Few know that this small town in reality is an island, surrounded by a mix of salt and sea waters. The Palena River and its delta surrounds the island on one side, the Pitipalena Fjord and Garrao channel on another, and the Corcovado Gulf border the rest. For many years, Raúl Marín was the best kept secret in Patagonia, as you could only access its shores by boat or light aircraft. In 2009, the road connecting Raúl Marín and La Junta was finally completed, and now, you can reach the island via a 90 minute road trip and a 5 minute ferry crossing.
Raúl Marín was the point of entry for colonization of the northern zone of the Palena – Queulat Area of Aysén. The first attempts date back to the last decade of the nineteenth century with the establishment of the Island of the Lions Colony, likely named in honor of the puma who habituated the zone between 1888 and 1889. This first colony failed due to the distances that separated the population and the places for grazing and due to lack of support from the State, but attempts continued. Colonization was slow, mainly impulsed by chilotes, who migrated from the island of Chiloé, seeking territories for timber extraction. It was not until the 1930’s that the colony was officially founded as the hamlet of Puerto Bajo Palena, which served as a gateway for the exploration and colonization of the interior valleys.
Today, the village of Raúl Marín Balmaceda has approximately 400 inhabitants and all of the basic services, including police, a rural health post, a school and radio, an airstrip, small stores and businesses, lodging and restaurants. There are no gas stations or banking services, so plan accordingly.
You will notice that the layout of the village is distinct from others you will visit: houses scattered amongst sandy streets that seem to be laid out in no particular order, making it easy to get lost even though the entire town only consists of a few blocks. The houses border the forest and the dunes and the pace of life is relaxed and slow; at times it seems deserted, but if it’s hot, you’re sure to find half of the village on one of the many beaches, because if there is something that abounds here, it’s long coastlines where one can take a dip.
Raúl Marín is the ideal place to explore on foot, because everything is nearby: forest, beach, dunes and rivers. Just grab your sneakers, a bottle of water and snacks, and head out to explore the island. The whole center of the island is a forest of lumas, arrayanes (myrtle), canelos, tepas and coigües, among other species, and home to hundreds of varieties of birds. If you decide to venture in, be careful; it is easy to get lost and you can spend a lot of time looking for a way out. We suggest sticking to the established trails.
The beach is the backyard of the village. You can walk for hours (remember to watch the tides), accompanied by different birds, including marine species like the lile duck, the duckbill jergon, cormorants, kingfishers and hualas, and migratory birds, including bandurrias and queltehues, as well as forest dwellers, like chucao and hued-hued. It is a walk filled with relaxation and silence, and you can spend all the time you want, because it is only a couple of meters away from the village.
If you want a closer look at the channels, fjords and rivers surrounding Raúl Marín, you can also explore by boat or kayak. Tide changes and wind are important factors to take into account, so be flexible with your planning and check local conditions and forecasts.
We recommend a trip to Las Hermanas Islands which are visible in the distance from the beach. Here several hundreds of sea lions gather, and it’s easy to distinguish the enormous males, who are always surrounded by their harem of females and calves. The coexistence group seems peaceful at first glance, sleeping one against the other amongst the rocks and sea breezes, but every once in a while the peace is temporarily interrupted by a brief explosion of action, especially if another male gets too close to the harem, a cause of fierce fights.
During the trip, keep watch seaward, because in this area there is an abundance of austral dolphins, known in this part of Chile as toninas. It is usual to see them eating in groups of three to five, and with a little luck, you’ll be treated to a show featuring their undisputed talents as surfers, playing in the wake of the boat, making great jumps and pirouettes. With a lot more luck, you’ll be treated to the much less common arrival of blue whales in the sector or, at least see their huge sprays of water along the horizon. Always keep your camera ready for action!