Popular with young Chilean backpackers and rock climbing fanatics, the Cochamo Valley is slowly becoming a favourite stop for hikers in the South of Chile. This beautiful valley has been nicknamed the “Yosemite of South America” thanks to its forested granite domes, powerful waterfalls and dramatic paths. This valley is best for experienced and serious hikers who are looking for a challenge.

Historically, this valley was an important trade route between Southern Chile and Argentina. Herds of beef cattle were brought down from Argentina and traders would take dried and smoked fish from Chile across the mountains. Legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid drove their cattle through the Valley.

To access the valley, visitors need to hike 13km from Cochamo village into the valley along a dirt track. Once there, most visitors camp (bringing their own equipment). Refugio Cochamo offers dorms and private room, but spaces fill up quickly and you’ll need to pre-register.

The valley’s most popular campsite is La Junta, which is also the starting point for several day hikes such as Trinidad, Arco Iris, La Paloma and Amphitheatre.

Each trail comes with its own scale of difficulty. However, the Arco Iris trail is the most popular hike in the valley — and also one of Chile’s most challenging. A 13km roundtrip, this is a difficult to severe trek that includes steep hikes and rope climbing at several points. In places, this trek is more akin to mountaineering. Quite often, the trek route is simply a route trodden down by climbers looking to get to the rock.

The hike starts in the dense forest surrounding the campsite. Make a quick, ten-minute detour to see the Junta Cascades — a series of flat waterfalls which the adventurous can use as a slide to plunge into the water. After a couple of hours, trekkers will begin to use ropes to haul themselves up to the steeper sections of the route. Be aware that the rock can be slippery if wet, so secure yourself to the rope before continuing — and admire the views of the valley below as you climb.

After 3-4 hours hiking, the trail simple becomes a series of stacked rocks that you follow upwards with steep drops on both sides. Stick to this route, as going off the path can lead you into danger. This trek is only for those comfortable with exposure and handlines. However, the 360 views at the top are well worth the effort — on a clear day, you can see the mountain lakes and fjords that connect to the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Make sure you leave enough time to return the way you came — the descent is every bit as challenging.

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