After crossing Puerto Ays√©n's Puente Presidente Ib√°√Īez, the paved Ruta 240 edges the base of the mountains. Just a few kilometers from Puerto Chacabuco, it narrows with cliffs on one side and Fiordo de Ays√©n on the other. As it enters tow, the street becomes O'Higgins and dead-ends at the front gate of the Terminal Transbordador of Puerto Chacabuco. This is the maritime portal through which some travelers enter Chile's Northern Patagonia.
Puerto Chacabuco isn't a town as such. The sole purpose of this major port is to fulfill the needs of communities living along the Carretera Austral and the hinterlands of this Patagonia. It is their economic and social lifeline with the rest of Chile. Passenger-car ferries ply the frigid waters to Puerto Montt. Another connects small villages along the coasts and fjords of the region between here and Quell√≥n, Chilo√©. Tourists also come to Puerto Chacabuco to board a streamlined ship or a catamaran too see the glaciers of Laguna San Rafael and sip whiskey on millennium ice. International cruise ships also use Puerto Chacabuco as a port-of-call.
The town is, at its widest, five streets wide. Those on the east side loop at the base of the mountains and back to Avenida O'Higgins. Near the north entrance of the village is a nondescript church. A few blocks closer to the port is a simple, sprawling public square with a bust of Guerra del Pac√≠fico naval hero Arturo Prat and a playground.
Near Puerto Chacabuco is Parque Aik√©n del Sur, a private nature reserve, on the shores of Lago Riesco. Three interpretive trails lead you through this 300-hectare park, which protects pristine forests of array√°n (Myrceugenella apiculata), tepa (Laurelia philippiana), luma (Chilean myrtle, Amomyrtus luma), notro (Chilean fire bush, Embothrium coccineum), calafate (Magellan barberry, Berberis buxifolia), michay (Darwin's barberry, Berberis darwinii) and chilco (bush fuchsia, Fuchsia magellanica) and fields. Chucao (Scelorchilus rubecula) and Hueta (black-throated huet-Huet, Pteroptochos tarnii) are among the birds finding refuge here. One path leads along a the river, another to the lake's shores and a third to Barba del Viejo, a 22-meter (72-ft) high waterfall surrounded by ferns and mosses. The botanical garden contains 32 species unique to the zone. The interpretive center has interactive exhibits on the natural history and anthropology of the Ays√©n coastal area (open only in summer 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Ruta Ays√©n-Chacabuco Km 10, Tel.: 35-1112, URL: www.parqueaiken.cl / www.aikendelsur.cl.) Several agencies in Coyhaique offer tours to the park.
Another attraction accessible from Puerto Chacabuco is Termas Maca. A two-and-a-half-hour boat trip takes you to these hot springs on the north shore of Fiorodo Ays√©n, in front of Monumental Natural Cinco Hermanos.
Puerto Chacabuco has few services. The carabinero station on Avenida O'Higgins also serves as the Centro de Informaci√≥n. The hamlet also has an ATM on the main street, a half-block from the plaza (Mastercard, Cirrus, Visa, Plus), a Chilexpress / Western Union agent, phone center and health post.
Restaurant-Residencial El Puerto (Avenida O'Higgins 80, Tel.: 35-1147; $14 per person)
Caba√Īas Motel (Ram√≠rez 1173, Tel.: 33-3067; $40 for two persons)
Hotel Lober√≠as del Sur (Carrera 50, Tel.: 35-1112, URL: loberiasdelsur.cl; single $250, double $300)
Several small supermarkets sell provisions. Many of the inns have their own restaurant.
(Altitude: 5 meters / 16 feet, Population: 1442, Phone Code: 067)
Other places nearby Puerto Chacabuco : Reserva Nacional R√≠o Simpson, Cochrane, Puerto Puyuhuapi, Puerto Bertrand, Puerto Cisnes, Futaleuf√ļ, Caleta Tortel, Reserva Nacional Futaleuf√ļ, Reserva Nacional Je√≠nemeni and Parque Nacional Queulat.
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