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Puerto Cisnes

Just after leaving the Portazuelo Sector of Parque Nacional Queulat is the well-marked turn-off for Puerto Cisnes. This narrow gravel road winds along the RĂ­o Cisnes through a steep-walled canyon. The road ends at the confluence of the river into Fiordo Puyuhuapi and the village Puerto Cisnes, capital of the comuna of the same name. Colorful boats bob in the cove's clear water. Mother-of-pearl sands glitter in the momentary sun, leading this village backdropped by deep emerald mountains to being called La Perla del Litoral, The Pearl of the Coast.

A thin river, RĂ­o San LuĂ­s, divides the village into two. The main plaza, around which are the church, municipality and public library, is on the far side of the San LuĂ­s. Road names change. The highway as it comes into town becomes Avenida Arturo Prat, also called Avenida Costanera. One block inland is Calle Piloto Pardo which, after crossing a pedestrian bridge spanning the San LuĂ­s, is Calle Gabriela Mistral. At the far end of the bay is the port where the weekly QuellĂłn-Puerto Chacabuco passenger ferry arrives.

Although not officially founded until February 11, 1954, Puerto Cisnes has its roots in the 1930s, as a logging and fishing hamlet. In the 1950s, people were encouraged to migrate to the town. This drew the Italian Catholic missionary order Obra de Don Guanella which, over the next decade brought the town's two most venerated personages together: Eugenia Pirzio-Biroli, the many-year mayor responsible for convincing her friend General Augosto Pinochet to construct the highway to her village and other infrastructure projects, and Padre Antonio Ronchi, who devoted his almost four-decade career to improving the social and economic lives of Ayseninos. In 1965, Puerto Cisnes became the seat of its comuna, which includes Puyuhuapi, La Junta and many coastal island communities. In recent decades, Puerto Cisnes' economic base has suffered severe blows. Overfishing led to salmon farming, but the farms have now been infected with disease. Trout, which earns less than half the price, is now being raised. Shellfish extraction is at a standstill due to marea roja, or red tide, a deadly toxin. The tremendous tourism potential of this port village is yet untapped.

Eager hikers can embark on both short and long jaunts. Paseo Virgen de las Rozas, which begins at the end of Calle Sotomayor, leads to a sanctuary on the slopes of Cerro LeucotĂłn with views of the bay and mountains (10 minutes). Another trail heads east to Laguna Escondida, a lake surrounded by coigĂĽe, canelo and quila forest. This is one of the best fly-fishing spots. Cerro Gilberto, nine hours north of the city, gives spectacular views of the canals, rivers and islands.

Boat excursions offer other possibilities for visitors. Fly fishing is a great sport here at Laguna Escondida, Isla Magdalena and RĂ­o Cisnes, the catches being trout and salmon. At sea, anglers try there luck with austral merluza. A 30-minute journey leads to the loberĂ­a, a colony of over 100 sea lions. A variety of seabirds and dolphins may also be observed.

Just off-shore is Isla Magdalena, Chile's second largest island. Most of it is protected as Parque Nacional Isla Magdalena. Created in 1967, this park is virtually unexplored. It embraces thick temperate rain forest and Volcán Mentolat (1660 m/5395 ft). Also on the island is a natural hot spring.

Fishing permeates every aspect of Cisnense life. Not only is it the mainstay of the local economy and draws sport fishers from afar, but it also finds its way into the artisan work. An unusual craft here is fish skin leather, used to make wallets, belts and other items.

Puerto Cisne has several celebrations each year. The Festival Costumbrista y Pescado Frito is at the end of January. This fest showcases artesanĂ­a, gastronomy and music. Semana Cisnense is the first week of February. It features a marathon, a triathlon, lumbering and other competitions, a rodeo and tugar-tugar, a dance contest of different folk and popular steps. In mid-June is the Fiesta de San Pedro, feting the fishermen's patron saint with regattas and a seaside Mass.

Puerto Cisnes has rain 320 days per year. Winters are wet, with a cold that seeps to the bones. The tourism season is short: from mid-January through February.



Most services are in the main part of the village, north of Río San Luís. The tourism office operates in the public library only from mid-January to mid-February (Sotomayor 761). At other times of the year, you can get information at Also in this part of town are an Internet café (Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 3-11 p.m. 10 de Julio 331; $1.60 per hour), several call centers, the post office (Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-6:30 p.m, Saturday 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m Caro, between Mistral and Sotomayor) and the Western Union/Chilexpress agent (Mistral 443). Additionally, here are the hospital and carabineros. South of Río San Luís is a pharmacy (Magallanes and Chorrillos) an ATM at the supermarket on the corner of Piloto Pardo and Condell (Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m-2 p.m, 5-10:30 p.m.; MasterCard, Cirrus, Visa, Plus). The next money facilities north is at Futaleufú and Palena, both of which have banks. South is an ATM at Mañihuales, and the banks and casas de cambio are in Coyhaique.


Several guides offer boat and sport fishing trips: Javier Catalán Alvarado (Avenida Prat s/n, Tel.: 09-917-9487), Lidia Alda López Arteaga (Pasaje Las Rosas, Tel.: 34-6830, E-mail: rodrigoduamante(at), Olga Soto Mayorga (Séptimo de Línea 112, Tel.: 34-6408, E-mail:, URL:


Señora Silvia (Aguirre Cerda, between Sotomayor and Mistral)

Kiosko (Aguirre Cerda and Mistral


Many budget and low-mid-range hostels are on Mistral, between 21 de Mayo and SĂ©ptimo de LĂ­nea, north of RĂ­o San LuĂ­s.

Cabañas, Camping y Quincho El Salmón ( five kilometers / 3 miles before Puerto Cisnes, Tel.: 08-441-3287)

Residencial Santa Teresita (Mistral 910, Tel.: 34-6820; $10 per person)

Residencial Bella Vista (SĂ©ptimo de LĂ­nea 112, Tel.: 34-6408, E-mail:, URL:; $14 per person with breakfast)

Cabañas El Guairao (Costanera 353, Tel.: 34-6473, E-mail:; 1 person $50, 2 persons $60)

On Isla Magdalena, Blanca Morrás has a hospedaje and camping (Tel.: 08-478-8674).


Most eating establishments close in winter. Many hostels prepare meals for their guests. On Aguirre Cerda, between Sotomayor and Mistral, are several fast-food stands. Fish is plentiful, but not seafood (due to marea roja). Minimarkets operate in both parts of town. Restaurant El Guairao (Costanera 353, Tel.: 34-6473, E-mail: elguairao(at) Restaurant Panorámico (Steffens and Condell, Tel.: 34-6908, E-mail:

(Altitude: 10 meters / 33 feet, Population: 5739, Phone Code: 067)


Other places nearby Puerto Cisnes: Caleta Tortel, La Junta, Puerto Sánchez, Puerto Bertrand, Reserva Nacional Coyhaique, Hornopirén Village, Puerto Río Tranquilo, Cochrane, Bahía Murta and Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas.

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

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