Aisén and Continental Chiloé
With the smallest population of any Chilean region, Aisén is a natural wonderland of islands, mountains, fjords, lakes, rivers, and forests that’s drawing ever more visitors since the Carretera Austral’s completion from Caleta Gonzalo in the north to Villa O’Higgins in the south.
Its only sizable city is the regional capital of Coyhaique, which has a state-of-the-art airport and is a good base for exploring the area. Some visitors, though, begin at the ferry port of Chaitén and move south by road. Others arrive at Coyhaique’s Puerto Chacabuco, via ferry or catamaran from Puerto Montt.
In addition to the Carretera Austral and its several national parks, Aisén’s major attraction is Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, where the ice meets the ocean, but it’s accessible only by sea or by air taxi. The climate resembles that of coastal British Columbia, with the seasons reversed (December, January, and February are summer). Consequently, weather can be wet, windy, and cool at any time, especially at higher elevations, so hikers should carry good rain and trekking gear and hope for the best. Summer highs can climb above 25°C around Coyhaique, but cooler temperatures are the rule. Midsummer days are long, with sunsets around 10 p.m.
Thanks to tourism, Aisén is increasingly prosperous, but agriculture, forestry, and mining are also important. More recently, the salmon-farming industry has brought prosperity and controversy, as its environmental cost is greater than some residents believe it’s worth.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition