General Carrera is certainly one of the most important lakes in Chile, not only for its size and connection with Argentina, but also for its stunning, immense scenic beauty. And I say immense because in Región de Aysén most attractions are of massive dimensions: some examples are this very lake, the Northern Patagonian Icefield, the numerous rivers, and the majestic mountains, all of which are vast and form landscapes that amaze even the most experienced traveler.
This magnificent scenario is the location of Puerto Guadal, a small town with 600 inhabitants set 260 km south of Coyhaique, on the shores of Lake General Carrera. It stands out for being an operation and supply center for the greater part of the tourist and scientific adventures that take place in the area. You can get to it through Carretera Austral (Ruta 7), taking the detour to Chile Chico near Lake Negro. I mention the scientific component because there are a variety of institutions currently analyzing and tracking the movement of Chile’s continental ice, especially that of the Northern Patagonian Icefield (CHPN), an ice mass with a surface area of 4.200 km2.
In my opinion this is the main attraction in Puerto Guadal, the opportunity to get lost amongst millennial ice in an area rich in rivers, lagoons, forests, and valleys carved by receding glaciers, which have given this area a special prehistoric appearance. If you add the local component -the Patagonian cuisine, the mixture of gaucho and Andean culture, and the customs-on top of all this, you get a cocktail that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world, a true Chilean Alaska.
From the town it is relatively easy to visit three glacial valleys: Nef, Soler, and Leones. Relatively, because nothing is too easy in this region; you must always be willing to walk long distances, sail, or ride a horse to get to your destination. In the town you can find expert guides with all the necessary knowledge and equipment for you to engage in this type of experience comfortably and safely. They give the magical touch to the excursion and remind you where you are. From the cup of mate in the morning to the majestic lamb spit roast under the stars light you feel connected with the southern end of the world. The night sky is a festival of galaxies, shooting stars, and constellations that make camping in the mountains an unforgettable experience.
You can get to Puerto Guadal by vehicle but you will need horses or strong legs to get to some of the attractions, so I recommend bringing good quality equipment (clothing and for camping), but most importantly, a good pair of shoes to go over rocky trails and slippery ice. Also, one of the fastest and adrenaline infused ways to get to the glaciers is the “Patagonia Jet” jetboat, by Terra Luna Lodge. It is an impressive vehicle that allows high-speed navigation in turbulent, shallow waters like rivers and lagoons, making it possible to reach remote places getting to them in a few hours instead of trekking for days. This jetboat is ideal for tight itineraries or for travelers who want to see everything.
Another important nearby attraction is located 20 kms away from the town. It is a sea fossil deposit rising above the sea surface, forming some kind of mount filled with shells, seaweed and all types of petrified flora and fauna. In short, it is a mountain originated in the cretaceous period (over 65 million years ago). The top of the hill also gives you a panoramic view of the lake and its mountains, letting you appreciate the immensity of the area. You can get there on a car, but you still need to walk a couple of hours to get to the archaeological site.
Apart from trekking, there are also other activities in which you can engage in the area, such as horseback riding. Given the geographic conditions and the stockbreeding history, the horse is the official means of transportation for the locals. It is a good way to go through these landscapes and get immersed in the local gaucho culture of “posts” ,or refuge-campsites, that Patagonian “cowboys” use to take care of their cattle. This activity is the perfect mixture of nature, action, and local culture. The best place to do it is the area of Mallín Grande, around 30 kms away from Puerto Guadal.
To summarize, Puerto Guadal is the entrance to the Patagonian Icefields, and it offers all the necessary services to organize a wide range of outdoor activities, always maintaining the deep and authentic touch of the local culture, which adds the special flavor that gives its unique character to this stunning place of Patagonia.
What to do?
Jetboat to Leones Glacier, trek to Nef and Soler Glaciers, visit the Fossil Hill, go kayaking on the lake and horseback riding in Mallín Grande.