In Aysén, you’ll encounter many places where nature remains pure and there are little man-made structures to alter your experience. Here, you can learn how to face the daily challenges of living in an extreme landscape, full of enormous mountains, waters and weather. You’re going to be confronted with a complex climate, constantly and suddenly changing; here, you can experience all 4 seasons of the year in a single day! Outside the main cities, the level of development and infrastructure are basic; both on the roads and in the smaller towns and villages. You’ll want to prepare to be in a place where the roads can be in poor condition, where gas stations are few and far between, where medical centers are scarce and communications (telephone and internet) are only available in the villages and not on the roads between them.
The first tip to remember, is that all travel in remote areas requires a positive attitude toward the unexpected and a great capacity for adaptation and improvisation. We don’t want to scare you, but we also don’t want to minimize the dangers, risks and accidents that you can be exposed to in the Patagonia. There are always dangers that are inherent in nature, like strong gusts of wind, or ice on the road. Whether those dangers are converted into risks or accidents depends on you, your knowledge and your actions. And to prepare, you should inform yourself well and have a plan for the prevention and management of risk. That is to say ...
The success of your trip will be the result of your preparations at home!
Having an understanding of the terrain, distances, and weather conditions, among other things, will allow you to choose the appropriate tents to carry, what type of vehicle to use, what your backpack and your safety kit contain, how to dress for activities, and what food to carry with you. In addition to informing yourself, we suggest you develop a protocol for obtaining professional assistance in the event of serious accidents, including having insurance and arranging communication mechanisms, knowing first-aid, planning in case you need an evacuation, repatriation and/or medical care. Remember to share your travel plans with friends and authorities, detailing your date of entry and exit and the places you plan to visit.
Get ready for the climate of Patagonia
One of the most intense aspects of spending time in Patagonia is its climate, which is always changing and unpredictable. You can visit the same place 10 or 20 times and on each occasion, we assure you that the weather will always will be different; producing contrasts that nature photographer’s dream of - the constant movement of clouds projects distinct intensities of light, and the skies can vary between intense blues filled with sun, to dark brooding greys or a mixture of everything, with incredibly vivid rainbows. Wind, rain or shine; sometimes, all at once!
Although experiencing all four seasons is exciting and adds a constantly changing and undeniable beauty to the landscapes, you must be prepared to be able to enjoy it. For trekking and other adventure sports, you should dress with layers of technical clothing that you can remove or add with ease, according to the climatic conditions. Specialists recommend three layers: a first layer that is quick-drying and can wick away moisture, a second fleece layer to add warmth, and a third impervious layer that protects from humidity, wind and rain. These three layers must keep your body dry, including from sweat, so you should use fabrics that are fast-drying and breathable. No cotton or plastic. You’ll also need a hat for the cold and the sun, gloves, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Self-sufficiency should be your guiding philosophy
To ensure a fun experience and a comfortable and safe journey through Aysén and Patagonia, you need to adopt a philosophy of self-sufficiency, assuming that wherever you roam, the infrastructure and services will be basic. Always carry water and enough food for you and your group, because you won’t find restaurants or stores open 24 hours a day, like in the larger cities. Also, you need to have a basic knowledge of mechanics for the vehicle that you are going to use, including knowing of how to change a tire, jump a battery with another vehicle, or be able to change the chain on your bicycle.
If you are going to tour in more remote areas within the region and you do not plan to travel with a professional guide (recommended), it is important that at least one member of the group is trained and prepared to help with:
- Basic survival (find or make a safe haven, to make a fire, find water, directed, etc.)
- First aid (Recognition and treatment of conditions that can be life-threatening like hemorrhages, hypothermia, heat stroke, choking, anaphylaxis, etc.) and the ability to deal with minor injuries and inconveniences during the trip, such as cuts, stings from mosquitoes, blisters and sunburn, among others.
Experts frequently say that 99% of the accidents that occur in nature are a result of humans and not the environment. As you would expect, there are always dangers, so it’s up to you to prevent them from becoming accidents and if they do, to manage them so they are less severe. Here are some tips:
When you are hiking
The trekking season extends year round in most areas of Patagonia, although safe hiking depends on weather conditions, wind and the amount of snow fall. We recommend that you review trail conditions, river courses and camp areas, with the rangers before you begin each trek. In Patagonia, you must be willing to modify itineraries or suspend an activity, when weather conditions do not allow for its realization. Always plan your trip and share your route and plans with protected area or local authorities and a family member or friend at home, especially if you’re staying in the back-country for several days without an opportunity to make contact. Carry equipment appropriate for the activity and area, including topographic maps, a GPS, personal equipment, food and emergency kits.
