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Pumalín National Park: Douglas Tompkins

Passing the road sign that announced arrival to Pumalín felt special. It’s a project we’d heard so much about, and it was a much anticipated visit.

For anyone who doesn’t know the story: in the 90s, an area of more than a million acres of land in Chilean Patagonia was bought by a US businessman. It included two volcanoes, an expanse of Valdivian rainforest and a mountain range with glaciers spamming the whole width of the country. The buyer was none other than the founder of the outdoor clothing brand ‘The North Face,’ Douglas Tompkins.

He had a vision with his wife Kris (former CEO of outdoor clothing brand Patagonia) to save the land from being logged, mined or sold off as farmland. They instead planned to ‘rewild’ it and transform it into what has now become one of Chile’s model National Parks. Once complete in 2017, Pumalin National Park (along with six other sites across the country) was donated back to the Chilean government to maintain, with free access for the public.

Maxine standing by an Amanita Muscaria Mushroom
Amanita Muscaria Mushroom
At the time, the ambitious plan of conserving such a vast area of nature was met with controversy. There were questions from the Chilean government and society at large around their true intentions. There were concerns about the security risks of an area of that size being foreign owned, especially by North Americans. With a huge effort from the couple and many Chileans to create this National Park, and over a stretch of time spanning decades, the project was eventually further extended by the Chilean Government. 

rewilding (v.)

reinstating natural processes and where appropriate, missing species to an area of land; allowing them to shape the surrounding landscapes and the habitats within them for the long term benefit of both nature and humanity

A film Directed by Jimmy Chin and his wife Elizabeth Chai called ‘Wild Life’ has recently been released on Disney+ (Nat Geo) and tells the courageous tale of how Pumalin National Park was imagined and created. We really recommend watching it! See the trailer here.

Needless to say we were very inspired by everything we learnt and saw. Spending time there filled us with awe and allowed us to gain firsthand experience of the positive impact that conservation and rewilding projects like this can have on ecosystems.

Pumalin, sendero volcan chaiten, birds aplenty
A friendly Chucao, Pumalín

Whilst visiting Pumalín, we had a sunny hike up to Volcano Chaitén (which last erupted in 2008) and basked for hours through Darwin’s trail, fascinated by its abundance of ancient trees and fungi. Sharing a ray of the magic we experienced with you here:

Darwin's Trail, Pumalín

Read more about the work of Tompkins Conservation and their transformative worldwide projects (including Pumalín) here.

Insider’s Tips

The stop-off point en route to Pumalín is the nearby town Chaitén. We stocked up on food there before continuing to wild camp at the wonderful Santa Barbara beach, which is a black ash beach boasting dolphin, sea lion and whale sightings, as well as incredible sunsets. 

If you hike up to Volcano Chaitén, use the Windy app to help find a clear day. If you go on a cloudy day it’s hard to see anything. 

Some parts of the park can be closed/not accessible by car. The first stop should be to the main Visitor Centre to get updates on all of the current info and help to safely plan hikes.  

We basked for hours through Darwin’s trail - a plenitude of ancient trees, flora and fungi…