and light trucks pay US$108, while larger vehicles cost US$29 per linear meter.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition