This post is part 3 of 18 in the series Carretera Austral Travel

The Cochamó Valley is a rock climbing and hiking paradise in the Patagonia region of southern Chile with granite walls, dense forests, and clear streams that have earned it a reputation as “the Yosemite of Chile”. We were skeptical, however, three days of hiking and camping adventures in this lesser-visited destination along the Carretera Austral proved us wrong.

trinadad cohamo valley

Some call the Cochamó Valley the “Yosemite of Chile” thanks to its granite walls, clear streams, and dense forests.

We meet lots of people on the road and many of them have valuable suggestions about what we should see and do in their country. By far, the most enthusiastically recommended lesser-known hiking destination in Chile was the Cochamó Valley.

The story is that in the early ’90s, a German traveler hiked into the Cochamóo Valley, loved it, and started telling others about the valley. As word spread, more and more visitors came to see the beauty for themselves.

cochamó amphitheater

Looking up at The Amphitheater from the valley floor.

As we mentioned, the Cochamó Valley is sometimes called the “Yosemite of Chile”. We’ve also heard Chileans cheekily say that Yosemite is the Cochamó of the US”. Either way, the similarities are striking as stark, rounded granite domes and walls jut up above lush valleys, forests of old-growth trees, and clear rivers and streams.  Bonus: the Cochamó Valley offers all of that in a much more compact area than Yosemite with far, far fewer people.

Unlike Yosemite National Park, the Cochamó Valley is not a National Park so it’s not protected, administered, or maintained by the Chilean government in any way. Instead, the area is one vast patchwork of privately owned land with all of the conflicts and complications that come with that.

As more and more visitors came to the Cochamó Valley, individual landowners began developing things like camping areas willy-nilly with predictably unsustainable results for the environment and for the community. We heard stories of campground owners basically battling it out for tourists.

Cochamó Valley La Junta campground

The lovely La Junta Campground in the Cochamo Valley is ringed by granite walls and formations.

In 2017, a co-op of locals, neighbors, and landowners called the Organizacion Valle Cochamó was established to set rules, regulations, and procedures that protect the area and protect the income of landowners while also improving the experience for visitors. For example, there is now a cap of 90 visitors per day, a visitor center was opened, a visitor sign-in/sign-out system debuted, and climbing route and trail maintenance projects have been undertaken.

Friends of Cochamó, a non-profit started in 2018, has been working to establish and expand the Cochamó Valley Nature Sanctuary, which currently protects 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares). Another improvement is the online Cochamó Valley campground and pack horse reservation system which spreads the limited number of campers equitably between the various camping areas and pack horse providers (more on that, below).

Today, the popularity of the Cochamó Valley continues to grow as the area draws rock climbers and hikers from around the world anxious to tackle challenging climbing routes and hiking trails in one of Chile’s most beautiful destinations.

Cochamó Valley granite

Green and granite in Chile’s Cochamó Valley.

Hiking in the Cochamó Valley

We are not rock climbers. However, we did plenty of hiking in the Cochamó Valley, starting with the 8.1 miles (13 km) hike each way into the valley and its camping areas.

muddy cochamo valley trail

Challenges on the trail into the Cochamó Valley include muddy sections (top left), deep ruts (top right), and slippery roots and logs (bottom).

The trail into the Cochamó Valley was established at least as far back as the early 1900s as part of a route used by cattle ranchers (including Butch Cassidy) to drive herds from Argentina to ships near the town of Cochamó. This route can become a slick mess of deep mud if there’s been any rain as foot traffic and the hooves of pack horses, who are sometimes diverted off the main trail but not always, churn up the wet dirt. Logs and wooden walkways are placed over some of the muckiest sections to help hikers navigate through, but you’re almost guaranteed to get wet and muddy.

hiking into cochamó valley

Karen on the trail into the Cochamó Valley in southern Chile.

Thankfully, when we hit the trail to the camping areas in the valley there had been no rain for days and we could easily skirt around any small lingering muddy patches. This was something of a miracle in a place where nearly 10 feet (3,000 mm) of rain falls each year and there is no true dry season.

The first 3 miles (5 km) of the trail climbs gently. Then the trail is flat for a bit (conditions are wettest in the flat section where standing water accumulates) before the trail continues with slight ups and downs. This stretch of trail is complicated, however, by the presence of lots of roots, something that proved to be a feature of most trails in the Cochamó Valley.

hiking cochamo valley

Karen crossing one of the bridges on the trail into the Cochamó Valley.

Though the pack horses going in and out often take parallel trails, sometimes hikers and horses meet and when that happens hikers should always give way. And while this trail crosses a few small waterways, they’re all nicely bridged so there’s no splashing is required. After about four hours on the trail, we reached the La Junta campground which would be our home for the next few nights (more on that below).

