Destination Hero: Gonzalo Fuenzalida
As a guide for many years in Torres del Paine National Park, Gonzalo shared his deep love for Patagonia with hundreds of travelers before creating his own company in 2001.
Gonzalo also stands out for maintaining and developing several of the characteristics that Baboo is firmly committed to: excellent travel programs, personalized and first-class services, and an ongoing dedication to sustainability.
He is a true Destination Hero.
Our protagonist is also part of the “Chilen@s Creando Futuro” network (Chileans Creating a Future), a group of 23 leaders involved in culture, science, business, tourism and sports who promote the country’s image abroad through stories of Chileans who challenge paradigms and contribute to building a better world.
Gonzalo is an outstanding promoter of adventure travel in Chile, helping to develop new routes and experiences to turn Chilean Patagonia into a global hub of sustainable tourism. It is, perhaps, no surprise that he was selected as an Ambassador of Chile by the Adventure Travel Trade Association.
Hi Gonzalo, can you introduce yourself to our Baboo readers?
My name is Gonzalo Fuenzalida. I’m 56 years old, and I live in Pucón in the Chilean Araucanía region.
How long have you been involved in tourism?
What is so special about this area?
Patagonia is a place whose geography takes your breath away. Its lakes, mountains, and glaciers are unique, and the population per square kilometer is one of the lowest in the world. We have 7 National Parks that are part of the Route of the Parks, and 3 of them are the largest in Chile.
Torres del Paine is the star of the region and a paradise for hiking and horseback riding. However, there are countless places outside the park that are worth a visit, too, with fewer people and many attractions for the tourist who seeks to be more in contact with nature.
What are its strengths and weaknesses?
The strengths and weaknesses are the same: you are in an area that is difficult to access, and it is also an area that requires deep pockets. This makes it a part of the world that still has much to discover, but at the same time, is considered a “once in a lifetime” destination. Another weak point is the concentration of tourists around Torres del Paine. There is a need to develop tourist offerings outside the park so that you don’t have all the visitors in one place.
“Patagonia is a place whose geography takes your breath away. Its lakes, mountains, and glaciers are unique”
What type of tourism would you say is your specialty? Adventure? Luxury? Family?
Active tourism. This means that we always focus on some physical activity, whether it is hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, biking, a photo safari, birdwatching, or wildlife viewing in general. We specialize in tailor-made trips, and within that, our forte is family tourism. We believe that each family is unique and deserves, for the benefit of the experience, a private and tailor-made trip that is built according to their unique requirements.
Do you think it is important to build trips that are tailor-made?
100%. We have been working with tailor-made trips since the beginning in 2001.
How has tourism changed in the last decade? Has the type of client changed? Their expectations?
In Torres del Paine, being a “fashionable” park, the tourist arriving before the pandemic was a client with little experience in adventure. It was often their first trekking trip, so we had to modify our questionnaire to better understand the previous experience of each participant. We also separated backpacking trips from trekking trips so that the more experienced visitors could enjoy it at their level.
“We specialize in tailor-made trips, and within that, our forte is family tourism”
In the post pandemic scenario — or rather, during the pandemic — there has been an increase in private and independent trips in which passengers travel on their own, but they consult with us to organize all the logistics for them. In addition, there has been an increase in family travel and the search for remote locations.
What sustainability or conservation projects are you involved with?
It is within our philosophy to ensure a sustainable future for Patagonia’s pristine destinations by supporting local community-based economies. Some of the actions we take: we donate $15 per guest to the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund, we work with local communities, we buy locally and support small businesses in our region; and we are very proud to sponsor 2 rural schools in Cerro Castillo, and Estancia Cerro Guido.
In addition, we have declared a #ClimateEmergency, publishing our first Climate Action Plan in collaboration with Tourism Declares.
“It is within our philosophy to ensure a sustainable future for Patagonia’s pristine destinations by supporting local community-based economies”
If you were a client of yours, what travel program would you enjoy? Where would you go? What would you do? When?
I would go to Tierra del Fuego on a private trip, driving my own high-end vehicle, combining accommodation in a roofed tent, plus hotels in the area, to finish with an exploratory trek in Yendegaia National Park.
And I would do it in April for the color of the forests and the low number of tourists.