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Articles Blog

Puerto Chacabuco, Chile

Karyn Planett

A Simpler Chile 

There are places in the world where locals go about their daily rituals with a time-honored pace. In these remote outposts these folks worry not so much about the Palestinian issue, climate change, the latest Hollywood break-up and which team won the NBA play-offs. At the end of the day, this all matters very little to them because the wheels of everyday life are in motion here much as they were for their ancestors. 

Your challenge on this day is to explore the real Puerto Chacabuco or the natural wonders beyond. 

Chacabuco Chacabuco Chacabuco Chacabuco 

Say that quickly and you’ll sound like a steam train that could magically transport you inland. But, sadly, it doesn’t exist. Your only option is to journey overland by car or bus to the countryside while others might leave here aboard a ferry bound for Puerto Montt or Chiloe. Never mind, the sail-in alone is worth the price of admission for Puerto Chacabuco is hidden in the long reach of a twisting, narrow fjord thrust deep into the dramatic interior. 

Puerto Chacabuco has a population of, say, one thousand. Their lives revolve around salmon fishing and timber. Compared to someone living on the Upper East Side, some would say they’re poor. If those same people explored the surrounding mountains and valleys, forests and lakes, they’d rethink their assessment. Though the local people may be not so worldly, they are generally very warm and welcoming to those who’ve traveled so very far to visit their town. So, your option is to journey inland to witness some of the bone-jarring majesty for yourself or sit for a while on a park bench sharing a coffee with citizen of the community. He’ll tell you there are no malls, no theaters, not even a fast food outlet here. That’s not so bad, is it? 

The closest town to Chacabuco is Aisén (also spelled Aysén), about 10 miles inland. It was the port town until a really good plan went seriously awry. Industrious developers set about “clearing the land” in 1940 for a new settlement. In the process, it’s claimed that they set alight something like one million trees. Some say the embers smoked for a whole decade and the grey haze could be seen as far away as Buenos Aires. Well, if that wasn’t enough, when the rains came the river silted up and the port was no longer viable at all. That’s when everything was moved to Puerto Chacabuco. 

Another example of a good plan that somehow lost its way.

Going Inland 

If you do choose to travel inland you might find yourself at Riesco Lake. En route, you’ll pass mighty cliffs, a bucolic landscape, a waterfall or two depending on the latest rain, stands of pine trees, and icy rivers slicing through it all. Your destination is Aikén del Sur Private Park. Nearly 10 square miles in area, it is home to native plant species, indigenous animals, and a series of hiking trails that lead to Lago (Lake) Riesco. It was named for the Chilean president Germán Riesco who was elected to office in the early 20th century.

Another lake, Los Palos, is well suited for those interested in kayaking or birdwatching. At the Rio Simpson National Reserve, you’ll hear tell of the Virgin Falls and the Piedra del Indio, which is a natural rock formation that many believe resembles an India’s head. 

Coyhaique’s 45,000 people will quickly tell you their home is one of Patagonia’s largest cities in the area known as Carretera Austral. Visitors come here from the world over to, among other things, fly fish for something called friale and rainbow trout. 

And Speaking of Food 

Asado is a type of outdoor, on the range barbecue. A brai. A cookout. The same word is used for the party happening around the barbecue. But basically, it’s a carnivore’s delight with a whole host of meats strapped to parrilla grills that are cooked over, or alongside, glowing embers from local trees. You’ll usually find lamb, beef, even goat on the menu. 

Locals snack on empenadas, a type of pastry pocket filled with cheeses, meats, sausages and vegetables and served piping hot at roadside stalls. If you’re lucky you might even find a fruit empenada for an afternoon snack. Do learn from the Chileans who bite off a corner of the pocket to release hot steam because these treats are served piping hot! If you dine near the sea, you should be able to find wonderfully fresh king crab called centolla, though the numbers are reportedly down from previous years.   

Well, all this dining deserves a fine Chilean wine or a traditional pisco sour, at least according to foodies in the know. Perhaps the latter can be served with glacial ice from the nearby Ventisquero San Rafael glacier. I’m sure no one will miss a cube or two.