Chile 8: Volcano Chaitén,Parque Quelat and glacier San Rafael

The morning at Parque Pumalin was cool and misty and we took our time to get ready.

By 13:00 the fog had lifted and we drove to the foot of Volcan Chaitén which we intended to ascent. Although only about a 2km to reach the point, from where it is possibly to look into the caldera, we underestimated the trail – first 984 steps while ascending and the last few 100m gravel on the steep section. We found it really tough – probably because of the tummy bug we had battled with on our return from Chiloé.

The vistas were absolutely stunning and it was a good example where one could observe the devastion which an errupting volcano created – thousands of trees that died in the pyroclastic wave. The caldera has two little lakes of different colouring and there is still a lot of smoke emanating from the mountain. Some advice: start early ( we did not), take sufficient water, the walk is tough on the knees –especially coming down. By 18:30 we were back at our vehicle.

Since this took up our day we decided to spend another night inside Parque Pumalin.

As we were about to leave next morning, we discovered a small 40-50cm antelope – the Pudu, which we had not yet been able to observe before. Going south we again passed the village Amarillo, along Lago Yelcho and enjoyed the views of the Andes, mountains still covered in snow, the melt running in clear streams everywhere.

The Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) passed through Villa Santa Lucia (where 2 weeks later on 18th Dec, 12 people were killed here through a landslide, burying part of the town under mud), Villa Vanguardia, we traversed many sections being a rough gravel road, then passed many enthusiastic cyclists (including  family of 5 where the dad towed a kid on his bike – must be extremely exhausting!) and got overtaken by many a motorbiker – this route is extremely popular due to its beauty.

In La Junta we indulged in an ice cream for lunch and decided to buy some Christmas decoration for Tembo Hakahana (our vehicle – meaning fast Elephant). As we continued towards Puyahuapi we could not drive further due to a massive landslide being cleared and had to drive to the waters edge to load the vehicle on a temporary ferry to circumnavigate the section. Landslides seem common on this stretch of road with its sheer cliffs.

We arrived at Parque Quelat at 18:00 – the park closed at 17:00. Nevertheless, we were allowed in (entrance P10000 for two) and we were lucky to find the last open camping spot.

The morning was misty and we started the trail to Ventisquero Colgante (hanging glacier), a trail of just over 3km through rain forest with different ferns and moss, fuchsia magellanes abound as well as a variety of other flowers.

The view of the glacier was most rewarding – a real treat for the eyes and the soul when finally reaching the end of the trail. We spent almost 2 hours at this mirador not wanting to leave this magic spot with its view on the glacier high up and its milky waters flowing into Lago Tempano below.

Arriving back at camp via the hanging bridge we paid our P20000 for two nights camping to Juan Carlos, the friendly caretaker.


Next morning we passed another family on bikes negotiating the loose gravel road, this time 2 kids cycled, the third was drawn in a cart by father Tom.

When we arrived in Mañiuales we felt peckish and while looking around we saw two jogger prams for kids parked in front of a café, each decorated with a South African flag. This we had to investigate and on entering, met Mike Sewell and his friend Roger Cameron from SA.

They were busy jogging down the entire Carretera Austral, some 1300km, at a rate of around 30km per day, except Sundays. They started in Puerto Montt and wanted to finish in Villa O’Higgins as part of their Project Patagonia. We had lunch together and then viewed their three-wheelers with all their belongings (and we thought we had little space!). We would probably meet again along the road.

Lupines everywhere – pity that people spoil nature with illegal dumping.

We managed to get to Coihaique in time to book a catamaran to travel from Puerto Chacabuco to Laguna San Rafael, where we hoped to get close to the glacier of the same name. We booked at Patagonia Blue with Morena Morales (a whacking P 380000 for two!) Since there is only one operator from here, booking is essential – it is also possible to stay in their hotel Loberias del Sur in Chacabuco, however, the US$ 280 was too expensive so we took a cabaña in Puerto Aisén at Ayelèn Cabañas the night before.


Before we left Coihaique we also booked the ferry trip with Marcel (good English) at Austral Broom to travel from Puerto Yungay to Puerto Natales. The ferry runs only once a week on Saturdays taking about 42 hours.

In Coihaique we stayed at El Camping where we met Rob Rowley and Valerie Lobe,who were also exploring the area. Rob is a merchant sailor, mussel farmer and boat builder in New Zealand and Valerie an Ocean Biologist who has visited Antarctica many times.

We explored the Valle Simpson and Lago Elizalde, the road ending at Lago Caro, saw Cerro Castillo from a different side.


En route we met our South African runners again, negotiating the somewhat uneven roads.

Next day we moved to Puerto Aysén, enjoyed a walk through the little village and felt cosy in the heated cabaña before driving to Chacabuco next day for the San Rafael glacier trip. In the fjord fish farms for Salmon were passed at regular intervals.

San Rafael Glacier was stunning, although it was a very overcast and partially rainy day. The glacier is 2.5km wide, 35km long and Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael is 1,742million hectares in size and the glacier is part of the Northern Ice Field in Patagonia. The water temperature is around 2-4 degrees and we made sure not fall overboard during the trip to the glacier face by zodiac.

Floating black ice was tricky to photograph and fascinated us like previously in the Antarctic.

The catamaran travelled at 22-30 knots and covered the 222km in 5-6 hours one way.

We were happy to return to our heated cabaña in Puerto Aysén for the evening, but not before enjoying a free glass of whiskey on glaciar ice.

We had heard that visiting the hand paintings was worthwhile so we drove to Villa Cerro Castillo to explore this historical sight. Along the way we had hoped to see the rare Huemul deer – we were not lucky to find one.

The drive to the town was a scenic one, passing the prominent mountain silhouette. The manos paintings were just outside the town and can only be visited with a local guide.

Not as spectacular as we had imagined and the visit to the first school in the area (Museo Escuela Antigua) near the site rounded off the trip (built 1930, closed 1975) and gave us insight into how late education came to this remote area of Chile and Patagonia in general.

In Villa Cerro Castillo we camped at Camping Araucaria after we found Camping Sanderos Patagonia being closed (due to renovations). A communal kitchen made the supper in the cold wind bearable before we crept into our roof tent and warmed ourselves under the double set of duvets. This camping site also offers extensive trails on horseback ( cabalgatas).

This post covers 4th to 12th December 2017

Chile 7: Carretera Austral, Parque Pumalin and Chiloé Island

Travel with us along the Carretera Austral,  Parque Pumalin and marvel at the old wooden churches of Chiloé Island.

From the scenic pass and road along the Rio Futalefú we changed from the 231CH on to the 235CH towards Chaiten. The road passed along the east side of the Andes mountains, Lago Yelcho next to us.

At the small town of Amarillo we turned off into Parque Purmalin, one of the most beautiful private parks established by Douglas Tomkins, past owner of the companies Northface and Esprit and his wife, a director at the clothing company Patagonia. The establishment of these parks, of which there are three, went through a very controversial phase as never before have foreigners bought such vast tracts of land in Chile and initially the motive was unclear. Today, these parks are the most beautiful and well appointed parks in Chile and we can strongly recommend a visit there.

Tragically Douglas Tomkins died two years ago while on a kayaking expedition – luckily his wife is continuing the sterling conservation efforts in the region.

We drove into the park – no fees were collected until 15th December, when the holiday season starts. We camped at camping site Ventisquero, with its neat shelters and ablutions (just ducha natural – no hot water provided) and beautiful views of active volcanoes Michimahuida (2404m) and Chaiten (962m), the latter which last erupted in 2008. Trails to the glacier (20km round trip) and to a viewpoint (40 minutes) can be taken from the camping site.

Christos, a greek cyclist in his orange tent next to us, was very happy to share a scrumptious pasta dinner with us, the 1300km long Carretera Austral was taking its toll and he still had far to go as he wished to travel right down to Ushuaia. He was working in Germany and was fluent in German and English.

In the morning we trailed to the viewpoint from where we enjoyed the wonderful sight of Volcan Michimahuida and its glacier.

