For a part of the world that comprises some of the worlds most beautiful and spectacular scenery it is no surprise that there are boundless opportunities for hiking within Chile and Argentina. Those who are tempted by the idea of getting their boots on and walking through: deserts, jungles, native forest, rugged coastlines and ice fields, should be thinking about planning a trip to this part of the world.Summer (November to March) is the best time of year to undertake such a trip if you are considering going to Patagonia, but if you are not, then sensational walks can be taken all year round.Both countries have an organised system of national parks and national monuments that both protect and administer large areas of outstanding natural beauty. Some of these parks, such as Torres del Paine (in Chile) and Los Glaciares (in Argentina) are well known and get busy in high season, but the majority are little known and rarely visited and exceptionally beautiful.
A good example of the latter is Parque Nacional Volcan Isluga, close to the Bolivian border in northern Chile.This park, along with other parks in the region, covers areas of the Altiplano of great natural beauty and those who venture here will be rewarded with unspoilt views of spectacular scenery and sightings of many animals that are rare elsewhere, such as: guanaco, ñandú, vicuña, vizcacha, alpaca and llama, to name a few, and all this far from the crowds. Besides the landscape and the flora and fauna, this park is of great human interest. The Aymaran peoples and their ancestors have lived here for at least 6000 years and today the remote villages in the park are still populated by Aymaran communities, which conserve many pre-Columbian traditions.
The economy of the villages is based around livestock, agriculture and textiles (not tourism in the near future). Bare in mind that if you plan to hike in this park or any on the Altiplano, that you need to take time to acclimatise, unless you are either from this region or Nepalese ? at over 4000m above sea level the park will literally take your breath away.In many parks there are also spectacular opportunities for climbing, and you don't need to be an experienced mountaineer to undertake some of the most amazing expeditions. There are many non-technical climbs that that require a good level of fitness and an adventurous spirit - an example of such a climb is to the summit of the active volcano Villarica, in southern Chile.
It is a 5hr climb to the 3000m peak that requires the use of crampons and an ice axe. From the crater of the volcano the views over the lake district are stunning: green forests, lakes, other snow capped volcanoes to the north and south. But what is really unforgettable is the view inside the crater - a swirling sea of molten rock at 1000 degrees Centigrade. One can't imagine being allowed anywhere near a volcanic crater brimming with lava in Europe or North America ? thankfully such molly coddling hasn't reached South America yet!.Back up in the north of Chile is the giant Ojos del Salado volcano.
At just under 7000m high it is the largest volcano in the world and the second highest mountain outside the Himalayas. It is a non-technical climb but requires a very high level of fitness. It is curious that most people have never heard of this volcano that dwarfs Kilimanjaro, but its anonymity is a blessing as there is no tourist trail up Ojos del Salado.
The national parks of Chile and Argentina have so much to offer and it is remarkable that so many of them are still well off the beaten track - perfect for those who love a wilderness adventure walking holiday..Andrew Chaundler worked and travelled in South America for many years before setting up Optimundo, a travel company that specialises in Chile Holidays and Argentina Holidaysthat have been designed with expert knowledge of the region. The company also provides an efficient and friendly tailor-made service, to so that you can specify the elements that you want in your perfect trip to Chile and Argentina.
By: Andrew Chaundler