If you want to feel and see the destructive force of nature in this part of the world, go to Chaiten. It is another ugly industrial town. This time for a reason: the volcano of the same name erupted unexpectedly in 2008 (after 9.000 years of silence), and with its ashes and debris and subsequent river floods Chaiten itself was almost wiped out.
After the evacuation of the around 4.000 villagers it took years to convince the government to allow them to return. The river was slightly diverted to ease the flow of debris and water if another eruption would occur. Most of the houses were rebuilt.
Most visible is the disaster from the Costanera, the elevated road which was along the water. The eruption debris settled down right in front of the coast, pushing the sea back 500 metres and creating a strange lunarscape.
So Chaiten is pretty small, just a couple of streets, but again pretty much unavoidable on the Carretera Austral as it is a day’s travel from both Puerto Montt to the north and Coyhaique to the south. It is also in the middle of Parque Pumalin, giving ample hiking options. Most people don’t stay very long here though.
Food and drinks
Well there aren’t a lot of options. Cocinerias Costumbristas are two old ladies serving up great local food during the day. In the evening there is another restaurant in the back garden.
Pizzeria Reconquistas has pizzas and burgers, and some craft beer as well. Slightly more expensive options are El Volcan restaurant and the waterside Flamengo. Quite down-to-earth is Ruta 7 along the main road as well.
Lunchwise it is not easy. But there is a small artesanal village, where cafe Wechun has sandwiches during the day and pizzas at night. Neighbour Dona Irina has amazing empanadas. There is at least one classy coffee option: Buen Sabor along the main road through the village
Activities / things to do
- the mirador: northside of the village, an easy twenty minute walk
- Volcan Chaiten: this is a great trail for half a day. Take the bus around 9.30 or 10am towards Caleta Gonzalo and ask the driver to be dropped off at the trailhead 28km outside of Chaiten. The hike is around three hours and gives you great views of the crater. Hike back, which should be easy enough in summer
- there are also guided tours and other treks around. Ask at the tourism office or the tour agencies
Getting to Chaiten and getting around
- the boat: there is an almost daily boat going to/from Puerto Montt. It leaves Montt usually (in 2023) late at night, arriving in Chaiten in the morning
- bus: the more beautiful option is to take an early bus with Kemel Bus (three times a week in 2023). You first have a short ferry-ride before jumping on the longer one (or even two ferries, depending on the weather) from Hornopiren to Caleta Gonzalo. This takes 4-5 hours, the entire trip 10-11 hours. But it is breathtakingly beautiful if the weather is good. To/from Coyhaique there are two direct buses a week (2023: wednesday and sunday). The alternative is the daily afternoon bus (except sundays) to Puyuhuapi and switch there the morning after (the last bus doesn’t travel on sunday)
- by car: you can take the direct ferry or the bus route (see above). Mind you, for the bus route you have to reserve the ferry in advance
- Weather: we are entering Patagonia, so it can fluctuate very quickly. Be prepared for all types of weather
- the moment you step outside Chaiten, annoying huge insects will harrass you. Be prepared to be able to cover all your skin
- there is a travel agency called Chaitur where you can reserve bus tickets. Next door is the tourism office which can help you with advice as well
- more information on the national park Pumalin website