An Introduction to Raul Marin Balmaceda
With the steep mountains of the Corcovado National Park to its north, the Melimoyu Volcano to the south and totally surrounded by water (the ocean, the fjord and the Palena River), it is hard to image a place more remote.
Although officially founded in 1889, Raul Marin Balmaceda has only been connected by road to the main Carretera Austral since 2009. It is still a very sleepy little village, built amongst the forest with sandy streets and just a few houses - its peace and tranquility is perfect for nature lovers looking to spot some of Chile's marine wildlife and also those looking for some sea kayaking.
Reasons to go
Spot penguins bobbing, dolphins diving, cormorants skimming and sea lions playing - all set to a backdrop of the rain forested Andes dropping into the sea. Raul Marin Balmaceda is a great place to come for marine fauna and birds, extraordinary forest scenery and peace. The few unpaved streets of the village are set within the thick vegetation - from the sea you can’t even tell there is a village there at all. From the shores of the fjord you’ll see dolphins playing the bay and beach at the end of the peninsula is a sea of marine birds. In just two hours you can visit the 'Las Hermanas' islands off shore to see, if you are lucky, penguins, sea lions and marine otters.
From the shore and also at the ‘Las Hermanas’ islands just off shore, Raul Marin Balmaceda is a great place to spot a great variety of marine birds. For example, you could see up to four types of cormorants, kelp goose, dolphin gull, chilean skua, ringed kingfisher, dark bellied cinclodes and steamer duck. In the surrounding, thick rainforest vegetation you have a great chance of finding other great forest species.
Sea Kayaking in the Pitipalena Fjord is a great way to take in the scale of the mountain scenery, the fjord and interact with the penguins, dolphins and sea lions. With just a three hour kayak you will be able to cross the fjord, and depending on the tide, also visit a sea lion colony.
If you are looking for a bit more of a challenge then a full day or even multi-day trips can be set up. For the ultimate adventure, paddle the length of the Palena river from its source in the High Andes with its rapids, and then travel its length as it becomes wider and slower before reaching Raul Marin Balmaceda - a truly unique experience.
RMB is a great add-on to any trip when driving the northern part of the Carretera Austral or if doing a loop from Coyhaique reaching as far north as La Junta.
The drive to RMB gives you some inclination that you are arriving at somewhere special - the mountains rise up foreboding, clothed in thick virgin forest, the drive is narrow and at time precipitous as you wind your way around the mountain edges. At times you get glimpse of the incredibly coloured emerald Palena River that is slow moving and wide just at the edge of the road.
The coastal scenery in Raul Marin Balmaceda is very contrasting to the glaciers and lakes further to the east. It is battered by wet weather for much of the year, so come prepared for a shower or two.
Where to stay in Raul Marin Balmaceda
The Fundo Los Leones is a great option with five cabins set on the beach looking right out onto the fjord, rustic but cosy, with meals served by Mery and Mauricio in their home. They will organise boat trips out to the close by ‘Las Hermanas’ islands, and also have their own kayaks to take you out on the fjord.
Each cabin has its own wood burner so if the coastal weather sets in, they are a warm and cosy place to rest and relax.
How to get there
Raul Marin Balmaceda is a 1.5 hour drive from the town of La Junta which sits on the main Carretera Austral - the road is windy and precipitous so drive with caution. There are also a regular ferry which leaves from Raul Marin Balmaceda connecting with Quellon on the island of Chiloe.
Bring a good pair of binoculars - there is so much to see and much can be missed if you can't quite spot it.
Sally Dodge Patagonia Specialist
FAQs about Raul Marin Balmaceda
There are two trails around the Peninsula which, if taken slowly, bird spotting and taking in the flora would take you most of the day to complete. They are not challenging though and rather than a hike, they are simply a good way to access the peninsula and other birding opportunities.
Yes, there are two other restaurants in the little village serving fresh fish dishes - they have quite limited opening hours though so check ahead to make sure they are open.
Yes, the Pitipalena Fjord has very protected water so if you just fancy giving it a go for an hour or two then we would highly recommend this. It is also a great place if you have more experience as you can really venture deep into the fjord, under the shadow of the mighty Andes as they drop into the sea.
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