This sweet little village with 500 inhabitants isn’t on many tourists’ shortlist. But if they would call it little Venice, with its wooden walkways everywhere, it might attract more crowds.
Caleta Tortel (‘Caleta’ means cove) is a small detour from the Carretera Austral, in the southern part between Cochrane and Villa O’Higgins. If you have a car it is a must-see detour. If you are relying on public transport, you will probably only do this when you want to take the ferry to/from Puerto Natales.
Anyone who has ever been to Venice knows that strange feeling, when you get to Piazzale Roma by car or bus and life as you know it stops. Because you have to walk or take the boat to venture further into the Italian city.
Same goes for Tortel. Buses and cars stop on a little square up the hill. From here it is down the wooden planks, along the waterfront to walk around the village.
Despite it being photogenic Tortel is still a sleepy hidden gem. Infrastructure is still febrile, a couple of years ago it was normal not to have electricity for several hours a day.
Nowadays there are plenty of hostals, though most of them cannot be reserved on the big platforms. Call or mail them instead beforehand if you want to stay for the night.
Food and drinks
Seafood galore of course. El Patagon is in the first stretch and has fresh salmon and merluza (hake) and usually pollo. It is simple but filling. The neighbor has a similar menu but more opening hours and some craft beer.
Restaurant El Mirador has, you guess it, similar food but bigger prices and a slightly better view as it is up the hill from the main square. That is also where the ramp is for the ferry to/from Puerto Natales (passengers only here, cars can board in Yungay). There is also a small library.
Activities / things to do
- Nothing but walk around and enjoy the views. Around the first bend is a mirador (lookout), there is a much higher mirador (Cerro Vijia) as well but that is a serious three hour walk
- excursions: Isla Los Muertos is not cheap but is apparently worth the while. There are also excursions to nearby glaciers, though they come at around 70k pesos per person. You will see several agencies when walking through the village
Getting to Tortel and getting around
- car: take the Carretera Austral, Between Yungay and Cochrane is the exit towards the Tortel valley
- bus: best reached from Cochrane (I have no experience from Villa O’Higgins). In 2023 there were two companies doing the three-hour stretch a couple of times per week (but not daily). Take this into account when planning. When you come from Puerto Natales by ferry, be prepared for this transport problem as well. Probably you have to stay at least a night in Tortel. Getting out in Yungay is a bad option as there is nothing there
- within the village: WALK!
- Weather: well this is Patagonia. The cove is slightly shielded from big winds, which can’t be said about the rain. Be prepared for everything
- if you really want to switch off, think about staying a bit longer here. There are plenty of cabanas here for rent as well