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Carretera Austral Chile Patagonia

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Carretera Austral (The Southern Road)
Nearest Airports: Puerto Montt or Balmaceda (at Coyhaique)

Experiencechile.org can construct self-drive itineraries in this area offering hotels to your budget and preferred style (where possible).
 
The drive along the Carretera Austral is nothing short of absolutely spectacular. If you ever wanted to know what planet Earth was like when it was formed, a visit to this part of the world will give you a glimpse.
 
The Region
Northern Chilean Patagonia begins at Puerto Montt (approximately 1,016km south of Santiago) and runs south to Punta Arenas (3,090km south of Santiago), beyond which is the island of Tierra del Fuego - the southernmost tip of the South American continent. Within Chilean Patagonia is the Carretera Austral and the famous Torres del Paine National Park. The climate in this zone is cold-temperate with long, cold and wet winters and short, cool, often rainy summers, always unpredictable and often windy. Punta Arenas, which is often windy, is exceptional in having a very low annual rainfall because it is sheltered from the wet, westerly winds by the southern Andes.

NOTE: Distances in this part of the world are incredibly long and you should fill up with petrol whenever you can!
 
The Carretera Austral means "Southern Road". It is also known as Pinochet's Road because it was under his presidency when he ordered the Chilean army to start construction work. Working in what can only be described as virgin, pioneer country, the Chilean army had to cut through dense rain forest, demolish solid rock and erect bridges across ravines in order for there to be a continuous road route from Puerto Montt down to Punta Arenas (not yet complete, but this is is the final objective), to ensure that all of Chile is connected by way of a mainland road network. Many people gave their lives during the construction, which passed through some of the most remote areas on Earth. The northern sector from Puerto Montt was officially opened in 1988 and, because it passes through such awe-inspiring terrain, is becoming more and more popular with people who want to experience the true meaning of what it means to feel "alive".
 
The scenery is like no other, passing through native rain forest with trees that date back not hundreds, but thousands of years. Gushing waterfalls that cascade down steep mountain walls, blue-tinted hanging glaciers that that decorate the mountain peaks like white blobs of cream; large, crystal clear, meandering rivers that then rage into fast-running torrents and serene lakes that appear to be filled with the turquoise colour from an artist's palate. This is still the land of the rustic homestead, a place where wild salmon fill the lakes and rivers, birds of prey command the skies and around each corner is a jaw-dropping view.
  
The only way to really appreciate this area is to allow for at least two weeks, ideally three, or break it down into three trips. Car rental can be picked up at Balmaceda airport (Coyhaique), but cars should also be returned here otherwise there is a hefty drop-off surcharge. Roads can be dangerous to drive as they are narrow and unpaved so broken windscreens and punctures are a constant problem. It is also common for people to drive very fast along what they think is a deserted road and not be able to stop when they suddenly meet another car head on – so be careful, the writer is speaking from personal experience!
 
The road, which is unpaved for over 70% of its length, can be driven south from Puerto Montt and on to Chaiten via a couple of ferry crossings (but make sure you get the departure times clear otheriwse you may have to wait over night); or south from Chaiten; or south and north from Coyhaique. Note that there is NO DIRECT drive between Coyhaique to Torres del Paine. The only drive option is to go via Argentina.
 
Carretera Austral North (of Coyhaique)
 
Coyhaique
Coyhaique is the principal city of this region and offers itself as a base from which to explore this incredible zone. It is also the only city with an airport with connections to Puerto Montt, although the actual airport is called Balmaceda and is about 50min from Coyhaique.
 
Chaiten
Practically closed since a volcanic eruption in 2008, Chaiten is a very small village located approximately a quarter of the way down the Carretera Austral (from Puerto Montt). It is accessible by road and two ferry crossings from Puerto Montt, by air from Puerto Montt or by driving down through the island of Chiloe and taking a ferry from Quellon. The ferry from Quellon takes about six hours and often runs "outside of scheduled times".
 
Termas de Puyuhuapi
Located about 240km north of Coyhaique.
A modern but "cosy" and well built hotel on the sides of a tranquil fiord offering excellent "hot spring" facilities. Surrounded by nature and amazing geographic scenery.
 
