Coyhaique and around

Located 420 km south of Chaitén, Coyhaique (also spelt Coihaique) lies in the broad green valley of the Río Simpson. The city is encircled by a crown of mountains and, for a few hours after it has rained, the mountainsides are covered in a fine layer of frost - a spectacular sight. Founded in 1929, it is the administrative and commercial centre of Región XI and is the only settlement of any real size on the Carretera Austral (with a population of just over 40,000). The constant call of chickens in people's gardens gives away the fact that much of the population comprises recentarrivals from a very distinct and slowly disappearing lifestyle in the surrounding countryside, while the number of bow-legged elderly men making their way slowly about town is indicative of a generation who feel more comfortable on horseback than on foot. A rapidly growing and increasingly lively city, it also provides a good base for day excursions in the area. Rafting down the Río Simpson is a memorable experience, while in the Reserva Nacional Río Simpson there are picturesque waterfalls and the occasional sighting of the elusive huemul. Note that there are no Visa ATMs south of Coyhaique, so stock up on cash here if you are heading south.

Getting there

There are two airports in the Coyhaique area:
Teniente Vidal
, handles only smaller aircraft;
Balmaceda
, is the most direct way into Coyhaique from Santiago or Puerto Montt, with several flights daily. There are also flights to Punta Arenas (more often in summer). There is no bus service between Coyhaique and Balmaceda; instead minibuses, known as
transfers
, ply this route, stopping at hotels; contact
Transfer & Turismo
, or
Transfer Valencia
.
Ferries
(one or two a week) make the journey from Puerto Montt or Chiloe to Puerto Chacabuco, 77 km west of Coyhaique.
Buses
(several weekly) from Puerto Montt have to take the route via Argentina, which is long and expensive. There are also one or two weekly buses to Comodoro Rivadavia and south to Punta Arenas. Within Región XI, Coyhaique is the transport hub. There are regular minibuses north to Chaitén or Futaleufú, and daily services south to Cochrane, as well as minibuses connecting with the ferry at Puerto Ibáñez for Chile Chico (five weekly).

Getting around

Coyhaique is small enough to be easily covered on foot; taxis are only useful for out-of-town excursions.

Coyhaique

Although a visit to the tourist office will throw up far more attractions outside Coyhaique than in the town itself, this is a pleasant, friendly place, perfect for relaxing for a couple of days or as a base for day trips. The town is centred around an unusual pentagonal plaza, on which stand the cathedral, the Intendencia and a handicraft market. The plaza was built in 1945, supposedly inspired by the Place de l'Étoile in Paris. Two blocks northeast of the plaza at Baquedano y Ignacio Serrano, there is a monument to El Ovejero (the shepherd). Further north on Baquedano is a display of old military machinery outside the local regimental headquarters. In the Casa de Cultura the
Museo Regional de la Patagonia Central
, has sections on history, mineralogy, zoology and archaeology, as well as photos of the construction of the Carretera Austral (no information in English). Near the city, on the east bank of the Río Simpson, is the
Piedra del Indio
, a rock outcrop which, allegedly, looks like a face in profile. This is best viewed from the Puente Simpson, west bank of the Río Simpson.

There are two national reserves close to Coyhaique: 5 km northwest off the Carretera Austral is
Reserva Nacional
Coyhaique
, which covers 2150 ha of forest (mainly introduced species) and has a number of well marked trails of between 20 minutes and five hours, while around the valley of the Río Simpson west of Coyhaique (take any bus to Puerto Aisén) is the
Reserva Nacional Río Simpson
, covering 40,827 ha of steep forested valleys and curiously rounded hills rising to 1878 m. One of these, near the western edge of the park, is known as '
El Cake Inglés
'. There are beautiful waterfalls, lovely views of the river and very good fly-fishing here, as well as trekking options. Wildlife includes pudú, pumas and huemul, as well as a variety of birds, ranging from condors to several species of duck. The administration office is 32 km west of Coyhaique, just off the road. On the southern side of the Reserva, 12 km west of Coyhaique reached by a separate
ripio
road, is the
Cerro Huemules
, where lots of wildlife can be seen including 23 bird species, foxes, wildcats and of course, the huemul.

Puerto Aisén and around

Puerto Aisén lies at the confluence of the rivers Aisén and Palos. First developed in the 1920s, the town grew as the major port of the region although it has now been replaced by Puerto Chacabuco, 15 km downriver. Few vestiges of the port remain today: boats lie high and dry on the riverbank when the tide is out and the foundations of buildings by the river are now overgrown with fuchsias and buttercups. To see any maritime activity you have to walk a little way out of town to
Puerto Aguas Muertas
, where the fishing boats come in.

The town is linked to the south bank of the Río Aisén by the Puente Presidente Ibáñez, once the longest suspension bridge in Chile. From the far bank a paved road leads to
Puerto Chacabuco
; a regular bus service runs between the two. There is a helpful
tourist office
, in the Municipalidad.

A good 10-km walk north along a minor road from Puerto Aisén leads to
Laguna Los Palos
, calm, deserted and surrounded by forested hills. En route is a bridge over a deep, narrow river; it's freezing cold but offers the chance for a bracing swim.
Lago Riesco
, 30 km south of Puerto Aisén, can be reached by an unpaved road that follows the Río Blanco. In season, the
Apulcheu
sails regularly from Puerto Chacabuco to
Termas de Chiconal
, offering a good way to see the fjord; take your own food.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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