If you’re walking through Coyhaique’s downtown area, try this brief experiment: sit on a bench for a couple of minutes and watch the people passing through. The ideal place to do so is the Plaza de Arms, because its unique pentagonal design unites the downtown streets, passages, locals and visitors in a flurry of activity and energy.
Has it been a few moments? Okay. Abracadabra. Now we’ll describe the scene you’ve just observed.
First of all, it wasn’t hard to recognize the coyhaiquinos and differentiate them from the visitors, right? You probably saw several parents watching their children running and playing everywhere; especially at the edge of the plaza’s fountains. Some were probably riding their bikes since the Plaza is known as a safe and popular place for learning. And those with the best luck (or grandma) were enjoying a delicious ice cream, right? Teenagers were grouped around the corners of the lawns, flirting and laughing and plotting their evening adventures. And depending on the hour and day, you also saw lots of residents and business folks walking at a fast pace through the central corridor of the Plaza with their hands full of folders containing the bureaucratic paperwork needed for their latest transaction. Even though they were clearly in a hurry, they probably stopped once or twice to greet a friend or family member, because the city is small and you always run into people you know. These people, young and old, are the Coyhaiquinos, the pulse of this city, its life and spirit.
In addition to spotting the people of Coyhaique (and, of course, quite a few of their dogs), it is very likely that your experiment also roused some other senses: the sounds of music and traffic, the smells of the roses and the popcorn, and the sensations of the feel of the sun, rain or wind or perhaps all three at the same time!
And, if your visit is during the summer, no doubt, you also saw dozens of visitors, that (just like you), are in search of: 1) tourist information, 2) banking services, 3) a good place to eat or 4) something exciting to do. They are easy to distinguish because of their giant backpacks, their maps, their cameras, their bicycles weighted down with tents and saddlebags, and their mixture of languages and accents from all over the world.
So, here are a few tips to help you find everything you are looking for:
There are options all around. The kiosk in the west corner of the Plaza is home to the Chamber of Tourism of Coyhaique and the Rural Tourism House. They have information and advice for what to do and where to go within the entire region. Around back of this building you’ll find Dussen Street, and The Patagonia Rural Experience, a local tour operator with several tours and products that emphasize the rural areas and experiences in the Region. If you keep walking to the corner you’ll find Prat Avenue and to the right, in the middle of the block, are the offices of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism of Coyhaique, which can also help you with advice and ideas. On the northeast side of the Plaza, you’ll find Bulnes Street, home to the tourist information offices of the National Tourism Service (Sernatur), and a little further on, the offices of PuraPatagonia, another tour operator.
Just south of Bulnes you’ll find Condell, which is the main artery for the national banks and ATMs (cash machines). Banks are open from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 2 pm, but ATMs are available 24 hours a day. There are two money exchange houses near the plaza: Casa de Cambio Tourism Prado on 21 de Mayo, and Casa de Cambio Austral, in Paseo Horn #4, store #3.
Looking for a snack?
On the southeastern side of the Plaza, you’ll run into Subteniente Cruz Street. Here there is a bus parked that sells awesome artisan ice cream and a wide selection of other snacks and drinks. If you’d rather sit a while and enjoy a coffee, juice or an ice cold beer, try Fitz Roy Coffee, in front of the plaza between Lord Cochrane and Paseo Horn. This pedestrian street (Paseo Horn), extends a few 100 meters and has several open air cafes and shops, like Café Ricer, which has been offering Patagonian specialties for more than 20 years, and Mamma Gaucha that is renowned for its stone-hearth pizzas and home-brew, La Tropera.
There are also two great cafes on Dussen: Café y Pastelería Holzer and Te Quiero Café, both with a selection of coffees, juices and delicious pastries. And a couple of blocks to the east of the plaza, on 21 de Mayo, you’ll find several other restaurants and cafes including Café Oriente, Café de Mayo, Café Confluencia and Café Montana.
Need something interesting to do?
If you are looking for a special souvenir, visit the Feria Artesanal, located in front of the west side of the plaza. Among the many treasures, you’ll find lots of interesting local crafts like wool sweaters and caps, mate gourds in a variety of materials, leather and woodwork, baskets and jewelry and carved stones depicting myths and legends of Patagonia.
The commercial sectors of Coyhaique are primarily found in Prat Street, Paseo Horn, Condell Street and 21 de Mayo. You can wander around and window shop the entire sector in about an hour, unless you get tempted by some special treasure that catches your eye.
If you are with children, and especially if it is a rainy day, walk a block to the northwest of the Plaza, along Balmaceda Street to the Plaza Patagonia Parque de Entretenciones. Their game room, oriented for kids from 6 months up to 12 years may become your new best friend!
And, it is worthwhile to visit the Cathedral of Coyhaique, located in front of the northeast corner of the Plaza. If you could position yourself above, you would notice that the building is shaped like a giant cross. The interior reflects a solemn simplicity produced via the use of local woods and artisans, a huge wooden crucifix and the Virgin of Sorrows, the Patron Saint of the temple. The altar is made of a solitary piece of coigüe and weighs about a ton and a half.