On our second day in the Cochamó Valley, we hiked to a popular climbing spot called Piedra Seca and then continued up toward La Paloma glacier along a very steep trail made more complicated by a recent large landslide and lots of slippery roots in the trail. One section had a rope affixed to a 30-foot (10 meter) very steep rock face to help hikers haul themselves up and down.

toboganes cochamó valley

The Los Toboganes formation in Chile’s Cochamó Valley.

We returned back to camp via a formation called Toboganes. This is a sloped granite rock in which the flowing La Junta River has worn smooth spots. One of these water-worn areas is smooth enough for people to slide down–hence the name toboganes which means slides in Spanish–into a clear, calm, and cold pool (this waterway is fed primarily by the Paloma Glacier). We ate our packed lunch on a rocky beach and watched people slide. Then we noticed something unexpected.

An adult bird appeared and began enthusiastically moving into the rough water tumbling off the rock. Then the duck jumped/flapped out of the water and onto the rock face. Standing in the flowing water, it began waddling and wading its way carefully up the rock face, diving into various shallow pools
along the way. It was as if the duck had come to play at Toboganes the same way we humans had.

Then the adult bird began making a racket, and two young birds appeared in the pool below the rock. One managed (with no small amount of difficulty and failure) to make it up the rock to reunite with its mother. The other youngster had much more trouble and there were times when we weren’t sure the little thing was going to make it. Check out the antics of these adventure birds in our video, below.

On day 3, we hiked up, up, up, up to an area called The Amphitheater. This half circle of granite walls (hence the name) is beloved by climbers and accessed via a 6.5-mile (10.5 km) round trip in-and-out trail.

After crossing the river from our campsite via a flying fox (check that out in our video, above), we started the climb along a trail that started off gently, but soon became extremely steep trail with many sections covered in hard-to-navigate roots and also mud in many areas.

amphitheater trail cochamó

Yes, that’s the trail up to The Amphitheater in the Cochamó Valley.

This was a much harder hike than we anticipated and we have no idea how climbers get their many, many pounds of climbing and camping gear up with them so they can climb the awesome granite faces of The Amphitheater which lived up to its name.

cochamóo anfiteatro

The semi-circle of granite walls that form The Amphitheater are favored by rock climbers.

There’s a pit toilet near the top of the trail, and hikers can turn this hike into a loop by descending via the Los Manzanos Campground or via the Vista Hermosa Campground. We were tired, however, so we headed back out the same way we’d come in. Allow at least 5.5 hours in total, including a 25-minute side trip down to a waterfall and back up to the main trail along the way.

Take a quick spin around The Amphitheater in the Cochamó Valley in our video, below.

Because Karen had a pinched nerve in her shoulder, we did not tackle the infamous Arco Iris Trail which often requires the use of fixed ropes to pull yourself up and lower yourself down over steep rockfaces, ala hiking to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, but with just ropes instead of fixed stairs and chain handrails.

Camping in the Cochamó Valley

Though it’s possible to hike into the Cochamó Valley and back out again in a single day, we don’t recommend it because it’s a long hard hike and you won’t have much time to enjoy the beauty of the valley as you’re hustling to get in and out. So, to truly explore the Cochamó Valley, you need to camp.

cochamó valley la junta camping

The La Junta Campground in the Cochamó Valley.

The camping in the Cochamó Valley is an organized affair that requires advance reservation online. After reserving online, we were asked to pay our camping fee (we paid 48,000 CLP/about US$40 for three nights of camping for two people) before arrival by visiting a bank and depositing the amount into an account, though paying your fee via PayPal is possible as well.

You choose your specific campsite when you arrive, so the first thing we did when we arrived at the La Junta Campground was walk around to check out the open sites. The La Junta Campground has about 50 flat tent sites scattered around the edges of a green grassy pasture. Some sites are shaded. Some are sunny. Some have trees for stringing up a hammock. We chose site number seven because it was extra large, had a shady area for our tent, trees for our hammock, and was close enough to the passing river to hear the soothing sound of moving water.

La Junta camping cochamó

We chose campsite number seven in the La Junta Campground in the Cochamó Valley.

The La Junta Campground also has six dry composting toilets, three covered sink stations with running water for washing dishes, two covered fire pits, two buildings for cooking and eating inside (you’ll need your own stove), two cold-water shower stations with private stalls (take your shower in the early afternoon and you may get a bit of warm water as the sun heats the rooftop water tank), and picnic tables scattered about the pasture.

All facilities are remarkably spotless because they’re cleaned twice daily by the campsite caretakers (a German woman and a couple of Chilean guys when we were there). All water is drinkable. Green waste is collected and composted, but all other trash must be packed out. The La Junta Campground also had an organic garden and greenhouse (when we were there they were selling native potatoes). And even though we saw a lot of fat and friendly mice in the handful of structures, no vermin ever bothered the food supplies we left in our tent.

