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Lago Yelcho

Midway between the coast and the Argentine border stretches Lago Yelcho, a 35-kilometer (21-mile) long sliver of clear, azure water. This body is fed by the RĂ­o FutaleufĂș, crashing down from the Andean heights, through narrow canyons. Upon reaching the lake, the FutaleufĂș takes on a more tranquil life, with abundant fishing and boating opportunities for the occasional visitor. Die-hard kayakers take a respite on Lago Yelcho before hitting the rapids of the nascent RĂ­o Yelcho to Enseñada ChaitĂ©n.

Lago Yelcho is surrounded by virgin forests. Most of its shoreline is uninhabited. Only in two places does a road touch the rim of this blue eye. On the northwestern tip of the lake is Puerto CĂĄrdenas on the Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) and on the southeastern, at the crossroads of the FutaleufĂș-Palena Highways (Rutas 231 and 235), is Puerto RamĂ­rez and Puerto Piedra. In these hamlets are a variety of services for travelers, from simple hostels to luxury lodges, and restaurants. Guides are ready to take you out to whirl a fly for fine salmon and trout, rafting or horseback riding. But Lago Yelcho isn’t just about these sports. Hiking to the glacier Ventisquero Yelcho and soaking in Termas de Amarillo, both near Puerto CĂĄrdenas, are other activities to be enjoyed.

From ChaitĂ©n, the first settlement outside of the volcano’s red zone is El Amarillo. This is presently the closest place along the Carretera Austral where travelers can stay before catching the ferry to QuellĂłn or Puerto Montt. A carabinero checkpoint records all visitors continuing to or departing from ChaitĂ©n. El Amarillo village yet is only a string along the Carretera despite its population having grown significantly with the evacuation of the port city. Undoubtedly in the future, services will improve.

From the carabinero control post is a five-kilometer (three-mile) spur road leading up to the Termas El Amarillo (daily March-December 9 a.m.–6 p.m., January-February 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Entry: $6 per person, under six years old free). These hot springs have long been travelers’ favorite spot to soak after completing the journey north on the rigorous Carretera Austral. Termas El Amarillo has several basic, open-air and private pools (50°C / 122°F), as well as mud pits. The thermal springs have both campsites and cabañas.

Continuing along the Carretera Austral is Puerto CĂĄrdenas at Kilometer 45. This small caserĂ­o is the largest town on the northwestern tip of Lago Yelcho. Fishing is spectacular in these waters. Eleven kilometers (6.6 miles) further down the road, on the west shore of the lake, is a 300-meter (1000-feet) trail leading to aguas minerals. The pool of mineral waters is surrounded by burnt-orange clay.

At Kilometer 60 of the Southern Highway is a six kilometer (3.6 mile) path along the RĂ­o Ventisquero, through coigĂŒe and mañío forest, leading up to the Ventisquero Yelcho, a spectacular glacier tumbling down. It is a three-hour hike to the ice field (officially free; current reports indicate locals are now charging an entry). At the entrance to the Ventisquero are campsites.

From here, the Carretera takes a sharp turn south to Villa Santa LucĂ­a. This village is at the crossroads of the Carretera Austral and the highway leading to FutaleufĂș and Palena touching the southeastern tip of Lago Yelcho. Puerto RamĂ­rez is the crossroads for FutaleufĂș and Palena. The settlement lies on either side of a bridge spanning the dog-end bend of the RĂ­o FutaleufĂș. Five kilometers (three miles) onward is Puerto Piedra, at the very confluence of the legendary river into Lago Yelcho. This is the perfect habitat for brown, rainbow and other trout, as well as for salmon, thus providing ample adventures for anglers. Aside from fly fishing, other outdoor sports include rafting, kayaking and horseback riding. Both settlements have lodging and guide services.

Altitude: (Puerto CĂĄrdenas) 60 meters / 195 feet, Phone Code: (entire region) 065

By Lorraine Caputo

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

21 Apr 2009

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