About 30 kilometers north of La Junta, where the highway bridges the Río Palena, lies the boundary between Region XI (Aisén) and Region X (Los Lagos). Los Lagos’s first major attraction is elongated Lago Yelcho, stretching from Puerto Cárdenas in the north to Puerto Ramírez in the southeast, which formed the lacustrine part of the highway between Chaitén and Futaleufú until the overland route eliminated the need for ferries. Kayakers, though, can still paddle from Puerto Ramírez to Puerto Cárdenas and even to the Pacific.
At Villa Santa Lucía, 70 kilometers north of La Junta and 78 kilometers south of Chaitén, the main highway continues north but the eastbound lateral Ruta 235 drops steeply to the lakeshore and Puerto Ramírez, where Hostería Verónica (tel. 065/264431, tel. 099/9170088, US$10 pp with breakfast and shared bath, US$20 pp with full board) is the main accommodations option.
At Puerto Ramírez, Ruta 235 continues southeast toward Palena and a minor border crossing, while the alternative Ruta 231 proceeds northeast toward the white-water-rafting and kayaking capital of Futaleufú and a far more efficient crossing.
Midway between Villa Santa Lucía and Puerto Cárdenas, on the west side of the Carretera Austral, the north side of the Puente Ventisquero (Glacier Bridge) is the trailhead for a two-hour hike through soggy evergreen forest to the Ventisquero Cavi, a hanging glacier. Camping Ventisquero (www.ventisqueroyelcho.cl, US$2 pp) is a no-frills facility also operating a summer café, with sandwiches and fresh fruit kuchen.
Across the highway from the Ventisquero Cavi, the lakeside Hotel Yelcho en la Patagonia (tel. 065/731337, US$80/90 s/d) is a fashionable fishing lodge whose comfortable upstairs rooms offer lake views through groves of arrayanes; the ground-level bar/restaurant has high-beamed ceilings and decent-enough food for a place that specializes in fly-fishing holidays through its Santiago office (Alonso Ovalle 612, Oficina 4, tel. 02/6330501, www.yelcho.cl). On the same grounds, it also has 15 campsites (US$32 for up to four persons) with electricity, roofed shelters, and hot showers.
At the north end, where Lago Yelcho becomes the Río Yelcho, the 250-meter suspension bridge that crosses the river at Puerto Cárdenas was the first of its kind in Chile. In summer only, there are two simple places to stay, both reachable by the same message number (tel. 065/264429): Hospedaje Lulú and the rather better Residencial Lago Yelcho. New cabañas are going up as well.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition