This tiny grouping of islands is located at the opening of the Jacaf Channel where it meets with the Moraleda Channel. It is home for about 300 inhabitants, most of whom are devoted to the work of the sea.
To visit the island, you can charter a boat in Puerto Cisnes that will drop you at the docks in a little less than two hours, or reserve your space on one of the ferries regularly moving beyond the islands and ports of Aysén, along the Cordillera Route. The closest port is Puerto Cisnes, however, you can embark at any of the ports along the route.
Why should you go? Let’s start with the nature.
Playa Bonita, a local favorite, is about 15 minutes from Puerto Gala. This small paradise is comprised of white sandy beaches surrounded by forests and a towering 30 m cascade; all protected from the wind and high waves. It is the ideal place to spend a day or two, as minimal impact camping is allowed. The forest provides opportunities for hiking, there are amazing overlooks with incredible views of the entire channel and its islands, and the sunsets are stunning. If you are especially lucky, you may be at the beach on one of the nights where the sea is illuminated by sea sparkle, also known as the sea ghost or fire of the sea. This amazing phenomenon makes the waves and fish glow an icy blue-green, resulting in an incredibly beautiful and magical site. It is the result of noctilucas, a common marine single-celled microorganism that lives on photosynthetic algae that gather in shallow coastal areas around the world. Each microscopic, lily pad shaped cell is made up of thousands of organelles that produce their blue-green light, or sea sparkle, when they are agitated by the movement of the waves or fish moving through the waters.
Now let’s add a little history.
Puerto Gala is home for several important archaeological sites of the chonos, an ancient nomadic group of canoe peoples, who moved between the islands of the fjords and channels in canoes, called dalcas to fish, gather shellfish and hunt for sea lions. There are two archaeological excursions on the islands that will allow glimpses of this mysterious culture. The first is a visit to the tiny Chita Island, 15 minutes from Gala, by boat. You can arrange transport from one of the local Gala captains, who will take you to a beautiful beach in a protected cove that was used by the chonos to corral fish. There is evidence of their fishing scattered around the beach, hand carved rock implements that were used in their fishing. If you visit take lots of pictures but DON’T TAKE ARTIFACTS. It’s illegal and wrong; these implements are important aspects of the heritage of this area and deserve respect and care. A short walk from the beach leads you to an interesting cemetery where ancient chono graves coexist alongside modern grave markings and crèches for various saints.
You also have the opportunity to visit the Estero South archaeological site, an hour from Puerto Gala traveling through the Jacaf Channel. The site sits on the private property of the Jofre family, so before you visit, you will need to contact them in Puerto Gala, seek permission and organize your trip. When you arrive at the island, you’ll need to walk through the forest for around 30 minutes in order to reach a rocky cliff overhang and a rustic cave. When the chonos made temporary camps, they erected small wooden frames, made from tree branches and covered with skins or lived in caves, such as these. In this particular cave, 16 bodies were found dating back approximately 2,000 years.
The natural environment of the estuary is fabulous, with beautiful beaches at low tide and lush vegetation. We recommend camping for the night and taking the time to listen to nature and imagine what life was like for the men, women and children who roamed these seas with little more than their canoes and a zest for living.
Finish it off with some folklore.
“Pueblos of plastic, wills of steel” is a popular saying that does a great job of summarizing the spirit of the fishermen who came to the Islands of Gala from various points of Chile in the mid-1980s, lured by the high prices being paid for austral merluza (hake). Believing that this would be a passing craze, these modern day nomads installed themselves in what has come to be known as “nylon ranches”, something that they themselves invented. They were a sort of makeshift plastic tents, large sheets of nylon mounted on four sticks and erected on rocks or in the forest. Inside, they improvised crude stoves for heat and cooking, from big metal oil drums. They slept on cushions on the ground or crudely erected cots. They lived in these “nylon ranches” for years, surviving through summers and winters and the hostile and inclement weather that is common within the fjords.
As time passed, they were joined by their wives and families, converting their haphazard shelters into a virtual plastic pueblo. It was hard on everyone and they soon realized it was time to commit to something a bit more permanent. Thus, they worked together, with the help of a few brave and caring outsiders, like the Italian priest and missionary, Fr. Antonio Ronchi. Slowly, they converted their precarious nylon ranches into permanent communities, which today are known as Puerto Gala and Puerto Gaviota, located further south. These communities were recognized officially as pueblos of Aysén, in 1999. Today, the nylon ranches are the symbol of a shared heritage for many in the area and they haven’t entirely disappeared. As you navigate through fjords and channels of Aysén, you will likely still encounter some isolated nylon ranches, used as temporary posts for fishermen and foresters.