As we float down the Futaleufú River, elated by the Class IV and V rapids we’ve just run, I say to myself, “I get it.” I understand why people travel thousands of miles to be battered by 10-foot walls of roiling water and to shoot rapids so fast it feels like being dragged along by a cigarette boat. I get the bonds that are built during those wild rides and the ways they are cemented with barbecues on river beaches and singalongs led by guitar-strumming guides.
Patagonia is what Yosemite or Yellowstone must have been like a century ago.
I also appreciate why the adventurer-entrepreneur Yvon Chouinard named his outdoor clothing and equipment company Patagonia, even though he had spent much of his young life scaling the Tetons and making first ascents in Yosemite. And I understand why his one-time CEO Kris McDivitt Tompkins and her husband, Doug, who founded the equally prosperous North Face and Esprit concerns, not only moved to South America but purchased more than 2 million acres of land in Patagonia in an effort to preserve it. (Much of the land was subsequently donated to the Chilean government; Doug Tompkins died tragically in a kayaking accident in 2015.)
Finally, as a bend in the Futaleufú brings yet another majestic snow-covered peak into view, I understand why I keep coming back to Patagonia: for treks through stunning national parks, for some of the best trout fishing in the world, for whitewater rafting. But, ultimately, because it is pristine. Patagonia is what Yosemite or Yellowstone must have been like a century ago.
Of course, travelers cannot subsist on scenery alone, and I am pleased to report that several excellent inns have opened here in recent years. One of them, Uman Lodge, is located within sight of one of the more placid sections of the Futaleufú, outside the small town of the same name.
Set atop a cliff, on a 1,200-acre property once owned by the Tompkinses, Uman Lodge boasts 15 rooms, as well as indoor and outdoor pools, a spa with a sauna and a hammam, and a spacious deck for dining and lounging. The first things I noticed when I checked into my quarters were the huge picture windows that afforded views of the confluence of the Futaleufú and Espolón rivers, meadows dotted with grazing sheep and cattle, and mountains beyond, some of which were still dusted with summer snow. Even better, I was able to enjoy these vistas from every possible position in my room, whether from the king-size bed, or the ample desk that provided a much-appreciated workspace, or the tub. The handsome interior design features expanses of blond-wood paneling, while the bath is equipped with two sinks, twin showerheads (large and small) and a heated tile floor.
I chose to take all of my meals at Uman on a panoramic deck off the dining room, where I could gaze at the mountains. The food was consistently first-rate. The delicious jam at breakfast was made of cherries from trees that Doug Tompkins planted. At dinner, the pumpkin soup was so rich it could have been a meal in itself, an outstanding chicken curry came with just the right amount of kick, and the decadent chocolate mousse was served with flavorful shreds of bitter orange.
Fortunately, given the abundance of good food, there was no shortage of activities. Futaleufú, a town of around 2,000 inhabitants, has become one of the adventure capitals of Patagonia. Aside from my day on the river, which is widely acknowledged to offer some of the best whitewater rafting on the planet, I also spent an unforgettable day horseback riding through mountains and meadows with a pair of young and engaging gauchas. On our eight-hour ride, we did not see another human being.
Dining on the clifftop deck; the fresh farm-to-table food.
The organization of the off-site activities is a little impromptu at times.
The vast majority of the roads in Patagonia are made of dirt and gravel, so be prepared for some rough rides. Also, flat tires are a way of life down here.
From Futaleufú, I headed south for approximately 260 miles to Coyhaique (population 55,000), the capital of the Aysén region of Patagonia. Located 25 miles from the city, Los Torreones Lodge is surrounded by many of Chile’s most celebrated trout streams, including the famous Simpson River, which flows directly in front of the property. Not as stylish as Uman Lodge, Los Torreones looks and feels like many of the fishing or hunting lodges at which I’ve stayed around the world. Which is to say, fairly austere. On arrival, I was greeted by a pack of friendly but motley-looking dogs of indeterminate pedigrees. Off to one side, several parked trailers held float boats. The lodge is hosted by the amiable co-owner Pancho Salas, who has lived and worked in Patagonia for 25 years; his wife, Alexandra, is the chef, and his three sons, Diego, Sebastian and Benjamin, are fishing guides. The cozy wooden building houses just four simple rooms with private baths.
While at Los Torreones, I embarked on two fishing expeditions. The first was to the Ñirehuao River, which is famous for “hopper” fishing. The local brown trout attack artificial grasshopper patterns with unusual aggression, and wading through a variety of pools and rapids, I had numerous strikes. I ended up landing half a dozen 16- to 18-inch browns, their skins a glowing gold, before breaking for lunch. Having eaten a sandwich filled with meat from the previous evening’s dinner and downed a mug of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, I got back to work. I caught an equal number of fish in the afternoon, which fought fiercely and leaped out of the water multiple times. Occasionally, I paused from casting to watch the flights of Magellan geese passing overhead. The surrounding fields and wooded mountains were silent and deserted.
The next day, we stayed closer to home and plied the waters of the Simpson from a boat. Once again, the fish were extremely cooperative, and while I missed more than my share of chances, I still managed to land a couple dozen trout, mostly rainbows, chiefly in the 16- to 18-inch range. I also lost two monsters after hooking them, rainbows that Pancho estimated to be at least 24 inches in length. Both hit my fly like trains and then took immediately to the air. I was so shocked by the speed and violence of the strikes that I couldn’t lift my rod tip fast enough, and on both occasions my leader snapped.
Overall, Los Torreones is a property suitable for dedicated and experienced anglers. The trout fishing lives up to its billing as some of the best in the world. The beds are comfortable, the food is tasty, and the hospitality is warm. But the lodge itself is much less luxurious than the hotels and resorts that customarily merit a Hideaway Report recommendation.
The authentic atmosphere of the lodge and the sense of place it provides; the succulent meat dishes that Pancho Salas prepares over an open fire each night.
The lack of soap and shampoo in my bath.
While the summer weather in Patagonia is generally pleasant, it changes frequently, so layered clothing is essential.