The sliver of land known as the Southern Coast stretches for more than 1,000 km (620 miles), from the southernmost part of the Lakes District through southernmost Aysén. For travelers driving along the Carretera Austral, or Southern Highway, it's like a seemingly boundless tour through a natural playground. Many of its wondrous places are preserved in numerous national parks and reserves, making the region a growing, global hot spot for outdoors sports and eco-tourism.
In the Southern Coast, also known as the Aysén region, thick green forested mountains dominate, some of which rise dramatically from the shores of shimmering lakes. Slender waterfalls and nearly vertical streams, often seeming to emerge from the rock itself, tumble and slide from neck-craning heights. Some dissipate into misty nothingness before touching the ground, while others flow into innumerable rivers—large and small, wild and gentle—heading westward to the sea.
With the expansion of the Carretera Austral, migration has jumped to the region. Still, this is one of the least-populated areas in South America, with a population density said to be lower than the Sahara Desert. The infrequent hamlets scattered along the low-lying areas of this rugged region subsist mainly from fishing or farming, but increasingly cater to tourism. Coyhaique, the only town here of any size, has lots of dining and lodging options. Several intrepid entrepreneurs have also established excellent accommodations in remote locations throughout the region, frequently near spectacular rivers, mountain peaks, lakes, volcanoes, and glaciers.
Planning a visit to the region's widely separated points of interest can be challenging, as getting from place to place is often difficult. Creating a logical itinerary in southern Chilean Patagonia is as much about choosing how to get here as it is about choosing where you want to go. The most rewarding mode of transport through this area is a combination of boat and plane, with an occasional car rental if you want to journey a little deeper into the hinterlands.