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Caleta Tortel

When the misty clouds part, they reveal a landscape molded into fjords, channels and islands. Across the forested hills streaked with waterfalls are seven kilometers (4.2 mi) of boardwalk made ofcypress wood. These are the “streets” of a quiet village named Caleta Tortel, declared a Monumento Nacional y Zone Típica in 2001. You can pass hours exploring this maze of boardwalks.


The town is divided into four sectors. From the parking lot, they are Rincón, Centro (Base), Playa Ancha and El Junquillo. All along the way are miradores, boat docks and stilt houses à la Chilote. Signs identify plant species with local names. Between Sector Rincón and Centro is Plaza Elicura, a wooden square plaza with wrap-around balcony and benches and brilliant views of the town, hills and sea. Just after Sector Rincón is a lighthouse and mirador with a view down onto the lumber wharves. At the beginning of Sector Centro is the playground Great Britain’s Prince William built when he did his gap year here with Raleigh International in 2000.


Caleta Tortel is in the southern zone of the Western Patagonian archipelago on Golfo de Penas, at the mouth of Río Baker. Eighty percent of the Tortel area is protected wildlife areas. It is set in the midst of the lone survivors of the last Ice Age, the Campo de Hielo Norte protected by Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael and the Campo de Hielo Sur protected by Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins. Sectors of both of these parks may be visited from Caleta Tortel. To the north is Ventisquero Steffens and the Ruta Patrimonial Campo de Hielo Norte, a hike to a viewpoint of the glacier. Another boat trip heads southward to Ventisquero Jorge Montt flowing off Campo de Hielo Sur. Underway is a project to create new national a new marine park that will include Caleta Tortel.


A popular boating excursion from Caleta Tortel is to Monumento Histórico Isla de los Muertos ($100-120 per boat). In 1906 Chilotes (inhabitants of Chiloé Island) who worked for the Compañía Explotadora del Baker were buried here. The exact cause of their death is uncertain. Some say it was because of an epidemic, others that the Compañía exiled them their so it would not have to pay their salaries. Launches can also be hired to explore the bay, Río Baker, the Río Bravo – Lago Quetro – Río Pascua circuit and to Puerto Yungay on Fiordo Mitchell (south on the Carretera Austral). Kayaking these waterways is another adventure awaiting visitors.


For centuries the region was occupied by Kaweskar indigenous. Modern Caleta Tortel dates from 1901 when 100 Chilean and immigrant European families were given lands in the region. In 1903 Mauricio Braun and other Punta Arenas businessmen founded the Sociedad Nacional de Ganadería y Colonización, later called the Compañía Explotadora del Baker, at Bajo Piragua on the north shore of the Río Baker delta. In what is now Sector Bajo Rincón were built a wharf and other installations for the exploitation of Guaitecas cypress. The Compañía changed hands and names several times over the next decades – much like a shell game involving Braun, Lucas Bridges and other associates. Lands began being transferred to residents in 1927. The Compañía’s installations burned down in 1932.


Caleta Tortel’s economy is yet largely based on timbering cypress, though since becoming connected with the outside world in 2003, artesanía and tourism are now playing a larger role. Craftspeople primarily work in that noble wood. The typical wooden hatchets (hachitas de Madera) symbolize the resilience and determination of those who colonized this village.


The village’s festivities are the Festival de la Canción del Baker the second week of February and the Semana Aniversario with regattas, decorated boat floats (botes alegóricos) at the end of May.




Most businesses in town, such as hotels and tour operators, use the village’s public phone (21-1876) as their contact number. The tourism office in the portal entrance at the parking lot is open only November – mid-April (daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.). At other times of the year, stop by the municipality (Sector Base, Tel.: 21-1876, E-mail:, URL: Also in this sector, around the plaza, are the public library (free Internet), the phone center and post office. In Sector Rincón is the Conaf office and health post. There are no money facilities or pharmacy.



Agrupación Cultural Entre Hielos (Sector Centro) – wood

Erika Schoenffendt (Sector Rincón Bajo) – Wood, woolens

María Vargas (Sector Rincón Bajo) – jams



Many locals hire boats to do excursions around the bay and to Isla de los Muertos, Puerto Yungay and up the rivers. The tourism office and municipality provide a list of boat service providers and prices.

Daniel Torres (E-mail: – kayaking

Emilia Astorga (Sector El Junquillo, E-Mail: – kayaking



Most lodging has shared bathrooms.Free camping is at Sector El Junquillo on the RĂ­o Baker delta (lots of mosquitos).

Hospedaje Hielo Sur (Sector RincĂłn Bajo, Tel.: 21-1876) -- $10 per person with breakfast

Hospedaje Brisas del Sur (Sector Playa Ancha, Tel.: 21-1876) -- $17 per person, double with private bath $50

Ecolodge Tortel (Tel.: 02-196-0270, URL: – double $180 with breakfast



To ward off the damp chill, Tortelinos drink a lot of mate.

El Mirador (Sector Base s/n, E-mail:

The other restaurants are between the RincĂłn Bajo and Base Sectors, like Restaurant Sabores Locales and Pub Lady Diana.



(Altitude:0 – 145 m / 0 – 476 ft, Population:320, Phone Code: 067)



Other places nearby Caleta Tortel: Reserva Nacional Coyhaique, Puerto Bertrand, La Junta, Cochrane, Villa O'Higgins, FutaleufĂş, Palena, Puerto RĂ­o Tranquilo, Reserva Nacional RĂ­o Simpson and Puerto Chacabuco .

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

10 Jul 2009

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