Reasons to go
- Get an insight into the gaucho culture and traditional warm hospitality that has dominated here for centuries
- Discover each of the three contrasting landscapes: listen to birds call in the temperate rainforest, hike peaks in the mountains, and gaze at sunset over the steppe.
- The Carretera Austral is a world famous road, perfect for a road trip or slower bicycle tour
- This is proper wilderness, with so few people living here, wildlife has flourished.
Five ways to explore Aysen
1. Hike, horse-ride, kayak, fish...
With so much varied scenery and huge stretches of wilderness, Aysen is a place to get out and about. The hiking here is some of the best in Patagonia, with everything from gentle day hikes to full on expeditions in the mountains.
If you want to immerse yourself in the scenery a little more, horse-riding and kayaking are great ways to get deep into the wilderness and cover bigger distances than you would with hiking. Many trips are suitable for novices, but if you do have experience, you'll find Aysen really can be a challenging adventurer's playground.
2. Road trip the Carretera Austral
In the 1970s Chilean President Pinochet ordered a new road to connect up Southern Chile, a notoriously challenging environment of mountains, fjords, glaciers and rivers. It took 30 years to forge the 1,200km road which meanders through the most beautiful and secluded areas in Patagonia.
Now, the Carretera Austral is something of a phenomenon, attracting visitors from all over the world for the way it opens up this remote region. You'll pass by mountains for hiking, lush rainforests to explore, rivers for canoeing and white-water rafting, peaceful lakes for fishing, and you'll be driving through some of the best scenery in the region. This is the way to travel in Patagonia.
3. Visit the three landscapes
Glaciers of the northern ice cap ease their way down into fjords, ready to be explored by boat or on foot. In this area of the Andes you may go for days without seeing another soul. For a full adventure, trek for 5 days into the forbidding Cerro Castillo range, full of hanging glaciers and rocky pinnacles.
Close to the coast the climate becomes wetter, and humid rainforest is dominated by the huge leaves of the nalca (rhubarb). Day hike around the Queulat National Park, or take a boat to explore the forests that descend into the fjords around Laguna San Rafael.
The Steppe is the dry area that spreads out from the Andes to the Atlantic. In Aysen it is rugged, dry, full of wildlife and even hides some Tehuelche cave paintings. In the north, Alto Coyhaique and the Chacabuco Valley are wild and beautiful, a stark contrast with the glaciated valleys and forests to the west. Keep your eyes peeled for guanacos, nandu, condors and, if you're lucky, huemul deer or pumas.
4. Discover Aysen culture
Not many people live in the isolated region of Aysen, but those that do are incredibly proud of their culture and roots. Rodeos are still held where you can watch gauchos show off their horsemanship, and we recommend to never pass up the opportunity to exchange pleasantries with the locals over a yerba mate, a tradition which goes back centuries.
Food and drink are incredibly important traditions here, Coyhaique is now one of the best places to dine in Patagonia, and the growing craft beer scene means you can sample a new beer on every night of your trip.
5. Spot the wildlife
The untouched nature of the Aysen region means wildlife has flourished. Close to Coyhaique you can visit a condor nursery, where condors fly within metres of you. In the Chacabuco Valley, puma numbers are steadily increasing due to an abundance of guanacos, and in the Tamango area of the Patagonia National Park there is a higher density of the endangered huemul deer than almost anywhere in Patagonia.
In Aysen you will often hear the quote "He who hurries in Patagonia wastes time". This is a good rule to follow here where there is so much to be enjoyed, from steppe to glaciers to rainforests, all in one trip.
Our top trips in Aysen
What our customers think
Aysen is a fascinating region, of which we saw only a small part, and thankfully at the moment it is spared the kind of tourist pressure that Torres del Paine experiences.
Mark & Katie UK July 2016
The wilderness, the most dramatic scenery you can experience and the people, warm with compassion and incredible depth of care for their communities.
Nic and Julie Iannarone October 2016
Highlights of Aysen...the San Raphael glacier approached by boat on a day of swirling mists, ultimately bright sunshine and dead calm was incredibly atmospheric. Carlos the Condor doing a close fly-past as we approached Laguna Cerro Castillo.
Sarah and Charles UK March 2017
Aysen was another highlight of our trip. We loved the Enchanted forest and our stay at Fiordo Queulat Eco Lodge.
Mike and Edwina UK February 2017
Plan your trip
How to get there and around
Fly: From Santiago/Puerto Montt to Balmaceda airport, which is a 45 minute drive from Coyhaique.
Ferry: Travel from Puerto Montt in the north to arrive into Puerto Cisnes or Puerto Chacabuco. From Puerto Natales in the south you can take a ferry Caleta Tortel.
Where to stay
Tourist infrastructure in Aysen is just beginning to blossom, but the accommodation in the region is still dominated by small homestays and basic hospedajes. These are great places to meet local people and learn a little more about Aysen culture, often run by passionate and warm owners whose families have lived here for generations. To find a little more luxury, travel through the hub town of Coyhaique, where the streets are lined with boutique and upmarket hotels.
On a recent trip to Patagonia, one of the local guides we work with stopped me as I was asking about business that season: "Harriet, remember this is Aysen, we must talk about friends, family and personal matters before we get to business". By understanding and embracing that family and friends are more important to the local people in this area than being on time and getting things done, you'll get so much more out of your trip.
Harriet Pike Trekking, Mountaineering & Cycling Specialist
FAQs about Aysen
Whereas Torres del Paine is a must-see for tourists, the Aysen region is a must-see for travellers.
It is hard to deny that Torres del Paine is a more dramatic landscape than anything in Aysen, but if you want to get to know the culture, traverse many different landscapes and get a sense of true wilderness, then Aysen certainly beats Torres del Paine.
Very few people in Aysen speak English, so a little bit of Spanish will go a very long way here. We highly recommend brushing up your skills before you travel, or at least having a few key phrases under your belt.
We suggest a minimum of six nights, due to the travel time to get to there and around. 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 after all!
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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