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Footprints of the past, Pali Aike in Patagonia

“200km northeast of Punta Arenas, and on the border with Argentina, is the little-known Pali Aike National Park. Landscapes that blend an arid magellanic steppe, fields of volcanic rock, archaeological sites of ancient aboriginal peoples, and richly diverse fauna – pumas, rheas, and flamingos, to name but a few. These make Pali Aike a great tourist and cultural destination. ”

It is below the towering Torres del Paine National Park, full of the vast majority of visitors to the Magallanes Region. Our destination is still undiscovered by the masses, its traces of the past still intact. In this remote corner of the planet, you can see how prehistorical Patagonian geological, natural and archaeological history come together in harmony.

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The puma is king in this territory. The caves formed by the park’s rocks and craters are home to the predator. Guanacos, like llamas, abound throughout the magellanic steppe and are the puma’s favorite food. In the park, we can find diverse panoramas – such as the beautiful Santa Ana Laguna, and the paths inviting you to observe a huge flamingo colony.

Aborigenes and Volcanos

Their namesake is the aborigines who inhabited the area thousands of years ago. The Aonikeks, also known as Tehuelches, were nomads who moved through Patagonia between the Santa Cruz River (Argentina) and the Strait of Magellan (Chile). They hunted guanacos, rheas and other animals that suited their dietary needs, and were constantly visiting the area that makes up the park today. They were drawn there by the great volcanic field of the region, reminiscent of a lunar landscape and completely different from the rest of the Patagonian landscape. Its odd geographical characteristics led the Aonikeks to believe that there were evil spirits there – so they called it Pali Aike (desolate place).

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Here, it is also possible to see the caves used by the Aonikeks as shelter. Excavations on the archaelogical sites of Pali Aike Cave and Fell Cave have proven the existence of early humans in Patagonia. The discoveries – stoves, ‘fishtail’ stones and remains of extinct animals such as the milodon and the native American horse – and studies on them have enabled archaeologists to estimate that humans inhabited this area more than 8000 years.

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Paths

There are several paths in the park that lead to each of the sights and are not too challenging. In just one day, you can experience a hike over a millennia-old volcanic field, go inside the crater left by an extinct volcano, sit in a cave, close your eyes and imagine the prehistoric people who inhabited these lands. You can also visit a small lagoon, home to hundreds of flamingos, or feel the adrenaline rush of knowing there could be a puma hiding somewhere nearby. With a bit of luck, it can all be rounded off with a picture-perfect sunset; a largely undiscovered gem of Patagonia.

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The beginning of the end of the world, Coyhaique

A little more than a month ago, I went to Coyhaique. I didn’t know it before – I live more than 1,000km away from the capital of vast Chilean Patagonia, an area named “place where there is water” by the Tehuelches, where the Simpson and Coyhaique rivers converge. I flew from Puerto Montt to Balmaceda; the flight went quickly thanks to being able to view our thin strip of a country from the air, the great mountain range that is the central axis from which countless fjords, rivers, lakes and pampas fan out, watched over by the indefatigable Pacific Ocean.

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Photo: Tomas Irarrazaval

Coyhaique is surrounded by tableaux, hills and drop-offs that enable you to gaze upon the place from within, in the middle of landscapes formed and molded by the perennial winds. Here, our sight is awoken and all our senses are united.

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Photo: Tomas Irarrazaval

Our brain bestows us with this optical ability so that we can resume and project everything we feel into a large visual field, which immediately and naturally takes away our narrowness of vision – this is why I believe that any path one takes from Coyhaique is beautiful.

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Photo: Tomas Irarrazaval

The hills rise from the Andes like titans sprinkled with snow, the ocean devours the cliff-sides, the sheer force of the water that flows over the hills, weathering the earth home to the Andean deer, the birds and the hares, camouflaged among coihue, lenga and ñirre trees that follow the sunlight over the surrounding streak of mountain that wraps around this area, just like our senses do through our sight.

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Photo: Tomas Irarrazaval

We sat among tranquil lagoons and felt the lone southern wind shake the flowers of a lupin field. We saw its seeds cast over villages, next to the rivers that flow through the area, and we contemplated the vastness of General Carrera Lake, sitting on a solitary jetty in Puerto Ibáñez.

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Photo: Tomas Irarrazaval

It is then that you come to understand that there is much more, that it goes beyond what you can see; and if you explore further, you can see from atop naturally formed lookout points that this is, quite literally, “the beginning of the end of the world.”

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Photo: Tomas Irarrazaval

 

6 places we recommend to visit:

Coyhaique, Puerto Aysén, Acantilada Bay, Castillo Hill, Lake Tamango, Puerto Ibáñez.

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Photo: Tomas Irarrazaval

Where is a good place to stay? : Vista Patagonia Lodge, where view is once again king – where you can open the bedroom window, see the Mackay Hill and be left speechless, honored to be so close.

A lodge decorated in clean, modern lines, tended to by the owners, you can feel at peace there. It’s an exclusive-feeling place surrounded by silence, with quality, warmth and a privileged view.

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Vista Lodge hotel – www.vistalodge.com – Photo: Tomas Irarrazaval

4 Simple Ways to explore Chiloé Archipelago

If you truly want to explore Chiloé Archipelago, you should keep in mind this short list of tips that will make you see the island with other eyes

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Talk with everybody: The people of Chiloé or “Chilotes” are very friendly, they are known for their kindness and hospitality. They love tourists! If you have a problem or you don’t know how to get to a place, they will help you (or at least, they will try).

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Eat in small places: There are a lot of restaurants in touristic areas like Castro (the capital city of Chiloé), but if you want to try truly Chilota meals, you should go to small places, usually like houses. Don’t forget they will be also cheaper.

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To walk: The best way to travel around Chiloé is on foot. You can book a tour or take a bus between cities, but when you are in a town, you must walk. The towns and cities are small, so you can cross them in a short time. This type of trip will allow you to discover the real island and find hidden places that are not normally seen on a tour.

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Take boat tours: Chiloé is linked to the sea, their mythology and traditions are connected to the ocean as the life of every Chilote. For this reason, if you want to see the whole charm of the place, you should take a boat trip. First, because usually they are made by a local who will tells you a lot of things about the island. Second, because it is the only way to appreciate some things, like the “palafitos” (a unique type of houses on stilts mainly in Castro), the other islands of the Chiloé Archipelago (like Quinchao, where you can visit beautiful towns like Curaco de Vélez or Achao) and the marine wildlife (like penguins or Dolphins).

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One final advice to explore Chiloé Archipelago: plan your visit. If you want to observe nature, you should go to Chiloé National Park or “Las pingüineras de Puñihuil” (known in English as “Chiloe island penguin colony”, the only place in the world where you can see Humboldt penguins and Magellanic penguins together). On the other hand, if you want to see the mystery of the Chiloé and some hidden places, you should go to Aucar (in the city of Quemchi). This place it is also called “The island of navigating souls” and has a beautiful bridge that connects the island with the rest of the place.  There are a lot of things to discover in Chiloé, so it is advisable to plan your visit to make the most of your travel!