Adventure & traditional gaucho cultures converge in Cochrane

Adventure & traditional gaucho cultures converge in Cochrane
Baker - O'Higgins Area

To understand Cochrane and its people, you need to sift through its history and discover the events that have marked its evolution. Though the lifestyle of people in Cochrane has changed, it proudly maintains close links to its ranching heritage and gaucho customs.

  • Data sheet

    Activity Type: Self-guided city walk. 

    Start: Cochrane.

    End: Cochrane.

    Distance: approximately 2 km, depending on the chosen route. 

    Duration: Approximately 1 hours 30 minutes.

    Seasonality: Year Round.

    Special Considerations: The majority of shops in town close during lunch, between 13:00 - 16:00.

    Reservations: Self-guided activity; no reservations needed. 

With close to 3,000 inhabitants, Cochrane is the largest town in the Baker - O’Higgins Cultural Area and the best place to find supplies and services in the southern part of the Aysén Region.  Cochrane offers access to banking services and an ATM, fuel, pharmacy, hospital, a good supermarket, mechanics, and border control services, among others. Cochrane’s strategic location amongst parks, reserves and conservation areas makes it a magnet for fans of mountain climbing, kayaking and rock climbing.  Each year, the outdoor community grows; new people arrive and locals discover hidden talents and passions.  In addition, Cochrane is an excellent place to soak up Patagonian traditions; many locals still maintain gaucho traditions and lifestyles linked to farming and ranching. 

Things have radically changed since 1899, when explorer Hans Steffen mapped these valleys for the first time, casually referring to “the area of the (river) Baker”.  The Baker has always been an important factor of the area’s landscape and Steffen documented so much more:  lakes, rivers, mountain ranges, glaciers, forests and vast grasslands. Less than a decade later, in 1908, these lands were awarded to the Sociedad Explotadora del Baker, in a concession for livestock production and ranching, transforming the area into an enormous Estancia. Soon, workers began to settle, supporting the needs of the growing operation. 

Cochrane traces its history to the year 1929, when public records show the petition for the first town plans.  It originated in a sector of the Chacabuco Valley called, Las Latas, (The Cans), perhaps a reference to the common custom of paying workers for each sheep sheared, by dropping a coin in a tin can beside their work station.  This area was easily accessible for workers and their families, as it was close to the main infrastructure of the Chacabuco Valley Cattle Company, also located in the Entrada Baker Sector. But, having a town spring up so close to the headquarter area did not suit the shareholders of the company. Company officials negotiated with the government of the time to have the people moved to a valley northeast of Cochrane Lake, beside the river of the same name.  Thus, in 1929, when the mayor, Don Marchant, commissioned a layout of plans for the town developing in Las Latas Sector, the surveyor conducted the work at the site he named Pueblo Nuevo instead, located seven kilometers from the shores of Cochrane Lake.  Twenty-five years later, on March 17, 1954, the town of Cochrane was officially founded.  By this time, residents were well-settled into the Pueblo Nuevo location.

Join us in Cochrane for the region’s original folklore festival! 

Cochrane’s history is inextricably linked with ranching and gaucho traditions, and this heritage is an important part of local culture; one that is maintained and celebrated despite the arrival of modern technologies. In fact, locals have found ingenious ways to blend their traditions and heritage with new passions and sports; many are now the guides and experts who will lead tours and expeditions in the amazing mountains and rivers of the area.  If you are interested in learning more about gaucho customs, attend one of the traditional festivals celebrated in the city during the year. The Annual Folklore Festival” brings together musicians and music lovers each February. Another option is the “Folkloric Festival of Cochrane”, one of the oldest and important events in the region. During this two day celebration you can enjoy a full program of activities and exhibitions, including sheep shearing, a “sheep-back” rodeo for children, and bucking bronco events for adults. You can try your hand at local games and even attempt the challenge of arming the typical tack of the day atop a pack horse. There are local artists and craftsmen, traditional music and dance, and a delicious variety of local cuisine, including spit-roasted beef and the largest “torta frita” in Patagonia.

Take a walk through Cochrane’s past and present.