A small shop at the neighboring Trawen Campground was selling eggs and overripe bananas, but don’t count on any supplies being available. It’s best to bring in all the food you’ll need. Other Cochamó Valley camping areas include Los Manzanos Campground and Camping Aventura which are across the river and are accessed via a flying fox pulley over the water.

cochamó valley waterfall

A waterfall in the Cochamó Valley.

Cochamó Valley travel tips

Sign in at the entrance station at the trailhead into the valley where you will be given basic information. There’s also a helpful map here to help you get your bearings. Be sure to sign out when you leave. There is a published cap of 90 visitors per day.

If you aren’t camping in the valley you pay a day trip fee at the entrance station. Day trippers must be on the trail by 10 am, but the earlier the better. It’s a 16.2 mile (26 km) round trip hike along a sometimes challenging trail for those who want to hike in and out in one day.

cochamó valley moon

Dusk in Chile’s Cochamó Valley.

Given the steep and challenging trail conditions in the Cochamóo Valley, hiking poles and hardy hiking boots are necessary. Rain and mud gear (gators, rain pants, etc.) is a good idea too.

For 40,000 CLP (about US$46) each way (cash only), you can hire a pack horse and horseman to carry 130 pounds (60 kilos) max. Your camping/climbing/hiking gear must be divided equally between two soft-sided duffels or backpacks which will be put into woven plastic bags before being loaded onto the pack horse (one on each side). Be aware that you may have to wait for your stuff to arrive at your campground. We waited at our campground for two hours for the horse carrying our camping gear to arrive. Pack horses can be reserved on the same site where camping reservations are made.

Bring biodegradable soap for showers and dishwashing.

We paid 4,000 CLP (about US$4.50) per day (cash only) to park our truck in a dusty lot near the entrance station and trailhead.

There is no cell service and no electricity in the Cochamó Valley.

If you plan to camp you MUST reserve well in advance. Camping areas are open from mid-September until early May.

From mid-December to mid-February, be prepared for swarms of two species of biting horseflies. Some of Eric’s shots were unusable because so many horseflies were swarming his lens. To deter them, wear light colors and stay in the shade (these horseflies prefer the sun). These horseflies, thankfully, disappear between sunset to sunrise.

We were in the Cochamó Valley at the end of December and it was windy every afternoon. And, no, the wind did not deter the horseflies.

Cochamó town travel tips

Though there are a few small and basic places to stay near the trailhead, you may want or need to spend a night in the town of Cochamó before and/or after your Cochamó Valley adventures. This small settlement on the windy Reloncavi Estuary is about 6 miles (10.5 km) from the trail into the Cochamó Valley. Inhabitants only recently got electricity and a road and tourist services are limited to a few hostels, a few small general stores, and a few fast food carts with uncertain hours.

cochamo reloncavi estuary

Cochamó town across the Reloncavi Estuary.

In Cochamó town, we spent a night at Hostel y Cabañas Maura in a room that was so tiny we had to leave our luggage in the truck. We paid 40,000 CLP (about US$46) for this glorified closet with a shared bathroom, no Wi-Fi, and no breakfast. Have we mentioned that prices in Chile are crazy, especially in the south? The Maura hostel does have a large shared kitchen/dining area and an ample parking area.

cochamó church

The shingled church in Cochamó town.

Besides the scenic bay, where sea lions can be spotted and where the tide seems to fluctuate by 25 feet (7.6 meters) the only other sight in town is a shingled church.

After your Cochamó Valley adventure…

A good long soak in a natural hot spring is just what’s needed after a few days of camping and hiking in the Cochamó Valley. Lucky for you, the Termas del Sol natural hot springs complex is just 22 miles (35 km) away near the town of Puelo and that’s exactly where we headed when we left the Cochamó Valley.

termas del sol carretera austral hot springs

Treat yourself to a post-adventure soak in the naturally-heated pools at Termas del Sol.

Opened in 2019, this stylish network of 10 soaking pools full of water that’s been naturally heated to between 96.8 Fahrenheit (36 Celsius) and 113 Fahrenheit (45 Celsius) by the Yates Volcano is open every day. The pools are extremely clean and the water, which is full of healing minerals, does not have a sulfur smell.

termas del sol chile hot springs

Smart soakers in the Termas del Sol natural hot spring pools.

Walkways connect the infinity edge pools which are lined with slabs of slate. Facilities include a stylish, clean, and roomy changing area with lockers and an inviting indoor/outdoor cafe with a fireplace (pizzas, juices, coffee, etc.). Pro tips: the pools are in full sun for most of the day, so arrive in the afternoon/evening if you want a shady soak. And BYO towel.

Here’s more about travel in Chile

Here’s more about Carretera Austral Travel

Here’s more about Patagonia Travel

Here’s more about Hiking in the Americas

 


Series Navigation:<< Wet, Wild, and Worth It – Pumalin Douglas Tompkins National Park, ChileAdventure Town Travel Guide – Futaleufú, Chile >>

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