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Northern Patagonia for wilderness adventure
A new route to Northern Patagonia has opened up and now, with an inexpensive three-day family rafting adventure scheduled, now would be a great time to make the trip.
By car, the new route begins an hour south of Puerto Montt in the village of Hornopiren, where you board a ferry for a four-hour journey along a beautiful fjord to a tiny place called Leptepu. Then drive a few kilometers to another ferry, which will take you to on Caleta Gonzalo and the entrance to Parque Pumalin, the vast nature reserve established by North Face founder Douglas Tompkins.
From Caleta Gonzalo it’s about an hour drive to Chaiten, which was badly hit by a nearby volcanic explosion in 2008 and is still recovering, with basic services now being offered. Two hours further south along the Carretera Austral is Villa Sta. Lucia, where you will find a road linking you to Futaleufu on the border with Argentina. It is known for being one fo the world’s greatest white water rafting and kayaking rivers. Alternatively, stay on the Carretera for two more hours and you’ll be in La Junta, which is rapidly becoming the site for more tranquil family adventures, including, in the first week of February, a three day rafting expedition down the Palena River to Raul Marin Balmaceda, one of the least-visited villages in Patagonia.
The ferries from Hornopiren to Calleta Gonzalo coincide with each other, so as long as you don’t go on a walk about in Leptepu you should arrive at Chaiten by six or seven in the evening and at La Junta or Futaleufu before midnight.
For travelers without a vehicle, this new ferry route linking Hornopired can be taken by bus, although it might not be a journey for those with a limited amount of time. The Bimodal bus service leaves from Puerto Montt bus terminal for Hornopiren and Chaiten at 7:00am and uses the ferries I mentioned previously in this article. For those who want to explore Parque Pumalin, Caleta Gonzalo would be a nice place to stop. The Park is magnificent, with great forests and many other attractions, but be prepared to pay a couple of hundred dollars for accomodation in one of the few cabins available, or set up tent and camp. There are no other choices and finding a ride to Chaiten once the bus has gone will be very difficult, if not impossible. You will have to wait until the next evening to get another bus.
The bus and ferry journey from Puerto Montt to Chaiten takes about eleven hours, where you will have to spend at least one night unless you can find a ride further on. Sadly, the bus service from Chaiten is notoriously bad with only one bus company that runs from Futaleufu or La Junta to meet the Puerto Montt – Chaiten ferry that runs just once or twice a week. This means you may have to wait as long as four days in Chaiten to catch a bus further south, which could be even longer if the bus gets filled with passengers from the arriving ferry.
Services are not the best since the town was hit by the volcanic eruption, but basic accommodation is still available, and if you can find Mr. Nicholas Penna then transportation to scenic spots and hot spring can be arranged. Nicholas is well known around the village and he speaks English and Spanish.
I would like to explain exactly what can be seen along the route to this new Bimodal service, but since I didn’t have a vehicle or want to wait forever in a volcano ravaged village, I took a plane to and from Coyhaique. The journey from Chaiten is full of lakes, glaciers, snow capped mountains, waterfalls, and ancient forests. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope the transportation system to and from Chaiten improves. If you’re thinking about taking a taxi for the 185 kilometer journey from Chaiten to La Junta, then you’d better fill it with people… it will cost around 150,000 pesos!
The Bimodal service from Puerto Montt is government subsidized and costs just 14,000 Pesos. For vehicle prices and more information on the ferry service please visit http://www.navierapuelche.cl/h_horno.html
Editor’s Note: Paul has let us know that his wife Konomi has discovered another new route has been added in Northern Patagonia.
There is a poster outside the municipal building in La Junta which states that Terra Austral, the La Junta based bus company has just begun a new route to and from Chaiten. This makes the Bimodal bus service a much more reliable option for those wishing to travel on from Chaiten to the rest of Patagonia. It would be nice to think that they read this and my previous article covering transportation to and from Chaiten – I certainly distributed it to everyone I know in the area.
Posted by: Paul Coleman