Caleta Tortel, Carretera Austral, Chile by Jorge HarneckerCaleta Tortel is a true highlight of the region © Jorge Harnecker

Perched on a series of boardwalks between the Northern and Southern ice fields, Caleta Tortel is a magical village with a mysterious history. 

A true highlight of the southern region, Caleta Tortel is a magical place, and a gateway to the northern and southern ice fields. While a day trip isn’t really enough to do the village or the sights justice, it is perhaps the most expensive village along the entire route and so an overnight stay might not be an option for the budgetc onscious. The logistics of even getting to a hotel with a suitcase can be a challenge. There is no petrol station or ATM, and the nearest decent shop is in Cochrane, so it should come as little surprise that the village appears overpriced. Trips to the glaciers require not only a substantial boat journey, but fuel is brought in from Cochrane and thus expensive. Budget restrictions aside, Caleta Tortel and its spooky legends are a true highlight.

Caleta Tortel is built almost entirely on boardwalks at the base of the mountain around a series of small bays. The sea is visible through the planks beneath your feet, and the boardwalks extend for kilometres. Houses were gradually built above the first houses, up the side of the mountain, involving a series of steep stairs weaving chaotically between houses and trees. Even small plazas with playgrounds have been built on these boardwalks. Thanks to this architectural design, every house has a view over the bay, and out to the Baker Canal. There are no cars or horses in Caleta Tortel, and it is not suitable for wheelchairs or anyone with limited mobility. Park your car or bicycle, or descend from the bus, at the upper part of the village, ideally put a rucksack on your back (suitcases are not so convenient), and descend the stairs to the main village. There is a water taxi service available upon request – ask at the tourist information centre.

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