Carretera Austral – most beautiful road of Argentina
The crazy geography of southern Chile with its deeply cut fjords, countless mountain ridges and truly huge glaciers has so far consistently prevented a continuous road connection to Patagonia. You can either take the ferry or the detour via Argentina to reach the national parks like Torres del Paine or the wild landscape of Tierra del Fuego. Only the narrow Carretera Austral twists along the coast from Puerto Montt to Villa O´Higgins. The art of engineering and manpower defied nature to create a strip of land that is unparalleled not only in Chile. We set off on the journey and show you the most beautiful places of one of the last scenic roads of South America. To the best hiking possibilities and excursions we put in a link to the corresponding site in the outdoor portal.
You can’t really speak of unstable weather here. Those who travel along the Carretera Austral should always carry good equipment in their daily luggage. Wind and rain are more of a rule than an exception. You can enjoy the fantastic landscape from October to the end of March, but the best months are January and February. In these high summer months unfortunately the Chilean school holidays also take place and therefore many vehicles are on the way. Heavy rainfall often causes landslides, making the Carretra Austral impassable for several days.
The Carretera Austral has developed into one of the most famous cycling routes in South America. But this is truly only something for adventurous bikers. Just the southern section from Villa Cerro Castillo leads over almost only slopes. The winds can be very strong and Chilean drivers are not exactly known for their bicycle friendliness. Personally I would avoid the school holidays, since at that time most cars are on the way. Between Puerto Montt and Coyhaique everything will soon roll completely on asphalt and Biker at least swallow no more dust. Public busses are unfortunately very rare. It is difficult to get to the touristy places and especially the hiking areas. It is easiest to rent a car or take part in guided tours.
Puerto Montt – Hornopiren, 109 km
The port city is not really worth seeing. Those who want to get to know the surroundings for a few days should rather look for accommodation in the nearby Puerto Varas. One of the most beautiful hikes leads north of the Osorno volcano to the deep blue Todos los Santos lake. The first kilometers along Carretera Austral lead to the small village Hornopiren, starting point for a tour into the national park with beautiful alerce forests. On the way another little path leads to the worthwhile nature reserves Llanquihue and Alerce Andino. From Hornopiren the ferries take us to Caleta Gonzalo. During the high season the crossing should be definitely reserved.
Hornopiren – Chaiten, 56 km
The ferry station in Caleta Gonzalo is the entrance to the nature paradise Parque Pumalin. Among the most beautiful campsites in the country, a great accommodation and restaurant invite you to explore the surrounding hiking opportunities extensively. Outside the town of Chaiten, a sharp ascent leads to the active volcano of the same name. On rainy days you can visit the thermal springs of Amarillo. On the way to the hot springs you can do the small hike “Ranita de Darwin”.
Chaiten – Puyuhuapi, 190 km
At Puerto Cardenas there is a bridge over the Rio Yelcho. After 60 km there is the Ventisquero Yelcho to the west. A hike leads to the glacier tongue. At Villa Lucia the road branches off to Futaleufu and over the border to Argentina and Esquel. In La Junta there is a gas station and several accommodations among other things. The Rio Palena offers not only a good fishing area but also hot springs along the course of the river. The coastal settlement Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda can be reached adventurously with boats or on a slope. Puyuhuapi stands out for its romantic location by the fjord.
Puyuhuapi – Coyhaique, 240 km
After 30 km we pass the Queulat National Park with its rewarding hike to the hanging glacier “Ventisquero colgante”. The road now leads on 500 m height over the Paso Queulat and to the fairy tale forest with a short but really impressive walk through dense rain forest covered with moss With the possibility to make a detour to Puerto Cisnes we reach Villa Mangual with a gas station. Now it is still 90 km, past the nature reserve “Rio Simpson” to Coyhaique. The city is a good starting point for different tours, like a bicycle tour to the 6 lakes.
Coyhaique – Puerto Tranquilo, 216 km
About 40 km we pass the exit to the airport Balmaceda. Now we leave the flat plains. The beautiful mountain range of the Cerro Castillo rises in front of us and invites us to spend a few days here with its variety of hiking trails. 10 km before we reach the place Villa Cerro Castillo, the road branches off to Puerto Ibanez with the ferry connection to Chile Chico. Villa Cerro Castilla offers accommodation, restaurants and provides the gateway to the National Park. Another rewarding excursion is “Aleros los Manos” with its 4500 year old rock paintings. The scenic route to Puerto Tranquilo leads along the Bahia Murta at the General Carrera Lake.
Puerto Tranquilo – Chile Chico, 165 km
From Puerto Tranquilo the excursion to the Valle Exploradores and the hike up to the glacier view on the inland ice is worth it. Meanwhile you can also reach the Bahia Exploradores with access to the Laguna San Rafael. Boat tours lead from here to the northernmost glacier tongue of Chile which reaches the Pacific Ocean. Tours can already be booked in Puerto Tranquilo. But the unbeaten star of the excursions are the marble caves “Cuevas de Marmol, a little south of the village at the Bahia Mansa. Further on the Carretera Austral we pass the branch into the Rio Leones valley. At Puerto Guadal not only beautiful accommodations are available but a few interesting hikes, like the tour into the fossil valley. From here there are still about 100 km on a narrow track with unreal views on the Lago General Carreras up to Chile Chico. South of the town lies the Jeinimeini National Park. A half-day hike to Piedra Clavada leads through the bizarre landscape of the steppe foothills.
Puerto Tranquilo – Cochrane, 115 km
Now it gets exciting. From Puerto Tranquilo we do not turn and drive to Chile Chico but further south. More beautiful than Puerto Bertrand on 250 m a place cannot remain. Along the Rio Baker there are several lodges, mostly specialized in fish tours. A short hike leads to the meeting point of the Rio Baker and the Rio Neff, a huge spectacle. In Cochrane there are again accommodations, restaurants and supermarkets. The most beautiful tour leads into the nature reserve Tamango with good chances to observe the Andean deer. 16 km north of Cochrane we reach the Parque Patagonia and the Roballos Pass, border crossing to Argentina. On the way there are some hiking possibilities, for example the tour into the Valle Aviles. A picture-book landscape awaits us at the nearby mountain massif of San Lorenzo.
Cochrane – Caleta Tortel, 125 km
We start by taking the road to San Lorenzo, then past the turnoff to the south of Villa O’Higgins to reach the spectacular Caleta Tortel. The vehicle remains at the parking lot at the edge of the village. The village itself can only be reached by wooden footbridges and stairs. The Pasarela Costanera leads to Playa Ancha. At the pasarela Padre Antonio Ronchi there are accommodations and restaurants. The hike to Cerro Vijia starts at the tourist information with excellent views of the estuary of the Rio Baker in the Pacific.