The Gaucho Way
Explore an untouched and largely unknown part of wild Patagonia. The Gaucho Way is our signature route. It follows traditional routes used by the Gauchos, Chilean cowboys who are friends and neighbors. Horseback, they herd cattle to market and return to their homesteads with flour, sugar, yerba mate and other sundries. The Gaucho Way connotes both their passage through the mountain landscape and their distinctive, gracious culture. We trek or ride through beautiful valleys, lush forests, craggy mountain trails, and sandy beaches all with the Northern Patagonia Icefield rising 10,000 feet above you.
Day by Day at a Glance
Day 1: Depart country of origin on international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL).
Day 2: Arrive Santiago. Domestic flight to Balmaceda Regional Airport (BBA). Private transfer to Puerto Tranquilo. Overnight in Pto. Tranquilo at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
Day 3: View Marble Chapels by Boat. Picnic lunch at Confluencia with optional day hike or game viewing in Patagonia National Park. Private transfer to Puerto Bertrand. Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
Day 4 & 5: Fly Fishing Rio Baker. Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
Day 6: Transfer to Río Maitén road head. Begin Gaucho supported fish/hike. Overnight Tent Camp.
Day 7: Fly Fishing Río Maitén, Gaucho supported fish/hike. Overnight Tent Camp.
Day 8: Finish Río Maitén fish/hike, scenic loop return. Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
Day 9: Boat shuttle with full-day hike finishing at main ranch. 12 km. (7 mi.). Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
Day 10: Begin multi-day supported trek or ride in Solér Valley and Cacho Valley. 12 km. (7 mi.). Overnight Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch.
Day 11: Trek or ride to view Northern Patagonia Icefield. 12-18 km. (7-11 mi.). Overnight Tent Camp at Cacho Camp. or alt. camp.
Day 12: Complete supported trek. 12-16 km. (7-10 mi.) Traditional Patagonia Asado (BBQ). Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
Day 13: Boat shuttle to Puerto Bertrand. Raft the Baker River. Option for day hike or game viewing in Patagonia National Park. Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
Day 14: Private transfer to Balmaceda Regional Airport. Domestic flight to Santiago. Begin international flight.
Day 15: Arrive final destination.
Day 1: Depart your country of origin on an international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL).
Day 2: Upon arrival to the Santiago airport you transfer to a domestic flight. Your driver will meet you at the regional Balmaceda airport (BBA) where you will continue your journey. You travel south on the Austral Highway on pavement and improved gravel roads. In nearly 300 kilometers of driving you pass just two small villages, Villa Cerro Castillo, at the foot of the impressive peak that gives it its name, and Puerto Río Tranquilo, a village on the shores of Lago General Carrera, Chile’s largest lake and South America’s second largest lake.
After checking in to your accommodations, the evening may be spent relaxing or taking a stroll about the lakeshore and town.
You overnight in Puerto Tranquilo.
Driving time is approximately four hours.
Day 3: Following breakfast you’ll depart by boat to explore the fascinating and labyrinthine intricacies of the Marble Chapel and Marble Cathedral along the lake’s coastline towards the south. After returning to the dock, your journey continues south, poised between the profound blue waters of the lake and the sharp, snowy peaks flanking the Northern Patagonia Icefield. You arrive at the tiny hamlet of Puerto Bertrand, located at the headwaters of the Baker River, Chile’s largest volume river, a world-class fishery and the centerpiece of a dormant, yet contentious dam-building project by the Spanish energy consortium Endesa.
You’ll enjoy a picnic lunch viewing the mighty Confluencia, the junction of the Baker and Nef rivers as they thunder over a precipitous drop. You’re also close by to the Chacabuco valley, site of the newly formed Patagonia National Park, an excellent spot for game viewing guanaco, condor, fox and other wildlife.
You overnight in Puerto Bertrand.
Driving time is approximately four hours.
Day 4 and 5: The next several days are dedicated to fishing the impressive Río Baker. The Baker has attracted international recognition for the excellence and challenge of its fishery, yet remains a largely private experience. The river is a crystal-clear, turquoise-colored powerhouse that yields impressive results wade fishing along its banks as well as float fishing from catarafts or other small craft.
