Only five kilometers west of the border, Chile Chico (population 3,042) is 122 kilometers northeast of Cruce El Maitén via the narrow, precipitous road along Lago General Carrera’s south shore. Avenida O’Higgins, one block south of the lakeshore, is the main thoroughfare; the central grid extends about 10 blocks from east to west, and four blocks from north to south. The Plaza de Armas is in the northwest corner of town.
Settled from Argentina in the early 20th century, on Lago General Carrera’s south shore, Chile Chico developed in isolation from the rest of Chile, and connections are still better with Argentina. One of the region’s simplest border crossings, it also enjoys access to remote protected areas like Reserva Nacional Jeinimeni, and is the starting (or finishing) point for the wild rugged highway to or from Puerto Guadal.
Despite brief mining booms, Chile Chico’s enduring economic base has been the production of temperate fruits, thanks to its mild lakeshore microclimate. This has not exactly brought prosperity, though, as even after the 1952 completion of the first motor road from Coyhaique to Puerto Ibáñez, it remained remote from any sizable market. Ash deposits from Volcán Hudson’s 1991 eruption depressed agricultural production, which has only recently recovered.
Improvements are underway, with many more paved streets, a refurbished Plaza de Armas, and a newly paved road to the border town of Los Antiguos. From Los Antiguos, travelers can make connections to the town of Perito Moreno and the Atlantic-coast city of Caleta Olivia, the northern Argentine Patagonian cities of Esquel and Bariloche, and southern Argentine Patagonian destinations such El Chaltén and El Calafate.
Motorists may be able to fill the tank more cheaply in Los Antiguos, but Argentine pricing policies could eliminate bargains for vehicles with foreign license plates.
Except for minibus shuttles to Los Antiguos, transportation out of town can be difficult. Bus and boat capacity are limited, so reserve as early as possible.
Minibuses to Los Antiguos (US$4.50, 30 minutes) leave from in front of Entel long-distance offices (O’Higgins 426); carriers include Transporte Jaime Acuña (Augusto Grosse 150, tel. 067/411590), Transporte Vargas (tel. 099/2150890), and Transporte Castillo. There are four or five daily except Sunday (one or two only).
Transportes Seguel (O’Higgins 394, tel. 067/411443) goes to Puerto Guadal (US$9, three hours) Monday and Thursday at 4 p.m. Transportes Ale (Rosa Amelia 880, tel. 067/411739) goes Wednesday and Saturday at 1:15 p.m. to Puerto Guadal and Cochrane (US$21, six hours), and is due to begin services to Puerto Río Tranquilo, with connections to Coyhaique. Transporte Cristián Jara (tel. 067/431271) goes to Guadal Wednesday and Friday at 5 p.m. (US$9, 2.5 hours), while Transporte Juan Barria goes Monday at 5 p.m.
From new dockside quarters, Mar del Sur (Manuel Rodríguez s/n, tel. 067/411864) sells tickets for the vehicle-passenger ferry Pilchero, which sails north to Puerto Ibáñez at 9 a.m. Monday, 8 a.m. Tuesday, 4 p.m. Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday; schedules are subject to change. Fares are US$4.50 per adult, half that for children. Bicycles pay an additional US$3, motorcycles US$8. Passenger vehicles and light trucks pay US$38; larger vehicles pay US$13 per linear meter.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition