One of the jewels in the Chilean national parks is Parque Patagonia and the Jeinimeni section of the park. Jeinimeni, until recently its own national park, was joined with Parque Patagonia in 2019 to create one huge park.
(Edit: We did not travel during Covid or quarantine, we took this trip January 2020.)
We were in Argentina at Estancia Santa Thelma on the Ruta 40 so we left at 10 a.m. and headed north up highway ruta 40 towards Perito Moreno the town — not to be confused with the glacier Perito Moreno which is over 650 km to the south! Highway 40 is big sky country and we saw guanaco and their babies, ñandu (wild, fast ostrich-type birds) and an armadillo crossing the road! We arrived at the town of Perito Moreno around lunchtime and everything was closed from 1 to 4 p.m. for siesta, however there was a gas station and it was open.
Ruta 40, entering Jeinimeni Park
We crossed the border into Chile (remember you can’t bring any fruit, vegetables, nuts/seeds or meat into Chile) and were in the town of Chile Chico at about 3 p.m. There is a small grocery store that is remarkably well-stocked. We did our grocery shopping, had some empanadas at a small shop and then headed into the park. Fortunately for us, the grader had gone through that morning so it only took us a little over an hour to reach the guard entrance and car-camping campsite (the park rangers told us it can take two hours or more when the road is bad). The road to Jeinimeni is just outside of Chile Chico and goes about 65km south until you arrive at the park entrance and first campground.
Fees (as of Feb 2020): Local adults $4,000; teens $2,000; kids free. Foreigner adults/seniors $8,000; teens $4,000; kids free. Camping $3,000-$6,000/night. The sign says the office is open 8:30 to 19:00 but the information they gave us said 17:30 in off season and 18:00 in the summer.
We set up in the campsite on Lago Jeinimeni. There were about 10 sites and each one had a rustic dining shelter with benches, shelves and a picnic table. The water is potable out of a communal tap and there were basic showers (cold) and flush toilets. Bring your own toilet paper. The sites are ample and in the trees along the lake, we easily parked two cars and set up two tents for seven people (my in-laws and my family of five). This is the only campsite in the park that is accessible by car and where you can car camp. All the other sites are hike-in. You can’t pre-book sites, it’s a first-come, first-served basis.
For our family we planned on two full days in Jeinimeni and a travel day either end. For the mobility of our children (at the time ages 10, 8 and 6) it was a fine amount of time and we did three hikes. If you wanted to spend more time in the park you would have to do some interior camping. There is a multi-day Sendero Aviles hike that links Jeinimeni and Parque Patagonia with back country camping campsites in both parks.
The first night was absolutely freezing in the tent. It did dip to about -4C and the next morning we woke to snow on the tent! It was February which is middle of Chilean summer, so it is true what they say about Jeinimeni and it really does have its own micro-climate. You need to pack layers and warm and waterproof clothing as well. We had winter sleeping bags and long underwear.
After a lazy morning we decided to walk Sendero del Silencio. Trust me, with my gang there was zero silence on this hike! It is straight up and took us an hour with the children to get to the first lookout. It was a nice walk through the trees and over streams and the first lookout gives you a beautiful view over Lago Jeinimeni. My husband and I dashed up to the top lookout and in the poster there is a photo of a hiker in t-shirt and shorts looking out at the lake, however it snowed on us! It was about 2.5 km total.
In the afternoon we drove back out the main road to Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) to look at hieroglyphics. You need a 4×4 to access the upper parking lot which is a hairpin, dirt rutted track. If you don’t have 4×4 you can park down below by the ranger station closer to the road and walk up (about a kilometre). After we parked at the top parking lot, we walked across a windy, grass plain which has an obvious trail. It was so windy it took our breath away and we had our neck buffers up over our noses as the sand was hitting our face. But after it then curves to the right and up into a canyon and there is no wind. We walked to the first hieroglyph and then came back. It took us about two hours with the children and was a really nice, easy walk with nice scenery. We just turned around when we felt we had gone far enough. The actual hike takes hours and at the summit you can look out to General Carerra lake.
On our last day we set out with a packed picnic lunch to go around the lake and up to the Mirador. We left at 11:15 am and were at the sign to the Sendero Mirador by 2 p.m. It is a nice hike along an old road which is now overgrown with trees and just used by Conaf. It follows the lake which has a nice beach so we spent a lot of time playing with sticks, throwing stones in the lake, looking at wildflowers and mushrooms. We had a picnic lunch in a field and we watched condors flying overhead. After a nap in the sun on the beach it was 3 p.m. so the younger children, grandparents and myself headed back to the campsite, arriving back around 5 p.m. We did about 7 km. My elder son and husband took the Sendero Mirador path up to Lago Verde viewpoint. There were a lot of bugs and fording of streams, but they had a great hike and it was no problem for my 10-year-old. (about 19 km total)
The next morning we packed up the camp and headed back out the way we came (it’s the only way for vehicles) and back to Chile Chico to continue on to our next destination, Parque Patagonia. We followed the lake heading to Puerto Gaudal and then took the Carretera Austral south to Parque Patagonia (here is where you could also take it north to Puerto Rio Tranquilo of the Marble Cave fame). The road around the lake from Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal is a twisty road with few guard rails and full of potholes. The locals drive it very fast and spray you with dust and pebbles! It was a fun drive for us, slightly nerve-racking for my in-laws, and I would not want to do it in the dark or fog so leave enough time to drive around the lake.
If heading to Parque Patagonia you can get groceries in Chile Chico (biggest selection) and there is a gas station (you should fill up as the only other gas stations are in Puerto Rio Tranquilo and Cochrane). There is a smaller grocery store in Puerto Gaudal as well. We left Jeinimeni at 11 a.m., we left Chile Chico at 2 p.m. and we were in Parque Patagonia at the West Winds campsite by 5:30 p.m. Parque Patagonia has slightly better roads but it is still about an hours drive from the main road to the entrance and the first campsite. You don’t need to check-in, you can just drive to the campsite and set up in an empty spot, the rangers walk around each morning and evening to get details and cash payment.
Next up! Five days in Parque Patagonia
- No fires are allowed but gas stoves are fine
- Pack warm and rain gear and also layers, we wore everything we packed and sometimes all at the same time!
- There are no garbage faculties in the park, so pack out your rubbish but you can dispose of it in street side bins in Chile Chico
- No pets allowed in the park
- Fees are collected in Chilean pesos, cash only
- You may fish in the park if you have a Chilean fishing license
- Inform park rangers before starting any multi-day hikes