Cochamó

One of the lesser-known entry points to the Carretera Austral, this delightful village is perched on the edge of the Reloncaví Estuary. Trekking options abound – it is colloquially referred to as ‘the Yosemite of Patagonia’. Longer treks extend across the border to the Argentine towns of El Bolsón and Bariloche.

Founded in 1979, Cochamó (population 4,000) is a delightful town situated on the Reloncaví Sound. It has a pleasant central square and church, and great views when the sun shines. However, shopping options are limited, and there is neither an ATM nor a petrol station in the town, so come prepared and fill up at Ensenada, Río Puelo or Hornopirén.

While there’s not a great deal to keep visitors occupied within the town itself, the surrounding region, and in particular the interior mountainous section towards the Argentine border, has been christened ‘the Yosemite of Patagonia’ by climbers and hikers alike. The Valle Río Cochamó is accessed 5km south of town on a north eastern detour. It may not compete with the parks of Torres del Paine and Cerro Castillo further south, but the region is certainly worth a visit.

What to see and do in Cochamó

Sightseeing and excursions

Cochamó may appear a sleepy town, but there is a huge amount to do in the surrounding region, with excellent trekking, riding and climbing. There are also kayaking options, but given the abundance of alternatives further south, it is perhaps not something to prioritise here.

There are currently around 160 marked climbing routes, although this is growing, with 100 big-wall routes, including a 1,200m route (Tigres del Norte, 5.12d). Pitches range from 5.6 to 5.13. For kayaking, talk to Cristian Cea at Patagonia Nativa, who speaks English, offers tours, and knows all the guides in the region.

The trekking options are extensive, and of particular interest to those travelling the length of the Carretera Austral is the option to hike directly to or from Argentina, from either Cochamó or Río Puelo. The scenery in this region is simply jaw-dropping, and the trekking is some of the best in Patagonia.

trek horse Cochamó
Many people choose to complete their treks on horseback © McKay Savage, Wikimedia Commons

The treks are generally not technically demanding and are accessible to anyone of reasonable fitness, especially when done partially on horseback. The trails are usually well marked, and a guide is optional for those with basic experience of trekking. In high season it is likely other trekkers will appear periodically along the way.

Owing to the array of interconnected treks it is highly advisable to obtain a map, available to download at turismo.municochamo.cl/mapas.php. Alternatively, you can purchase one from Stanfords.

Trekking in Valle Río Cochamó and Valle Río Puelo

For those wishing to combine a journey along the Carretera Austral with some trekking, the route between Cochamó and Argentina, which connects with an array of trails extending as far south as Hornopirén, is one of the best options in the region. Although short walks are possible, most people spend at least five days trekking in this area.

Leave Cochamó on the main road south, and turn left just before the bridge over the Río Cochamó to the east (about 3km from the southern exit of the village.) The gravel road continues for about 6km, accessible by car, but at the park ranger station the road ends, and from this point the route is accessible by horse or on foot only. It is possible to camp here. The main destination is La Junta, often referred to as ‘the Yosemite of Patagonia’, 13km from the park ranger station, where basic accommodation and food are available.

This leg is moderate and takes about 4 hours. La Junta has four campsites. During high season (15 December–15 March) you must book accommodation in advance online and register when beginning the trail. La Junta has large granite walls for climbing and various treks of approximately 7 hours, each offering spectacular views of the valley. Camping in La Junta and exploring these trails is highly recommended.

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in the area surrounding Cochamó © Guaxinim, Shutterstock

Continuing along the valley beyond La Junta and towards the Argentine border enters significantly more remote terrain, and is more physically demanding. From La Junta the trail continues for 10km (5hrs) along Valle Cochamó, involving three river crossings – there are no bridges, so be particularly careful if there has been recent rainfall. There is a large waterfall at the Río El Arco and a shelter on the other side of the river provides an alternative to camping.