Afterwards we retraced the 9km out of the park (a narrow route through forest –not suitable for large rigs) and found the offices of the ferry company Naviera Austral in Chaitén to book a place to ship across to Quellón on the island Chiloé. The ferry only departed on Saturdays and Tuesdays at 10am, however tomorrow it would only depart at 18:30 so that we would arrive very late in Quellón. Cost was Peso 97000 or around R2300 for vehicle and 2 pax. So we decided to travel northwards on the Carretera Austral to the other Park Pumalin, the Volcanoes section. As before, entrance was still free and we found a spot with a good view of the active Chaiten volcano – our intention was to climb it the next morning.

The night got cold, tea with Rum helped to keep us warm, but it rained next morning and we had to skip the ascent to the crater. You can imagine our disappointment.

Waiting for the ferry we spent a short while on the seaside promenade – or what is left of it today after the ash of the volcano pushed out the sea and now it is a desert.

We took some time to look around Chaitén and enjoyed the wooden and sheet metal houses and buildings.

Late afternoon we finally embarked and after 5 hours arrived in Quellón, close to midnight.

Then we drove along the last bit of the Panamericana and found camping at Cabańas Millaguen – to our surprise Tobias Bähler and Gubi, the Swiss bikers we had camped with at the wine estate Viu Manent, also had taken a cabańa here.

Next morning greeted us with drizzle, the lapa allowed us shelter to prepare a hearty breakfast under roof .

Afterwards we decided to drive the few km to the official end of the Panamericana, the famous trucker route from Alaska to this southern point in Chile. The monument is unspectacular yet it was a milestone on our travels.

The day was passed with driving to Yardad, we saw the first wooden churches that Chiloé island is so well-known for. In the fjords and bays were many mussel farms, we continued along the Costanera Pedro Montt and were amazed how high the difference between low and high tide was (at low tide many boats lie on dry land).


We passed San Antonio, where many salmon factories reside, the farms themselves must be further out. After turning off Ruta 5 we aimed for Colonia Yungay and then on a small gravel road to Parque Tantauco, a large private area with good facilities and 2 spots at Camping Chaignata, from where hikes up to 8 days are possible. The road to the park was in a dismal condition and took us a good 3 hours, best be driven with a 4×4 or a vehicle with high clearance. Since the holiday season only started on 15th December we paid a lesser tariff of P3500 per person and P10000 for a camping vehicle. We only stayed one night and took a walk down to the lake with its gulls and ducks.

On the return journey we stopped to see the 800yrs old Futa Mañu tree called Manio Abuelo (grandfather) and to follow a walk through the forest. Beforehand it was required to disinfect the shoes to prevent contamination that could interfere with the sensitive frog habitat.


From here we drove toward Chonchi, in the background the Andes visible and volcanoes near Chaiten from where we had started on the mainland. Along the route we came across the first wooden churches that make Chiloé worth a visit.

Chonchi had a beautiful specimen as well as other colourful wooden houses. In its modest supermarket we found a “Christollen mit Marzipan” and could not resist buying two to make our forthcoming Xmas a special one (last year we could not find any familiar cake or cookies for Xmas in the northern countries – so this time round it was a special treat).


Pretty chuffed we aimed to get to Cucao along the W80 and, although there were a number of camping sites along the way, we opted to camp wild on the beach next to a small body of water, it was a windless afternoon and a stunning sunset as we were facing westerly.

As we had heard of the “bridge that ends nowhere” that was worth visiting, we drove down the W-654P until we got to Rahue, bought two tickets for P3000 to visit the bridge Muelle de las Almas. Everybody here earns something from the visitors and after paying a further P2000 for parking at Quilan, we walked the 3km to the bridge – a scenic point, nice views but possibly a little overrated.

Nevertheless it was a pleasant outing, forced us to have some exercise and enjoy the local flora and fauna as well as see some gauchos shearing sheep along the way.

Once we reached Castro, the capital of Chiloé, we inquired about the ferry from Castro to Chaitén, but were informed that it no longer operated – whether permanently or temporarily nobody could tell us for certain. Castro also had a large wooden church we visited and then enjoyed the view of the Palafitos – the colourful houses on stilts.

