Hiking - Destination

Greater Patagonian Trail: The Challenging and Exhilarating Hike in South America

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As a travel, hiking and adventure enthusiast, your desire to take roads lesser known and traveled on is certainly high. The greater Patagonian trail also referred to as GPT is approximately 1, 300 miles long and is growing slowly and steadily. Various rutted trails and a wide backroads network have been stitched together so as to form an extensive hiking route.

Not many people are aware of this route because of the fact that the entire trail has been put together quietly by a couple named Meylin Ubilla and Jan Dudeck who share the love of hiking and wish to share the same with people around the world.

About the Greater Patagonian Trail

It might be an informal network of trails but it encompasses some of the most remote, unforgiving and difficult terrains that you might have ever come across. In fact, it is said to be the longest continuous network of trails in South America.

Currently, the trail is formed by twenty-seven sections each varying between 20 to 100 miles.

The trail starts in Central Chile’s Maule Region and extends towards the south in South Argentina’s Chubut Province.

Map of Patagonia
Map of Patagonia

By hiking on this absolutely unique and spectacular Patagonia trail, you will be coming across barren deserts, passing magnificent snow-peaked mountains, active volcanoes, dense and lush forests and a lot of other terrains.

This isn’t a trail for the faint-hearted and to be absolutely honest, there is plenty of room for errors.

The amalgamation of stunning landscape and interesting culture makes the region unparalleled to anywhere else in the world.

Trail Length

The Patagonia hiking trails aren't just a straight line trail that is spread extensively. It is, in fact, a very wide network of discovery trails that offer innumerable alternatives and options.

The actual length that you would be paddling and walking for thereby predominantly depends on the sections selected, the means of travel and the route that you pick. The precise number for the length of the trail is henceforth not available and only instances and estimates can be provided.

Understanding the Region’s Terrain

If you have made up your mind to undertake the Patagonia hikes and are hoping to enjoy the experience, you must at all times be prepared, both physically and mentally to experience the region’s unknown diversity.

The national park of Torres del Paine, the Perito Moreno glacier and the surroundings of El Chalten are all fabulous spots and are Patagonia’s internationally highlighted places. However, these places do not represent the variety of all that the place has to offer.

Camping in Patagonia
Camping in Patagonia

Here, you would be able to take a dip in over a dozen hot springs, pass through lush green rainforests and get to see snow-capped magnificent mountains. Hiking Patagonia is like getting to taste a gourmet menu that consists of a wide variety of delectable courses and hence gives you the chance to experience the different textures and tastes.

Similarly, Patagonia consists of some of the most popular regions but also of unexpected things that are absolutely unique and breathtaking.

Planning For the Greater Patagonian Trail Hiking

Greater Patagonian trail
Greater Patagonian Trail 

To be honest, you really cannot find many details about hiking in Patagonia. In fact, it is very difficult to spot Patagonia on the map.

So, how should one prepare oneself for the trek?

Remember the below mentioned things:

  • Understand the fact that the Patagonian trail isn’t a hiking trail but is an informal network of routes that predominantly consists of trails, cross country routes and roads that were not constructed just for hikers.

  • Majority of the trails in the area were in fact created by the locals to serve their own purposes like getting to remote areas, directing their animals to the pastures, extracting wood from the forests and other similar things.

  • The greater Patagonian trail is about 1,300 miles and is growing. The entire trail is accessible or rather passable without having to know technical climbing or without a machete.

  • For this trail, some of the most diverse and beautiful tracks existing in this area have been selected. The route itself is continuous and leads through Andes’ heart along Cordillera’s main mountain chain.

  • The horse trails and hiking paths are more preferred over the roads consisting of transit traffic. This means that you may have to take a considerable number of detours.

Things to Keep in Mind when Hiking in Patagonia

If you have made up your mind to go hiking on the greater Patagonian trail, you must remember a few important things. The very first and basic thing being remaining prepared for anything and everything on your way.

You need to be mentally and physically prepared for this trek as this isn’t an easy one and you wouldn’t have Google Maps guiding you.

Sights to look for in Patagonia
What to see in Patagonia

Carry All the Essential Items

While you are hiking, it is quite obvious that you need to pack light. Most importantly, you must be equipped with items that are going to help you on this grueling greater Patagonian trail. Bring plenty of ropes, matches as well as important tools.

Remain Prepared to Adjust

When you are traveling on roads lesser known, you don't know what you would be faced with. Floods, fires as well as a variety of unexpected situations can lead to altering your route. Thereby, it is best that you prepare yourself to adjust as and when required and plan alternate routes in advance.

Be Friendly and Adventurous

Hiking Patagonia is for the adventurous souls and gives you the chance to meet new people, explore the stunning landscape and be up for anything. It isn’t your usual trekking trail that is meant to be conquered but is a chance to experience the diverse landscape.

On the route, if you ever do get lost and find people there, don’t hesitate to ask for help, advice and remember to greet the locals there warmly.

Move Ahead at an Appropriate Pace

A pace slow enough for appreciating the landscape would be ideal when it comes to hiking on the greater Patagonian trail. The pace can vary from hiker to hiker but would give you the time to go for a fabulous detour.

Also, at some point or the other, you might be faced with something that you have never thought about or didn’t really expect. Deal with each situation in a smart way even if that means leaving your comfort zone.

A Few Popular Parts of the Trail You Can Explore

As discussed above, there's a lot to explore and discover. Not a lot many people have traveled here so you might just find an entirely new trial.

