Queulat National Park
Queulat (kay~ooo~lat) National Park is situated right on Chile ‘s famous ‘Caratera Austral’. Approximately 20km from the town of Puyuhuapi and 3 hours north of Coyhaique. It’s a must do for a quick stopover on your Chilean adventure.
Getting to Queulat
Queulat National Park is said to be one of the most easily accessed national parks in Chile. This is true if you have a car, but can become slightly more complex if you’re taking public transport, like most of us backpackers do.
The best way to access Queulat by air would be to fly to the regional airport of Balmaceda (58km from Coyhaique). From there, pick up a hire car or catch a bus via Coyhaique.
Accessing Queulat National Park by car is by far the easiest way to get there. Head Northwest from Coyhaique on the Route 240 and then turn off at the X-50. Then you will meet up with the Caratera Austral (Route 7) and this will take you straight to the park entrance. If you don’t already have a car, you can hire one in Coyhaique. Try to book in advance as many agents sell out. You may be able to get a car last-minute but prices are very high, we were quoted between $85,000-$100, 000 CLP per day. Agents ask for passenger numbers and where you’re planning on heading which can also affect the quote, so if you’re in a large group, just send a couple of members of the group in to ensure you get the best price.
This option, is by far the cheapest (and our choice), but maybe not the easiest option, especially if you need to wait ’til the following day for your bus service. This is usually a problem in Chile as you can’t book online in advance without a RUT number.
If you’re travelling further afield, for example, from Puerto Montt like us, you will need to get on a 24 hour bus ride to Coyhaique first. The only operator in Puerto Montt with this service is Queilen Bus*. Other operators said Transaustral have a service, but when I asked them they said they didn’t, despite several signs advertising that they do. The cost of this service is $40, 000 CLP (February 2016).
From Coyhaique there are currently 3 operators with services to Puyuhuapi (you will need to book a bus to there and then ask the driver to drop you at the park entrance). Unfortunately we had difficulty confirming times with one operator, as they just kept referring us to the other operators. Times for 2 operators are shown below:
Terra Austral; 15:00 daily departure. Take the bus for Puyuhuapi and ask to get off at Queulat National Park.
Busses Becker; 16:00 departure every Tuesday – Take the bus heading to Chaiten. Ask for a ticket to Puyuhuapi and ask to get off at Queulat National Park. If you go into their office they will arrange a return transfer for you too. They will pass the park at around 14:30pm on Wednesdays.
For the return journey, our bus driver saved us 4 seats for the service we wanted, however there have been reports of drivers saying they’ll do this and then they don’t.
On arrival at Queulat National Park, there is a campsite at the very front. There is also camping available in the National park for $5,000 CLP per night.
What to do in Queulat
If you only have one or 2 nights to spare in Queulat, the two highlights would definitely be Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Glacier) and Bosque Encantado (Enchanted Forest). Both have relatively easy day hikes, though the enchanted forest got a bit muddy.
The Bosque Encantado is located 32 km south of the Queulat National Park Entrance. If you’re driving, then great! If not, you may want to consider hitchhiking. We got there pretty quick (first car) but getting back was more of a problem. We spoke to a couple of Chileans who had been waiting 3 hours to get a ride back and more people started to gather outside the entrance to the forest. After not having much luck for an hour, we decided to start walking back to the park. After about 7 km we managed to get a ride from a young Chilean family (thank god! It’s amazing that the people you’d least expect to stop did!) If you do plan on hitching a ride back, try to have a backup plan, and be prepared to walk if the traffic is slim (which it is).The walk itself is a pleasant 2.2 km hike with an average difficulty. We didn’t struggle too much, it is slippy and there’s lot of tree roots to navigate around. The walk starts with a lush forest walk, which is flat for 850 m. From there, the next 1350 m, takes a gradual incline through forest and across the river to the Turquoise Lagoon. About half way through the hike is a gorgeous opening of Hardy Fuchsias which literally attract HUNDREDS of hummingbirds. We’re usually really excited when we see one, so we really thought we’d hit the jackpot here. I set up my tripod for an hour whilst jay ran around with his GoPro on a stick. The last part of the hikes requires a river crossing. The guys at the entrance say that you will get wet, but we managed to jump across the rocks and stay dry. Winning. You then head up some more rocks for around 10-15 minutes until you reach the Turquoise Lagoon. Despite the clouds when we went, it was very impressive and was home to a small glacier above.
Entrance to the forest is not included in your national park fee, as it’s actually located outside the boundary. The cost is $3,000 CLP.
Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Glacier) is located within Queulat National Park and is located a short walk from the campsite. Hikers can choose to either walk to a couple of different viewpoints or take a Kayaking Tour across the Laguna Tempanos. The two walks are both very short; 300 m and 600 m. Those who want a little more of a challenge can continue on a 3.2 km hike up to a third viewpoint of the glacier. The hike is very picturesque, especially the wooden bridge which you cross at the beginning of the hike.
*Note that Queilen Bus service from Puerto Montt crosses the Argentinian border. Those from the USA, Australia and Canada will need a visa.