The number of daylight-hours vary significantly in these latitudes and should be an important planning consideration. In winter you can have 8 hours of light and in the middle of summer, approximately 18 hours.
If you are going to be hiking with children:
- If you’re with children between 2 and 4 years old, you need to rest every 10 or 15 minutes and not hike for more than 3 km.
- If you’re with children between 5 and 7 years old, you should hike for no more than 5 to 7 km, and rest every 30 to 45 minutes.
- With children between 8 and 10 years old, don’t hike for more than 13 km per day and rest at least every hour.
- Children should put on their warm layer (second layer) before adults because they lose their body heat faster. A woolen cap is essential for children because 20% of body heat is lost through the head.
- Finally, remember that if children are going to carry a backpack, the weight must not exceed 20% of their total body weight.
Aysén is synonymous with water: rivers, streams, lakes, lagoons, waterfalls, ice fields and fjords. This incredible combination offers the unique setting for unforgettable experiences. However, with all water-based activities, there are dangers that could negatively affect your trip. It’s important to study, plan and be prepared.
- Always carries the appropriate technical and safety equipment for the activity, the place, the waters and the changing climate of Patagonia, including dry clothes in sealed bags.
- Always have the supplies and knowledge for basic survival and first-aid, on hand.
- When you cross rivers and streams, either on foot, on horse or with your bike, never do it alone. Use walking sticks or hiking poles to assist you while you’re crossing and, preferably, cross with your group in single file, holding the person in front of you by their backpack or back. Remove socks and the insoles of boots or shoes, but do not cross barefoot. Loosen the straps and belts of your backpack, so that if you slip, it can be easily removed.
- Never swim, fish or kayak alone. When kayaking, identify places where you could take-out if needed, stay close to the shore, and always paddle accompanied by an experienced paddler.
Including a horseback ride on your trip through Aysén is a MUST and will definitely help you imagine the life of the true gauchos and explorers who first mapped these territories. We suggest you ride with experienced guides and outfitters, companies with good knowledge of horses, leading riders and the routes you’ll be taking.
- When riding in a group you should be aware that riders will have a range of levels of experience and different expectations for the tour. Before starting you should discuss these aspects of the group as well as the route, the order of the horses and riders and the speed of the group.
- The distance between riders is an important variable when horseback riding in a group. The general rule is to maintain a distance of at least one horse length between riders, and, two or three horses when riding in steep areas.
- It is not unusual to find obstacles in the trail; low or fallen branches, rocky crags and outcroppings or narrow openings. Logically, your horse is not considering the added height of having you on his back, and does not measure his steps with you in mind; therefore, you will need to always be aware and able to guide your horse, including being able to stop the horse if necessary.
- Wear a helmet, even if your guide does not.
- Bridges can present a danger, especially older wooden bridges. After a rain shower they tend to be slippery, so you should cross with caution and follow the instructions of your guide.
- When riding along roads, be aware of the likelihood of encountering vehicles, animals and/or people. Only pass or change the order of the horses in wide, straightaways, where you are sure that there is no possible obstacle.
- If you must cross a river, the guide should take charge of the group, indicating the place to cross and the order of the horses. When crossing, loosen the reins slightly. Never ride a horse in water where it cannot maintain contact with the bottom and needs to swim.
What do you do in case of mechanical problems or minor accidents?
When you have mechanical problems along the gravel roads of Aysén, generally, you can flag down the first vehicle that passes to ask for help. It is important to know your distance in relation to the closest town or farm; is more efficient to keep going or retrace your route? Make sure that the position of the vehicle does not represent a danger to yourself or other travelers. In case of tire punctures, you should only attempt repairs in places where you and your vehicle will be visible to other vehicles. Turn off the engine, turn on the emergency flashers, engage the emergency brake and secure the other tires with rocks or branches. Make sure that the jack is firm. If you run out of gas you can try to buy enough to get to the next town from other travelers, in nearby farms or from the construction teams that are always on the roads. You should carry a hose with you for siphoning, if needed. In the case of more serious mechanical situations, you will probably have to work with a mechanic and/or the police in one of the larger towns, like La Junta, Coyhaique, Puerto Aysén, Chile Chico or Cochrane. You must evaluate the options and decide whether it is better to stay with the vehicle, or leave it and walk in search of help. This will depend on the seriousness of the situation, the climatic conditions, the mood of the group and the distance/time to reach the assistance. In the event of an accident with other vehicles or people it is essential that you file an official report with the police (carabineros). This is a requirement for all insurance policies.
