Four Days in Cochamó Valley, “The Yosemite of Chile”

Mj 618_348_climbing in northern patagonia
Photographs by Mark Johanson

There’s a cowboy trail through the Cochamó Valley in northern Patagonia that looks much the same today as it did when a pair of American bank robbers on the run, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, first drove their cattle over the Andes from Argentina to Chile. More than a century has passed, but there’s barely a patch of developed land in sight. 

Chile’s Cochamó Valley has drawn in a select number of climbers and hikers aiming to get up the valley’s imposing granite domes. But what started as a trickle is fast becoming a flood as a growing number of travelers shun the tourist hordes of Torres del Paine further south for this forgotten corner of northern Patagonia. For some of the best climbing in South America — a place many call the “Yosemite of Chile” — here’s your four-day gameplan. 

Day One: The tiny hamlet of Cochamó is a winding two-hour bus ride from the German-imbued tourist town of Puerto Varas. Hire a taxi in Cochamó to take you the remaining four miles to the trailhead, ensuring to schedule a return trip before you set off for the five- to six-hour hike to La Junta. Come prepared for a splintering, choose-your-own-adventure trail that traverses a muddy rainforest before opening up into a grassy pampa encased in granite. Cross the Cochamó River using the rudimentary seated pulley system and bunk up for the night at Refugio Cochamó, which is is more of a B&B than the rustic cabin you may have in mind (though you’ll need to bring your own bedding). 

Day Two: Enjoy a breakfast of fresh baked bread, jam and brewed coffee before plotting out your day’s adventures. Sore from the hike in? Try the half-day La Paloma ascent. Arco Iris, meanwhile, is the valley’s most demanding (think fixed ropes) and rewarding (with sweeping 360-degree views) full day hike.

Day Three: Experienced climbers armed with a normal rack and two 60-meter ropes can get up close to one of the valley’s imposing granite domes by tackling the 100-meter Apnea route. Others can try the half-day Matelandia hike or simply wade in the Cochamó River taking in the views. Make sure to request a homemade refugio dinner (with ingredients from the nearby greenhouse) and compare notes from the day over the communal wooden table.

Day Four: The long hike out is, much like the long hike in, one of the best parts the trip. Head back through the marshes, dropping down into deeply corroded trenches and climbing up over rivers on sturdy tree bridges. You’ll know you’ve arrived back in Cochamó when you spot Yate Volcano puffing on the horizon.

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