An Introduction to Aysen

The southern stretch of the Carretera Austral is a challenging area to get to know with very few inhabitants and limited infrastructure. This makes the Aysen region the most exciting area of Patagonia to explore for more adventurous travellers who don't mind that things don't always run on time. In Aysen you will often hear the quote "He who hurries in Patagonia wastes time" - this is a good rule to follow.

  • By driving or cycling the Carretera Austral you will get a peek into the gaucho culture and gain glimpses of the varied landscapes.
  • By stopping to explore the valleys either side of the Carretera Austral by foot, horse and boat you will discover huge glaciers, wild forests and steppe and spend time sipping mate and sharing the fireside with some of Patagonia's warmest and most welcoming people.

Reasons to go to Aysen

Culture

Not many people live in the isolated region of Aysen, but those that do are proud of their culture - whether it be the horsemanship skills that they demonstrate at the numerous rodeos that take place, the sharing of a yerba de mate whilst exchanging pleasantries about friends and family, the delicious food that has made Coyhaique one of the best places in Patagonia to dine or the craft beer scene that has grown up in recent years, meaning you can sample a new beer on every night of your trip.

Aysen Culture

Glaciated Andes

The sight of the glaciers of the northern ice cap easing their way down to Laguna General Carrera or into the fjords is immense. They can be explored with a combination of boats and on foot. In this area of the Andes you will likely go for days without seeing another soul. The Cerro Castillo range is a forbidding range with hanging glaciers and rocky pinnacles, and offers a fantastic 4-6 day trek. In all these areas you will see glaciated wilderness and very few people.

Aysen Glaciated Andes

Steppe

The Steppe is the dry area that spreads out from the Andes to the Atlantic. In Aysen the steppe is rugged, dry and a great place to experience Tehuelche cave paintings and wildlife. The area above Coyhaique, known as Alto Coyhaique or the Chacabuco Valley, are both wonderfully wild and beautiful and contrast completely with the glaciated valleys and forests to the west. Here you will see guanacos, nandu, condors and, if you're lucky enough, huemul deer or pumas.

Aysen steppe

Temperate Rainforest

Close to the coast the climate becomes wetter and you find yourself in humid rainforest and a great number of plants, dominated by the huge leaves of the nalca (rhubarb). The Queulat National Park has a series of day hikes that head off from the road into the forest and up to hanging glaciers. By boat you can explore the forests that descend into the fjords, whether it be the Queulat National park further south at Laguna San Rafael, where it is well worth camping overnight and spending a day in the forests around the glacier, listening to immense hunks of ice falling from one of Patagonia's most dynamic glaciers.

Aysen Glaciated Andes

Wildlife

The untouched nature of the Aysen region makes it is a good place to see wildlife. Close to Coyhaique you can visit a condor nursery and have condors flying within metres of you. In the Chacabuco Valley you will be astounded by the number of guanacos which have, in turn, increased the number of pumas. In the Tamango area of the Patagonia National Park there is a higher dendity of huemul deer than most places in Patagonia.

Wildlife Aysen

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Places to go in Aysen

Things to do in Aysen

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How to get to Aysen

By Air: There are about four flights per day from Santiago and Puerto Montt arriving into Balmaceda airport (45 minutes from Coyhaique). 

By Vehicle: Most people explore the area by vehicle. You can travel along the Carretera Austral from Puerto Montt, come in via Futaleufu from the Argentinean Lake District or access the Ruta 40 from the south and Los Glaciares National Park.

By Bus: There are buses that run between El Calafate and Bariloche which can be used to access the region. Buses also travel north and south along the Carretera Austal but are not as comfortable or as reliable as buses elsewhere in Patagonia.

By Boat/On Foot from El Chalten: The Quetru crossing allows Villa O'Higgins to be connected up with Los Glaciares National Park to the south.

By Ferry: From Puerto Montt in the north arriving into Puerto Cisnes or Puerto Chacabuco. From Puerto Natales in the south arriving into Caleta Tortel.

Map of Key Landmarks in Aysen

Where to stay in Aysen

Tourist infrastructure in Aysen is not very well developed. In Coyhaique there is a large range of places to stay but in other towns there may just be a homestay or basic hospedaje. 

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Our Favourite Trips in Aysen

Harriet says

FAQs about Aysen

  • If I focus on the Aysen region and skip Torres del Paine, will I be missing out?

    It is hard to deny that Torres del Paine is a more dramatic landscape than anything in the Aysen region but, whereas Torres del Paine is a must see for tourists, the Aysen region is a must see for travellers. If you want to get to know the culture, traverse many different landscapes and get a sense of true wilderness then this is where Aysen beats Torres del Paine.

  • Do I need to speak Spanish?

    YES. Very few people in Aysen speak English and it is hard to get around and a bit frustrating if you do not speak any Spanish.

  • How long should I spend in the Aysen region?

    Due to the travel time to get to Aysen and then to get into the mountains, we'd suggest a minimum of six nights in the area. You could easily spend up to a month in the Aysen region and still not explore the region completely. This is an area the size of England with endless opportunities to explore as well as places you'll just want to sit and marvel at the view.

  • How do I get around?

    The majority of people visiting the area hire a car and this is a great way to get around if you want to cover a lot of ground and complete daily excursions. If you want to do multi-day trips such as treks, kayaking or horse pack riding then we'd suggest arranging for the local guide to transfer you from one place to another. There are public buses that drive up and down the Carretera Austral and across to Chile Chico and if you have the time and patience for the odd breakdown then these are the cheapest way to explore the region.

Customer Tips

Swoop Customer - Sarah, UK

I would recommend that people travelling in Aysen learn some basic Spanish because there is limited English spoken in the area. I felt sad to be unable to communicate (beyond body language) with all the warm and friendly people we met along the way.

Sarah, UK Customer

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