For a long time, the differential rates for national park admission in Chile have been a sore point, and a cause for debate within the Corporación Nacional Forestal itself. More than once, in fact, Conaf officials of long (and not so long) acquaintance have asked me what I thought of the policy by which foreigners sometimes pay twice as much as Chileans to visit protected areas such as Parque Nacional Villarrica (pictured here).
This policy appears unlikely to change in the short run, but there is an alternative bright spot. At present, Conaf is instituting a system of individual and family passes, for both Chileans and foreigners, that will permit admission to most parks for one calendar year from the date of purchase. The individual pass will cost 10,000 pesos (about US$20), while the latter (to include up to four children under age 18) will cost 30,000 pesos (about US$60). For individuals of families visiting more than three parks on their holidays, this is well worth looking into.
It’s not quite clear, though, when the passes will go on sale - when I visited Dennis Aldridge (an Anglo-Chilean) of Conaf’s Patrimonio Silvestre (Wildlands Heritage) desk in Coyhaique a few days ago, he told me they had not yet arrived. There’s another disappointing glitch as well - the passes will not be valid for Easter Island’s Parque Nacional Rapa Nui, nor for Southern Patagonia’s Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. These are two of the most popular parks, with expensive admission fees, for foreign visitors.
It would also be better if the passes were more widely available than at Conaf offices and park entrances, where they could run out. The obvious choice would be permanent tourist information sites, such as Sernatur offices in Santiago and regional capitals, and municipal offices in major tourist destinations (such as Pucón and Puerto Varas).
Meanwhile, if proposed legislation advances, a new national park service will supersede Conaf - like the US Forest Service, Conaf is really more oriented toward commercial forestry than wildlands conservation. Due to split off from Conaf, a new Servicio de Áreas Protegidas y Biodiversidad (Protected Areas and Biodiversity Service) will focus more closely with parks and environmental conservation. This may mean fewer internal arguments over conservation policy, but rather more public arguments as the two agencies jockey for bureaucratic turf.