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Parque Nacional Queulat

In the middle of Chile's Northern Patagonia, where the Cordillera Andino Patagónica plunges into the sea and hot springs steam at the edge of Fiordo Queulat, the Spanish believed was where the mythical Ciudad de los Césares (City of the Caesars) was. This city, founded by the survivors of a Spanish shipwreck, was a rich place made of gold, silver and diamonds. The native Chono recognized the true riches of this magical landscape of rain forest and glaciers. They named it Quenelat, meaning "far away lands" or "sound of the waterfalls". Today we call it Parque Nacional Queulat.

Parque Nacional (PN) Queulat was established in 1983 to protect this virgin forest. Its154,093 hectares are divided in to three sectors. Sector Angostura is north of Puyuhuapi, on the shores of Lago Risopatrón. South of that village, at Km 200 of the Carretera Austral, is Sector Ventisquero, home of the ventisquero colgante or hanging glacier. Further on is Sector Portezuelo. The highest peaks are Alto Nevado (2225 m / 7232 ft), Overo (2061 m / 6699 ft) and Ventisquero (1745 m / 5672 ft). Two ice fields with glaciers, including the Ventisquero Colgante, flow towards the distant sea. The park also protects several major rivers, the most important of which are Queulat, Ventisquero, Bordolí and Pedregoso. Queulat has a cold temperate coastal rain forest climate. Per year 3500-4000 millimeters (138-158 inches) of rain falls. The eastern part of the park is dryer. Temperatures vary between 4º and 9ºC (39º-48ºF).

PN Queulat has a rich biodiversity. The flora is divided into two ecosystems. The Bosque Patagónicos is composed of lenga (lenga beech, Nothofagus pumilio), coigüe de Magallanes (Magellan's beech, Nothofagus betuloides), maitén enano (Maytenus disticha) and michay blanco or taique (Chilean holly, Desfontainea spinoso). The Bosque Siempreverde y Turberas is an evergreen forest carpeted with coigüe de Chiloé (Nothofagus nitida), tepa (Laurelia philippiana), tineo (Weinmannia trichosperma), canelo (winter's bark, Drimys winteri) and chilco (bush fuchsia, Fuchsia magellanica) with an underbrush of nalca (Chilean rhubarb, Gunnera tinctoria), quila (Muehlenbeckia hastulata) and a variety of ferns and lichens. Carpintero Negro (Magellanic woodpecker, Campephilus magellanicus), Cachaña (Austral parakeet, Enicognathus ferrugineus), Condor (Andean condor, Vultur gryphus), Chucao (Scelorchilus rubecula) and Huet-Huet (black-throated huet-Huet, Pteroptochos tarnii) flit through the rain forest. Mammalian denizens include pudú (Chilean miniature deer, Pudu pudu), guiña (kodkod, Oncifelis guigna), puma (Puma concolor), huillín (southern river otter, Lontra provocax), zorro culpeo (Patagonian fox, Lycalopex culpaeus) and possibly the elusive monito del monte (austral opposum, Dromiciops gliroides). Of course, an amphibian would find a wet landscape like this comfortable. Here two frogs are found: sapito de cuatro ojos (Chilean four-eyed frog, Pleurodema thaul) and sapito de Darwin (Darwin’s frogs, Rhynoderma Darwin). In Fiordo de Queulat you can observe whales, toninas and multitudes of seabirds.

PN Queulat offers observation of its varied flora and fauna, sailing, sea kayaking and fishing. The big item on the agenda, though, is hiking. In Sector Angostura, explore Sendero a Laguna los Pumas (Distance: 2.5 km / 1.5 miles, Difficulty: medium-difficult). The trail begins at the Angostura campsite and wends through evergreen forest to Laguna los Pumas, a small lake surrounded by lenga trees.

Sector Ventisquero has three trails:

Sendero al Mirador (Distance: 200 m / 650 ft, Difficulty: easy ) – To the confluence of Ventisqueros and Desagüe Rivers, where from the lookout point you can see the Ventisquero Colgante

Sendero a Laguna Témpanos (Distance: 600 meters / 1950 feet, Difficulty: easy) – Crosses Río Ventisqueros over a hanging bridge to Laguna Témpanos, which is fed by the Ventisquero Colgante

Sendero sobre la Morrena (Distance: 3.2 km/ 2 miles, Difficulty: medium) – This steep two to three hour hike climbs through evergreen forest and over a glacier moraine to a beautiful vantage point of the glacier. Off this is an interpretive trail, El Aluvión, allowing visitors to learn about the glacier's dynamics. In summer, boats sail Laguna Témpanos to the Ventisquero Colgante.

The southernmost part of the park, Sector Portezuelo, has two paths:

Sendero del Padre García (Distance: 150 m / 500 ft, Difficulty: easy) – This trail begins 32 kilometers (19.2 miles) south of Puyuhuapi, on the left side of the Carretera Austral. It leads through dense rain forest to a small waterfall.

Sendero Bosque Encantado (Distance: 1.7 km / 1 mile, Difficulty: medium) – Through evergreen forest to the tree line. There lies a lagoon within a natural rock amphitheater. It is possible to observe the témpanos (ice floes) from which give birth to the Río Cascada.


Sector Angostura has a ranger station, hiking trails and free camping at four sites (fire pits, potable water, bathhouse with cold-water showers). No entry fee is charged.Sector Ventisquero has its ranger station two kilometers (1.2 miles) off the road, a Centro de Información Ambiental, 10 camp sites (fire pits, potable water, bathhouse with hot-water showers; $10 per person). Entry to this part of the park costs $6.Sector Portezuelo has no services. This zone of the parque nacional is free.Even though all camp sites have fire pits, Conaf prefers you use a camp stove, to prevent forest fires.


Other places nearby Parque Nacional Queulat: Puerto Río Tranquilo, Futaleufú, Reserva Nacional Río Simpson, Chaitén, Puerto Puyuhuapi, Puerto Guadal, La Junta, Reserva Nacional Jeínemeni, Parque Nacional Hornopirén and Puerto Ibáñez.

By Lorraine Caputo

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

31 May 2009

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