Bernardo O'Higgins National Park is the largest national park in Chile. It protects the unique fjord region of the coastal cordillera in the area of the South Patagonian Ice Field, which is the largest glaciated ice surface outside the poles and Greenland.
Bernardo O'Higgins National Park is the largest of the protected areas in Chile, covering an area of 35,259 km² (13,614 sq mi) in the Aysén and Magallanes and Antártica Chilena regions. Management of this and other national parks in Chile is entrusted to the Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF). The park is named after General Bernardo O'Higgins, the first head of state of the Republic of Chile. Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina) and Torres del Paine National Park are its neighbours to the east, Laguna San Rafael National Park is located to the north, the Alacalufes National Reserve to the southwest and the Katalalixar National Reserve to the northwest.
The earliest occupants of the area were the Alacaluf people.
In 1830 the then Captain Phillip Parker King on board H.M.S. Beagle visited the Eyre Fjord.
In June 2007 it was announced that between March and May 2007 all the water within a glacial lake in the park had disappeared, leaving behind a 30-m (100-foot)-deep crater. Only some blocks of ice, previously floating on the lake, remained behind on the crater floor. In July 2007 scientists were able to draw the preliminary conclusion that the disappearance occurred as a result of climate change.
The park cover the fjords and canals of the west and most of the Southern Ice fields.
The highest summit is the Lautaro volcano at 3,607 m (11,834 ft). Other summits include the Mount Fitz Roy, the Cerro Torre and the Cerro Riso Patrón. The elevations are lower in the southern part of the park, but the scenery is still spectacular. The highlight of this zone is Mount Balmaceda at 2,035 m (6,677 ft), beautified by the glaciers Balmaceda and Serrano.
There are no large rivers on the park coast, but the narrow fjords penetrate deeply into the mountains and bring away the drainage of their ice-capped, storm-swept elevations.
Flora and fauna
The park is one of the last refuges for the Chilean Huemul. In this also can be found species such as Andean Condor, Marine Otter and Cormorant.
Because of its rugged geography and the remoteness of the area, the tourism in the park has been scarcely developed. It is only accessible by boat or helicopter. The glaciers at the head of Última Esperanza Sound and the glacier Pío XI are the most visited areas of the park. The main gateways for visitors to the park are Puerto Natales, Villa O'Higgins, Caleta Tortel and Puerto Edén.
Cruise ships sail from Ushuaia through the Beagle Channel and along the avenue of glaciers to Puerto Montt.
Fees and permits
A good and relatively inexpensive way to explore the park is to take the ferry between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales. The crossing on the simple ferry takes about three days. During this time you can often see whales, dolphins or seals in addition to the impressive landscape. Especially in the high season, the journey from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt is cheaper than in the opposite direction.
- 1 Pío XI Glacier (Glaciar Pío XI, Brüggen glacier). The largest glacier in the Southern Hemisphere outside the Arctic and is even still growing.
- 2 Jorge Montt glacier (Glaciar Jorge Montt).
- Serrano Glacier
- 3 Amalia Glacier (Glaciar Amalia). It lies above the Peel Fjord, which flows into the Sarmiento Canal.
- 4 O'Higgins Glacier (Glaciar O'Higgins).
- Sea kayaking is a popular activity in the park.
- Turismo 21 de Mayo, Eberhard 560, ☏ . Full-day boat excursion visiting Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers. 45,000 pesos.
Buy, eat, drink
- 1 Puerto Edén. In the national park, you can only buy basic food in the only town, Puerto Edén. It is the most isolated village in Chile. It is home to the last organized community of the Kawesqar people. Mussels (of the cholgas or mejillones type very well known in South American gastronomy) are also sold, which is the main source of income for the residents. There are a few small souvenir shops as well as a shop for daily needs.
Accommodation is only available in Puerto Edén or outside the park. Most tourists use one of the surrounding places (see above) anyway, as Puerto Edén is very remote.
There is simple family accommodation, and camping is also possible in summer.
- Hostería Yekchal, Ribera Norte S / N. +56 2 1969650. A small accommodation, the owners also offer guided excursions.
- Hostería Puerto Edén, Ribera Sur S / N. +56 2 1969620. The largest hostel in town, with a canteen.
- Hostería Don Manuel, Ribera Norte S / N. +56 2 1960677. Hostel with canteen, offers boat trips.
The main danger in the national park is the harsh weather conditions here at the end of the world. Since there is no supply or infrastructure, nobody can help you if you run into trouble. Tours in the region are especially something for real adventurers.
There is only one public satellite telephone in Puerto Edén, which only works from 10:00 to 13:00. There is also an internet connection in the local administration.