The town of Futaleufú, in the Patagonia region of southern Chile, is one of the most popular destinations on the Carretera Austral thanks to its natural beauty, quirky small-town charm, and abundance of outdoor activities. Be ready for adventure travel in Futaleufú with our guide including things to do, where to sleep, and where to eat.The town of Futaleufú (pronounced foo-tah-lay-00-FOO) is much more inviting than other Carretera Austral towns such as Hornopiren or Chaiten because it’s more organized, there’s more of a mix of locals and travelers, and there’s plenty to do and see. On the downside, prices are high in southern Chile and in this popular town of a few thousand residents which most people simply call Futa.
Adventure travel in Futaleufú
In the language of the Indigenous Mapuche people, the word futaleufú means big water or large river and they’re not kidding. The Futaleufú River offers some of the biggest, most exciting, and most technical rapids in the world making Futa a magnet for professional kayakers who use the river for training and for professional competitions. People interested in radical whitewater rafting also flock to the river. See our full post about whitewater rafting on the Rio Futaleufú for all of the adrenaline-filled details about this iconic form of adventure travel in Futaleufú.There’s plenty to do in Futaleufú besides river rafting. Located just 6 miles (10 km) from the Paso Futaleufú border crossing between Chile and Argentina, the area around Futa is known for forests, lakes, and mountains–including the iconic Tres Monjas (Three Monks) rocky spire formation–in and around the little-visited Futaleufú National Reserve. This helps explain why the town’s slogan is “a landscape painted by God”.
Andean condors, who favor the area’s rocky cliff faces, thrive here. As we drove into town we saw dozens of the enormous scavengers on the ground in a cattle pasture making short work of a fallen cow. And travelers come to Futa to enjoy natural beauty while kayaking, fishing, mountain biking, canyoneering, and horseback riding.Not surprisingly, day hikes and multi-day hikes are also a big part of adventure travel in Futaleufú. For example, the hike up to Laguna Pinilla is a very popular day hike. The 6.4 mile (10 km) roundtrip in-and-out trail is gentle at first as it crosses small streams and passes through dense forests. After passing a waterfall, the trail climbs very steeply for 0.75 miles (1.2 km) gaining 1,300 feet (395 meters) in that short stretch before reaching the picturesque and peaceful lake. Overall, this well-maintained trail (which includes some notched logs and some roped sections to assist at steep inclines) climbs a total of 2,871 feet (875 meters) to a maximum elevation of 3,956 feet (1,200 meters). And, yes, the views of the lake and surrounding peaks are worth it.
The Laguna Pinilla trail is accessed from the Peuma Lodge property (see below), which generously maintains the trail and allows for free access. Smart hikers cap off this adventure by stopping off at the lodge for a post-hike cold drink.
Another very popular walk around Futa is the hike up to the Piedra del Aguila (Eagle Rock) viewpoint. This 3-mile (4.8 km) roundtrip in-and-out trail starts at a trailhead near town or the walk can be done right from town (add another 4 miles/6.4 km to the roundtrip distance if you start from town). This hike is on private property so you have to pay a fee to access the trail. In the end, wet weather kept us from doing this hike.The fishing around Futa is world-class too and the area’s waterways attract pros, aficionados, and newbies. We cast a few lines during a morning excursion to Yelcho Lake. Eric caught a tiny trout, but for newbies like us, the trip was more about enjoying the crystal-clear water, snowy peaks, and soaring condors as we floated along.
Where to eat in Futaleufú
At first glance, the dining options in Futa may seem woefully limited. We are grateful to Gustavo and Patricia, owners and creators of Mapu Lodge (more about this deeply personal new breed of accommodation, below), for insisting that we have a meal at Martin Pescador Restaurante.Located in the center of town, the octagonal wood structure has been home to this five-table restaurant since the 1980s. Helmed by Chilean chef Tatiana Villablanca, Martin Pescador (the name for kingfisher birds in Spanish) is a locavore operation featuring ingredients grown from her own seeds (some dating back 100 years) on two nearby organic and biodynamic farms. Tatiana also forages in the forest for edible elements which she calls bosque comestible (edible forest). Standouts from our dinner at Martin Pescador included lovely ceramic cups filled with fragrant and buttery squash soup with an almost umami element and tender conger eel on pureed carrots and earthy hand-harvested nuts of the araucaria tree. Tatiana’s daughter is the restaurant’s sommelier, overseeing an eclectic selection of Chilean wines. Live cello music was an unexpected plus.
Almost everyone we talked to recommended the Italian food at Antigua Casona in central Futa (where they also run a lodge), but we never got there.
Where to sleep in Futaleufú
Accommodation options in Futa range from basic hostels to lovely lodges and glamping to stellar examples of a new breed of immersive and reflective stays.
Hostels in Futaleufú
The town of Futaleufú has many hostels that offer the most affordable accommodations, just don’t expect bargains. This part of Chile is expensive and Futa is a popular tourist town on the Carretera Austral which bumps up prices even more.
