In Patagonia

How ecotourism in Chile could change the face of preservation

Adventure travel operators and entrepreneurs are driving a new wave of wilderness protection in Chile’s pristine south.  

Monday, April 30, 2012 Category: Tourism - Enviroment
Patagonia, one of the world’s last great wildernesses. (Photo by Stuck in Customs/Flickr) Patagonia, one of the world’s last great wildernesses. (Photo by Stuck in Customs/Flickr)

With its dramatic fjords, steaming volcanoes, jagged mountains and immense glaciers, Patagonia is one of the last great wild places on Earth.


Cut off for decades from the rest of the world, the horn of land at the bottom of South America is now beginning to feel the first pressures of development, as roads and infrastructure begin to encroach on its isolation.  


Now, a new wave of private investment is setting out to preserve vast swathes of Chilean Patagonia. And the huge scale of these eco-tourism projects could have implications that go beyond this pristine piece of land.


One of those projects is in Melimoyu, a sector that stretches the 125 miles (200 km) from the border with Argentina, high in the Andes, to Chile’s Pacific coast.  


Around 1,120 miles long (1,800 km), in the halfway point of the ribbon of land that is Chilean Patagonia, much of the property around Melimoyu is owned by Patagonia Sur, a company founded by Warren Adams - the Harvard MBA who made millions by selling his website, Amazon, in 1998.


Adams owns six Patagonian properties, or around 6,177 acres (25,000 ha) of land that ranges from dense temperate rainforest to vast pampas.


Two of those properties contain small luxury resorts. A third, Lago Espolon, has a more budget-friendly hostel accommodation.


“We are buying ecosystems under threat by development,” Adams told The Globe and Mail.


But Adams is not solely driven by the desire to preserve - Patagonia Sur is first and foremost a start-up, which comprises a real-estate brokerage, sustainable property development, carbon-offset trading and reforestation and luxury ecotourism.


Adams' goal is to use Patagonia's still relatively inexpensive land and myriad of unique experiences, from fly-fishing to gourmet dining to kayaking, to attract investment and thereby more property.


The U.S. entrepreneur will then protect the land in perpetuity by tough land-use covenants, and so far he has enlisted around 50 investors, who have injected US$23 million in realizing his dream.


To read more about Melimoyu, riding in the pampas, sipping scotch atop glaciers and saving endangered frogs, check out The Globe and Mail article.

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