On May 2, 2008, Volcán Chaitén in Chile’s Patagonia rumbled to life. Chaiten Volcano’s eruption has caused disruptions not only in the lives of its neighbors, but also for tourists. Travel along the Carretera Austral has been disrupted ever since.
Between Hornopirén and Chaitén, the Carretera Austral is closed. The ferry connecting the two towns is not running due to the eruptions, not is that from Castro on Chiloé Island to Chaitén. The Puerto Montt-Chaitén direct ferry, however, continues to operate. Parque Pumalín, near Chaitén, is closed indefinitely. Parque Nacional Hornopirén near the towbn of the same name continues to be open to the public. At the present time, Futaleufú and the nearby Chile-Argentine border crossing is open.
The May 2008 eruption was quite a surprise to all the inhabitants in the region—even the sage, centuries-year-old alerce trees—as this 1,122-meter (3647-foot) tall mountain hadn’t a case of eruptive gas since 7420 BC, give or take some 75 years. The national governement called a mandatory evacuation of the village Chaitén (population: 4200) just 10 kilometers southwest of the volcano. By the next afternoon, the ash plume drifted across Chile and Argentina to the Atlantic Ocean. The border town Futaleufú, 75 kilometers / 45 miles southeast of the volcano, was coated with 30 centimeters (one foot) of fine grey ash. Lava began flowing down Volcán Chaiten’s slopes on May 6. The few remaining persons left in the closest village and Futaleufú were evacuated. With the lava and lahar (lava-mud-ash mixture) flows, the Chaitén River, which had been diverted by man when the Carretera Austral was built, resumed its natural course through the town. Reports say much of Chaitén village has now been washed away. Swaths of forest near the erupting mountain have been burned.
Volcan Chaiten’s activity has recently decreased. Some residents are returning to reopen their businesses. Some hostals and other services have reopened, though information is scarce. Stay tuned to V!VA Travel Guides for the latest information about local conditions as its writers make their way into the region.
(Thanks to alert field writer Lorraine Caputo, who wrote this update)