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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Puerto Raúl Marin Balmaceda - a paradise at the end of the world

The hot springs of El Sauce – a wellness oasis in the Chilean rainforest
Dolphins in our backyard in Puerto Raúl Marin Balmaceda
The secluded place scores with friendly residents, lonely beaches and magical sunsets
Pelicans, marine otters, cormorants and and and - pure life on the Islas Las Hermanas

On the way north we have been following the Carretera Austral, Chile's most spectacular road, for a few weeks. But even from there we are do some “detours” – in this case, the fishing village of Puerto Raúl Marin Balmaceda, named after its founder almost 100 years ago. We got this recommendation from Olga and Mark, which we met a few months ago on the peninsula Valdez. Unfortunately the weather in the last few days has been pretty miserable. To be precise, it has been the longest period of bad weather since we arrived in South America 6 months ago. It's March now, we're out and about in the Chilean rainforest. We are rid of the constant wind, but it is raining cats and dogs at about10 degrees. And almost every day. The forecast doesn't look much better either. We have already canceled some multi-day tours for this reason. However, we don't want to miss this place. Raúl Marin Balmaceda's island is not that easy to reach. An approx. 75 km long gravel road leads from the Carretera Austral towards the coast. On the way are the thermal baths of El Sauce. With this weather, a few hot springs are just perfect. The terms are natural; there are plenty of them in the regions of Aysen and Los Lagos. Chile is characterized by volcanic activity here. The thermal baths are beautifully designed - there are four warm pools and a large one with cold water to cool down. Necessaryly - the water comes out of the ground at a temperature of around 86°C and is then cooled down to "bathtub temperature". The environment is magical. Ferns, palm trees and enchanted trees all around us. We feel like in the jungle. The landscape has changed dramatically within the last 50 km. Where there used to be ice fields and glaciated mountains, there is now rainforest.

The next day we head to Raúl Marin Balmaceda. After almost 2 hours in Ripio (bad gravel road) we reach the ferry. The 10-minute service that crosses the Rio Palena runs "on demand". And so we are picked up personally and exclusively. Can't believe the transfer is free. The village itself is very small, it currently has about 240 inhabitants. Still, everything you need. A small supermarket, a restaurant, a campsite and lots of nature. We are looking for a place right on the fjord. Here it is a little sheltered from the wind. Unfortunately, the wind has picked up again a bit, coupled with heavy rain for a few hours. Not a particularly nice feeling in the camper. At least, we are proud owners of a "Starlink" since a few days and can connect to the Internet anywhere. Brilliant! Chile was one of the first countries to offer the service coverage.

Fährservice nach Raul Marin Balmaceda ferry Service Chile Carretera Austral
Exclusive ferry service to Raul Marin Balmaceda

The next day the world already looks different; the rain has stopped. For the first time we get an idea of ​​this special place we are. Dolphins jump in front of our camper. The so-called Chilean dolphins (yes, that's the correct biological name) swim in the fjord. We want to paddle further into the fjord with our kayak. Unfortunately we are not accompanied by any dolphins :-( We see one or the other Magellanic penguin and seals swimming, otherwise it is quiet around us. Nevertheless, I love the silence when kayaking.

The coming day also promises to be dry. We want to explore the other part of the island. And so we walk in the late afternoon over gentle dunes to the beach. The landscape is wild and untouched.

On the way back we stop at the island restaurant. There are only regional products sold, which means that fish is on the menu. I opt for hake, Micha tries the recommendation of the cook, the lesser-known Pacific Sierra. As a starter Puyes (in English: spotted pike), a small freshwater fish, about 5-7 cm long, with a sweet taste - directly from the Rio Palena. Prepared with oil, spices and lots of garlic - called Pil-pil. Delicious!

In the meantime we have checked in at the local campsite. With the little sun we need electricity for our camper. When we're not driving and so the battery is being charged by our reinforced alternator, we can only use solar energy. Don Luis has been running the (only) campsite on the island for a few years. As the grandson of the founder of Raúl Marin Balmaceda he has a lot to tell. He is very committed to the place, trying to expand the infrastructure and attract more tourists. Recently there is even a free bus from La Junta that drives to the fishing village. He also offers excursions, especially boat tours.

For Wednesday, Don Luis plans to go to the Islas las Hermanas, a group of islands about 10 km from Raúl Marin Balmaceda. We join. The weather is lovely - clear blue skies and no wind. Unbelievable after the previous torrential rains. But it has become very cold, at night the temperatures are around the freezing point. Around 11 am we meet at the pier; we set off together with Felipe, the co-captain, and 5 other passengers. Dolphins are already surrounding us in the harbour. Don Luis tells that even whales were sighted last year, almost every day in February. Unfortunately not this season. Due to the frequent rains, the tributaries with a lot of sediment have polluted the sea water near the coast. Under these conditions, the whales cannot find any food there and stay further out. Too bad... Still, we can't complain. The islands teem with animals. Micha gets numerous special birds such as kelp gulls, flightless steamer ducks, Magellanic cormorants and even pelicans in front of the lens. And all this with the spectacular glaciated volcano Melimoyu in the background. We can see fur seals, sea lions and marine otters. Don Luis knows every species of animal and knows where to find them.

Pelikan bei Islas las Hermanas Raul Marin Balmaceda Carretera Austral
Pelican at the Islas las Hermanas

Vulkan Melimoyu Chile
Melimoyu volcano surrounded by clouds

We spend the afternoon at the beach. We look for a place in the dunes, to the west. Such a clear day is perfect for watching the sunset. Micha is baking bread, we enjoy beer and snacks in the evening sun until the sun goes down at 8:19 pm. The days are getting noticeably shorter now that the Patagonian autumn is coming.

Sonnenuntergang Sunset in Raul Marin Balmaceda
The perfect sunset

With the perfect evening we say goodbye to Raúl Marin Balmaceda the next day. But not without a souvenir, in addition to the fantastic memories and photos. From the ferrymen we get a so-called Cantauria, a stag beetle. Dried, of course. A somewhat idiosyncratic gift, but of course he gets a place of honor on our cockpit.

Raul Marin Balmaceda ferry Fähre Chile
We had fun with the ferrymen

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