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Pintado por Dios – "painted by god", Futaleufenses say of their land. The village of Futaleufú snuggles down in a valley ringed by forest-clad mountains, ribboned by the turquoise-colored Futaleufú and the Espolón Rivers. Its name comes from Mapudungún, the Mapuche languange, and means Big River. Although off the main highway, many are drawn to this village for one sole reason: the fame of that Big River as one of the world's best white water.


Futaleufú was a laid-back village until one day in 1985 when a group of rafters and kayakers in search of virgin rivers came. What they found was the Río Futaleufú, a river beyond the wildest dreams of them all. That February, Eric Magneson, Phil De Riemer, Mark Allen and Lars Holbek kayaked the Futa (as the river is respectfully called by those that ride it) all the way to the sea. Two weeks later, Daniel Bolster and Peter Fox tried the same feat in a raft. They had to abandon the twisted wreckage of their craft at the "Terminator" stretch of the river. And thus the legend was born. The Futa is ranked in the world's top three rafting and kayaking rivers. These adventurers' discovery changed the face of this town forever. Now tourism is the primary drive of its economy.


Futaleufú remains a small town despite the hoards of tourists that descend upon it. Its large Plaza de Armas with a statue of O'Higgins in center is a favorite early morning pecking ground for chickens wandering loose. On one corner is Capilla Nuestra Señora del Carmen, a small green, wood-shingled church with a lone bell tower (open for Mass Sunday 7 p.m. Northeast corner of plaza, Aguirre Cerdo and Rodríguez). It's a village where businesses double, triple, even quadruple up on their duties. The Stihl chainsaw dealer also rents bikes and does laundry. Buses Altimirano's depot is also the post office and a second-hand clothing store. One Internet café also has a money exchange, snack stand, telephone booths and bus station. Even the municipality wears more than one guise: its lawn is also a playground. Futaleufú is, as well, a do-it-yourself town. Families and inns bake their own bread. The afternoon siesta closes up shops for a few hours and most places shut the doors come early evening.


Futaleufú celebrates its founding day as April 1, 1929. The first residents were Chileans who immigrated through Argentina to this valley. Until the spur road off the Carretera Austral reached Futaleufú in 1982, the village was more closely aligned culturally to the neighboring republic, a mere 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. Futaleufense customs and language reflect these closer ties. "Che" peppers their conversations, they drink maté, play truco cards, and sing and dance to the same songs.


And now, with the eruption of Volcán Chaitén, Futaleufú's face is changing even more. With the initial blow-up in May 2008, the village received 30 centimeters (one foot) of fine ash. Río Futaleufú's brilliant turquoise color is more intense, many mountain-top lagoons filled and Lago Espolón is silted by the ceniza. Many Chaiteninos (from the port Chaitén) sought refuge here. The greatest adjustment, though, is yet to come. In January 2009, the Chilean government announced that Provincia La Palena's capital will be moved from Chaitén to Futaleufú.


Yet another challenge is confronting Futaleufú. Spanish company Endesa has been granted rights to build dams on Río Futaleufú. The local and international communities are concerned about the effects of this project on the river's eco-system and on tourism in the region. Several groups are working to stop what they see as the destruction of the unique environment of the Futaleufú: Futa Friends (PO Box 1942, Bozeman, Montana 59771, USA, Tel.: 406-586-3460, URL:, Patagonia Chilena Sin Represas , which has offices in Coyhaique and Cochrane (URL: and International Rivers (URL:



(Altitude: 350 meters / 1138 feet , Population: approximately 2000, Phone Code: 065)


Other places nearby Futaleufú: Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas, Puerto Cisnes, Puerto Guadal, Cochrane, Hornopirén Village, Parque Nacional Hornopirén, Puerto Chacabuco , Chile Chico , Puerto Aysén and Puerto Puyuhuapi.

By Lorraine Caputo

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

12 Jun 2009

Things to do in Futaleufú

Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking

From around the world experts come to dip the paddle into Río Futaleufú and take the ride of their lives from the Entrada Rapids through the "Throne Room", the "Infierno" (22 km/14 miles, Class ...
Futaleufú, Chile

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding (cabalgatas) is another way to delve into the countryside surrounding Futaleufú. Some favorite destinations are Laguna Espejo, Valle de los Reyes, Lago Espolón, Valle del Noroeste ...
Horseback Riding
Futaleufú, Chile


Several day hikes can be made from Futaleufú. The shortest one is around Laguna Espejo on the eastside of town. Off this path is one that goes up to Cerro Mirador. Another viewpoint is Mirador de la ...
Futaleufú, Chile
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