The vast Aisen Region (XI) comprises what is commonly referred to as the northern portion of Chilean Patagonia. This area is essentially characterized by its extraordinary and wild geography and impressive landscape of snow capped mountains, reflected in the green emerald of its numerous lakes and rivers. It is a unique territory of virgin and wild beauty that reflects well the character of the pioneer spirit of its inhabitants and colonists - one of the last frontiers of the world.
With a land area of just over 109,000 square kilometres (42,000 sq miles), it is the third largest but least (by far) populated region in the country. Aisen received settlers only recently - 80 years ago. The population in 1907 of this vast region was all of 197 inhabitants, today it is approaching 100,000 - seventy percent these living in the capital Coyhaique and the town of Puerto Aisen. This has permitted Aisen region to maintain intact many of the characteristics that in today's world are becoming scarcer every day.
Aisen possesses ample forests and pristine ecosystems that contain flora and fauna of the ancient Gondwanic Forests - clear skies and pure air, rivers and lakes that are uncontaminated and fed by rates of precipitation that exceed 3,000 mm (120 inches) a year in some places.
Through Aisen from north to south runs the Carretera Austral (Southern Highway). This was designed to open up the southernmost quarter of Chile to trade and tourists. It was a political dream, but a civil engineering nightmare.
Although the 1,200 km route takes in some of Chile's most stunning natural beauty, the harsh climate and rugged terrain have defied the road building crews for well over thirty years since it was started ... and still they are clearing road slides, blasting rocks, building new bridges and viaducts, widening from one lane to two, and continually grading the washboard and potholes to keep the road open.
The entire length of the road is only open from December to February, as ferry services connecting several sections are limited to the good weather of the summer months. The road takes in snow-capped peaks, glaciers, ultramarine lakes, dense forest, and massive rugged mountains contrasting with pastoral scenes along the glacial rivers.
A small portion of the Carretera Austral is paved, from Coyhaique north for about 120-km so far - it's extending gradually. The most common way of entering the region is via Balmaceda airport, 55 km southeast of the capital Coyhaique and 1,500-km south of Santiago - a 3-hour flight via Puerto Montt (more information on the Visiting? page).
Here you are assured of the true 'wilderness' experience - you will not come across any groups or the masses of people that, in other places, cut into the wilderness experience, and make it anything but.
Picture right: The chilote-style shingled chapel at Villa Amengual, a small pioneer village established under a plan to colonize the area along the Carretera Austral.