This tour is self-guided, beginning at the Cochrane’s Plaza of Arms and ending at the Museum. You can choose your own route, based on your personal interests and the list of interesting places provided below.  Download the accompanying route from this site, to build your own map.

  • The Plaza of Arms: The recently renovated Plaza of Arms is located in Cochrane’s center and around it, you’ll find the city’s main services. Don’t forget to visit the Tourist Information Center for maps and brochures.
  • Lord Cochrane Southern High School: In 1931, the legendary rancher Lucas Bridges built Cochrane’s first school, fulfilling his word to the inhabitants of the area. The creation of the Lord Cochrane Southern High School in 1984 represented a significant step forward for education, and a cultural awakening in the area. Located between Las Golondrinas and Esmeralda streets, it is considered one of the most prestigious educational establishments in the region. 
  • Cochrane’s Post Office: Historically, courier services delivered mail to Cochrane by horse, traveling through the treacherous, Lioness Canyon, which separated Cochrane from Chile Chico. Today, you will find Cochrane’s post office, Correos de Chile, on Esmeralda Street, N° 199.
  • Offices of the Municipal Government: At the time of its founding in 1954, the town of Cochrane had ten houses.  On October 26, 1970, the town of Cochrane, which had formerly pertained to the Department of Chile Chico, became a Department of its own.  Its first Governor was Don Esteban Ramírez Sepúlveda.  Shortly thereafter, in 1974, the Region of Aysén was established, along with four Provinces; one of which was the Province of Capitán Prat, also known as the Province of the Glaciers (Facebook: Provincia de los Glaciares).  The establishment of this Province represents an important milestone in the realization of residents’ dreams to be able to access public services and government institutions within their local community.  Today you will find the offices of the Municipality on Esmeralda Street, N°398, at the corner with Dr. Steffen.
  • Cochrane’s Hospital: The earliest health care services in this zone were informally supplied by “Meicas”, elderly women who would travel the long distances between ranches to help ailing settlers.  Thus, the creation of the Cochrane Hospital was another important chapter in the development of the city of Cochrane.  This facility replaced the old Rural Health Post in 1979, providing citizens of the Province with much better access to modern health care services.  Today, the hospital, located at Av. Bernardo O’Higgins N° 755, is equipped with four general medics who care for patients from the towns of Caleta Tortel, Villa O’Higgins, Puerto Bertrand, and surrounding areas.  This hospital provides general and emergency care, minor surgeries, antibiotics and medications.
  • The ECA (Agricultural Commerce Stores) of Cochrane: Early residents of Cochrane ate diets consisting mostly of beans, potatoes, pasta, rice, tea and yerba mate.  At times settlers also had access to meat, eggs, milk, fruits, vegetables and fish; however, surveys conducted in the region in 1938,  revealed that rural families in Chile faced grand difficulties related to nutrition. Almost 3/4 of the families in Chile were living in conditions where they did not receive adequate levels of nourishment. A number of government programs were implemented in Chile in response to these findings.  One of these programs involved the development of a network of Rural Grocery-General Stores, subsidized and supported by the state as part of a strategy to establish a reliable and affordable supply of food and basic goods in remote areas.  The Commercial outlets had various names through the years.  If you have the opportunity to talk with an old-timer in Cochrane, you’ll find that they remember the INACO store (National Institute of Commerce). Almost all residents will remember the next name of these stores, the ECA (Agricultural Commerce Stores).  The current name for these stores is EMAZA, which stands for Supply Stores for Isolated Zones; however, for Cochraninos, the store remains known as the Almacén ECA, and is a local institution.  You can visit the ECA at Río Colonia N°85.
  • The Museum of Cochrane: This local museum, located at Calle San Valentín 555, next to the Cultural Center, contains two permanent exhibits.  The first relates to the geomorphology of the area, the natural environment, flora and fauna, local economic activities and the evolution of the population.  The second exhibit focuses on the history of human occupation of the area, with a dual focus on the indigenous history of the Tehuelche, or Aoniken, pre-Columbian hunter-gatherers, and the history of modern colonization.
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