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Futaleufú may be the rafting capital of Chile’s Patagonia, but Palena is the center for off-the-beaten-track trekking and horseback riding. Not many tourists make it here to experience its magical atmosphere of this village located 72 kilometers (43 miles) east of Villa Santa Lucía, near the Río Encuentro border crossing into Argentina. Alto Palena, as the town is officially called, is the southern-most village in Chile’s X Región de los Lagos.

Alto Palena is in the mountains that form a ridge between Chile and Argentina. The landscape highlights not only the Andes, but also the Palena-Queulat River valley, one of the most important watersheds in southern Chile. Much of the area is protected by the Reserva Nacional Lago Palena, located south of town. Besides trekking and horseback riding, other sports await adventurers. The Palena River is noted for its rich salmon and trout fly fishing. The river also offers torrential white waters for rafting and kayaking. The people of the surrounding countryside have a built a network of hostels and guiding services allowing visitors to explore this backcountry region of the RĂ­o Palena-Queulat basin. The Lago Palena-El Azul leg of the Sendero de Chile connects with another section of the nation-wide trail system which leads to Lago Verde.

Within Alto Palena, visitors can do short hikes to Cerro Bandera and Cerro La Cruz, each just a kilometers (0.6 miles) from the village. The cementerio de Palena, six kilometers (3.6 miles) east has good views of the mountains. In February the town’s founding is celebrated with a nationally renowned rodeo. In November is the festival costumbrista, which showcases dances, games and other traditions of the Palena region.

The history of Palena is like much of the rest of this part of Chile. Beginning in the early 20th century, pioneers migrated from the country’s central valley, through Argentina, to homestead. For decades, Alto Palena’s trade and cultural ties were more with the sister republic than with Chile itself. The traditions of gauchos and mate, among others, are seen here. The border, in more respects than one, remained undefined. At the end of 1966, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, at the request of both nations, interceded to definitively set the limits. Only then did Alto Palena officially become Chilean.


Alto Palena has complete tourist services, mostly located near the Plaza de Armas. The tourism information office is open only during the high season. Conaf has maps of near-by Reserva Nacional Lago Palena (RisopatrĂłn, opposite the plaza, Tel.: 74-1269). Banco Estado exchanges US dollars and Euros, and has an ATM (MasterCard, Cirrus) (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. RisopatrĂłn 573). The town, as well, has a carabinero station, post office, internet, phone carriers and hospital. For more information about Palena and its region, visit or


Palena and its countryside is a noted area for weaving, cheese, jam and other products. Elsa Said in the village uses Mapuche designs and techniques in her textile work and does special orders. Peñaipil in Valle California (20 kilometers / 12 miles south) makes cheeses, conserves and jams. To find out more about either artisan, contact Ruta Transpatagonia Norte (Tel.: 74-1263, E.mail:


Emir Chávez leads horseback rides from Palena to Lago Palena and the Sendero de Chile circuit (Tel.: 74-1269 / 74-1263), E-mail: Río Palena Tour Operadores does boating and fishing excursions (Rispatrón 621, Tel.: 74-1269). Patagonia Expediciones offers expeditions to Lago Palena and down the Río Palena (Marchant 740, Tel.: 74-1265, E-mail: It is also possible to arrange trips to Lago Yelcho.


Hospedaje El Paso (Puedo 669, Tel.: 74-1226)

Cabañas Los Ñires (Vicente Pérez Rosales 368, Tel.: 74-1206)

Hostal El Americano (H. de Mendoza 780, Tel.: 74-1243)

Camping Los Guindos (P. Montt 361, Tel.: 74-1339)


The mercado municipal is at the north end of Calle General Freire. Several supermarkets provide provisions. Alto Palena doesn’t have much in the way of restaurants. Two are on Pudeto between Pedro Montt and Vicente Pérez Rosales: El Pas (Tel.: 74-1226) and La Chilenita (Tel.: 74-1212).

(Altitude: 277 meters / 900 feet, Population: 1690, Phone Code: 065)


Other places nearby Palena: Parque Nacional Hornopirén, Puerto Cisnes, Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas, Coyhaique, Villa Santa Lucía , Hornopirén Village, Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael , Puerto Chacabuco , Villa Cerro Castillo and Puerto Río Tranquilo.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

21 Dec 2011

Things to do in Palena

Reserva Nacional Lago Palena

24 kilometers (14.5 miles) south of Palena village ENTRY: Free Reserva Nacional Lago Palena, created in 1965, is a 41,380-hectare park composed of Andean foothills ranging from 600 meters (1950 ...
National Park
Palena, Chile
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