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Introducing Northern Patagonia

People generally assume that Southern Patagonia is the most desolate and pristine part of Chile. Try again. Aside from southern Tierra del Fuego, the narrow, fragmented lands of Northern Patagonia - Aisén and the Carretera Austral - are the least populated, least developed and least visited in Chile. Travelers tend to bypass this area on the mad dash to Torres del Paine, or don't bother to venture beyond the comforts of the Lakes District. Northern Patagonia is, in fact, a spectacular region full of natural wonders, which attracts adventurous travelers and people in search of solitude.

Beyond the Lakes District and Chiloé, Chile becomes a serpentine swath of fjords, islands, glaciers, snowy peaks, aquamarine lakes, raging rivers, waterfalls, old-growth forests and grassy steppes. It's an area of immense beauty with the remoteness that people expect from Patagonia and won't find further south in Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas. After a glance at the map, the land appears impassable and inaccessible, but the Carretera Austral actually winds itself all the way from Puerto Montt to Villa O'Higgins, some 1200km south.

At the turn of the century there were about 200 Chilean settlers living in Northern Patagonia. Today the number has topped 100,000 and nearly half live in Coyhaique. Driving the whole length is possible only in the summer months of mid-December through February (due to seasonal ferry service between Puerto Montt and Caleta Gonzalo).

This section starts in Hornopirén and works down to Villa O'Higgins.