Coyhaique: Capital of the Carretera Austral

Situated in the Region of Aysén, with both Chilean and Argentine roots, it is the gateway to the Carretera Austral.

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Persistent cold much of the year makes its over 50,000 inhabitants rely on the warmth of fireplaces that lend their fragrance to the winds.

Located 1.649 kilometers south of Santiago, all roads in the region seem to lead to Coyhaique. It is the regional capital of a scantly populated area where the Spanish colonists did not reach.

Between 1903 and 1906, and after several attempts, the administration of the most important company in the region, Sociedad Industrial de Aysén, devoted to sheep rearing, settled in the valley of the Simpson river. On this site, known as Pampa del Corral, the town of Baquedano was founded on 12 October 1929, which would subsequently change its name to Coyhaique.

Today it is a vibrant commercial area and has become a modern city with varied services. It is also the supply and departure point for most of the trips made to Aysén. From the Carretera Austral (highway) in Puerto Montt it is possible to reach Coyhaique. There are also aircraft that cover the distance from Santiago in two hours.

Attractions

Plaza de Armas (Main Square) and Feria de Artesanos (Artisans’ Market): The square is pentagonal, unique in Chile. Ten streets converge on this arboreal plaza that constitutes the main center of Coyhaique, featuring a gazebo, bandstand and a fountain in the middle that have been there since the square was build in the 1930s.

To one side of the square, between Horn and Dussen streets, is the Artisans’ Market, which offers naturally tanned leather goods, native wood carvings, ceramic wares, petroglyphs, vegetable fiber and basketry products, among other attractions. These hand-crafted articles come from different parts of southern Chile: Puyuhuapi, Puerto Cisnes, Puerto Aysén, Puerto Ibánez, Villa Ortega, Chile Chico, Lago Verde and Cochrane.

Shepherd’s Monument: The quintessential postcard and symbol of Coyhaique. Its history is curious: the statue itself was first installed in Punta Arenas in 1944, to be replaced 18 years’ later by a version in bronze. The original, which was brought to Coyhaique, was created by sculptor Germán Montero and depicts the figure of a local shepherd called Abel Oyarzún and his dogs and sheep.

Patagonia Regional Museum: Located half a block away from the Shepherd statue, it displays the heritage of the colonists and indigenous inhabitants of the region: the Aonikenk. The exhibits include natural and historic features, from the first aboriginal occupations to the colonization period, showing how the regional geography was formed. There are historic testimonials and domestic utensils of the native ethnic groups as well as the Chilean and foreign colonists, photographs, geographic maps, texts, documents and archives of great importance. Baquedano 310.

Coyhaique Reserve: Coyhaique is surrounded by nature. This becomes evident just over 5 kilometers north of the city in the more than 2,676 hectares of protected forests featuring native trees such as lenga, coigüe and ñirre, survivors of the forest fires intentionally set by the colonists in mid-twentieth century that transformed a large part of the territory into steppes. There are a series of trails to visit small lakes, the most popular being Laguna Verde, and a trek that crosses the lenga forest and climbs to the peak of the1,361 meter-high Cinchao mountain.

Piedra del Indio: Close to the Simpson river, toward the west, is the famous Piedra del Indio (Indian’s Stone), an erosion-sculpted rock shaped in the form of a human profile. The best view is from the suspension bridge over the Simpson river.

Nearby Attractions

Simpson River: One of the best places to fish, just over a mile away from the city. It offers optimal conditions for fly-fishing for brown and rainbow trout. This river flows through a narrow, 40-km long valley. It is full of rapids, currents and pools, ideal for practicing sports such as kayaking and rafting, and is where the Patagonian Kayak Festival is held.

Puerto Aysén-Puerto Chacabuco: Almost sister towns, separated by a few kilometers and with very defined identities. Puerto Chacabuco, located 79 kilometers from Coyhaique, is a port for merchant vessels that carry most of the freight for the region, as well as for cruise ships with tourists heading for the glaciers of Laguna San Rafael. Facing the Patagonian channels and tree-laden hills, its few streets offer visitors a peaceful breath of fresh air. There are good quality hotels in the town.

Puerto Aysén: About 65 kilometers west of Coyhaique, is located at the foot of the Marchant mountain where the Aysén and Los Palos rivers meet. It has notable surroundings, mountainous landscapes with exuberant vegetation and snowy peaks, fjords and channels, in addition to a population of 10 thousand inhabitants who always welcome travelers warmly. An eye-catching attraction is the Presidente Ibáñez suspension bridge, the longest in the country, almost 210 meters long and built mainly of steel cables, which was declared a National Monument. A visit to the main square is recommended, where the peaceful existence of this town can be observed.

Lake Elizalde: Coigües and lengas covering the hills is the landscape that surrounds this narrow lake, one of the most emblematic to be found south of Coyhaique. Just 33 kilometers separate the city from the lake basin, which is 25 kilometers long and tow kilometers at its widest point. Ideal for activities such as fishing and trekking, it offers hostelry and a harbor for small craft. It is the starting point for visiting other lakes such as the Caro, Paloma or Atravesado.

This post is also available in Spanish