Local trout are comprised most abundantly of rainbow, including the incredibly strong and athletic Río Baker variety, steelhead-like in size and life cycle though not in selectivity for the fly, as well as some brown trout. As you probe the local reaches you’ll pass by occasional farms and observe the pace and texture of rural life bordering the river.
If not all members of the party wish to fish, we can explore options for other activities including a visit to the nearby town of Cochrane, a typical Patagonia community and the last major settlement along the Austral Highway before the road ends 230 kilometers further south, or Caleta Tortel, a tiny village located where the Baker River flows into the coastal fiords and known for its many wooden stairs and walkways. We return to the same lodgings each of these evenings unless we plan an overnight in Caleta Tortel in advance.
Day 6 and 7: This morning we take a short drive south, turn off the main road and cross over the Baker River on a small suspension bridge spanning a narrow gorge. Continuing to the road’s end we arrive at the waters of the Río Maitén where we meet our gaucho (Patagonia cowboy) friends and horse guides who will accompany and support us during this portion of your trip.
The next several days will be spent between hiking and fishing, following local horse trails and the natural path of the river, seeking out the most productive waters each day and tent camping each night. Packhorses will carry the fishing and camping equipment allowing you the freedom to explore and to enjoy. The Maitén is a small to medium-sized clear water stream with great dry fly fishing for rainbow trout. You’ll also be able to choose from a variety of additional local waters and secret holes.
The area is home to third generation working ranches and the river route takes us past several homesteads. The terrain consists of semi-open, grassy fields interspersed with both scrub and mature forest. Lunches will be somewhere along the trail where we may invite a local gaucho out herding cattle or sheep to join us, or be invited to share mate, the traditional local tea sipped from a gourd through a metal straw. Dinner is prepared by your guides at a tent camp along the shores of the river or near a neighbor’s home.
Day 8: This morning we finish our hike, fishing along the way to the road head where we meet the shuttle vehicle. We say goodbye to our gaucho friends and begin our return. Depending upon the time, we may choose to return via a different road, one that shuttles the vehicle over the river using a motor-less, cabled ferry raft, devices that were once quite common in Patagonia but that have all but disappeared as bridges take their place.
After settling back in to your previous lodgings and enjoying a shower and meal you may wish to head out for an evening session on the Baker just in case you missed any lunkers the first time around.
Day 9: After a boat shuttle, you begin today’s spectacular hike. Your way rises up intermittently forested slopes to a high shoulder overlooking the joining of waters between Lago Bertrand and Lago Plomo. These waters connect through a breach in the long, narrow moraine that forms a peninsula separating the two lakes. This short gap clearly demarcates where the deep blue of Lago Bertrand abruptly changes to the jade green of Lago Plomo.
After the trail’s initial ascent, you hike along rocky outcroppings, across high alpine valleys, and through enchanted forests of moss-covered beech trees. The glaciated peaks are at your shoulder and the waters of the lake are below your feet. Keep an eye skyward in search of an Andean condor with its distinctively broad wingspan. As we near the lake’s end you view far up the wide Solér Valley floor and beyond to where the afternoon sun stands watch over the enormous expanse of the Patagonia Icefield summits.
Finish the day with a descent past a marble outcropping, sculpted by time and the elements, and walk across forested pasture to the dock, boats, houses and barns of the main ranch, all of which you’ve been glimpsing from a distance. It will be a long, satisfying day finished with a wholesome meal, a glass of fine Chilean wine, and falling asleep in the rustic, comfortable guest house while listening to the horses soft grazing on home pasture.
Trekking distance is approximately 12 km. (7 mi.) of mountainous terrain.
Day 10: Begin the day with yerba mate, a bitter tea sipped from a gourd through a metal straw. It is a traditional start to any Patagonia day and an important social custom. After a hearty breakfast, you finish preparations this morning for your supported trek or ride up the Solér Valley and toward the icefield. You’ll follow horse trails and carry only the essentials in your daypack.
If you are trekking, there are several short creek crossings so don’t forget those sandals or water shoes.
If you are horse riding, you’ll meet some of the ranch’s sturdy Criollo mounts and become familiar with the comfortable Gaucho tack. The horse is one of the most salient features of everyday rural life here and visitors soon notice the ubiquitous mount, saddled and waiting outside each sparsely scattered homestead. Here, the relationship between horse and rider begins early in life. It is no surprise to come across a child atop a horse, far from anybody, confidently riding along a mountain path.