However, all those who have traveled to this area, have visited the below-mentioned regions which you too can explore.

Volcano Descabezado Grande

While hiking in Patagonia, you would come across the Volcano Descabezado Grande which is basically a stratovolcano situated Chile’s seventh region and overlooks the stunning panorama that can be seen from Talca. The trail is pretty strenuous and would require you to be extremely careful.

However, the trails are excellent and you can actually see them on satellite images.

Volcano Descabezado Grande
Volcano Descabezado Grande

Laguna Hornitos

Laguna Hornitos is one of the several lakes that were created because of a volcanic eruption that led to a valley being sealed because of which a lake and a dam were eventually created.

Nevertheless, the lake is absolutely stunning and on your hike, you would be crossing this too.

Laguna Hornitos
Laguna Hornito

Laguna Caracol

Laguna Caracol is situated near the Volcano Descabezado Grande and has been created due to a volcanic eruption. To make your way to this lake, you would be required to cross a four-kilometer-wide river of solidified lava which is a fabulous experience in itself.

The lake doesn't really have a noticeable trail, however; it is circumscribed by a very porous volcanic substance in the underground which aids in shaping the complete area.

Laguna Caracol
Laguna Caracol

Rio Gonzales

Quite similar to the Rio Gonzales, are various river crossings that you would come across while hiking on the greater Patagonian trail. At times when the snow melts completely, most of the river crossings in the area become almost impossible to cross.

The water level does, however, come down during December and that is when this trail becomes approachable. Never rely completely on the GPS when it comes to river crossings but judge the situation smartly.

Rio Gonzales
Rio Gonzales

Cordon Caulle

The Cordon Caulle is a forest that was destroyed during the eruptions caused in the year 2011. The eruption changed the landscape of the area completely. The stunning thermal springs in the area are now shielded by an extensive layer of lava.

Cordon Caulle
Cordon Caulle

Valle Pehuenco

Valle Pehuenco is a minor road which is currently just an exit choice as it could easily be replaced by a much better horse trail.

Valle Pehuenco
Valle Pehuenco

Estero las Monjas

Estero las Monjas is a very remote valley and thereby not many people are aware of it. It is situated right at Argentina’s border and is visited sporadically by a few local settlers and the border police.

Even the border police visiting this area have to hire a local guide. This means that when you are hiking on the greater Patagonian trail and are in this area, asking the locals for the way ahead would prove to be helpful. Otherwise, you would be required to navigate the way all by yourself.

Esteros las Monjas
Estero las Monjas

Lago Puelo

The Lago Puelo Pass for many years was the principal route that was taken to resupply the distant Chilean settlements.

It must be remembered that this pass can only be accessed by horse, on foot or by boat. There’s also an official border control from where you would be able to obtain your entry and exit stamps on the passport. Near the shoreline, there’s a trail but it would be better to carry a raft in your backpack and paddle your way ahead rather than walking it.

Lago Puelo
Lago Puelo

Difficulties of the Greater Patagonian Trail

When you travel roads lesser known, you are ought to face certain challenges. However challenging these obstacles might be, they contribute to making the hike even more memorable. Just make sure that you are prepared to face anything and everything once you are there. Also, when it comes to hiking the GPT, pride is one thing that you have to give up.

The Hike is Expensive

If you are under the impression that everywhere in South America is cheap, you are mistaken. The hiking area is remote and isn’t known by many people and thereby the prices of things generally vary. You do need to have a pretty high budget after you have purchased your flight tickets, hardy gears for the hike and other essentials.

Also, the hike is pretty long and can extend up to 90-120 days, so make sure that you are prepared for that.

Obstacles that you Might have never Faced

The entire trip wouldn’t just be filled with death-defying situations but also would take you through some of the highest highs that you would have ever known.

From rafting on absolutely pristine and turquoise rivers to summiting the volcano way above the clouds, experiencing barbecues with the locals to coming face to face with obstacles that you might never have faced before, you are going to have an experience for a lifetime. Just make sure that you are equipped properly and make wise decisions in difficult situations.

You are Going to Trespass

Understand that when you are hiking the greater Patagonian trail, you do not have the right to freely hike. Of course, the GPT definitely does a good job of connecting the routes and trails but most of them would take you through private land. A few areas are occupied by the owners along with their animals.

Also, a few extensive tracts are owned by wealthy people and are guarded by caretakers. Therefore, if you have to cross, make sure that you are courteous and most of the times, you would be allowed to pass.

When you are trekking on the GPT, your plans would have to be altered according to the conditions of the trail. At times, you might also have to stop or turn around.

The time period that would generally be suitable for hiking in this area is also relatively short because of the extreme weather conditions. During March and April, snow storms can make the route almost impassable. As a fact, you would have to wait until the month of December which would allow the rivers to fall so that you can cross it safely.

Also, the end point of the trail has not yet been decided however, Tierra del Fuego is said to be one of the possibilities. Once the route is completed, it is said to span over 2,000 miles.

Trek the Greater Patagonian trail
Trek the Greater Patagonian trail

Remember that the trail is not for people who have limited time or are out on a race!

This isn’t a trail where you are going to measure your success in miles or kilometers. This is the trail for people who are thoughtful and wish to discover and explore places lesser known.

It is for hikers who consider the distance covered on treks secondary and instead count the eventful and happy days in a diverse and pristine environment.

Pack all the important equipment, use your presence of mind, take wise decisions, speak to the locals warmly, be prepared to face challenging obstacles, be adventurous and get ready for an experience that you would cherish for a lifetime.

Cover image source!