What do you do in case of serious accidents?
Make sure you have a plan and protocol for the management of severe accidents, before traveling. If there is no other option, you can get professional help via UHF radio, many of the rural farmhouses have this equipment and can help you. It is important to know the precise location of your vehicle, therefore, looking for kilometer markers or bridge names nearby and if you have a GPS, record your coordinates. Record the maximum amount of information possible so that support services can find you with ease.
Proper equipment and tools are important when a problem arises.
We recommend that you prepare kits to assist your problem solving. Kit contents will differ from group to group, according to your specific plans and means of transport.
Examples of the contents for a First-Aid Kit:
- Biosecurity & Personal Protection Supplies: Disposable gloves, plastic bags, lighter or matches, note pad and pencil, flashlight and batteries, wet hand-wipes, first-aid manual, rounded scissors or Swiss army knife.
- Cleaning Supplies: Clean water (preferably sterile and distilled), liquid soap, sterile sponges, and gauze bandages. It also may come in handy to have tweezers to remove stones or superficial thorns from injuries.
- Treatment Supplies: Povidone iodine (liquid or foam), silver sulfadine cream and furazolidone, sterile gauze bandages, compresses, (2 to 3 cm wide) and micropore, adhesive bandages, cotton applicator.
- Protection and Immobilization Supplies: Elastic, rigid and triangular bandages to immobilize specific areas, such as the neck or an arm. Immobilizing materials can also be improvised, utilizing sleeping pads, pencils, tools, paper rolls, etc.
- Other: Any prescription medications taken by travelers in your group, common medicines for head-aches, fever, colds, flu and diarrhea, after-sun lotion for sun burns, re hydration salts or ionized water for dehydration, moleskin for blisters, note paper and a pen, and duct tape.
Examples of the contents for a Spare Parts Kit:
- For motorized vehicles: a Jack for changing tires, lug wrench, spare tire, fire extinguisher, air pump, 20 L spare fuel tank, jumper cables, spark-plugs, fuses, and tools to change them, motor oil, set of warning triangles, regular and slip-joint pliers, flat and Phillips-head screwdrivers, flashlight and batteries, socket-wrench set, sizes 9 - 24, water container, duct tape and thin wire.
- For bicycles: 2 inner tubes for each bike and wheel size, a spare tire for each bike and wheel size, patch kit and glue, spare chain, full set of ball bearings, full set of cables, spokes, chain rivets, wrench set according to sizes, chain breaker, regular pliers and slip-joint pliers, adjustable spanner and Allen key set, straps to secure the luggage, bolt, screw-bolt and screws, oil and WD-40, duct tape and thin wire, pump, flashlight and batteries, and brake pads.
Examples of the contents for a Survival Kit:
- A plastic tarp, spare sleeping bag, container for collecting water, spare sleeping pad, lighter and matches, spare tent, flashlight and batteries, spare portable stove, 15 m (50’) cord, spare pot, white gas, food supply for a complete day for the group, pocket-knife, duct tape, and large plastic trash bags.
Communications in the region
Almost all towns have cell phone coverage and internet, but in between villages and in remote areas there is no signal.
For making calls, remember:
- Chile’s Country Code: +56.
- Calling from a cell phone to a land line: 0 + area code (67) + telephone number (7 digits)
- Calling from a land line to a cellular: 09 + phone number (8 digits)
- Calling from one land line to another land line telephone: Just dial the telephone number.
Who do you call in the event of an emergency?
- 133 Emergency police (Carabineros)
- 131 Ambulance
- 132 Firefighters
- 134 Police Investigations (PDI)
- ONEMI (National Emergency Service): (067) 2215665 or (02) 24018675
Farm houses, road construction and repair teams, border posts, emergency services and the municipalities all communicate through UHF and VHF radios. The best emergency service to call via radio in case of emergency in Chile is ONEMI, whose call sign is called “echo eleven”. They are staffed 24 hours a day.