Sunday, December 7, 2008

Road Trip to Puyuhuaipi

Puyuhuapi and area

Taking the Carretera Austral south from Villa Santa Lucia (coming from either Futaleufu or Chaiten, the graded gravel road might try your patience but, be patient. In La Junta, it is wise to top off the fuel tank before venturing south. Almost immediately the landscape both drops and climbs into the deep forest at the north end of Parque Nacionale Queulat and the road hugs Rio Risopatron, a long, narrow lake. Coigue, Cipres, Araucaria, Manio and Lenga trees shade the morning and afternoon. Rosas Mosqetas (prolific wild roses) loom out into the road beating for space with the Nalca Pengue (those giant-leafed, rhubard-like plants) while snow-capped Andes mountains pour out waterfalls, even in the driest part of the year.
Continuing south towards Puyuhuapi there are no shortages of hiking paths; Lake Rosselot National Reserve Mountain Path, and Sendero Las Pumas to name just two.

The town of Puyuhuapi sits at the end of a long, straight road dipping down to a fjiord. The picturesque tiny town is just now experiencing it's third and fourth generations and if you go to the two-pump Copec gas station, you will be buying gas from direct decendent of one of the town founders: Claus Hopperdietzel's father and uncle came in the early 1930's from the German town of Rossbach, now called Hranice. Many of the old-style houses with barn-shaped roofs remain, and an effort has been made to reintroduce that style in new buildings. Brightly painted wooden boats sway on their anchors in the shallow harbour, outfitted with small gas stoves and provisions for the commercial fisherman. Ask around for directions to the old carpet factory which was closed to the public at the time we visited, but expects to reopen soon. The wonderful hand woven textiles and rich rugs are a style combining German and Chilote skills and patterns. Plans to house a museum there are also in the works.

For a small town, Puyuhuapi has a surpising number of restaurants, Bed and Breakfast lodgings, and small hotels, cabanas and at least one hostel and a camping area. There are several small grocery stores and panadaria. The streets are lined with Rhododendro, Azelea, Chaura and Hortensia bushes. Hummingbirds enjoy the magellanic fuschia the locals call Chilco. It is an easy, quiet and shy town. The kind of place where you might take your lunch and a bottle of wine or cold beer and have lunch by the bay, watching the tide come in. One of the best sources of information on the entire area is *Aonikenk Restaurant and Cabanas located on Hamburgo 16 just off the main square. Veronica Gallardo, the owner has an extensive background in hospitality and a vast knowledge of the area. She books tours, or offers excellent maps and advice for do-it-yourselfers.

Heading out of town, you hug the fjiord around a point passing (if you must) a thermal hot spring and restaurant with a panoramic view. A bit further you will see a salmon farming operation before entering into the heart of Parque National Quelat. Twenty-two kilometers outside of Puyuhuapi, watch for the sign, "Ventisquero Colgante", one of the most spectacular land-locked glaciers in Chile. There is a small fee to enter this part of the park, and you can camp there as well. It is a short drive or hike back to the ranger station. The glacier is what they call a "hanging" glacier, wedged between the peaks of two mountains, brilliant blue and cascading a magnificant waterfall into a lagoon. Well marked trails lead to the lagoon, but even non-hikers are able to enjoy the glacier from the ranger station.

From here, head south or not. Next stop could be a side trip to the small port town of Puerto Cisnes, or further to Aysen and Coihaique. But don't rush, there is so much to do and see in the Puyuhuaipi area that it would be a shame to be in a hurry.

NOTE: The road from La Junta to, and through Puyuhuaipi is under construction and closed from 10:00 am until 2:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. At all times it is wise to drive cautiously, some parts are barely one lane wide; you share the road with cows, sheep, and other drivers.

*Aonikenk is the name of an indigenous nomadic people of southern Patagonia, also known as Tewelche. As a people and culture, they are extinct. Information on Aonikenk was obtained from

Sources, information and websites:

Camara de Turismo y Comercio A.G. Puyuhuaipi

Cuenca de Palena

Aonikenk Restaurant and Cabanas
(56) (67) 325 208

Termas del Ventisquero
Luis Calderon
(56) (67) 325 228

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