Puerto Montt and around

The capital of Región X (Los Lagos), Puerto Montt lies on the northern shore of the Seno de Reloncaví, 1016 km south of Santiago. The jumping-off point for journeys south to Chiloé and Patagonia, it is a busy, modern and often windy city, flourishing with the salmon-farming boom. As the fastest growing city in Chile, it sometimes seems as if it is buckling under the pressure, with infrastructure struggling to keep up with population growth. It was founded in 1853, as part of the German colonization of the area, on the site of a Mapuche community known as Melipulli, meaning four hills. Good views over the city and bay are offered from outside the Intendencia Regional on Avenida X Región. There is a wide range of accommodation, but most people will prefer to stay in Puerto Varas, more picturesque and only 20 minutes away by bus.

Getting there

El Tepual Airport is 13 km northwest of town, served by
ETM buses
; there's also a minibus service to/from hotels. There are several daily flights north to Santiago, Concepción and Temuco, and south to Chaitén, Coyhaique and Punta Arenas. Ferries and catamarans serve Chaitén (four to six times weekly) and Puerto Chacabuco (one or two weekly); there's also a weekly service south to Puerto Natales. Puerto Montt is the departure point for bus services south to Coyhaique and Punta Arenas, and for buses north to Santiago and all the intermediate cities.

Getting around

Puerto Montt is quite a large city, with many
colectivos
and buses serving the
barrios
on the hill above the town. The cental area is down by the port, though, and everything here is within walking distance.

Puerto Montt

The
Plaza de Armas
lies at the foot of steep hills, one block north of Avenida Diego Portales, which runs east-west parallel to the shore. The
Teatro Municipal Diego Rivera
, hosts temporary exhibitions, concerts and plays. Two blocks west of the square is the
Iglesia de los Jesuitas
, on Calle Gallardo, dating from 1872, which has a fine blue-domed ceiling; behind it on a hill is the
campanario
(clock tower). Further west, near the bus terminal, is the
Museo Regional Juan Pablo II
, documenting local history. It has a fine collection of historic photos of the city and memorabilia of Pope John Paul II's visit in 1988. Next to the museum is a small park with an old crane and a couple of rusting steam engines.

The little fishing port of
Angelmó
, 2 km west along Avenida Diego Portales, has become a tourist centre thanks to its dozens of seafood restaurants and handicraft shops. Launches depart from Angelmó, for the wooded
Isla Tenglo
, offshore from Puerto Montt. It's a favourite place for picnics, with views from the summit. The island is famous for its
curanto
, served by restaurants in summer.

West of Puerto Montt

Monumento Nacional Lahuen Nadi
 lies between Puerto Montt and the airport, along a
ripio
road going north signed 'Lagunillas' branching off the main road 5 km before the airport. There is a pleasant, short and easy (30-minute) trail through mixed native forest. This is perhaps the most easily accessible place in Chile to see Alerce forests, although they are nowhere near as old or impressive as in other parts. Note that it is easy to get lost on the way back to the main road from the park.

The old coast road west from Puerto Montt is very beautiful.
Chinquihue
(the name means 'place of skunks'), beyond Angelmó, has many seafood restaurants, oysters being a speciality. Further south is
Calbuco
, scenic centre of the fishing industry. It is situated on an island linked to the mainland by a causeway and can be visited direct by boat or by road. West of here is the Río Maullín, which drains Lago Llanquihue, and has some attractive waterfalls and good salmon fishing. At its mouth is the little fishing village of
Maullín
, founded in 1602. On the coast to the southeast is
Carelmapu
, with an excellent beach and
cabañas
at windswept Playa Brava, about 3 km away.

Sea routes south of Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt is the departure point for several popular voyages along the coast of southern Chile. All sailings are from Angelmó; timetables should be checked carefully in advance as schedules change frequently.

To Puerto Natales

One of the highlights of many journeys to Chile is the 1460-km voyage between Puerto Montt and the southern port of Puerto Natales, made by the Navimag
M/N Evangelistas
; it is quicker and cheaper to fly or go by bus via Argentina but the voyage by boat is spectacular given a little luck with the weather. The route south from Puerto Montt crosses the Seno de Reloncaví and the Golfo de Ancud between the mainland and the large island of Chiloé, then continues south through the Canal Moraleda and the Canal Errázuriz, which separate the mainland from the outlying islands. It then heads west through the Canal Chacabuco to Bahía Anna Pink and across the open sea and the infamous Golfo de Peñas (Gulf of Sorrows), where seasickness pills come in more than handy, to reach a series of channels - Canal Messier, Angostura Inglesa, Fiordo del Indio and Canal Kirke - which provide one of the narrowest routes for large shipping in the world, making a short detour to the massive Pio XI (southbound) or Amalia (northbound) glacier. There are spectacular views of the wooded fjords, weather permitting, particularly at sunrise and sunset, and a sense of peace pervades everything except the ship, which is filled with people having a good time.

The only regular stop on this route is at the fishing village of
Puerto Edén
on Isla Wellington, one hour south of the Angostura Inglesa. It has three shops (scant provisions), one off-licence, one café, and a
hospedaje
for up to 20 people (open intermittantly). The population of 250, includes five
carabineros
and a few remaining native Alacaluf people. Puerto Edén is the drop-off point for exploring
Isla Wellington
, which is largely untouched, with stunning mountains. If you do stop here, take all food; maps (not very accurate) are available in Santiago.

This is a ferry that also carries cargo rather than a cruise liner; standards of service and comfort vary, depending on the number of passengers and weather conditions. Economy-class accommodation is basic but comfortable, in 22-berth dormitories, and although economy class and cabin passengers eat the same food, they are confined to separate areas (economy class is cramped) except when on deck. The food is variable and served in large portions, and, apart from videos and a few talks, organized entertainment on board is limited. There is a bar on board, but you are welcome to bring your own drinks.

To Puerto Chacabuco and Laguna San Rafael

Navimag also runs a twice-weekly ferry service between Puerto Montt and
Puerto Chacabuco
, 80 km west of Coyhaique. This beautiful voyage passes forested cliffs, seemingly within touching distance, and offers glimpses of distant snows. However, taking this route south means that travellers miss out on the attractions of much of the Carretera Austral. From Puerto Chacabuco there are further services to visit
Laguna San Rafael
. However, it may well be cheaper, and is certainly more comfortable, to take a catamaran service to the Laguna from Puerto Chacabuco or to charter a small plane from Coyhaique. A luxury alternative is to board
Skorpios II
for a cruise to Chiloe and Laguna San Raphael. Generally, service is excellent, the food superb and, at the laguna, you chip ice off the face of the glacier for your whisky. After San Rafael the ship visits
Quitralco fjord
, where there are thermal pools and boat trips. The fare varies according to season, type of cabin and number of occupants. There are also four- to six-day tours from Puerto Montt with
Patagonia Connection
, which visit Puerto Chacabuco, Laguna San Rafael and the Termas de Puyuhuapi .

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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