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Sea Kayaking Pumalin Park
(Northern Patagonia Fiords)

Text by Dr. Patricio Herrera L
Published : Revista OUTDOORS

Por los fiordos

One can look for real magic by reading García Márquez. Or one can go to the fiords of Chile's Patagonia to find the real magic. Here, it is not necessary to be a writer or a poet: the nature saturates the soul with it's tangible and mysterious magic. The sea changes color, brilliance and transparency while a midday wind adds to the challenge of navigating the kayak.

Listen to the firm voice of "Juanfe" (Juan Federico Zuazo), our instructor, who will be overseeing the group's progress while traveling by sea in the direction of the first fiord, Quintupeo. First, three hours of packing the tents, utensils, clothes, sleeping bags and food in the smallest region of the kayaks before beginning the navigation on the blue sea with an incomparably majestic forest filled coast. We will then arrive to our destination, after the incredible maneuver of holding hundreds of kilos of equipment and food for 4 people, to cover the necessities for 5 or 10 days in the most rainy region of Chile.

After the first hour of rowing, the wind begins and changes the color of the sea to turquoise, while assisting us by pushing us in the right direction. Finally, we arrive at the location where we will tie down the kayaks, they will be suspended in the air to save them from the rise of the tide, then we will unload the equipment to set up the campsite. As the sky fills with storm clouds, we will quickly set up the tent to avoid the showers that are about to fall. Once everything has been set up, we can enjoy dinner while it pours outside and share jokes and stories as we unwind for the night. But before night falls, we can enjoy a view of the sea and river which reflects the lights of the sunset as it falls to the west in the middle of a humid desert full of sand and rocks. The kayaks, at this time, are far from the water.

Navegando hacia los fiordosThe Route to Cahuelmó

In the morning, among the darkness, we quickly eat an overwhelming breakfast to begin our preparation for the day. The maneuvers are the most precise, the movements are the most efficient and the decisions are made with certainty. In this manner, we will have reduced loading time and we will be able to enter the calm waters of the sea at 8:00am. One by one we will each get into the kayaks, adjusting and verifying that each is secure and balanced. Then we are off, rowing at an enjoyable rhythm as we watch the nose of the kayak cut through the sea beneath the morning mist.

An enduring adventure awaits us, as we plan to advance 25 km. We will try to avoid the south wind, which at this time could be harsh and create severe water conditions due to the influence of the meteorological state of the Ancud Gulf. This gives a high probability of strong winds for about 2 kms, with a chance of an undercurrent. Therefore, halfway through the trip, we will stop at the only narrow rocky beach to take refuge from the water. There we will wait until the tide has reached it's maximum so we can continue on to the next fiord: Cahuelmó.

The stay at the beach, lasting a few hours, will allow us to enjoy the incomparable beauty of the wild fuchsias covered by red and purple flowers, and thousands of other beautiful flowers amongst the large green leaves which sprout from their curious stems. In addition, we can appreciate the variety of rounded edges of the beach, which have been formed by a diversity of geological materials that have been created by multiple catastrophes years ago.

As evening approaches it is time to return to the sea, with a promise of the sun shining it's natural light. This appears as we are arriving at the mouth of the fiord Cahuelmó, where you'll find a colony of sea lions, some weighing a half a ton. The sea lions roar as we continue to get closer to satisfy our curiosity. As they initiate their escape, a sudden uproar is visible as they progressively throw themselves into the sea. They quickly submerge themselves by entering the water with the elegance of a diver, then shortly after their enormous heads are seen peeping out from the surface of the water. The south wind, guides us like a floating candle, with our kayaks hooked together we glide along the sea without rowing, with the sky illuminated by the sun. We then reach our destination, the hot springs of Cahulemó, and we explore the rapid river that comes from the Abascal lagoon. We return by way of the river below, remove our kayaks and transfer the equipment to the camping location, but not before we have lifted the kayaks to a secure place

Alone in the hot springs

Navegando por el mar calmo y brumosoFor camping we choose the inner forest, perfumed with myrtles, protected from wind and at the edge there is a small water fountain, which is scarce due to the long drought which affected the region. It is not cold. In fact, we have not felt the wind. The air is fresh due to the smell of the sand grouses, flowers and the breeze filtered by the Chilean evergreens, coihues, canelos, olivillos and laurels with the growth of lumas, tepus, and arrayanes below. Grey celestial moss hangs from the low branches of the forest, while red flowers decorate the area closest to the water. This area invites you to enjoy the beauty of the forest and flowery scrubs.

Between jokes and stories, while our instructor prepares another succulent dinner, we will have the opportunity to take advantage of the hot springs, without all the visitors who come from far away by boat to bath in these mildly sulfur-filled waters. In the afternoon the skies are clear and blue, showing the design and height of the gray, abrupt cliffs of the cordillera which only permits vegetation in it's third inferior level. The condors fly above in the mountains while closer to us we watch a carrion hawk devour a small animal in the branches of a tree. As we sit to eat dinner, we can observe two other birds investigate the ground for digging.

