420km (260 miles) N of Coyhaique
Chaitén was once the main jumping-off point for exploring Pumalín, Futaleufú, and the Carretera Austral; however, the May 5, 2008 eruption of the Chaitén volcano changed the face of this charming port village forever. When the first rumbles began, most residents thought Volcán Michimahuida was erupting, but they eventually realized the "extinct" Volcán Chaitén, which had been inactive for 10,000 years, was erupting. The town, a few days after being evacuated, was nearly wiped out when the water from a melting glacier mixed with significant ash deposits and a deluge ran right through the center of town. At press time, Chaitén remained buried and residents continued on in shelter homes set up in Puerto Montt. There was talk of rebuilding the town elsewhere and even vague plans from a Chilean businessman to turn the town into a self sustainable eco-community, though no steps in either direction had yet been taken.
If you visit town now, you will find a modern day Humberstone, Chile's UNESCO World Heritage ghost town in the north near Antofagasta. Some parts of the town survived under a coating of a few inches of ash, but those toward the river were more or less demolished. In a brief walk through town, you will see houses with missing walls and broken windows and some that have been moved completely off their hinges and torn apart. The beach, which used to sit right off the edge of town, has been extended for hundreds of meters into the bay. It is a sorrowing, eerie sight that reveals just a glimpse of the awesome power of Mother Nature.
As of December 2008, about 40 people were living in the village, with just a couple of small shops open and all restaurants still closed. Several hotels, such as Hotel Schilling and Cabañas Pudú, began taking guests on a temporary basis in December 2008, though there were still no phones, little electricity, and no running water. There is no telling when, or if, the town will fully rebuild. Before heading to Chaitén, it is important to get up-to-date information before showing up.
Note: At press time, more ash spewed from the Chaitén Volcano and sounded off fresh calls for the town to be permanently moved. Check with officials on the ground for the latest information before you visit.