South (Chile) : Cochamó Valley
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. See community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19970223&slug=2525216
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, pure - and drinkable!
Flora and fauna
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 3,000 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.
This area receives a huge amount of rain every year. The best time and dryest, however, is January through mid March. The weather can be good from December to the end of March.
There are no entree fees or permits needed - as the entirely valley is owned by private individuals. Almost all of them allow access through or past their lands (in the tradition of good neighbours), and 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 Valle Cochamó from Santiago (Chile) or Bariloche (Argentina), you need to get to Puerto Montt - or, better yet - the more picturesque tosn of Puerto Varas as a starting point. It has several travel agencies and the local bus service passes through here also - with three busess a day to and from Cochamo. Make sure to ask the bus driver to drop you a the bridge on the River Cochamo - from where you can start your hike into the valley directly, or camp or stay at Campo Aventura's Riverside Lodge.
The trailhead is located 8 kilometers up river following a gravel road, that meanders through pastures and woods. It's possible to hire a car in town to drop you off at road's end where the trail begins.
At the end of the road or trailhead, cross a small bridge and pass through a gate. From that point, hiking into the valley takes four to five hours. The trail is well marked and never crosses the Cochamó River. The hiking is relatively easy except for crossing through some trenches, pools and streams, which can become harder to cross - or even impassable - when it rains. Water proof hiking boots are highly recommended. Gaitors help significantly on rainy days. Continue to La Junta River, the center of activities and accommodation in the valley.
Riding up the valley trail is much less strenuous, and recommended as a way to more thorougly enjoy the rare and unique rainforest environment. There are guides and horse rentals of all variety - so make sure to choose a reputable provider.
Huge 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.
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. Deep in the valley, in La Junta sector, exist two: the newly built Refugio Cochamó and Campo Aventura's Mountainside Lodgecampoaventura.cl/services/.
Refugio Cochamo offers private rooms, bunk room, home-made meals, refugio-brewed beer, oven-baked pizzas, empenadas and whole wheat bread in the company of climbers and hikers.
Just off the River Cochamo bridge in the lower end of the valley you can also stay in Campo Aventura's Riverside Lodge. They offer comfortable rooms, with private baths, and excelelnt meals included in the price. Its' Mountainside Lodge lies approximately 20 km upstream, in the La Junta valley, and offers traditional Chilean hospitality, with private and dorm accommodation, and delicious local cuisine.
Camping facilities - including tents and hot showers, are available at both locations.
You can camp at [http:www.cochamo.com/camping 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
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.
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.
There are plenty of hikes in the valley. Recommended is the Cerro Arco Iris peak hike.