COVID-19 has forced us to re-imagine travel, but many places were already putting local communities and nature first. Nori Jemil recalls her time in Patagonia and how the world’s largest conservation project, launched in 2018, is an example of the future of travel.
The wind was fierce, and cold rain needled my eyeballs. I kept my arms down in case I lifted off in my fetching orange life vest and windproof ensemble.
Gusts of up to 150 kilometers per hour are common at Cape Horn, and our previous attempt to make land here was scuppered by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans colliding viciously at the start of the infamous Drake Passage.
This time though, we did it, my feet firmly planted in front of the albatross sculpture, a landmark in memory of the lost souls of more than 700 shipwrecks, in Chile’s 17th national park. The long grasses rippled green and gold in the wind, and I knew I was fortunate to have made it here.
Depending on which way you look at it, Cape Horn is the start or the finish of Chile’s Ruta de los Parques (Route of Parks). Launched in 2018, the route is the result of a 25-year effort by Doug and Kristine Tompkins, former leading lights of outdoor clothing brands The North Face and Patagonia respectively, to protect and expand Chile’s southerly natural habitats.
From Puerto Montt down to the tip of the Southern Cone, it’s the world’s most audacious conservation and tourism project, and the largest private land donation in history, creating five new parks and expanding three others. Covering 1,740 miles of land and sea, encompassing 60 communities, 140 species of birds and 46 types of mammal, it makes up roughly one third of Chile and 91 per cent of its protected land—superlatives quickly dry up when describing its scale.