In this file photo taken on February 26, 2016 tourists look at the Torres del Paine mounts (R), part of the Paine small mountain group in the 230,000 hectare Torres del Paine National Park in the Chilean Patagonia, about 1,960 km south of Santiago. (AFP/Martin Bernetti)
Chile is launching a huge scenic route through its Patagonian wilderness in a bid to attract tourism and highlight the need for conservationism in the sparsely-populated region.
The Patagonian "Route of Parks" connects 17 national parks covering 11.5 million hectares (28.4 million acres), an area three times the size of Switzerland.
The route spans a distance of 2,800-kilometers (1,700 miles) from Puerto Montt, 1,000km south of the capital Santiago, down to the most southern tip of Chile, Cape Horn.
Although it covers the southern third of Chile's territory, it is inhabited by only 60 communities and is far better known for its lakes, canals and rich habitat of indigenous flora and fauna.
The route is the brainchild of Tompkins Conservation, a foundation set up by the late Douglas Tompkins with his second wife, Kris. Tompkins also created the outdoor equipment and clothing brand The North Face with his first wife, Susie.
The foundation donated more than 400,000 hectares to Chile last year to create five parks.
"Chile is internationally renowned for having the most spectacular scenic route in the world, and thus becoming a reference for economic development based on conservation," said Carolina Morgado, executive director at Tompkins.
As access to the area can be sometimes difficult given its mountainous terrain, vast area and sparse population, the foundation has created a website, www.rutadelosparques.org, to help travelers orientate themselves, including tips on transport, accommodation and more than 50 GPS-traced paths.
Many of the national parks and other protected zones in Chile were created by socialist former president Michelle Bachelet, who left 14 new marine protected areas spanning 1.31 million square kilometers (505,000 square miles), and the Parks Network in Patagonia when she stepped down in March.