On the morning of January 27 we were anchored near the end of Aisen Fjord by Puerto Chacabuco.
Puerto Chacabuco was named after an important battle in 1817 during Chile’s war for independence and it is the ocean gateway to northern Chilean Patagonia. While a few hundred people live in the area, there is nothing really to see in Puerto Chacabuco beyond the scenery. Last time we were here we went on a delightful private driving tour through the area, which you can see here:
This time we signed up for a HAL bus tour through the area to Coyhaique, the capital of the region. We drove along the Carretera Austral, a road completed in 1976, for about 50 miles, watching the marvelous scenery, with mountains, valleys, rivers and waterfalls, pass by. The day was mostly cloudy and gray, providing some atmosphere to the landscape. We saw a number of isolated farms and ranches near the road.
Our first visit was to the Rio Simpson national reserve. The visitor center included a museum of exhibits about the history of the area and the plants and animals to be found. Best was a giant condor hanging from the ceiling. Around the visitor center grew giant rhubarb plants, with leaves as big as a person.
A short walk down behind the visitor center we came to the Rio Simpson, a very beautiful river with clear water flowing past stone cliffs.
We left the Simpson River Reserve and travelled on toward Coyhaique. The Simpson River continued in the same direction and we caught sight of it a number of times. The landscape continued to be quite beautiful. At one point we went through a tunnel in a mountain and came out to a magnificent overlook, where the bus stopped for a long look. We crossed the Andes at a height of 1,476 feet.
Our first sight of Coyhaique was from the Alto Boguales viewpoint. There is a large and long mountain called Cerro McKay on the other side of it.
Coyhaique is the capital of the region, with a population of about 50,000. We drove directly to the Plaza de Armas, where we had about half an hour to look around. The plaza is pentagonal in shape and very green, with many trees, bushes and roses. There is supposed to be a handicraft market in the plaza, but it was Sunday and almost none of them were there. We walked across one street and looked through a couple of shops that were open. We walked all the way around the plaza, but unlike in Castro we found no bust of the Chilean naval hero Arturo Prat. Only one of Bernardo O’Higgins, liberator of this part of Chile. Then on the way out of town we passed a bust of Arturo! But we were past it before we could take a picture.
We drove up into a nearby mountain area for a lunch/snack that included wine and very good meat and cheese empanadas. From the deck was a very nice view of the neighboring mountain and valley, along with a large carved wooden bird.
After lunch we drove back along the same road with the same great views. We stopped briefly for a view of the Cascada La Virgen, a two level waterfall. On our first visit to this area we stopped at the shrine next to the waterfall called, you guessed it, the Virgen la Cascada. People were there today as we looked at the waterfall from the bus.
We drove through Puerto Aisen, a town about 10 miles from the port. Founded in 1904, Puerto Aisen was the main port for this area until about 1960. Forest fires and logging of forests in the area, exacerbated by a volcanic eruption nearby, caused the Aisen River to silt up to the point that ships could no longer navigate to the city. So the port was moved 10 miles down to its present location in Puerto Chacabuco. There is a story about the town’s name that says the pioneers built their settlement at the edge of where the glacier was at that time, thus “ice end” became Aisen. Of course, that only works in English, and then only as a “sounds like,” so we have our doubts. We stopped in Puerto Aisen on our previous visit but this time we just drove through it, crossing the Aisen river on what we were told is the largest bridge in the region.
It wasn’t long before we reached Puerto Chacabuco, where we tendered back to the Prinsendam, still waiting faithfully in the harbor. It was a bumpy & wet tender ride, but the area was still beautiful in the late afternoon light. And although we missed Arturo Prat in Coyhaique, we found him here in Puerto Chacabuco, guarding the Arturo Prat playground near the water’s edge.
So that was all for our visit to beautiful northern Patagonia. We will leave you for today with a cantaloupe mouse looking a lot like Mickey and another that looks like a rabbit or maybe a fat-cheeked Goofy. There is also a look at one of the lovely orchids that regularly grace the dining tables in the Canaletto area.