Lonely Planet Writer

Chile has just created five new national parks thanks to land donation

Chile has just acquired 10 million acres of national parkland an a new protected area the size of Switzerland, thanks to the biggest private land donation in history from Tompkins Conservation.

Parque Nacional Hornopirén. Image by Tompkins

Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins have signed into creation Patagonia National Park and Pumalín National Park, as part of their joint environmentalist vision that sees Chile expanding three existing national parks and gaining five new ones. The new parks will make up key sections of the new ‘Route of Parks’ – a 1500-mile-long network of 17 national parks that stretch all the way to Cape Horn.

The new national parks of Isla Magdalena, Corcovado and Melimoyu are somewhat remote. However, Pumalín and Patagonia will be the easiest of the new parks to visit, located off the Carretera Austral, Chile’s famous Southern Highway. They already have excellent existing infrastructure and are open for business, allowing Chileans and foreign visitors alike to discover the unspoiled beauty of Patagonia for themselves.

Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo Image by Pablo Valenzuela

In Pumalín, trekkers can hike up to glaciers and the rim of a recently active volcano, and spot millennia-old alerce trees, while in Patagonia National Park, herds of guanacos roam the valleys and across tree-shaded campsites, while pumas, other wildcats and huemul deer once again make the forest their home.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins as the decree was signed. Image by Linde Waidhofer

In the early 1990s, philanthropists Kristine and Douglas Tompkins – the founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing empires – moved to Chile from California and devoted themselves to conservation. The have been buying up vast tracts of land, ‘rewilding’ them by restoring the original ecosystems and reintroducing native wildlife, and collaborating with the Chilean and Argentinian governments to create new protected areas. Their efforts attracted controversy and suspicion and they’ve faced opposition from ranchers and loggers. However, for the majority of Chileans, ecotourism in this stunningly beautiful regions of glacial rivers, lakes and snow-capped mountains, is very much part of a sustainable future.

Parque Nacional Isla Magdalena. Image by Tompkins

It’s also the perfect time to start planning a trip to Chile, as Lonely Planet named it the best country to visit in 2018.

By Anna Kaminski