The long valleys, lush temperate forests and mountain peaks offer a wide variety of terrain in which to trek and it’s not uncommon to see soaring condors or even the elusive huemul, a small endangered deer that appears on the Chilean coat of arms. The varied terrain means that you’ll be able to experience everything from craggy mountain trails to long, sandy beaches, and always with a backdrop of the majestic mountain panorama.
Tonight’s destination is situated on the banks of the Cacho River at the beginning of another Patagonia Frontiers. This tent camp is located just beyond the intersection of two large valley’s facing each other across the Solér Valley floor. This is one of our favorite spots in the valley and we always sense energy here, be it from the massive peaks, the open space, the flowing water, or the pristine landscape. There’s contentment here in an evening fire, enjoying good company, and watching the horses graze against a slowly darkening backdrop that reveals southern stars above white, jagged peaks.
Trekking/Riding distance is approximately 12 km. (7 mi.)
Day 11: Mate and breakfast are around a campfire this morning as you watch the long, creeping approach of the morning’s sun slip down from the peak tops to the valley floor. Today, you hike or ride and explore an untouched depth of wild Patagonia that is seldom revealed.
If the day is clear your views will encompass the immediately surrounding peaks and glaciers, five and six thousand feet in elevation above you, as well as the awe-inspiring and formidable Northern Patagonia Icefield with Cerro Hyades standing firm at the head of the Cacho Valley. The difference in elevation between the valley floor at the far end of our Cacho Ranch and the summit of this colossal peak is 10,000 feet!
Along the way is old-growth forest of Coigüe, or Dombey’s beech, with its elegant branches and thick, lustrous evergreen leaves. The large Magellanic woodpecker is frequently seen here, or heard, with its resoundingly deep echo reverberating through the air as it searches for grubs in the ruin of aged trunks. This is also home to the endangered huemul, or South Andean Deer, as well predators such as the Geoffroy’s Cat, Patagonian Fox and Puma. Hidden in plain view, inconspicuous amongst the grandeur of so much else, is a marble mountainside.
While weather, river levels, your pace or equine health along with the group’s energy ultimately influence the furthest point of the trek, when conditions permit you may reach as far as the massive glacier’s edge before returning to the tent camp for the night.
Trekking/Riding distance may vary and is approximately 12-18 km. (7-11 mi.)
Day 12: As the sunlight edges toward camp from across the river you’ll sip yerba mate around the morning fire and marvel as the light plays over the peaks of snow, ice and rock. There’s plenty of time to enjoy the morning routine before packing camp, and heading back home down valley. There’s no hurry to depart, yet eventually you trek or ride one of several routes down valley to the main ranch.
Evening brings a customary Patagonia barbecue, or asado. Guests, staff and neighbors traditionally all share in this feast of meat, slow-roasted over an open fire, new potatoes, fresh salads from the greenhouse, bread and wine. Don’t be surprised to find yourself staying up late listening to the strumming of a guitar and a soft, Spanish melody.
Trekking/Riding distance is approximately 12-16 km. (7-10 mi.)
Day 13: Breath in this morning’s clean, cool air. Spend the morning on a stroll along the beach, or through the orchards, gardens and greenhouses. Take a walk in the pasture and share a moment with the horses, or simply relax as you prepare to say goodbye to the ranch and shuttle by boat to Puerto Bertrand. The dock there is the departure point for a whitewater rafting descent of the crystal-clear powerhouse that is the Baker River.
You overnight in Puerto Bertrand and freshen up in a local guest cabin, or bed and breakfast.
Day 14: Your driver will meet you for the return north directly to the regional Balmaceda airport, your domestic flight to Santiago and international departure.
Day 15: Arrive final destination.
We hope that this sample itinerary offers you a good idea of what this trip offers. In the end, each trip is best crafted by working together with our guests and clients. Ultimately, we look at a successful trip as requiring collaboration to come up with the best components. Each trip’s duration, activity types, and level of difficulty are readily adapted to meet a party’s goals and wishes.
Whether you choose an established itinerary or create one of your own, our commitment is to accommodating your interests and to providing you with a thoroughly enjoyable, safe and memorable experience. Even after living here for more than 30 years this land still thrills us and we love sharing it with others. We look forward to hosting you at our wilderness ranch home.
Other Sample Itineraries: