Again, it has been too long since my last blog post! Clay and I have been keeping busy with friends and family visiting us throughout November. Between work, showing friends around the island, and a quick trip to Maui I am overdue for a new blog! During the week I was thinking about what I wanted to share on my blog when Marty (my friend and coworker) and I guided a sea kayak tour to the Mokulua Islands. It was on this tour that we had two guests from South America joining us! Nicole was from Chile and her partner was from Uruguay. Immediately I began reminiscing about my favorite adventures in South America and my love for Chile. I loved recounting my travels in Pucon, Futaleufu, and Valdivia with Nicole while sharing with her the beauty of Hawaii and its offshore islands. My friend, Leah, recently asked me to write a blog about my time in South America, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity! What I loved most about Chile was the exchange of culture, the rugged landscapes, and the remoteness that the country offered. My favorite moments from the trip were ones which got us off the beaten path, and ones that encompassed a little (or a lot) of adventure. With that being said, here are my top 5 must-dos while experiencing this beautiful country!
Hike the Cochamo River Valley
Cochamo is in the Los Lagos Region located about a 5 hour drive south of Pucon. Clay and I found ourselves on our way to the Cochamo valley with our friends Colin, Amy, Russel, and Chris for an adventure larger than we realized. A well-known 11km trail up the valley leads you to a haven known as the Yosemite of Chile. (It is what I imagined Yosemite of California was like 100 years ago prior to the commercialization of it.) While Amy and I packed our backpacking bags per usual, the boys loaded up their 70lb kayaks with all of their gear for an uphill 11km hike with the goal of kayaking down the pristine, steep, Cochamo River. The trail itself is amazing, as it is a hundred year old trail that was used by gauchos to transport cattle from Argentina to Chile. It is rugged, muddy, steep, and gorged-out from the decades of heavy use. After a long day of hiking with river crossings, log-bridges, and passing through narrow mud-walls, we finally reached the camp and haven known as La Junta. La Junta is owned privately and offers camping, water access, latrines, and cooking and cleaning facilities for just $3 a night. We set up camp in huge, lush, green fields next to free roaming cattle and horses, built a fire, and camped under one of the most beautiful night skies I have ever seen. The next morning we rose bright and early while the boys put on the river, and Amy and I explored the hidden waterfalls before packing up and hiking back down. Unfortunately we made the mistake that most make of only spending one night at La Junta. My suggestion is to aim for at least two or three nights – and enjoy the paradise that is La Junta!
Cerro Castillo National Park
Clay and I found ourselves spending a couple of days in Cerro Castillo en route to the Marble Cathedrals – a place in which I refused to leave Chile without seeing! While we didn’t know much about Cerro Castillo, it is a gem and I am thrilled to have stumbled upon it. It was while hitchhiking on New Year’s Eve day with our friend, Zach, that our last ride and last bit of daylight put us at the entrance to this park. The next day we began exploring the park and finally walked a long length of dirt road to reach the official trail head. The views of the mountains are incredible as they are rugged and point up to the sky, resembling that of a castle. We walked through forests until we reached a clearing and began to hike up the river valley. The trail here goes on to complete a 35 mile circuit, photos of which look astonishing. On our day hike it felt as if we had just begun before we had to turn back to reach our camp by dark, disappointed that we didn’t have the food, equipment, or the time-frame to complete this hike. Exploring this park in any fashion is well worth it, and on my next trip back I will be sure to explore Cerro Castillo in its entirety!
Drive/Hitchhike/Bike to Puerto Rio Tranquilo
From Cerro Castillo Clay and I continued to make our way to Puerto Rio Tranquilo, where you can find both the Marble Cathedrals as well as the Exploradores Glacier. The ride alone from Cerro Castillo was just as impressive as the destination that we had yet to reach. On this stretch, Clay and I were lucky to be picked a group of Nols students who were about to begin an ice climbing course on the glaciers of Patagonia. We quickly discovered that we shared the same destination, and became quick friends as Clay and I rode in the bed of their truck for the three hour journey – complete with the best views in the house! The unending views of the mountains and lakes – void of people and infrastructure – made it one of the most beautiful, rugged drives I have yet to experience. After a bumpy ride, we arrived with enough daylight in the afternoon to hike up and gain views of the Exploradores Glacier. That evening, we all set up camp together, built a fire, and enjoyed the views and the quietness of being the only ones around. First thing that next morning we arrived in the town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo for a boat ride and a visit to the Capillas de Marmol – the Marble Cathedrals. This corner of Chile is remote, peaceful, and rugged. There is much to be explored and the views alone are not to be missed!
The small town of Futaleufu is about two hours away from the small town of Chaiten – famous for its volcanic eruption in 2008. Futaleufu is the name of both the surging, powerful river as well as the town that exists alongside of it. As the second largest volume river in Chile, it makes for an exhilarating rafting trip down this pristine stretch of whitewater. The town of Futaleufu is quaint and quiet, and is a wonderful escape from some of the more populated destinations in Chile. From Futaleufu you have access to the river for whitewater rafting and kayaking, numerous hikes, and impressive mountain views. Be sure to stay with my friend, Nate, at his hostel – Hostel Las Natalias! It is this part of Chile that you will find fields of sheep and roaming cattle, chickens, and dogs. Be sure to stop by the restaurant Sur Andes for a delicious meal before you leave!
Just east of Futaleufu is the Argentine border, and not far is the bustling city of Bariloche. After getting your fix of remoteness, wilderness, and adventure, head to Bariloche for some Argentine flair! Gelato, chocolate, beef, and some of the world’s best pizza is just around the border. With beautiful mountains and lakes still within sight from Bariloche, Clay and I enjoyed checking out this city’s architecture, museums, nightlife, and food. The culture in Bariloche contrasts drastically from that of the small Chilean villages. Clay and I spent just under a week exploring the city and enjoying some amenities that had been missed while camping and hitchhiking on the road.
I love how meeting someone from a place you have visited brings back a plethora of memories. Below is a video that I put together once we returned from our travels. One day I hope Clay and I make it back to Chile, but for those of you making plans or heading that way – enjoy it for me for now!