Alerce Costero National Park
2 December 2016
How to get to Alerce Costero? What to see? Alerce Costero National Park is located in central Chile, in Los Rios region, not far from the city of Valdivia, where you can get to by air from Santiago and then by car. Alerce Costero National Park is an exciting destination for botanical enthusiasts, as it hosts a forest of endangered Patagonian cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides) which includes many hundreds years old trees and also a tree with an estimated age of 3500 years.
Getting to Alerce Costero and moving around - essential travel guide:
The nearest airport to Alerce Costero is Valdivia in central Chile, however, you can get to the national park even by a just few hours drive from Temuco, Osorno and Puerto Montt. Alerce Costero park has several gates, but the most important one and the easiest, also ideal for who has little time to spend in the area, is located just a few kilometers from the town of La Union, along the Panamerican highway. The road that goes into the park is not asphalted, but the regular maintenance makes it passable during most of the year (however, due to the presence of several steep climbs, it is suggested to rent a 4x4 car for increased safety).
The main gate of Alerce Costero National Park. This area has been declared as national park to protect a beautiful forest of Patagonian cypress
) which includes a tree that is 3500 years old.
Near "La Union" gate of Alerce Costero National Park, not far from the T-80 road, an easy trail some kilometers long and called "Alerce milenario
", offers the possibility to hike in a forest of Patagonian cypress, among young and very old trees. The Patagonian cypress, locally known as Alerce
and scientifically called "Fitzroya cupressoides
", is an evergreen tree whose distribution range in nature is limited to a total area of only 20,000 hectares constantly threatened by fires, therefore, this tree is currently classified as Endangered (EN) and the exploitation of timber is strictly forbidden.
The Fitzroya trees
in strong competition between them to get as much sunlight as possible. The leaves are naturally limited only to the upper part of the trunk, the only area that receives an adequate amount of light.
The trail in Alerce Costero National Park winds through many trees of Fitzroya cupressoides
of various age.
One of the main attractions of Alerce Costero National Park is this incredible tree of Patagonian cypress
) friendly called "Alerce milenario
" with an estimated age of about 3500 years and a trunk exceeding 4 meters in diameter and 11 meters in circumference. It is believed that this tree is the oldest living thing of all South America, that survived to fires and earthquakes for centuries, and is one of the oldest trees in the world.
This millenary cypress
, has leaves only on top of the trunk, which makes it almost look like a giant bonsai.
It is difficult to give a good idea of the size of the Alerce milenario
, which can only be observed from a platform in order not to interfere with the surrounding soil and the superficial root system. Meanwhile, a green lizard goes hunting for insects on the bark of the trunk.
After a pleasant hike through the Fitzroya forest
in search of very old trees, visitors to Alerce Costero should not miss a nice drive along the main track that runs throughout the national park park.
The curious shape of the Fitzroya trees, usually showing an elongated trunk with a thick crown only present at the very top of the tree.
The tops of the Patagonian cypresses are rather odd and the leaves are sometimes only limited to a few small branches, perhaps because of a fire that has destroyed most of the tree.
An area of Alerce Costero National Park has been hit in the past by several furious fires, which have reduced most trees, even the oldest, to just wooden skeletons. A trail called "Incedios del Pasado" (fires of the past), just under 10 kilometers from the entrance to the park (La Union sector) allows to hike in a kind of cypress cemetery.
A trunk of a cypress burned by a fire, allows to calculate the remarkable age of these dead trees, counting the rings of growth engraved in the wood. A quick estimate tells us that this tree was over 200 years old.
The life that resumes after the fires, shows numerous cypress trees in perfect health, growing in close contact with the skeletons of their ancestors.
Patagonian cypress photos, with specimens of various ages.
A very old Fitzroya tree, with an extremely compact and beautiful foliage.
Details on the tiny leaves and on the trunk of an adult Fitzroya.
Other photos showing the trunk of a Patagonian cypress in a tree burned by a fire (first photo) and of a living tree (second photo).