We stayed at the often-recommended Mirlos Hostel where 36,000 CLP (about US$45) got us a clean enough private room with a shared bathroom, no breakfast, no parking, a tiny shared kitchen, and Wi-Fi. You will certainly meet Mirlo the dog during your stay at this centrally-located hostel.
If you can snag a reservation at Hostal Las Natalias do it. Owners Nathan (Chilean) and Nancy (from the US) speak Spanish and English (as does the staff) and they run a spic-and-span place (that’s often fully booked) about a mile out of town with shared dorms and private rooms and plenty of good outdoorsy vibes. The shared kitchen is large and convivial and there’s an ample parking area. It’s a bit pricier than some other hostels (we paid about US$55 for a private room with a shared bathroom), but it’s a big step up in terms of cleanliness and comfort plus breakfast is included.
Upstart immersive retreats around Futaleufú
The newest entries to the accommodation scene around Futa are deeply personal, extremely immersive, design-centric projects created by first-time hoteliers committed to leading by example to inspire and educate guests about living sustainably and in service of their own human potential.Gustavo Zylbersztajn and Patricia Beck, owners of Mapu Lodge, don’t call their creation a hotel and it’s not. Part personal Shangrila (the couple lives on site with their children), part chic retreat, part inspirational immersion, Mapu, 7.5 miles (12 km) from Futa, offers four standalone cabins (from a 700 square foot/65 square meter fully-equipped cabin to tiny one-room hideaways) on a hilly and forested piece of land on Lago Lonconao. There’s elegance at every turn (the style and taste of the photographer/model pair is evident in the materials, finishes, amenities, and all touches). But the real draw and point of difference of Mapu is ethereal: created for people interested in external and internal journeys, a stay at Mapu is a chance to meet Gustavo and Patricia, try on their alternative lifestyle and, just maybe, see a version of your own fresh reality. Gustavo and Patricia are extraordinary people with an extraordinary ability to help you see what’s extraordinary about you. Of course, there are also plenty of ways to simply relax at Mapu Lodge, including SUPping and canoeing on the lake, reading in the lodge’s triangular steel common building, or soaking in the outdoor wood-fired hot tub.
Futaleufu is home to a second lodge that also falls into the category of “quirky and compelling”.Pata Lodge appears like a mirage in a wide section of the gorge along the Futaleufú River with the Futaleufú Reserve on the opposite side. Located 5 miles (8 km) from Futa, arriving guests first see the expansive garden, orchard, and berry vines in a verdant valley as the road descends. Then the enormous glass greenhouse, the homey restaurant and common area, and a smattering of wood bungalows come into view. The Pata project has grown to 75 acres (30 hectares) that Marcelo Schaffer and his partners are mostly rewilding except for areas devoted to organic farming and land where the common area/restaurant, three standalone cabins (each named for an iconic rapid in the Futaleufú River), and two full houses for tourists are located. Each accommodation is plush and elegant (fireplaces, excellent beds, large bathrooms), yet somehow pared down. Pata Lodge is exceptionally kid-friendly with ample space, friendly dogs, river access, spacious accommodations with sleeping lofts, and easy meals offered in the onsite restaurant (Colombian arepas topped with eggplant; wild salmon on quinoa). That’s because the Pata concept was fine-tuned by Marcelo and a group of friends who realized that if they wanted a different lifestyle for themselves and their families they’d have to create it themselves.
“At some point, you wonder if people really need to buy more things,” explains Marcelo, who worked in advertising and marketing before focusing on Pata, “When you change what you are promoting with your life everything changes.” At Pata, they’re promoting simple pleasures and passionate impact for themselves and for their guests.
Lodges near Futaleufú
Get a bit further out of central Futa, and your accommodation options include a wide range of lodges.Peuma Lodge, 15 miles (24 km) from town, offers nine spacious rooms (and a new 2-bedroom/3-bathroom standalone house that’s perfect for large families or small groups), an outdoor pool, two hot tubs (that are always hot and always available free of charge), surprisingly good food (including the breakfast buffet featuring homemade bread and eggs to order), and great mountain views. Run by Ruben (from the Netherlands ) and his Chilean wife Carolina (whose father created the place), this homey lodge manages to satisfy romantic travelers and families–kids will love the large lawn and the resident sheep and geese. Matapiojo Lodge, 26 miles (42 km) from town, offers three glamping tents imported from Montana and modified to withstand Patagonia’s infamous wind and weather. Each roomy riverfront tent has electricity, wonderful beds (tents are configured with single beds since most guests are fishermen bunking together), wood-burning stoves, and an adjacent bathroom add-on with a shower, sink, and toilet. The river glides by as quietly as the condors that are often soaring overhead. At Matapiojo (the word for dragonfly in Spanish), there’s plenty of room for kids to run around and the lodge is located on a tranquil section of river that’s cool, calm, and swimable. The lodge, which is open year-round, can also arrange horseback riding, bird watching, and other non-fishing excursions for guests who aren’t hunting trout.
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