The Cochamó Valley is in the Lakes Region of Chile. The valley is known as the Yosemite of Chile, a term and comparison first coined by Seattle Times reporter Bill Dietrich, who wrote about his horseback trek and visit in 1997.
With its remote location, far removed from modern, urban living, Cochamó is like stepping back in time. The U-shaped valley, lined with 1000-meter grainte walls and peaks, was originally carved by a glacier millions of years ago. Lush, green pasture land gives way to dense, deep-green rainforest, and thence to bamboo forests and, eventually,bare, granite peaks that rise more than 3,000 feet from the upper valley floor. As for the waterfalls - there are more than you can count. And the water is clear and pure!
The historic and charming village of Cochamó is nestled along the Eastern shores of Estuaria Reloncavi, the country´s northernmost fjord, where the Pacific Ocean first metes the Andes Chilean Patagonia begins. It is the starting point of exploring the Cochamó Valley. The Cochamó comuna marks a cross-roads of two distanct living cultures- one by sea, the other by horse- set against a backdrop of dramatic natural beauty.
Flora and fauna
In 2007 the national tourism board named Cochamó an area of special interest and was added to the UNESCO températe rainforest biosphere reserve of the southern Andes. Two years later, the Cochamó and Petrohue rivers were the first in the nation to be given a special conservation designation by presidential decree. The fjord is teeming with life: dolphines, sea lions, cormorants, gulls, pelicans, kingfishers, hake, kingclip, and a local whitefish called róbalo. Crustaceans include crab, clam, mussels and sea anemomes.
The lush, virgin temperate rainforest - one of only three such natural treasures in the world - is a highlight of the valley. Towering native trees, hundreds and even thousands of years old, are entwined with ferns, vines, and the bell-like, bright-pink copihue flower. The Alerce trees (fitsroya cupressoides) are one of nature's wonders, living for up to 4,000 years.
The fauna is perhaps on a smaller, less-dramatic scale -- but still very unique, and often threatened. Lucky visitors often glimpse pudu (the world's smallest deer), or the flash of a wild boar racing through the trees. Puma do prowl the upper reaches, but are shy and rarely seen. The Darwin's Frog, a very are and endangered species, is to be found in this valley - as are nesting condors, caranchos, and a variety of migratory birds (ibises, humming birds, swallows, etc.) Occaionally, at the mouth of the Rio Cochamo a small family of black-necked swans makes a graceful appearance.
Although trout are not native to the area, they were introduced more than a century ago - and now the Cochamo abounds with brown and rainbow trout.
The climate is températe coastal rainforest and alpine Patagonian Andes. Annual precipation ranges between 1,500 and 2,000mm per year. Normally the dry season is from October to April, while the rainy season is from June to August. However, the whole year is good for eco-tourism.
Precautions: Patagonia is known for its unstable weather. Be preapred for sudden changes and adverse conditions such as wind, rain and cold. If you are planning to engage in adventure activities as rock climbing, horsebacking riding or trekking in places you do not know, contacting specialist, local guides are recommended. In Cochamó, among the most reliable specialists are Ciro Vivar and Ida Delgado. The couple were born in Cochamó and lives here over 60 years. As some of few remaining “Gauchos” (cowboys and farmers) here, they give regular advice to Chilean TV media and regional tourism board of Chilean government. When Ciro has time, he also participates in Lonely Planet online forum, providing free yet valuable advice to international tourists. Any question about Cochamó and Patagonia, ask them!
There are no entree fees or permits needed. Most of the valley is owned, however, by private individuals. Access into and through the valley is open along mostly a well-eroded trail. Its right to access is protected by Chilean law. Visitors are urged to respect boundaries, fences, and be careful with gates. Close a closed gate; leave an open one open. And be sure to pack out all your trash!
If you are heading to Cochamó from Santiago (Chile) or Bariloche (Argentina), you need to get to Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas as a starting point. Four buses daily leave from Puerto Montt and pass through Puerto Varas to pick up more passengers on route to Cochamó but unfortunately will not stop in Puerto Varas when full.
The village of Cochamó is the starting point to explore the fiords and its valley. Bus terminal is located in front of or near the police station of Cochamó. There is only one main street in the village, and only minutes´ walking distance to the information centre, library (free wifi service) public beach, accommodations, restaurants, shops, etc. All the buses to nearby towns or villages stop here. This is the last place you can buy food or other supplies with reasonable prices. Although inside the valley, there are camping places offering meals, food etc, price hikes are expected due to the transport costs. Most goods are transported by horses, the only transporting method here, due to the limited road access.
How to enter Cochamó valley from the village:
Fjords: by kayaking or boat, tourists may find dolphines, sea lions, cormorants, gulls, pelicans, kingfishers, hake, kingclip, and a local whitefish called róbalo. Crustaceans include crab, clam, mussels and sea anemomes.
Cochamó Valley: Thousand-meter granite walls, waterfalls, rivers, granite arches, Alerce forests, caves, pools - basically some of Patagonia´s most amazing landscape. And experience traditional Andean mountain life as it has been lived for generations - self-sufficient, low impact, and viable.
Iglesia Imaculada Concepcion de Cochamó: The 105 years old Catholic church of Cochamó represents the typical chilote architecture style. The influence of the local Chiloe tradition is evident in the builders´way of using wood, which for centries was the only construction material available here. One of the distinctive elements of the style is the long, narrow, thin shingles made of alerce wood and overlapped to keep out the rain. The method exposes a third of the shingles´ surface to view, but they maybe cut to varying dimensions, and the resulting patterns vary accordingly.
