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Wildlife in Chile: Discover the World Biospheres of Chile!

Chile’s unique environment means it’s home to a startling variety of indigenous flora and fauna, some of which is found nowhere else on Earth. As a result, nine places in Chile have been recognised as UNESCO World Biospheres, or geographical areas that represent a particular distinct habitat. It’s a great way to see some of Chile’s most distinctive wildlife, so here we take a look at where to go, what see and why to visit the best of Chile’s one-of-a-kind ecosystems!

 

araucariaAraucarias

Where? Found in south-central Chile towards the northern edge of the area known as the Chilean Lake District. This reserve includes the Conguillío-Los Paraguas National Park and the Alto Bio-Bio Forest Reserve.

What? This heavily forested reserve is named for it’s most prominent tree species, the Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle tree. Amongst the gangly pine trees, you’ll also find four different species of Nothofagus, or Southern Beeches, which are native to the Southern Hemisphere, along with different species of conifers. This lush habitat harbours a variety of mammals including the world’s smallest deer species, the Pudu, and the llama-like guanaco. It is also home to the rare, nocturnal Monito del Monte. Although this translates as ‘Little Mountain Monkey’, the Monito del Monte is actually a kind of tiny marsupial, found only in this part of the world. The reserve also features abundant fish and birdlife.

Why? The Chilean Lake District is a great option for combining outdoor pursuits with nature trails and eco-tourism!

cape hornCabo de Hornos

Where? Cabo de Hornos is about as far south as you can go in Chile, or anywhere in Latin America for that matter. South of Ushuaia in Argentina, this really is the end of the line in Chilean Patagonia.

What? This reserve is a real patchwork of different ecosystems, scattered throughout an intricate system of fjords, channels, estuaries and bays. There are evergreen broadleaf forests, deciduous forests and areas of tundra with lichen, wetlands, peat bogs and glaciers. Due to its remote location, this area is recognised as one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world. Offshore, amongst the seaweed meadows, the area is frequented by Peale’s dolphins and black dolphins, killer whales, antarctic minke whales and Magellanic and rockhopper penguins.

Why? If you’ve made it as far as Ushuaia in Argentina then why stop short of the very end of the world. This is about as close as you can get to Antarctica without actually going to Antarctica.

fray jorgeFray Jorge

Where? This reserve consists of the Fray Jorge, Talinay and Punta del Viento National Parks, some way north of Chile’s capital Santiago and about 100km south of the city of La Serena on the Pacific coast.

What? The most noticeable feature of this reserve is the fact that it contains the most northerly forest in the country. Whilst much of the north is semi-arid land moving towards the total aridity of the Atacama Desert, the forests of Fray Jorge are like green oases by comparison. They provide the perfect habitat for most of the typical mediterranean animal species found in Chile. These include birds such as partridges, meadowlarks, goldfinches and mockingbirds. The Culpeo, or Andean Fox, is the area’s most noteworthy predator.

Why? A trip to see a forest in the middle of a semi-arid desert has to be worth a detour if you’re heading north. The reserve is near to some areas of Chile’s north that international visitors often miss out on. While you’re there, check out the picturesque city of La Serena, the Elqui Valley and the coastal wildlife!

juan fernandezJuan Fernández

Where? This reserve is not within mainland Chile, but is made up of the small archipelago of islands that lie 650km off the coast in the Pacific Ocean. The reserve includes the islands of Robinson Crusoe, Alexander Selkirk and Santa Clara as well as the smaller islets in the area.

What? These sparsely inhabited islands are the outcome of volcanic activity in the area, resulting in a landscape of steep, rugged mountains and ravines with almost no flat areas. Nearly 60% of the plants found in the reserve are endemic, or unique to these islands alone. Whilst some of the smaller islands are barren, the two largest islands feature a variety of distinct habitats. At low elevations there are grasslands and small shrubs, whilst higher up dry forests and wooded ravines can be found.

Why? The islands were once home to Alexander Selkirk, the sailor whose real-life stay on the islands inspired Daniel Defoe to write his classic shipwreck tale ‘Robinson Crusoe’. The islands remain a tranquil location, far off the regular tourist trail.

la campanaLa Campana-Peñuelas

Where? The reserve lies in the Valparaiso region of central Chile not far from the capital city Santiago. The reserve includes the Campana and Lago Peñuelas National Parks.

