Villa O’Higgins: Patagonia’s Paradise Lost

Going to Villa O’Higgins, a place located at the very end of Carretera Austral, on the shores of the lake bearing the same name, is an amazing adventure.  This destination, located at the final bit of the highway crossing Chile from its northern areas to Patagonia is a place you must experience through your own senses.

By Pablo Dutilh

Being a border town with Argentina, Villa O’Higgins represents the end of civilization and its reach. Beyond this point you can only go by foot, sailing, or on a horse, only to find an utter immensity: Southern Patagonian Icefield, the end of everything, a giant ice plateau crowned by basaltic mountains that overlook one of the most impressive natural landscapes in Chile.

 

The local lakes, rivers, lagoons, hanging glaciers, native forests, flora and fauna will give you the chance to enjoy a variety of activities, from simple ones like wildlife observation to more extreme like ice climbing.  To get there you need to take Ruta 7 and then take the secondary road to Puerto Yungay. There are buses going there but their frequency is very low and you need to make a connection in Tortel Cove. There is an aerodrome working regularly, to which you can get taking an air cab from Balmaceda or Coyhaique.

 

Nevertheless, the truth is that the road itself is one of the highlights of this journey. Going on a road trip from Coyhaique will give you a first hand view of some of the most beautiful regions in the world: Aysén’s Patagonia. To get there you need to take a winding mountain road and the cross Mitchell fjord on a ferry in a 45 minute voyage through beautiful channels. Considering the characteristics of the land, it is recommendable to rent a 4wd vehicle and stop in Puerto Guadal or Cochrane. If you don’t want to drive or rent a car there are very good tourist packages in the area that include accommodation and transportation. I recommend this one.

 

The main attractions in Villa O’Higgins are the snowdrifts and the pieces of ice breaking off from the icefields, especially  in O’Higgins Glacier, which you can reach sailing aboard the Quetru motorboat, owned by Robinson Crusoe Lodge. It operates regularly on the route connecting Candelario Mancilla and Puerto Bahamondes, and it truly is an amazing voyage. After a 1- day navigation you can go trekking in the nearby paths, visiting the surrounding mountains and trying to find a Huemul, a small Patagonian deer. Even though I tried to find one but, sadly, in summertime they climb the mountains to feed on the snow limits, usually not coming down to lower altitudes.

 

Given the area’s hydrographic conditions, the center of the infamous Hidroaysén project, this location is ideal for water sports, especially kayak in lakes and lagoons, and also for sport fishing. In this place can find beautiful specimens of salmon.

 

Other highlights in Villa O’Higgins are trekking and wildlife observation, especially bird watching. In the surroundings there are several hanging glaciers breaking off from Southern Patagonian Icefields and their neighbor hills, which you can cover in 2 and 3 day circuits. I recommend the routes to the glaciers Tigre, Mosco, and Blanco, all of which are located at a perfect distance for a medium trek, and are suitable for all people with energy and an average physical condition.

 

Also, during these expeditions you can observe a great variety of animal species, such as the Carancho (Caracara plancus),Cernícalo (Falco sparverius), Aguilucho (Buteo polyosoma), Chercán (Troglodytes musculus), Cometocino Patagónico (Phrygilus patagonicus), Churrín del Sur (Scytalopus magellanicus), Condor (Vultur gryphus),Hued-Hued del Sur (Pteroptochos tarnii), Cachudito (Anairetes parulus), Diucón (Xolmis pyrope) and Black Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus), amongst others. It is an activity you cannot miss, but if you’re not an experienced trekker I recommend hiring a good guide.

 

I could go on an on talking about this place but the idea is that you visit it yourslef and take part in the amazing adventure of going through this wonderful place in Región de Aysén. I invite you to visit Villa O’Higgins and its deep Patagonia, hopefully SIN REPRESAS (without dams).

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • How to get there?

The best, easiest way is to take a flight to Balmaceda and rent a car in Coyhaique. Getting there takes 10-12 hours  driving from Coyhaique through South Carretera Austral. It is recommendable to stop and spend the night at Terra Luna Lodge.

 

FLIGHTS FROM COYHAIQUE TO VILLA O’HIGGINS
Company: Transportes Aéreos Don Carlos.
Questions and reservations: Phone number 56-67-231981, e-mail: tdoncarlos@patagoniachile.cl
Frequency: Mondays and Thursdays ($36.000).

Departures: Coyhaique – V.O’Higgins 9:00 a.m. / V.O’higgins – Coyhaique 12:00 p.m.
Flight time: 1h 15 min.
Important: locals have preference for this service. Tourist must check availability.

Check for scales and flight combinations. It is recommended, nevertheless, to consider an extra day in Coyhaique  in case of unexpected events.

 

  • Where to stay?

Robinson Crusoe Lodge is the best place in town. We also recommend camping one night under the starry ski.

 

  • What to do?

Navigation to O’Higgins glacier,trekking to Tigre y Mosco glacier, trekking to Mirador Hill, kayaking in Mosco river and fly fishing in Mayer and Mosco rivers.