Upon arrival it becomes pretty apparent what the main draw to ‘Futa’ is. There are as many kayaks as cars in the town, and every other business is somehow related to kayaking or rafting. The town is surrounded by mountains and retains a frontier feel reminiscent of towns in Alaska. The inhabitants are generally pretty laid-back and, when not in the water, the central plaza is a good place to relax and have a fruit juice. Fly-fishing and trekking are also possible, but the Río Futaleufú is considered one of the top rivers worldwide for rafting, and most visitors come here to dip their toes in the water.


Futaleufú was not connected to the Carretera Austral until 1980. Until then, the primary contact with the outside world was with Argentina, and to this day the town has a strong Argentine ambience. It temporarily became the provincial capital following the Chaitén volcanic eruption in 2008.

As with many towns in this region of Chile, the history of Futaleufú is poorly documented and interspersed with legend. The first settler was Don Ceferino Moraga, originally from Chiloé. He and his family arrived in 1912 via Argentina. What is now called Futaleufú, meaning ‘Great River’ or ‘Great Waters’ in the native language, was an inhospitable dense forest at this time. Slowly the family cleared enough land to raise cattle, sheep and oxen. Moraga jealously guarded his territory, and resisted the arrival of other settlers who wished to exploit the fertile land. According to legend, all the men in the Moraga family were thus slain between 1919 and 1920 by Chilean pioneers who wished to populate the region and, given the lack of any authorities in the area, the crime went unpunished. However, this cavalier approach to law and order came to a halt in 1929 when Police Chief José Felmer Patof and a group of surveyors arrived and subsequently founded the village on 1 April that year. A single house from this period remains on Lago Espolón, and to this day serves as a warehouse. Settlers continued to arrive and slowly inhabited the regions of El Espolón, Las Escalas, Río Azul and Loncanao. Since the arrival of this single pioneering family the population of Futaleufú has swelled to an impressive 2,600 according to the 2017 census.

There are as many cars as kayaks in Futaleufú © Zachary Collier

Getting there

For those making a detour from Villa Santa Lucía on the Carretera Austral, the road ascends 30km to Puerto Ramírez. Futaleufú is a further 48km (1hr) from Puerto Ramírez along Ruta 231 (northeasterly from the junction at Puerto Ramírez). The road is of reasonable quality, although there are sections of exposed rock. Be prepared for surprising, unmarked hairpin bends, and the occasional cow in the road. There are steep ascents and descents which might be frustrating for cyclists. Initially the route climbs through a steep gorge, and then skirts around Lago Yelcho, with mountains crashing vertically into the lake. Evidence of violent landslides is visible: deforested, scarred sections of mountainside are exposed, some presumably quite recently judging from the lack of new vegetation. You will pass snow-capped peaks along the way. This is a well-traversed section and traffic is comparatively common. After Lago Yelcho the road winds around the Río Futaleufú, crossing a number of bridges (including over the Río Azul, another rafting river). The final section runs along the shores of Lago Lonconao and then along the Río Espolón: this sparsely populated area has spectacular mountain scenery, with snow-capped peaks, and virgin bush running down to river valleys and lakes.