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The Tehuelche people called this area «the desolate place where the devil dwells,» perhaps a nod to its strange, moon-like beauty. Pali Aike National Park is located 122 miles from Punta Arenas, near Chile’s border with Argentina. Low-lying volcanic cones, caves, various types of craters, basalt walls, and lava scoria tell the story of recent volcanic eruptions in this paradise for geologists, volcanologists, and anthropologists. Eleven thousand years ago, native people traveled by foot across the plateau, which never reaches an altitude of more than 660 feet. Today, the Magellanic steppe is home to diverse wildlife, including Guanacos, Foxes, and Ñandús.
The dry, spiky Coirón is the central feature of the Magellanic Steppe. Other notable flora in the park include Mata Negra, Mata Gris, and Mata Amarilla, three colors of a high-mountain flowering shrub. In the crevasses, Paramela, Ferns, and Anemones grow, while Lichen colonize the lava crusts, patiently breaking down the volcanic rock and forming organic material. In summer, you can find the berries of the Murtilla and Calafate (Magellan Barberry) plants.
Guanacos are a common sight on the plateau. You can also frequently spot Foxes, Chingues (Molina’s Hog-Nosed Skunk), Armadillos, and Ñandús. Pumas also make their home in the park, along with a wide variety of birds, including the Flamingo and the Coscoroba Swan, as well as Cernicalos (Common Kestrels), Caiquenes (Sheldgeese), Aguiluchos (Red-Backed Hawks), Varis, and Águilas Moras (Black-Chested Buzzard Eagles).
Junios Bird studied the remains of three cremated skeletons, arrowheads, and vestiges of extinct fauna, which had been discovered in the Fell Cave and the Pali Aike Cave in 1930. These findings provided glimpses of human presence in the area dating back around 11,000 years. In more recent times, Pali Aike was the territory of the Aonikenks or Tehuelches, a nomadic people that inhabited the Patagonia. They were expert hunters and used spears and bow and arrow to hunt Guanacos and Ostriches. With the introduction of horses to the region during the 18th century, these peoples extended their routes through the southern steppe and made new hunting tools, such as boleadoras, a throwing weapon made of weights attached to cords.
Pali Aike lies 122 miles northwest of Punta Arenas on the international route CH-255, the road to the Monte Aymond border crossing. At kilometer 168/mile 104, take the detour, and drive 16 miles on the gravel road to arrive at the park.
You can also take a bus from the rural terminal to Villa Punta Delgada, which is 16 miles from the park.
Various local tour agencies offer day trips to the park from Punta Arenas.
Punta Arenas is the main port of entry and exit for voyages to Puerto Montt, the Antarctic, and Ushuaia. From Punta Arenas, travel 122 miles northwest in car to arrive to Pali Aike.
4 hours total
11 miles (out and back)
October to April
The lagoon is an ideal spot for birdwatching, while the cave was the site of an important archeological discovery, where traces of human activity dating back 11,000 years were found.
Starting Point: Pali Aike Parking Lot.
4.6 miles total
October to April
The trail passes through lava scoria, leading to craters formed by eruptions dating back 16,000 years.
Starting Point: Second parking lot
30 minutes (one way)
2,000 feet (one way)
October to April
Declared a National Monument, the Pali Aike Cave was the site of an archeological discovery, where traces of human activity dating back 11,000 years––the oldest in the region––were found.
Starting Point: Second parking lot or Laguna Ana
Explore the immensities of Tierra del Fuego, the largest island in South America, making a stop earlier in Pali Aike, where the oldest archaeological remains of the region are recorded. Cross the Strait of Magellan from Punta Delgada to Cerro Sombrero, then head south to Lake "Kami".
Discover the Pali Aike National Park, with an incredible lunar aspect due to its volcanic cones and lava scoria. Then take Route 9 to Puerto Natales and embark on a boat to the Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, visiting the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers, and then explore the wonders of the Paine massif.
Punta Arenas is the largest city in the Magallanes region and the main port for maritime travel north and south along the Chilean coast and to the Argentine port of Ushuaia.
The capital of Primavera, located 78 miles north of Porvenir, on the big island of Tierra del Fuego.
Villa Cameron is a village of around 60 people along the southern coast of Bahía Inútil (Useless Bay), on the big island of Tierra del Fuego.
Porvenir is the largest city in Tierra del Fuego, located across the Strait of Magellan from Punta Arenas. You can reach it crossing the strait by ferry.
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