Visitors fall in love with Tortel as soon as they see this scattering of houses on forested slopes surrounding a pale emerald bay. Located at the mouth of the Río Baker between the northern and southern ice fields and a logging spot for a lumber company, Tortel soon grew into a scattered settlement of quaint wooden houses, each with its own jetty and linked by a network of walkways and bridges made of fragrant cypress (slippery when wet). There are no streets here, and even the fire engine is a boat. Tortel is in some ways more isolated than the rest of the settlements along the Carretera Austral; there is only one direct phone line to the municipality, with extensions to everywhere else, though landlines are coming soon.

Within easy reach of Tortel by boat are two glaciers: Ventisquero Steffens, which originates in the northern ice field (3hr north by boat), and Ventisquero Jorge Montt, an enormous bluish ice-wall that comes from the southern ice field (5hr by lancha; 2hr by motorboat), best done in a group, as the trip is charged per vessel.