“Cabalgatas Cochamó” is the pioneer in eco-toursim in Patagonia. In the region of Cochamó, “Cabalgatas Cochamó” is the only business certified by Chile Tourismo Rural, a govermental organization in Chile. Less than 5 minutes walk from the bus terminal of Cochamó, in this 5 hectares farm, the owner Ciro Vivar, the remaining few Gauchos (cowboys and farmers) in Cochamó as well as his family will share with you the Patagonian lifesyle: home made bread, fresh milk, fresh eggs, organic vegetables and fruits, asado el Palo (grilled lamb), freshly caught seafood etc. The farm currently has cows, sheep, geeses, dogs, horses, hens, and a big greenhouse. During the horse riding excursions, Ciro will share with you of all basic skills of how to survivie in wild Patagonia as a gaucho (cow boy). Ciro´s wife Ida, dedicates herself in preserving the tradition and culture of this region. She is the supporter of organic and sustainable farming, expert in cooking delicious and healthy cuisine with all ingredients from the farm, and in her sparetime, she makes crafts with recycled materials. The view from the restaurant and the property is stunning with fjords, volcano Yate, Chilote’style Church, moutain peaks… Its principle house (lodge) is a heritage building perfectly reflecting the cultura and tradition of this region.
The Cochamo Valley is one of the most pristine places in northern Patagonia, with its historic Cochamo Trail - up to the border with Argentina - having been in use for more than 100 years. Once traversed only by gauchos, missionaries and the occasional bandit (Butch and Sundance being the best-known of the latter), the trail is today being explored and used by travelers from all parts of the world. This is, in large part, due to the 'discovery' of this hidden gem by maverick traveler and journalist Clark Stede, was one of the early European visitors to this remote valley, in the waning years of the Pinochet regime. He was just 'passing by' in his aluminium yacht, but once he glimpsed the valley and his peaks - he decided to stay. Working with young local huasos, he explored the Cochamo Trail and other long-unused byways, and decided to lead and guide horseback explorations of this magnificent valley, thus bringing international tourism to little-known Cochamo.
Today, the Cochamo Valley - specifically the upper La Junta section - is a famous rock climbing destination with many granite walls and domes ranging around 1000 meters. New routes are opened every year and thousands of new long lines are waiting to be done. For most other types of outdoor travelers, the multi-day horseback trekking and hiking activities remain the most popular and common way to access this natural treasure trove.
In addition to rock-climbing, the Cochamo and La Junta valleys offer visitors a rich feast of nature - crystal-clear pools and streams; towering ancient trees; scattered, occasional encounters with traditional mountain homesteaders; and dozens of hikes - ranging from easy to moderate to challenging.
Relatively unknown until recently, the valley receives more and more hikers and climbers each year, which brings its own set of challenges - ill-prepared or ill-equipped visitors; littering and trash; unauthorised camping and fires. Whether the growing number of local and international visitors will respect the fragile environment and local inhabitants and their property, and do what they can to keep this "Yosemite of Chile" clean and unspoiled, remains to be seen.
Within the Cochamo Valley proper, there are three main accommodation options (reached by horse riding or 5-6 hours hiking.)
Inside the valley (reached by horse riding or 5-6 hours hiking):
You can camp at Camping La Junta  across the river from Refugio Cochamó or at Campo Aventura's Riverside Lodge.
Campo Aventura provides camping facilities at the mouth of the Rio Cochamó and in the La Junta valley (with hot showers, indoor plumbing, & firewood)- but keeps a limit on the number of tents or campers at any one time, to ensure a more private experience.
Camping La Junta provides ample space for sites, running water, hot showers, indoor fire ring, pots, pans, and utensils.
In recent years, with the influx of visitors, hikers, and climbers, local landowners have faced the challenge of unauthorized and uninformed camping - resulting in litter, possible damage or misuse of water sources and random fires. Please use and pay for these camping facilities, charges that are nothing, compared to the cost of damage and ruination of this fragile and pristine environment.
Eat & Drink
In recent years, 'restaurants' have been springing up in Cochamo village, most of them offering the standard empanada and french fries menu. But there is at least one good seafood place, as well as a couple of places to buy the ubiquitous pancitos. Due to the limited road access and transportation cost up to the valley, normally the restaurants in the village offer a wider variety of choices with more reasonable price, especially the seafood, and traditional grilled meat.
Inside the Valley:
Refugio Cochamó  provides home-cooked meals with ingredients from their organic garden, oven-baked pizzas, whole wheat bread, home-made beer Tabano Pale Ale and more. Breakfasts are included for guests.
At Campo Aventura's lodges, guests are provided with all meals as part of their stay - starting with a hearty breakfast, picinic or hot lunches, the famous afternoon tea (or once) with cake and home-made bread, and substantial dinners. They specialise in catering to vegetarians, and even provide gluten-free options with advance warning. Drinks, snacks, and full meals are also available to visitors just stopping by at Riverside Lodge for a day visit.
There are plenty of hikes in the valley. Recommended is the Cerro Arco Iris peak hike. This takes 3-4 hours to reach the mirador or 4-6 to reach the summit. The trail is well marked but involves using some fixed ropes including one exposed part. To reach the summit thete are a few steep exposed sections but the views from just below the final peak are worth the hike. Allow 8 -10 hours for the whole day with breaks.
Another option is to walk to Trinidad (the climbers playground, a giant granite wall). This is 2.5 hours then you can continue to the lakes look for a path into the woods on the right of the wall marked by cairns (1.5 hours) and then from the largest lake you can head up to the pass (look for the cairns behind you at the lake). The final part to the pass is very steep through woodland and is not well used. The views from the pass are stunning into the next valley.
Cochamo has no bank or ATM service, so please bring enough cash. Some businesses also accept Euro, and US dollars. The nearest towns or cities for banking service are Puerto Varas, Puerto Montt.