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Parque Pumalín Review

Parque Pumalín is an extraordinary venture funded and organized by conservationist Douglas Tompkins. Since 1988, he has spent more than $25 million to purchase the nearly 800,000 acres that make up Parque Pumalín. The park shelters the largest—and one of the few remaining—intact alerce forests in the world. Alerces, the world's second-longest-lived tree species, which can live up to 4,000 years, are often compared to the equally giant California redwood. The Chilean government declared the park an official nature sanctuary in August 2005.

Tompkins, an American who made his fortune founding the clothing companies ESPRIT and The North Face, owns two strips of land that stretch from one side of the country to the other. He tried to buy the parcel between the two halves that would have connected them, but the sale was fiercely opposed by some government officials who questioned whether a foreigner should own so much of Chile. The Pan-American Highway, which trundles all the way north to Alaska, is interrupted here. No public roads, with their accompanying pollution, pass through the preserve, except for a well-maintained road stretching from Chaitén to park headquarters at Caleta Gonzalo.

Parque Pumalín encompasses some of the most pristine landscape in the region, if not the world. There are a dozen or so trails that wind past lakes and waterfalls. Stay in wooden cabins, at traditional or covered campsites, or put up your tent on one of the local farms scattered across the area that welcome travelers. The entrance to the park at Caleta Gonzalo, where the ferries from Hornopirén arrive, has been closed since the Chaitén Volcano eruption, but plans are underway to open up a new entrance to the park at El Amarillo in the latter part of 2010. Park officials say Caleta Gonzalo will likely see service restored by late 2010. It would be wise to call ahead before your trip to get the scoop.

Chaitur Excursiones in Chaitén can help you with transport to and from the park. www.chaitur.com.

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