Parque Nacional Patagonia

Top choice in Northern Patagonia

The guanaco (Lama guanicoe), a camelid native to South America, stands between 1.0 and 1.2 m at the shoulder and weighs 90 to 140 kg. Its color varies very little (unlike the domestic llama), ranging from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath. Guanacos have grey faces and small, straight ears. The name guanaco comes from the South American Quechua word huanaco (modern spelling: wanaku). Young guanacos are called chulengos.

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Dubbed as the Serengeti of the Southern Cone, the 690-sq-km Parque Nacional Patagonia features Patagonian steppe, forests, mountains, lakes and lagoons. Located 18km north of Cochrane, this new national park was an overgrazed estancia. Tompkins Conservation (www.tompkinsconservation.org) began its restoration in 2004. Now it's home to flamingo, guanaco, huemul (endangered Andean deer), puma, viscacha and fox. The park stretches from the Río Baker to the Argentine border, which can be crossed in a private vehicle at Paso Roballos.

Combining this valley with Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinimeni to the north and Reserva Nacional Tamango to the south will eventually result in a 2400-sq-km park, worthy of rivaling Torres del Paine.

The valley is an important wildlife corridor with excellent wildlife watching. Foxes and herds of guanaco are easily spotted. Studies underway in the park look at grasslands ecology and track huemul populations. The park's roaming population consists of around 120 huemules, out of a worldwide population of 2000.