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Puerto Chacabuco Cruises

This small but busy port lies at the east end of a narrow fjord. It replaced Puerto Aisen as the main shipping port and ferry terminal. Located only eight miles across a large suspension bridge from Puerto Aisen, it was from Puerto Chacabuco that the first road (actually a trail) was started in 1903. In the 1930s, the trail was expanded to reach as far as Coihaique. The road twists around cliffs and through dramatic landscape, reaching finally the Rio Simpson National Reserve. Stretching along the Simpson River, the reserve is squeezed by sheer cliffs and graced by numerous waterfalls.

This area south of Puerto Montt is occupied by less than 0.5 percent of the country's population. Here, at the western side of the Andes, the weather frequently is wet and windy. Some parts are covered by impenetrable forest, although in certain areas the felling of trees, which began in the 19th century, has accelerated during the last decades.

The lumber is used for construction, fencing and fuel. In fact, wood is in such demand in towns like Puerto Aisen and Coihaique that in winter it costs as much as petrol. Much of the timber is increasingly exported, especially the wood chips.

Puerto Chacabuco serves as a popular jumping-off point into western Patagonia and as a hub for ferries that connect the port with Puerto Montt and the Island of Chiloe.