We left Quellon, Chiloé at 11pm on a mammoth 31 hour ferry journey, with Naviera Austral, to Puerto Chacabuco. This journey was supposed to be very scenic passing through the Chilean fjords. However, we were unlucky with the weather – it was misty so the views were not as good as we had hoped. We managed only a few glimpses of the amazing scenery. The first night on the ferry was pretty uncomfortable as it was fairly busy and we had to sleep in reclined seats, the lights and TVs (broadcasting news of the recent and ongoing protests) didn’t go off until after midnight, and there were several port calls during the night. But the journey was flat-calm, so comfortable in that respect.
The second night was an improvement; there were less people on board and we managed to lie down across a couple of rows of seats. We arrived in Puerto Chacabuco at 6am met by mist and rain and collectivo drivers desperately trying to fill their minibuses. We ended up in one of the rustier and emptier ones to take us to the nearby town of Puerto Aysen at a speed unbecoming of such a wreck with minimal suspension. We gratefully disembarked and bought our tickets for the onward journey to Coyhaique from the Suray ticket office, just around the corner from where we were dropped off.
After walking around the block in the rain, we managed to find a shop that was open (it was still early) to get some empanadas/pastries for breakfast. Our 9am coach was on time and was very comfortable. One nice feature used in the Chilean coaches is an large display inside at the front which shows the name of the driver, a countdown timer for how long they’ve been on duty/driving, and the vehicle’s speed – an alarm sounds when they exceed the 100km/h limit.
In just over an hour, thanks in part to the driver seemingly ignoring the heavy rain and wet road conditions, we arrived in Coyhaique, a small and relatively young city nestled between impressive mountains, some still with snow on the tops. Our accommodation for the week was a cabaña – one of a small terrace of 3 or 4 two-storey ‘huts’ built in the garden of an existing property about 1km from the centre of town. We had a small kitchen, dining area and wood-pellet stove for heat – an interesting contraption but very effective. The first few days here were pretty wet in the mornings but generally cleared up later. Our walk into town took us through ‘Plaza del Pionero’, a linear park dedicated to the pioneer settlers of the area. In addition to several scenes depicting settlers and their livestock in various forms, there is a good playpark here which entertained the kids for a while, breaking up the walk.
The city centre is quite pleasant with a central, well kept pentagonal park ‘Plaza de Armas’, which includes some artisan market stalls, mature green areas, and some fountains. Nearby are some pedestrianised areas and a good selection of bars and restaurants in addition to a large dose of outdoor shops – pretty much all of the top brands covered with prices to match. We enjoyed some good pizza and craft beers here one pleasant sunny evening..
There was evidence here that the recent protests had been in full swing, with shop fronts boarded up and covered with political graffiti.
One evening Elliot decided to try walking whilst still asleep (something he does from time-to-time), and fell down the open tread and very steep stairs! We heard a series of bumps followed by a lot of screaming! We think he must have mostly gone down on his bum, but he managed several scrapes and bruises and quite a large bump on his head. As we had no idea of the real damage (he could talk to us ok and say how many fingers we held up) a trip to the emergency department followed – fortunately the hospital was only a couple of kilometers away and not very busy. Being a child, and paying guest, he was seen by a paediatrician within minutes, and soon after, X-rayed, to check for any serious damage. He was given the all clear, plus some pain-killers and anti-inflammatories, and told ‘no running around for a day or two’. The large bump on ths back of his head took a few days to go away – as did the various bruises and marks on his body. He’d been very lucky! Needless to say, we blocked off the top of the stairs for the remaining nights using a bedside cabinet and our (now) multi-purpose washing line – one of our most useful travel items bought in a pound shop back home.
With Elliot sufficiently recuperated, we went for a stroll around Coyhaique National Park one Sunday afternoon (once the rain had cleared) – there was more daylight having come further south, so we didn’t leave until 3pm. There was a fee to enter the National Park of 12000 CLP, which in hindsight was very high (having now been to other much larger National Parks), especially as we entered late in the day and were asked to be out by 6pm. We had a pleasant walk (5.5 miles round trip) to Laguna Verde, with good views over Coyhaique along the way. After exiting the park we tried to get an Uber cab to get back to town, but none were accepting our ride. In the end we had to walk an extra 1.5 miles to the outskirts of town before being able to get a cab back (Elliot’s legs had all but fallen off by this time – we’d all had enough).
Another afternoon, we walked to the Museo Regional de Aysen just outside town, only to find that it was shut. A lady there told us that the closure was permanent – though it’s possible that we misunderstood and it was for refurbishment, or just because it was low-season. Fortunately, there was another playpark on the route back, as there was nothing else to do or go to nearby.
After keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, we did a mammoth day trip to the Marble Caves (Capillas de Mármol) further South. This was a long day involving about 8 hours (not helped by all the roadworks) on a minibus again with a complete lack of suspension which we discovered when the paved road ended about halfway there. It was a long drive, and we were pleased we hadn’t attempted to do it on our own in a hire car – not as a day trip anyway.
Once we arrived into the little town of Puerto Rio Tranquillo, we went into the first tour agency we saw (there are many to chose from) and having confirmed that our guide had good English, booked ourselves onto their next trip. We were kitted out with ponchos and life jackets, and walked a couple of hundred metres to the pier. We were soon speeding across quite choppy water – about a 20 minute transit – to reach the start of the caves. These were a little disappointing after seeing the heavily edited, colourful images advertising the trip and peoples photos on the internet. The first ones were more grey than white, but they got more spectacular as the sun came out and as we travelled around the headland to see more formations including the ‘cathedral’. I think staying overnight and doing a morning trip would be the the way to get more spectacular photos – with the sun lower in the sky. We got quite wet on the way back, on account of some pretty large waves, and only just got back in time for our minibus back.