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V I A J E R O S P E R R U N O S
CHILEAN PATAGONIA AND CENTRAL CHILE. SECOND PART: COYHAIQUE - CHILOÉ - PUERTO MONTT
Coihaique - Chaitén (Austral Road)
Chilean Patagonia is immense, but not all of it is accessible. In the more than 600 km between Puerto Natales/Torres del Paine and Villa O'Higgins (end of the southern highway) there are no routes. If you are in the south zone, Puerto Natales/Punta Arenas, you can choose to take route 40 in Argentine territory to the town of Perito Moreno (not the glacier), then enter Chile through the Los Antiguos - Chile Chico pass. Another alternative is flying to Coyhaique, the largest population in this middle section of Patagonia. Anyway, it's time for adventures on the Austral Road (the southern highway)!
South of Coyhaique I know nothing (there must be spectacular, virgin and unexplored places though), but going north these are some of the places I suggest to the visitor:
Queulat National Park.
Queulat National Park
This National Park in the region of Aysén has an ecosystem halfway between the forest and the jungle (plants that look like giant lettuces are everywhere). Its main attraction is the Ventisquero Colgante: a glacier that ends in a hanging waterfall. At the entrance to the Park there is a campsite where you can sleep with your tent or in a very cool bus that looks like the Magic Bus of "Into the Wild".
Bathed by the Palena River, I will always remember La Junta because my brother and I were stuck in it for several days having to camp, literally, under a bridge. But this town of Aysén also has beautiful places in the surroundings. For example, you can visit the Rosselot Lake National Reserve (gravel road).
A town that has it all, sea, forest and mountains, for the enjoyment of everyone. To the south lies the Corcovado National Park (difficult access) and to the north the Pumalín Park (55 km) and the Hornopirén National Park (145 km, and the route includes a ferry). However, it is not necessary to go so far to enjoy beautiful landscapes. Right there, within reach of those who do not have a vehicle, there are beautiful beaches and trails.
On the other hand, Chaitén is a port from which you can go to the beginning of the austral road (ferries almost daily to Puerto Montt) and, better yet, to the wonderful island of Chiloé (ferries once or twice a week to Castro).
Chaitén - Puerto Montt (across the island of Chiloé)
While heading north can be continued by the austral road (Highway 7), in this itinerary we focus on this other way because Chiloé is one of the most diverse and beautiful places in the whole country. In this archipelago you will find misty marine landscapes, coastal fauna (penguins, sea lions, sea otters), delicious gastronomy and mysticism. The locals will surprise you with their legends and stories of sorcerers and ghost ships. You can get there from Puerto Montt (taking the ferry in Pargua to the north of the island, near Ancud) or from Chaitén (ferry to Castro).
The archipelago is formed by the Big Chiloé Island (180 km long x 50 km wide) and a cluster of small islands off the east side. On the eastern side of the island is where most of the populations are also concentrated; the west face (Pacific Ocean), on the other hand, is virgin and wild. Besides chatting with the nice chilotas, these are some of the things that you can do in your visit to Chiloé:
Around Ancud (north). Although the city does not have much, it enjoys a wild and beautiful coastal area a few kilometers to the west. Enjoy its penguins, its cliffs and its spectacular sunsets. You can also go in search of whales and other cetaceans.
Castro. The bustle of the capital of the island contrasts with the tranquility of the rest of Chiloé. Food and crafts markets, chilotas and travelers from different places enliven this small metropolis. The church of San Francisco de Castro (Plaza de Armas) is, to say the least, striking.
Cucao and Chiloé National Park. This small community 60 km from Castro is the only one facing the Pacific and, in addition to some interesting facts (Darwin landed here and carried out studies of flora and fauna), is the gateway to the Chiloé National Park, with some of the most beautiful landscapes of the island. The trails that depart from Cucao will allow you to enjoy forests, dunes, beaches, lakes... The Park is home to native fauna, especially birds and marine mammals, but also some terrestrial ones such as the chilote fox (also known as Darwin’s fox) or the pudú (one of the smallest deer in the world). Wild horses can also be spotted.
Achao. It does not belong to the Big Island of Chiloé, but it is connected to it via a ferry from Dalcahue. It is easy to get there, and it is worth it. The main tourist attraction is the Achao Church, a World Heritage Site as it is the oldest church in the country (1730) built in wood by missionaries. But the best lies in the beautiful coastal landscapes and markets.
Small islands. Visit a small island and penetrate its local culture. Obviously, you cannot visit all the islands, and it is not easy (there are usually no transport services), but it is worth a try. You can talk to the locals in the ports (I did it in Achao) to take you somewhere in the ocean and get to know the most authentic roots.