To get to the pristine banks of the Futaleufu, travelers need to start by getting to Santiago (American offers daily nonstop flights from several major cities). From Santiago, lan Chile (a member ofthe oneworld alliance) has several daily flights to Puerto Montt, 600 miles to the south. from Puerto Montt, it's a short 25-minute flight to Chaiten. Earth river includes the latter flight in the overall price, and their comfortable bus meets travelers at the airport for the hour trip to base camp.
Earth River Expeditions, (800) 643-2784; www.earthriver.com
Length: 10 days
Rate: $2,500, departing from Puerto Montt. This is an all-inclusive price, virtually everything you'll need - transportation, meals, lodging, wetsuits - is provided. Any exceptions (clothing, certain types of gear) will be clearly outlined by Earth River.
Visiting Puerto Montt
If you've got some free time in Puerto Montt, here are some suggestions on what to do and where to stay.
What to do
Feria Artensanal: Walk along this marketplace and discover some of the finest handcrafted merchandise in Chile. Choose from Chilean wool sweaters or handcrafted leather, but make sure you bargain. Chilean merchants are sometimes insulted if you pay full price.
Angelmo Market: Follow the Feria Artensanal and you wind up in the place to find the tastiest (and strangest) seafood in South America. Fishmongers in Wellington boots hawk fresh Chilean machas (razor clams), cholito (huge mussels), and locos (giant abalone) piled in among the prawns and spiny sea urchins. Each merchant also offers his or her own brand of caldillo, a thick, steaming seafood stew, made of boiled potatoes, sausage, and whatever the day's catch might be.
Centro de Buceo: Care to see the catch of the day before it's caught? Just head over to Puerto Montt's premier dive shop(011-56-65-263939); e-mail
email@example.com). Jorge Olivos, a marine biologist and former diver for the Chilean navy, is the region's top dive guide and will show you the abundant aquatic life in southern Chile.
Where to Stay
The bright yellow viento sur (011-56-65-258700), part imposing fortress, part quaint victorian home, sits on a hill above the city and offers majestic views of the harbor. This small but comfortable inn boasts a fine restaurant complete with oak-paneled bar, and sauna. If you get homesick, just walk down the hill to Cyber Cafe Mundo Sur (011-56-65-295415) and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee while surfing your favorite web sites and e-mailing friends.
PUMALIN PARK PROJECT
Just north of the Futaleufu, reaching from Argentina to the Pacific, the massive Pumalin Park Project is 800,000 acres of pristine, temperate rain forest. open year-round, the park offers hundreds of miles of trail along cliffs and fjords (where visitors can view hundreds of seals), and through forests thick with coihue and alerce (ancient trees similar to the california redwoods). Michimahuida, one of dozens of active volcanos in chile, rises some 8,000 feet into the clouds. But pumalin also has a softer side that includes plush cabins, as well as a restaurant offering the finest local organic produce. The cabins are open year-round; offer private bathrooms, heat, and hot water; and can accommodate up to five people each.
The brainchild of Douglas Tompkins, founder of Esprit de Corps Apparel, and his wife, Kristine, former chief executive at Patagonia, Pumalin began with the purchase of a 64,000-acre ranch in 1992. Eight years later, and still privately owned, Pumalin could be donated as a natural park by Tompkins. Cabins start at $50 a night. Contact Pumalin Project, buin 356, Puerto Montt, region x, Chile; 011-56-65-250079; or in the U.S. at (415) 229-9339.