American travelers have long been drawn to the rugged beauty of
Patagonia, at the southernmost tip of South America. Its sweeping
vistas are reminiscent of Wyoming, Utah, or Montana.
These days, though, some wealthy Americans are making it a
With the cheap price of land in both Argentina and Chile,
Americans are part of the great foreign buy-up and some of the
leading players in reshaping what is still home to some of the last
great wilderness on earth.
One of the biggest players is Doug Tompkins, cofounder of the
sportswear company, Esprit. "I fell in love with the land," says Mr.
Tompkins, who has created a network of 11 wilderness parks covering
almost 2 million acres across Chile and Argentina. Tompkins operates
under the banner of the US-registered Conservation Land Trust.
The centerpiece of the trust is Parque Pumalin in southern Chile,
which covers 738,000 acres of pristine temperate rainforest and cost
Tompkins more than $30 million. After six years of delays, it will
officially be declared a nature sanctuary Tuesday at a ceremony here
in Chile's capital, Santiago.
This agreement will give protection to the park, ban development,
and offer tax breaks. Control of the park will formally be handed
over to a seven-member Chilean directorate, though Tompkins will
continue living there with his wife in a personal paradise. The park
already attracts 10,000 visitors a year who come to enjoy the
forests, waterfalls, fjords, and hot springs. There are no entry
Tompkins has visited the area regularly since the early 1960s,
and in 1991 purchased his first piece of land that marked the start
of the park. It quickly became his new home as he left behind
corporate life in San Francisco. He lives seven months of the year
in Chile and the rest of the year in Argentina, pursuing his
While Tompkins is helping preserve the land, several large
developments have sprung up recently, bringing a much needed
economic boost to the region, especially on the Argentine side of
Billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, based in
New York, is one of the largest private landholders in Argentina. He
also owns a stake in Banco Hipotecario that is a major lender to the
building industry and is valued at more than $10 billion.
Before Argentina's economic crash in December 2001, Mr. Soros was
the biggest cattle owner in Argentina with 170,000 head. He owned at
least 2 million acres and was the leading shareholder of the
luxurious Hotel Llao Llao resort at the heart of tourism in
According to Clarin, Argentina's leading newspaper, Soros had
invested $731 million in Argentina. …