Three kilometers from Caleta Tortel, at the mouth of the Baker River, is the Island of the Dead, which has witnessed one of the most enigmatic stories of Chilean Patagonia.

It sounds like the title of a horror movie, but what surrounds the 33 cypress wood crosses driven into this land is a real story that combines tragedy with heroism. A myth that has, over the years, become a tourist attraction for curious travelers with a deep passion for records of the past. Welcome to the Island of the Dead.

Three kilometers from Caleta Tortel, at the mouth of the Baker River in the Aysén Region, lies this place that has witnessed one of the most enigmatic stories of Chilean Patagonia. In its 39 hectares of land, this island houses a cemetery with 33 graves marked by cypress crosses, a silent reminder of a past filled with suffering and mystery.

The Island of the Dead is surrounded by the stunning beauty of Aysén, amidst the fjords and channels that make up the Northern and Southern Icefields. In this remote corner of Patagonia, three different terrestrial biomes converge: mixed coigüe, ñire, and mallín, creating an exceptional ecosystem for nature enthusiasts. Additionally, the island hosts a diverse fauna and is home to two endangered species of freshwater mollusks, Diplodon diplodon and Chilina, giving it high scientific value.

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The tragedy of the island

The myth of the Island of the Dead dates back to 1905 when a steamship departed from Dalcahue with 200 Chilote laborers on board. Their mission was to open a route from the mouth of the Baker River to the Argentine province of Chubut, entrusted to the Baker Exploitation Society. This forestry company established its operations base in a place known as Bajo Piragua, near the present-day Caleta Tortel.

The workers faced the hostility of the Patagonian geography, battling relentless weather and a lack of supplies. The promised arrival of provisions never materialized, and the workers were forced to subsist on spoiled food, such as salted meat, bacon, weevil-infested rice, and deteriorated flour. The situation worsened when a strange disease, considered at the time as the "scourge of the seas," scurvy, spread among them, causing bruises on the limbs and hemorrhages.

The death toll varies, but it is estimated that between 77 and 120 men perished in this dark episode. While some theories suggest poisoning to avoid paying wages, others point to this disease due to the spoiled food. An intriguing hypothesis has even been raised that Kawésqar healers may have poisoned the workers for associating with people of this ethnicity.

In September 1906, Captain Guillermo Titus of the steamship Araucanía spotted some stranded workers on an islet near the Island of the Dead. He rescued the sick and took them to Chiloé, but not all could be saved. Amid this tragedy, the survivors buried the deceased in cypress wood boxes and marked the graves with nameless crosses. Only 33 crosses have withstood the passage of time and the harsh Patagonian winters. Interestingly, only one cross bears the name of one of the victims: Melchor Navarro.

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How to get to the Island of the Dead

The closest starting point to visit the Island of the Dead is Caleta Tortel. To reach this town, there are two options, by air or land, respectively. The nearest airport to Caleta Tortel is Teniente Vidal Airport in Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén Region. From there, you can take flights to Teniente Julio Gallardo Aerodrome in the nearby town of Puerto Aysén and then continue by road to Caleta Tortel. If you prefer to travel by land, you can take a bus from Coyhaique to Caleta Tortel. This journey can take several hours, so be sure to check schedules and availability before departing, especially if you are traveling from Santiago.

Once you arrive in Caleta Tortel, you need to arrange your visit to the Island of the Dead. The most common means of reaching the Island of the Dead is by boat. Make sure the vessel is equipped for this journey on the currents of the Baker River, have your camera ready, and immerse yourself in the natural wonders that make this place a sacred corner in Chile.

If you wish to explore this mysterious island, its stories, and witness its 33 graves marked by crosses, you can hire a tour or excursion that facilitates your arrival at the mysterious island. Email czuniga@gochile.cl for more information about the Island of the Dead and delve into the legend of this enchanted territory.

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