From Castro we proceeded on Ruta 5 to Ancud,skirted around the town and took the westerly W-20 and W220 exit Pumillahue to reach Ballena Azul Camping late afternoon.

The wind blew forcefully and the temperature plummeted so we decided to spoil ourselves in the restaurant with delicious Corvina (fish) and Mariscos y Queso empanadas (seafood pies with cheese). Fortunately the camping is a few meters below the restaurant and reasonably protected from the worst winds and the 11degC temperature that felt more like 4 degrees.

Early in the morning we took the short trail down to the beach Ballena Azul and explored the coastal habitat. At this time of year there are unfortunately no blue whales to be seen as they return to the Antarctic regions.

Ancud welcomed us with fair weather next day, we found a laundry and Unimarc supermarket.A stroll through some of the streets brought us into interesting alleys.

A trip to Chiloé can hardly be complete without a visit to the museum in Ancud on the Ruta de Iglesias -it is here where we appreciated the craftsmanship behind the art of building these intricate wooden structures and the many techniques involved combined with careful selection of the right wood for the purpose.

Then we proceeded towards Faro Corona, an old lighthouse that can be visited, then on to Fuerte Ahui, the fort built by the Spanish in 1779, unfortunately damaged by an earlier Tsunami, which we hoped would not repeat itself while we were relaxing on the adjacent beach.

Passing through Ancud again we booked the ferry from Quellón back to Chaiten for coming Sunday and were lucky that they could take us, this is not guaranteed once the holiday season starts. Rather than looking for a different campsite we decided to return to Ballena Azul.


For lunch next day we had arranged to participate in a Curanto, a speciality prepared in a hole in the ground lined with Nalca leaves, then mussels, chicken, sausage and smoked pork are added and covered with leaves, coals on top cooked the meal over a 3-4 hour period.

As starters we ordered fresh oysters – they only served them by platter of 20. Since Karin does not eat them fresh, I ate all 20 and the half the Curanto.

Neither the oysters nor the Curanto tasted fresh, all a little muddy, a sign that the local farms do not seem to get sufficient fresh ocean currents. It turned out to become my worst nightmare – for the next 24hours my tummy and intestines disagreed strongly with this meal.


For the night we reached the coastal town of Quemchí, where we camped at Camping Tenaún, owned by friendly Gelmán who ran a neat and clean site behind his house. The historical wooden church “Iglesia de Tenaún”, with its 3 spires is part of the World Heritage collection on Chiloé and is kept in good condition.

From here we travelled via Colegual to San Juan with the smaller church San Juan Bautista, not painted – yet the wood lasted till today.

A further church was visited in Dalcahue (Iglesia Nuestra Seńora de Dolores), a town offering a variety of woolen and other souvenirs on its market place.


On our return via Castro we again visited the colourful houses on stilts, this time during high tide – much nicer.

Then back on Ruta 5 we returned to Quellón and had to rebook our ferry with the operator Naviera Austral with offices on the Costañera Pedro Montt, before returning to Millaguen Cabañas y Camping for the night enjoying the beautiful views of volcanoes Corcovado and Nevado in the east on the mainland.

Since the ferry would only leave on Sunday, we spent the day in camp resting and blogging.

Before boarding the ferry in the afternoon the car was refueled as diesel in Quellón is cheaper than in Chaitén on the mainland. As luck would have it, while waiting in the queue for the ferry, we found a top fruiterer and indulge in fresh cherries, apricots, nectarines and grapefruit. Strange where some of the best shops on our trip were located – so when you leave or arrive by ferry in Quellón, look for the inconspicuous shop close to the quay.

Our transit back to the mainland was a quiet one and we arrived on the mainland late at 23:00 ( only departed 19:30 in place of 16:00) and we once again arrived at Parque Pumalin Volcan section towards 01:00 am, pretty exhausted, but happy that it was not fully occupied (drive in, find a spot).









This post covers 24thNovember to 3rd December 2017