Futaleufu
Close to the Argentine border, and about 250km north from Coyhaique and approx 80 km east from Chaiten this is a small village nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. It is a “Mecca” for white-water rafting enthusiast because it is the access point for the Futaleufu river, offering one of the wildest rafting experiences on Earth. It is also a great place for fly-fishing and generally relaxing.
 
Northern Section
Puerto Montt - Ferry ramp of La Arena (45km)
Ferry La Arena - Caleta Puelche (30min)
Caleta Puelche - Hornopiren (48km)
Ferry Hornopiren - Caleta Gonzalo (5hrs)
Caleta Gonzalo - Chaiten (66km) Pumalin Park
Chaiten - Villa Santa Lucia (81km)
Villa Santa Lucia - Futaleufu (78km)
Villa Santa Lucia - La Junta (70km)
La Junta - Puerto Puyuhuapi (45km)
Puyuhuapi - Puerto Cisnes (94km)
Puyuhuapi - Villa Amengual (92km) Nat Park Queulat 
Villa Amengual - Puerto Chacabuco (106km)
Villa Amengual - Coyhaique (144km) mostly paved
 
 
Carretera Austral South (of Coyhaique)
 
San Rafael Glacier (Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael)
Nearest City with Airport: Balmaceda at Coyhaique.
Location: South-west of Coyhaique. 5hrs by catamaran from Puerto Chacabuco or few a days by boat from Puerto Montt (see our Crucero Skorpios itinerary). To fly over takes 1hr 30min by light aircraft from Coyhaique.

The park covers an area of 1,742,000 hectares and includes the Glacier San Rafael which, as it slowly recedes back from the sea, breaks off into huge icebergs that float in the San Rafael Lagoon. The size of the glacial wall and the massive chunks that break off draws travellers from all over the world. All boats pass between the archipelago channels and passengers can enjoy a beautiful scenic journey going to and returning from the glacier.
 
Lake General Carrera and the Villages of Puerto Guadal and Area
Located about 250 - 300km south of Coyhaique Lago General Carrera runs west to east for a length of around 160km between Chile and Argentina. It is an extremely large body of water, surrounded by incredible, draw-dropping scenery. At the western end of this lake is Puerto Guadal and areund here are some accommodation options that we will be pleased to share with you if we are creating your itinerary.
 
Tortel
Located about 400km south from Coyhaique, and made famous by Prince William when he took part of his student Gap year here building wooden bridges and cleaning out WC’s. The route here passes through some of the most incredible unspoiled, natural scenery on Earth. The entire village is built on wooden stilts with houses connected by a network of wooden boardwalks and stairways that cover very long distances. Indeed no cars are able to enter the village, it is entirely pedestrian. Certainly a unique destination that could quite easily be fantastic if the locals kept it clean (which it is not) and offered more hospitality for visitors. Having said that, this is worth a visit for the experience, but do not expect any home comforts.
 
Villa O’Higgins
This is literally the “end of the line” as far as mainland Chile goes. It is a tiny village in the heart of pioneer country about 500km south from Coyhaique. The drive route passes through dramatic scenery and involves a trip on a car ferry. It is incredibly remote, but ideal if you want to see some really incredible natural wonders of nature close up with not many people around.
 
Southern Section
Coyhaique - Balmaceda Airport (55km) paved
Balmaceda - Villa Cerro Castillo (64km) paved
Villa Cerro Castillo - Puerto Rio Tranquilo (158km)
Puerto Rio Tranquilo - Puerto Guadal (61km)
Puerto Guadal - Cochrane (66km)
Option Puerto Guadal - Chile Chico (112km)
Ferry tracking back north Chile Chico - Puerto Ingeniero Ibanez (approx 2 hrs)
Puerto Ingeniero Ibanez - Villa Cerro Castillo (31km)
Cochrane - Caleta Tortel (133km) poor road state
Caleta Tortel - Puerto Yungay (30km approx)
Puerto Yungay ferry to other side 1hr approx)
Onward to Villa O'Higgins (100km) very poor road state

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