The trail continues from this shelter further east through an alerce forest (less than 1hr, relatively flat), but pay attention in this section not to lose the trail. It then ascends to the southern shore of Lago Grande (campsite) and then to the northern edge of Lago Vidal Gormaz (8km from Río El Arco), with steep sections and passing several small lakes – it’s potentially treacherous along this stretch if it is raining.

The main trail heads 11km south along the west coast of Lago Vidal Gormaz to the small bridge at Torrentoso. Here the trail divides once again. Head northeast along the northern bank of the Río Manso for 9km to Paso Río Manso (½ day). Crossing into Argentina at this border will eventually lead to the legendary Ruta 40 highway running the entire length of Argentina roughly midway between Bariloche and El Bolsón. Alternatively, head south from Torrentoso along the western bank of the Río Manso. This southern route is 24km, with campsites available, and ends at the village of El Manso (2 days, potentially treacherous if raining).

From El Manso there are three options: a 15km one-way trek east to Valle El Frío; continue 20km south along the gravel road through the beautiful Valle Río Puelo towards the village of Llanada Grande (walking, hitchhiking or taking a bus that passes El Manso around noon); or walk 12km northwest along the gravel road to Punta Maldonado at the southern edge of Lago Tagua Tagua, take the ferry across the lake and head down to Río Puelo, completing a fantastic hiking circuit without backtracking.

Lago Tagua Tagua Cochamó Carretera Austral
You can take the ferry across Lago Tagua Tagua in order to reach Río Puelo © Nicolás, Wikimedia Commons

In Llanada Grande you can stock up on food and continue walking, or hitchhike or take the daily bus south towards Primer Coral and Segundo Coral (camping and accommodation are available in all three). From Segundo Coral it is approximately 4km east to the southern shore of Lago de Las Rocas (where the Chilean carabineros are based, a mandatory stop for the border crossing paperwork).

Camping is possible on the lakeshore. It is an 8km trek along the northern shore of the Lago Puelo Inferior to the actual border, and 4km further to the Argentine gendarmerie (border police). The exit point from this trail is the Argentine town of Lago Puelo, some 10km south of El Bolsón.

Other trails

Other trails exist in this region but these require guides, and the state of the trails is questionable. From Primer Coral it is possible to trek west along the Río Ventisquero some 17km, but crossing the mountains at the end of this trail qualifies as an expedition for professional mountaineers, and it is not clear if any guides can offer this route. Lago Pinto Concha, south of Río Puelo, is accessible from Hornopirén. Road V-725, just before crossing the Río Puelo Chico bridge when entering Río Puelo, continues for 11km south along the Río Puelo Chico.

Some maps suggest a trail leads from the end of this road southwest to the northern shore of Lago Pinto Concha and connects with the trail to Hornopirén, but this trail is not confirmed and passes through private property. Anyone attempting it should be well prepared, seek local information either in Río Puelo or Hornopirén, and ideally go with a guide. As the crow flies, the end of V-725 to the northern edge of Lago Pinto Concha is only 9km.

The scenery surrounding Lago Pinto Concha is breathtaking © Natalia Reyes Escobar, Wikimedia Commons

A final trek in the region offers an exciting, albeit long trek, to Bariloche: the Ruta de los Jesuitas. This is an old trail connecting Ralún in Chile to Pampa Linda in Argentina (at the base of the Volcán Tronador close to Bariloche). There is also a well-marked trek from Pampa Linda to the main treks around Bariloche: it is possible to trek from Bariloche to Ralún and connect with the treks originating in Cochamó and Río Puelo all the way to Hornopirén.

While not requiring technically advanced skills, this is a large logistical undertaking and beyond the scope of this guide. Trekking from Ralún to Pampa Linda takes between five and seven days, with a further four days to Bariloche.

Travel to Cochamó

There are regular buses from Puerto Montt to Cochamó and Río Puelo offered by TransharBuses Estuario and Buses Río Puelo.

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