I have just returned to Buenos Aires from Santiago, where I spent two-plus days exploring Chile’s post-quake capital and barely had time to sleep, let alone write any extensive blog posts. Within a few days, I’ll have a summary up, but for the moment I’ll just note that things are returning to normal - despite a brief Sunday night blackout that extended from the Atacama desert town of Taltal in the north to the archipelago of Chiloé in the south - and that flying out of Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez was utterly routine, even if the main international terminal building remains closed.
At present, I would not hesitate to visit Chile’s top destinations - San Pedro de Atacama, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), and Torres del Paine. These sites were left totally untouched by the February 27 quake, and intending visitors should have no qualms whatsoever about traveling there. The southerly lakes district, just beyond the quake zone, is up and running as well, but overland transportation is slower than usual because of highway damage between Santiago and Temuco. At the moment, flying into Temuco or Puerto Montt and then traveling far shorter overland distances to popular towns such as Pucón and Puerto Varas would be a better option.
One place I would not recommend visiting, though, is one of my favorite destinations in the country. On Isla Robinson Crusoe, the biggest island in the Juan Fernández archipelago, the post-quake tsunami swamped the immediate shoreline of San Juan Bautista, the island’s only settlement. For a community of only about 600 people, the loss of just a few lives was devastating, and several if not most of its tourist facilities were destroyed, as can be seen in the FACh (Chilean Air Force) aerial photographs provided me by a Santiago friend, conservationist Hernán Torres. To enlarge the before-and-after photos for more detail, just click on the image.
According to spokesman Miguel Díaz Gacitúa of CONAF (Chile’s national park service), with whom I spoke on Tuesday in his Santiago office, the island’s airstrip is undamaged, but San Juan’s tiny port facilities will need an emergency replacement. Presumably, all rebuilding in the village will take place beyond the line of tsunami damage.
Díaz Gacitúa adds, by the way, that there has been no noteworthy damage to any of Chile’s national parks or other protected areas - even in the hardest-hit regions - and they are open for business as usual.