What? In contrast to many of Chile’s highly mountainous national parks, La Campana National Park has a gently undulating landscape with some small hills and gullies. The Chilean Wine Palm tree is endemic to this small area of Chile and can be found within the reserve along with other native trees. Animal life includes both Culpeo and Argentine grey foxes, whilst in the skies and treetops you’ll see grey buzzard-eagles. red-backed buzzards and the Chilean mockingbird. Lago Peñuelas is a freshwater lake bordered with marshes and grasslands and plantations of eucalyptus and pine trees.

Why? This is the closest Biosphere Reserve to the capital city Santiago and popular visitor hotspot Valparaiso. Head here for an easy escape from the city!

laguna san rafaelLaguna San Rafael

Where? The lagoon itself and the large national park that surrounds it are located in the north of Chilean Patagonia, near to the Pacific coast.

What? The reserve has varied features that encompass rivers and lakes, parts of the Patagonian mountains and glaciers. It is these glaciers that feed the Laguna de San Rafael, a large brackish lagoon that connects to the ocean via the Moraleda Channel. Around the lake you’ll find various kinds of sumptuous vegetation and southern beech forests with an undergrowth of ferns. The area also features peaty wetlands and glacial moraines. Due to its remote location, the reserve remains relatively untouched by human hands, and is a haven for all kinds of wildlife. Pudus, pumas, foxes and humboldt's hog-nosed skunks are all found here, as is the kodkod, a small, spotted wildcat.

Why? This area is so remote even the roads don’t reach there, so you’ll have to travel by boat or plane. This is an ideal stop-off to visit one of Chile’s most unspoiled parks whilst you’re cruising up the coast.

laucaLauca

Where? The Lauca Biosphere Reserve is located in the extreme north of Chile, close to its borders with both Bolivia and Peru. The reserve falls within the high Andean grasslands and includes the Lauca National Park, Las Vicuñas National Reserve and the Surire Salt Flat Natural Monument.

What? Much of the Chilean Andes’ biodiversity can be found on display in this reserve. The wide expanse of the Altiplano, or high meadows, is crossed with gorges and dotted with lagoons and lakes. There are also marshes and the occasional salt flat as well as fast flowing rivers. Plantlife ranges from grasses to Paddle Cacti and the quirky and spongy Laretia Acaulis, or cushion plant. You might find it tricky to differentiate between the llamas, alpacas and vicuñas, which can all look quite similar the the untrained eye. Around marshy areas keep a lookout for the Puna Ibis, a wading bird, as well as the black and white Andean Goose.

Why? If you’re heading overland to Bolivia or Peru, make a stop here to soak the last of Chile’s dramatic landscapes and intriguing plantlife.

torres del paineTorres del Paine

Where? Torres del Paine National Park lies in Chilean Patagonia in the far south of the country, between a branch of the Andes Mountains and the vast Steppe.

What? Renowned as an area of great scenic beauty, the reserve appears to be stitched together from all of the elements that make up the rest of the country. Ridges, crags and gorges, waterfalls, lakes and rivers, glaciers, fjords and icebergs, forests, plains and grasslands, you’ll find them all in this one reserve! The reserve is home to around 106 species of birds, some of which, like the Coscoroba Swan and Darwin’s Rhea are endangered. There are also 24 mammals to be found here, although the only large predator is the elusive puma or cougar.

Why? This is undoubtedly Chilean Patagonia’s number one visitor honeypot, and for good reason. Some of the world’s best low-altitude treks, including the Torres del Paine Circuit and the W Trek, are found here. Don’t leave chile without a trip to Torres del Paine!

temperate rain forestTemperate Rain Forests of the Austral Andes

Where? The reserve includes a whole host of national parks in Chile’s southern Lake District Region. Specifically, it takes in Vicente Pérez Rosales, Puyehue, Villarrica, Alerce Andino  and Hornopirén National Parks as well as  Mocho Choshuenco, Llanquihue and Futaleufú National Reserves.

What? The reserve includes sections of the Andes Mountain range and its foothills where the only temperate rain forests in Latin America are concentrated. The area’s high rainfall lies behind the dense forestation, where bamboo, Chilean rhubarb and ferns grow beneath canopies of Southern Beech and broadleaf evergreen trees. A full 50% of the woody plants found here are endemic to this specific region.

Why? With so many national parks belonging to this one reserve, you should be sure to take in at least one of them on any trip to the Chilean Lake District!

If all of these adventures in nature have given you a hankering to check out Chile’s human side, why not read about Chile’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites!