Patagonia, a land located at the southernmost point of South America, near the end of the map, is a remote territory of great diversity of landscapes: mountains, rivers, lakes, islands and fiords, which still remains semi-virgin.
The Patagonia region occupies the end of the South American cone beyond latitude 41.5 ºS. extending towards Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. The Andes Mountains run along its length dividing the territory in two sections. West of the Andes lies the Chilean Patagonia; towards the east, is the Argentinian Patagonia.
The Chilean Patagonia includes the three southernmost Regions of Chile (equivalent to Provinces) which are “Los Lagos”, “Aysén” and “Magallanes”. This reporter has published in Digital Journal several reports on the Magallanes Region. Another photo-essay showing views of "Los Lagos Region" was also recently published on Digital Journal.
The Aysén Region .
The Aysén Region is the third largest in the country and the least populated: less than 1 inhabitant per square kilometer. The territory has remained largely pristine mostly because the geographical characteristics of the terrain impose severe difficulties for the improvement of transportation infrastructure. Its topography is similar to the Alaska Panhandle and the northern Norwegian coast. Large extensions of the land are occupied by unspoiled habitats including glaciers, forested mountains, wide rivers and large lakes. Few territories in the world possess the natural beauty and unspoiled environments as Chile’s Aysén Region.
Impressive views of the Lake from “Carretera Austral” (the “Southern Highway”), which is a gravel road running along the region.
Lake General Carrera
The main water body in the Aysén Region is Lake General Carrera. It is located about 1500 kilometres south of Santiago de Chile. The total area of the lake is 1850 km2 which makes it the fourth largest lake in South America. It is split nearly equally between Chile and Argentina. The Argentines call their side “Lake Buenos Aires”.
The lake is surrounded by snow-capped peaks and its waters originate mostly from glacial melt. With its beautiful emerald-green to turquoise-blue waters, Lake General Carrera is one of the most beautiful lakes in Chile. Because of its isolation, there are just a couple of villages along its shores. Besides the panoramic mountain landscapes, two major attractions in the area are the Marble Caves and the Baker River.
Because the region enjoys micro-climatic conditions, the weather is ussually fine, adding to the beauty of the area.
The Marble Caves
The Marble Caves are a network of three vaulted natural caverns of white-blue calcium carbonate stone eroded by the waters of the lake for an estimated 6000 years. The impressive labyrinth of caves includes columns and tunnels formed in the marble and can be navigated using small boats.
Inside the Marble Cathedral, one of the three marble caves in Lake General Carrera, Aysen, Chile.
The Baker River
The Baker River is the largest river in Chile. From Lake Bertrand, a dependence of Lake General Carrera, it runs for about 200 kilometres through virgin forests in one of the most pristine areas on the planet. The upper reaches of the river, with long sections of rapids, offer spectacular opportunities for rafting. The lower sections, with slower caudal of beautiful turquoise waters surrounded by exuberant vegetation, are home to a large population of rainbow and brown trout attracting fly-fishermen from all over the world.
The lower section of the Baker River is wide and, in some sections, navigable.
A consortium of two electric utility companies integrated by Endesa-Chile and Colbún S.A, has proposed the construction of several hydroelectric dams in Aysén. Five dams would be built on the Baker and Pascua rivers. The US$10 billion energy project, known as HydroAysén, involves the clearing of native forest and the installation of over 5000 towers for high-voltage transmission lines along close to 2000 km transporting the electricity to northern Chile to supply power requirements of heavy industry and mining.
The construction of the five dams has already been approved in principle by the Chilean Government, but it is still on hold due to litigation. Several local, national and international environmental organizations oppose the dams, claiming they would damage the natural attributes of the area. On the other hand, those in favor of the project argue that the area to be inundated by the dams is small, about 40 square kilometres, equivalent to 0,0004 percent of the total area of the Aysén Region. Additionally, several mitigation and compensation measures included in the HydroAysén proposal would directly benefit the Region’s inhabitants.