By Flavia Labbé S.
In May 2008, the Chaitén Volcano, located 6 miles away from the town of the same name, erupted. From one day to the other, its inhabitants had to face a series of small earthquakes, the Blanco River flood and a landslide of ashes and rubble that devastated half of the city.
The people of Chaitén had to be immediately evacuated and the Government decided to close the city down. That way, the town that for years had fought to become the starting point for tourism in the Austral Highway, was now on standby.
But now, Chaitén is slowly standing up.
Today the city is in a reconstruction stage. The electricity and water supply has been restored and most public services are currently working.
For those who are travelling through the “Carretera Austral”, Chaitén, more than being just a “place to pass by”, is a place worth visiting. Around Chaitén are a variety of options to spend a couple of days of tranquility and true encounter with nature.
Beach, hot springs, trekking and fishing
Located 7 miles north of Chaitén and very easy to reach by car or foot, is the beach of Santa Bárbara. It is a quiet beach of clear waters and fine sand, with a marvelous view of the Corcovado Volcano and the Vilcún hill.
Here, if you look carefully into the horizon, it is very likely for you to see a group of dolphins sliding through the water on the coast. If you keep in mind, that there are not many places in the world where one can watch this beautiful toninas in its natural environment, this sighting in Santa Bárbara counts definitely as a unique experience.
15 miles southeast of Chaitén, continuing on the Carretera Austral, you can find the entrance to the southern area of the Pumalin Park in the Amarillo Valley, one of the most beautiful places of this private conservation initiative and a real paradise for campers and hikers.
There are plenty of trails in the Pumalín Park, but a walk you shouldn’t miss, is the one that after a 6 mile hike through thick forests and wide valleys, leads you to the base of the spectacular Michinmahuida Glacier.
If a 6 mile walk is not your cup of tea, you can rent a horse and hire a tour guide in town.
After this long excursion, you probably need to regain strength. Approximately 4 miles from el Amarillo Valley are the hot spring of the same name. Its outdoor pools are surrounded by dense woods and ferns. The water here comes from the Michinmahuida Volcano, which means it can reach temperatures near 120 °F and as it is said, they have incredible healing properties.
Once you’ve rested and relaxed after the hot bath, you will be ready to continue with the adventure. Still on the Carretera Austral and 30 miles south of Chaitén, in the middle of the exuberant vegetation of the Chilean Patagonia, you will find one of the most beautiful lakes in Chile. For those fly fishing fans that dream of catching the largest trout and salmon in the world, the Yelcho Lake is a mandatory stop.
Located in the village of Puerto Cárdenas, around the Yelcho Lake you can find all kinds of accommodation, from comfortable cabins to exclusive fishing lodges.
Without a doubt, one of the most interesting attractions of our Patagonia are its ancient glaciers. A clear example of this is the Ventisquero Yelcho, located 35 miles south of Chaitén facing the Yelcho Lake. Here you might want to take a self guided trek, of low difficulty, that after a 90 minute walk through ancient woods, ends in a viewpoint from where you can enjoy a magnificent view of the glacier and its waterfalls. Now, if what you really want is to be face to face with the glacier and drink a well deserved glass of whisky chilled with millenary ice, you can book a guided tour in Chaitén.
50 miles south of Chaitén, is the little town called Villa Santa Lucía, from here you can continue your journey to the Region of Aysén through the Carretera Austral, or head to the mountains, to Alto Palena and Futaleufú. This road will give you the opportunity to stop in places like Puerto Piedras and Puerto Ramírez, well known for the quality of its fishing.
For the fearless
Though it might seem crazy, there are some courageous tourists that think that the best way of spending their holidays is hiking at the top of an active volcano. Volcanic tourism has become one of the most demanded types of geotourism in the last few years.
Even though in Chile this kind of tourism has still a long way to go, we can say with certainty, that the Chaitén Volcano is a true geological gem for these intrepid travelers.
The volcano, located in the heart of Pumalín Park, 6 miles north of the town, has a well marked trail and during the hike you can stop in different viewpoints to contemplate the terrible consequences that the volcanic eruption had on the surroundings. It is an overwhelming experience and not a difficult hike, though it should be done with a local guide in order to prevent risks.
From here you have also access to camping areas and other trails inside Pumalín Park, of different levels of difficulty. An example of this is the Los Alerces trail, a one hour walk. There are other activities that you can practice in this area of the park, like bird watching, fly fishing, kayaking and many more.
How to arrive
- Buses run daily from Puerto Montt to Chaitén via Hornopirén, you can check the schedules and prices in www.latejuela.cl. You can also travel by ferry directly from Puerto Montt to Chaitén or from Quellón to Chaitén, the trip takes approximately 8 hours, you will find more information in www.navieraustral.cl.
- A faster option is to fly directly from La Paloma Airfield in Puerto Montt to Santa Bárbara (10 minutes from Chaitén), with Aerocord or Pewen Chile.
Buses from Chaitén
From Chaitén, buses run almost every day to Villa Santa Lucía, Futaleufú, Palena and La Junta. There is a ticket office in O’Higgins 67 (Chaitur), Chaitén.
- Municipalidad de Chaitén: www.munichaiten.cl / +(56) 65 741500
- Aerocord: www.aerocord.cl / +(56) 65 262300 / +(56) 65 273040
- Pewen Chile: www.pewenchile.com / +(56) 65 224000 / +(56) 65 220031 / +(56) 65 220032
- Transportes Austral: www.taustral.cl / Chaitén office: +(56) 65 731011 / +(56) 65 731012
- Naviera Austral: www.navieraustral.cl / Chaitén office: +(56) 65 731012 / +(56) 9 75790110
- KémelBus: www.kemelbus.cl / Chaitén office: +(56) 9 66457914
- Buses Cárdenas (Chaitén – Futaleufú): +(56) 9 81280135
- Buses Cumbres Nevadas (Chaitén – Futaleufú / Chaitén – Palena): +(56) 9 85976405
- Chaitur bus ticket office: +(56) 9 74685608