Simplicity. A word that perfectly portrays the town of Caleta Tortel. The aroma of humid wood and the smoking chimneys of their houses welcome us after a long trip along the South Carretera Austral. Located between the Southern Ice Fields and the Northern Ice Fields, this logging area is known worldwide as the town of the Guaitecas cypress walkways. Its people, accustomed to isolation, live in harmony.
Its origins are related to lumberers, and not a port as one might think. And this is because its main economic activity has been the extraction of wood, which is used by people to build houses, boats, docks and furniture. Everything is sent by sea to estancias in the Magallanes region, which was started by settlers decades ago, a tradition that remains alive to this day.
There are approximately 8 kilometers of wooden walkways that Caleta Tortel has, although it continues to be expanded to this day. The dense vegetation that surrounds it invites us to walk on foot in a fairytale environment next to archipelagos, glaciers and fjords. Towards the mountain range we also see snowy peaks.
Tortel was declared a World Heritage Site of Chilean Patagonia. Located 465 kilometers south of Coyhaique, its 500 inhabitants know how to sacrifice, not only because of the cold and rain, but also because of their isolation and for having built the town with their own hands.
Tourism has been an important industry, but even so, its accommodation offer is scarce. Hundreds of vehicles reach the outskirts, where there is parking for locals and visitors. From there, the mission is to go up and down the wooden stairs, a big effort but one that is rewarded in the beautiful views of the sea from there.
When night falls, Caleta Tortel also enjoys the magic of being in the dark, illuminated only by some lanterns and the lights inside the homes. For those who do not live here, it is a pleasure to get lost in labyrinthine paths and discover the different restaurants and shops that sell different products. If the night is clear, you can also see a starry sky.
And how did the idea of creating this town of catwalks come about? Comfort was key, the people assure. Decades ago the inhabitants had to move by boat, but little by little they tried to join the houses with footprints and wooden paths. As it was not enough, they wanted to build this network of roads, bridges and stairs. Today, Tortel is a town that seems frozen in time, but where its inhabitants look to the future with optimism.