Just about the time that you begin to take the Patagonia landscapes for granted, you’ll reach Villa O’Higgins and your amazement and wonder will return. O’Higgins is one of the most remote villages in Chile, situated at the end of the Carretera Austral and surrounded by the peaks of the southern Andes, the deepest lake in the Americas, the fjords of the Pacific, and the Southern Patagonia Ice Fields.
You’ll be amazed that there is a town in such an isolated area!
It is probable there were indigenous groups living in this area for thousands of years; however, more recent settlements emerged between 1914 and 1918, when a mixture of Chilean and European families began to settle in the sectors surrounding Río Mayer and Lago O’Higgins. For more than fifty years, the area remained extremely rustic and remote; inhabited by only a few dozen families. Goods and services flowed primarily through Argentina, where the topography made travel more feasible.
In 1965, to support efforts towards the formal creation of the town, residents constructed a runway to establish more regular access within Chile. Work was completed during the winter of 1966 and later that year, on September 20, various authorities from both the Aysén and Magallanes Regions of Chile, landed on the new airstrip to recognize their efforts. The town was formally established in 1980, at which time it had already built a primary school and a health post. 1983 was another big year for Villa O’Higgins. Electricity, a radio station, a church, and a gym arrived; all catalyzed by Father Antonio Ronchi. Perhaps the biggest change came with the opening of the southernmost section of the Carretera Austral in 1999, which allowed overland access through Chile.
Since then, several lodges and operators have opened doors in Villa O’Higgins offering a range of activities in the local area including hiking, horse treks, fly-fishing, and trips to the Southern Patagonia Ice Fields. Nevertheless, Villa O’Higgins is still very much an authentic Patagonian pueblo, maintaining its traditional economic activities which revolve around ranching and forest resources. Many pioneer traditions remain intact, including the daily dependence on horses, woodworking, using native woods and rustic tools, knitting, smoking meats, etc.
Being a remote community limits access to modern luxuries, but if you are prepared for that, you’ll find Villa O’Higgins full of simple comforts, including excellent options for lodging, cellular service and Internet, a rural first-aid post, grocery and hardware stores, great restaurants, travel companies and guiding services. In fact, you can even find some creative luxuries, like a wood-burning stove assisted sauna at the El Mosco hostel, and the wood-burning hot tubs at the Robinson Crusoe Lodge.
What to do in Villa O’Higgins and the surrounding area?
- O’Higgins Glacier Tour: Full day boat excursion aboard the L/M. Quetru to the O’Higgins Glacier, fourth largest in Patagonia, with a wall extending 3+ Km and heights in excess of 80 meters.
- Museum of Patagonia: Located in the church built by Father Antonio Ronchi and the local community, this museum contains exhibits demonstrating the history of the area, the life and works of Padre Ronchi, and antiques from the pioneers of the town.
- Mosco Glacier Trail: Full day trek winding through native forests above town and the Mosco River Valley to a fantastic overlook of the Mosco Glacier.
- Trail to Cerro Santiago: Easy, one hour hike through native forests of Villa O’Higgins to an overlook above town with an impressive view of surrounding valleys, lakes, and rivers.
- Road trip to Mayer River & Lake Christie Sector: This valley is still one of the most remote in Patagonia, maintaining an atmosphere of pioneers and frontiers.
- Bird watching: Just outside of town you’ll find wonderful settings for wildlife and bird watching.
- Fly-fishing: The many rivers, streams, and lakes of this sector are brimming with an abundance of fish. Find a local guide and head to the water!
- Cycling Routes: You can rent bikes in town and enjoy several short circuits that will create your own experiences and memories of cycling on the Carretera Austral.
- El Tigre Glacier Hiking: 24 Km north of town, you can partake in a 10 Km guided hike to the El Tigre Glacier which affords spectacular views of both the Glacier, and the Cisne Lake Valley.