An unavoidable stop along the Carretera Austral, the nice mid-sized town of Coyhaique has a beautiful pentagonal central square and is situated along the Rio Simpson and next door to another national park. That makes it quite a good option to stay more than one night.
That all depends of course on how you want to travel the Carretera Austral, and which national parks you choose to hike in. There is simply too much to do in Patagonia, and one has to be careful a certain ‘natural wonder’ fatigue doesn’t set in.
Okay, it still doesn’t come close to the beautiful colonial villages you can find in other Latin American countries. But the center of Coyhaique has some things going for it, including quite some tourism infrastructure.
It has a partially unusual grid thanks to the similarly unusual five-sided central park. The city stretches quite far to the east, but is quite compact on the western edge due to the Rio Simpson.
Food and drinks
This might be the best part of Coyhaique, as there are ample opportunities. Very close to the main square Mamma Gaucha gives you homemade pizzas and pastas and craft beer with an Argentinian flavour. Opposite is Plaza Confluencia, a decent restaurant with local dishes for lunch and dinner. Decent lunch (sandwiches, sweets, coffee) can be had as well at Cafe Confluencia two streets further, the Cafe de Mayo opposite, or the Cafe Holzer in a side street of the Plaza de Armas.
That is already as much choice as you usually get in an entire city along the carretera. The Casino de Bomberos serves you steaks and eggs. Adobe makes all things burgers, and sandwiches with lamb, has good beer and is good for watching soccer matches. For that the Bajo Marquesina is even better. The Ruibarbo is another solid food option, and if you walk around you will find many other possibilities.
Activities / things to do
- the Coyhaique national park (official site) is around the corner. Walking 1,5 hours (or a taxi) will take you there. Plenty of lagunas to be seen, so pick your hike. The best part is you can sleep in your own hostal in the city again at night!
- a simple option I made up myself is to walk out of Coyhaique along the Rio Simpson northwards and cross the Rio Simpson to the left at the first opportunity, on the wooden hanging bridge you see on the left side of the main road. Follow that road upwards, then turn southwards parallel to the Rio Simpson. This is a dirt road that will take you along the antenna village and more. At a certain point there will be signs to the airport and back to the village. At the one junction where there are two signs (center, or just Coyhaique) take the Center option to avoid traffic on the main road. This is a nice three hour walk
- you will see a lot of people on mountainbike here. They might just travel a part of the gravel road I just described, and often travel massive distances, from village to village
- the most spectacular option for hiking is in Cerro Castillo. There are multiple-day hikes there but also a one-day hike which can be done from Coyhaique by taking the 8am bus towards Cochrane. This is a heavy option though, the walk is around 6-8 hours to the lake at Cerro Castillo. Another option is to sleep in Villa Cerro Castillo, a two hour ride by bus or car. More detailed info on the day hikes:
Getting to Coyhaique and getting around
- the airport is small and caters for equally small planes. A more solid option is at Balmaceda airport, a sixty kilometre ride. This one has freqent connections to Santiago amongst others and there are airport shuttles from Coyhaique to lower the transport costs
- bus: the most common option. From Chaiten a direct bus goes twice a week (at least in 2023), same goes for the way back. Again, this is something to consider when planning. The alternative I took is the daily bus from Chaiten to Puyuhuapi, sleep there for the night and take the 6am bus to Coyhaique. That one doesn’t go on sunday. The new bus terminal is inconveniently located, at least a twenty minutes walk from the plaza. Bus availability is in high demand here. It makes sense to reserve online through Pasaje Bus.
- within the city: you can walk most of it, but there are also collectivo taxis that are driving around along specific routes. Good luck finding out which routes these are though
- Weather: the regular Patagonian fare. Quite chilly at night, pleasant in summer when the sun comes out