As it becomes dark, the Spanish flies initiate their uninterrupted dialogs, hidden between wild fuchsias and enormous edible stalk. Some of them fly away, while one of bronze and copper colors smashes into my right eye, fortunately without consequences. The moon is growing, the stars are shining like small far away places, and again the sea has left only pools that barely shine from the remaining sunset. We eat dinner and then head for the tents. In the darkness, as a special surprise, we take note of the silence and the intermittent language of what seems to be fireflies, but turns out to be glowworms.

We sleep until 8:00, have a generous breakfast and take advantage of the low tide to cross the river and make our way towards the Abascal lagoon, a two and a half hour trip through the thick forest. There, is where a peculiar thing happens, it seemed to be enough to grasp a small branch, which would not be able to maintain our equilibrium, but we are able to maintain our stability to avoid a long stretch suspended above water and mud.

El CampamentoProgram Itinerary

In addition to the permanent sounds of the birds, the forest provides all kinds of surprises: waterfalls, inclines, declines, narrow passages, and at times presents with logs and roots that both assist and hinder your velocity. Without rushing, you can admire the natural beauty of the forest.
After a test of effort, we arrive to the tranquil Abascal lagoon, surrounded by forest. A day, which began with clouds and only spots of blue, ends with the sun making the return trip hotter and more humid. We return to wade through the river which is now deeper due to the initiation of the high tide. There are no greater difficulties than when we cross the rapids doing a "spider", four taken by the shoulders, a secure and tranquil way to avoid the large quarry stones on the bed of this river that soon will be the sea. The rest of the afternoon we are resting and planning for the following day. With the departure plans completed without setbacks, it is time to enjoy each others company, share experiences from the day and sketch out new projects.

The return trip, calculated to avoid the wind and take advantage of the tide, will require us to begin at 4:00am to be on the water by 7:00am. At this time, the forest is almost completely covered by a low layer of clouds. We will start the morning with calm, slow rowing. The voyage is mellow until we reach the point where the adventure begins, with a lightly rippling sea due to a southwest breeze which does not cause any problems, we will end the voyage earlier than we had planned.

During our trip, we come across a couple of men in fiber glass kayaks, without appropriate equipment. We realize that we are completely prepared with our security support: marine radio, GPS, tide tables, maps, navigation charts, draining pumps, tilting/tipping equipment, life jackets, and flares. And above all, the planning of the route has been executed by YAK EXPEDICIONES, taking into account the conditions and coming up with alternative solutions to possible difficulties which can arise in the ever changing region of Patagonia.

Before the trip

Entre nalcasIn the office of YAK, we will meet before the trip to plan all the details about the trip to a region of ever changing weather, very few beaches to camp due to the area being dominated by rocks, and a location where it is important to be knowledgeable about the effects of the tide. Therefore, each participant will be educated enough to perform this trip solo. Each person will be familiar with the required equipment for camping, cooking, clothes and how to pack all of the food inside our kayaks.

We acquired an appreciation for the area while analyzing the maps and charts of the regions we could possibly navigate, also taking note of the potential dangers that exist. This is the theme that we needed to take into consideration....Juanfe emphasized the importance of using adequate clothing, food that allowed us to regain energy, the fact that we would probably be rowing through wind and rain at times or even at night when we would have the privilege of experiencing the calm sea. But what gave us the most confidence was the practice of rescue maneuvers and rowing techniques before beginning the trip. We were confident that we were traveling with experienced kayakers and that our group had the knowledge of how to react to unexpected situations. The weather was very clear....we would only change locations if the climate permitted and if the group was in the condition to do so.

We could have chosen the option to travel self-supported or independently if we wanted to experience what it actually means to travel the sea by kayak...to be the absolute leader in each of the stages of the trip, to experience the feeling that we are alive before each stroke and to demonstrate to ourselves that we can do it.

That first morning in front of the Comau Fiord, our guide performed a completely logical review, day by day, of the possible evacuation alternatives, how to utilize the radio and flares, of the possible locations for camping, and one by one the rescue and rowing techniques. For example, we had made signals with our hands to gather the group if conditions had changed drastically, other signals to communicate with each other for times when the wind was very loud and we could not hear each other. We returned to review our kayaks, water bottles, the maps, rescue equipment, and adjustment of the lifejackets....we were ready.


  • DelfinPlan for camping sites ahead of time, a small number of beaches are available due to the shores being dominated by rocks. Plenty of drinking water. Consider the effects of the tides and changing winds, especially from the north.
  • Equipment to keep food and clothes dry.
  • Clothes made with polypropylene and which are water resistant.
  • Small tents (2 person) , low, resistant to rain and wind, aluminum rods and absolutely necessary is an awning or tarp
  • Tide tables, topographical maps for Puerto Montt
  • Marine Radio and First Aid medicine kit for remote areas
  • EXPERIENCE in sea kayaking independently (able to make navigation judgments) and knowledge of First Aid for remote areas. It is said here, "in the sea you learn to pray"


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