A Visit to Puerto Chacabuco, Chile
As with desirable real estate anywhere, Puerto Chacabuco has the three most valuable assets: location, location, location. At the head of the Aisen Fjord, this port city is a jumping off point for the natural attractions of the region, offering a peak at snow capped peaks from its own natural harbor as well.
Puerto Chacabuco, a town of just 1400 rsidents, today bustles with activity both from tourists and from the fishing and shipping industries but originally the port for this region was located fifteen kilometers east in the town of Puerto Aisén. The larger Puerto Aisén dates back to its founding in 1914 as a cattle shipping point but the nature which so beautifully surrounds this region also caused an end to much of its port activity; silting of the Aisén River meant that the port had to be relocated to Puerto Chacabuco.
The Aisén (also spelled Aysén) River empties into the Aisén Fjord, a scenic fjord that stretches for about 70 kilometers along the Moraleda Channel which separates this land from mainland Chile. The fjord is connected to the Pacific by the Darwin Channel.
Like fjords from Alaska to Norway, Aisén was formed when the area’s glacial valley filled with sea water. And like other fjords, this landmass is fringed with skerries, rocky islands that stand like stone sentinels and have challenged mariners for centuries.
With its location on the Aisén Fjord, Puerto Chacabuco is part of in the Aisén Region, officially the XI Región de Aisén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo. This is the least populated of the 13 regions into which Chile is divided.
Some travelers believe the name Aisen came from an 1831 map from an exploration on the Beagle with Charles Darwin, labeling the area as “Ice End.” Researchers, however, have concluded that the name dates back nearly a century earlier and today most believe the name is derived from the Huilliche, part of the Mapuche culture, and from their word "Achen," which means "to crumble," an accurate assessment of the skerry-lined landmass.
The natural forces at work in this region include not only landmasses and glaciers but winds and currents as well. Tides of up to 24 feet are commonplace in this area which is located near the West Wind Drift, an ocean current that meets Chile at the 41st latitude (Puerto Chacabuco is located at the 45th latitude). The current forks and becomes the Humboldt Current to the north and the Cape Horn Current to the south.
Those currents are met by strong westerly winds known as the Roaring Forties. Named by the seamen of early clipper ships, these winds come off the Andes between the 40th and 50th parallels.
Many of the natural forces at work in this region can be seen in the area’s top tourist stop: the Laguna San Rafael National Park. Spanning over 6700 square miles, the expansive park showcases the San Rafael Lagoon which was created by the San Rafael Glacier. Although the spectacular lagoon is the centerpiece, it is by no means the park’s only attraction. Sea lions, Chilean dolphins, elephant seals, black-necked swans, and many other bird and animal species call this land home.
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