Chile: The gravity-defying glaciers of Queulat

Cat in Puyuhuapi.

Cat in Puyuhuapi.

The Aisén region in southern Chile is famous for a spectacular hanging glacier – the Ventisquero Colgante, in the Queulat national park. We could spot the strange mass of blue ice in the distance from the 18 hour ferry from Chiloe for a while before the boat dropped us off at a cute little village on the coast. Puerto Cisnes is too small to have a map in the guidebook, and we were wandering around a bit aimlessly looking for a bus-stop or station when a woman stopped us and told us she worked in the tourist office. There would be a bus in five minutes actually – the only one in two days – and she offered us a short lift in her car so we could make it on time! The place we were trying to get to is called Puyuhuapi, another small village at the top of a fiord a couple hours away by dirt road – closer to the glacier. The drive passed through some of the Queulat national park on the way, with stunning scenery and steep forested mountains, before finally dropping us off at Puyuhuapi greeted by a rainbow as we arrived. We found a place to stay, and walked around for a while until we found the one little restaurant that stayed open on a Sunday for a great salmon dinner. Ended the day with a walk down by the jetty, watching the sun setting over the fishing boats on the fiord.

Puyuhuapi pier at dusk.

Puyuhuapi pier at dusk.

Ice breaking off the glacier.

Ice breaking off the glacier.

Early start the next morning to catch a minibus going south from the village, hopping off by the road closest to the national park. We entered the park before the checkpoint was manned in the morning, but there was a notice by the gate suggesting to just pay the fee on the way out, and to look out for pumas. The glacier is strange and spectacular – we could spot it high up between two mountain peaks before even entering the park – from below it looks like it practically hangs out over the vertical rock face where it is suspended. The first trail we walked in the park led up to the shore of a green lake below the glacier with great views towards the blue ice and the two 150 meter waterfalls crashing down from below it. Every now and then a large mass of ice would break off and shatter as it fell down the mountain side – the thunder-like roar taking several seconds to reach us. We had the place completely to ourselves, looking up at the cloud-covered densely forested mountains surrounding us. A longer and higher trail led to a viewpoint closer to the glacier, passing through deep moss-and-fern covered forest on the way.

Waterfalls below the Ventisquero Colgante hanging glacier.

Waterfalls below the Ventisquero Colgante hanging glacier.

Flower in the Queulat national park.

Flower in the Queulat national park.

Relaxing in Puyuhuapi.

Relaxing in Puyuhuapi.

After getting our fill of solitude and marvellous vistas we started walking the 30 km back to Puyuhuapi, and got a lift pretty quickly – hopped off at the hotsprings a few kilometers outside the village. Very nice open-air termas – three hot pools and a bigger cold one, plus the freezing ocean ten meters away if you really needed to cool off. Which we did – one of the pools was nearly boiling… “quarenta-y-algo” when I asked – grabbed a small plastic thermometer from my bag to find out – it was 48 degrees! I tried and it was actually possible to sit in for a while as long as you did not move at all… Hopped in the ocean for a swim after – a refreshing 12 degrees 😀 . The other pools were a bit more normal and relaxing. We spent a few hours soaking, then happened to leave right on time to catch the only bus for the afternoon to get us the rest of the way back to Puyuhuapi, and the driver didn’t even want to charge us. We’d had a string of good luck with timing things recently, in this sparsely populated region with very irregular transport, and wondered how long it would hold. The next morning we got on the bus further south to Coyhaique – it had just enough seats left for the three of us! In Coyhaique we found the man who was running a minibus to Puerto Ibañes (from where we’d be able to get a ferry and bus to Argentina and meet up with Edel’s friend Anne who’d arrive in a couple days). We left our bags with the man for the day until his bus would leave in the evening – and set off to explore Coyhaique. It’s the biggest town in Aisén, home to half the regions population, but still a pretty small place. The museum is always a fun place to go in these little towns and this one didn’t disappoint – a completely random collection of rocks, old radios, mechanic typewriters and a stuffed condor! Spotted an antique scale from Jönköping 100km from where I grew up in Sweden. Like in Chonchi on Chiloe the museum first looked deserted, but eventually we found someone to let us in.

Sunset in Puerto Ibañez.

Our last sunset in Chile (..for a little while).

The man with our bags showed up right on time and the 2-3 hour drive south to Puerto Ibañes was stunning – Aisén is definitely a region I’d love to return to and explore deeper. The hostel where we hopped off in Ibañes was deserted, but after a bit of walking we found a different one that was open and then headed down to the shore of Lake General Carrera (the 2nd biggest lake in South America) to watch the sunset. Chanced on an open restaurant afterwards, a tiny place with a one-dish menu and a friendly waiter. The morning after when we were walking with our big backpacks towards the ferry outside town a Chilean couple in a pickup truck stopped to offer us a lift – they weren’t even going to the ferry themselves. It will be a bit hard to leave this lovely country.

One Response to “Chile: The gravity-defying glaciers of Queulat”

  1. Gian says:

    Amazing, amazin, amazing….. maybe i’ll post a pic of Henry Street, then you’ll see what you are missing!

Leave a Reply