Climate and Weather Chilean Lake Region

Climate and Weather Chilean Lake Region

Chilean Lake Region From today

The Climate and Weather of Chilean Lake Region

The lake region in Chile, like so many other lake regions in the world, has so many lakes because there is usually a lot of rain.

The climate here is influenced by the cold, moist air coming off the Pacific Ocean that travels east, releasing its moisture as it gets close to the higher elevations, eventually hitting the Andes.

Therefore, usual rainfall is high, however, during the summer months between December through to end of February there are also, often, many days, even weeks, of Mediterranean sunshine.

In short, you need to pack clothes for the season, and bring some protective wet weather gear in case it rains.

Chiloe Climate and Weather

Chiloe Climate and Weather

CHILOE From today

The Climate and Weather of Chiloe Island

Considering the latitude of Chiloe and the fact that it is the first landfall for the prevailing winds coming off the Pacific Ocean, it should be no surprise that there is abundant rainfall here, especially on its eastern side, where the rain falls mostly, and the home of the Valdivian Temperate Rain Forest.

For this reason, apart from the clothes above, please take WET WEATHER GEAR as well.

Hotel Accommodation, Chiloe Island, Western Patagonia

Introduction

In reality most of the accommodation offering in Chiloe Island is at the lower end of the market, such as hostels or simple, rustic places and, although such places are acceptable to many, they do not meet the criteria that we seek for our clients, therefore they are not included here.

However, there are a few reasonable properties as well as one stand-out option. In our Chiloe accommodation section, we publish information on the properties that we feel comfortable working with. Herewith below is more about our classification definitions.

The principal areas where the better accommodation is located is in Ancud, the northern town, closest to the mainland; and Castro (and surrounding area), the capital, about halfway down the island.

ExperienceChile.Org Inspections

In order to know what is what, we spend considerable time, money, and energy, in visiting as many accommodation options as humanly possible specifically with the aim to check up on what the quality of accommodation, and services is, and where these places are located.

Remember, a picture does NOT give you the whole story.

Therefore, we only work with selected accommodation partners. These are companies and properties that we know we can trust and that offer good accommodation, at good level, in nice places, and such properties are shown below.

In order to better locate the type of property that you want we have also categorised them under our own definitions.

Premium Lodges

These are hotels that merit the distinguished classification of being above those that are not in the premium category. These hotels offer better, overall services, well furnished and decorated rooms, courteous staff – all the ingredients that combine to form the “better than the rest” position.

All Chiloe Island Premium Lodges
Chiloe Hotel Tierra Featured Image Experience Chile
SPECIAL OFFER
PREMIUM
Hotel Tierra Chiloe, Western Patagonia

High-End Boutique Lodges

The hotels that are the best at the destination in terms of comfort, decoration, service and the overall package we have put into the "top level" category. This does not mean that a hotel in this category is at the same level as another hotel in another destination in our "top level" category. It just means that these hotels are the "better hotels" at this destination out of all options.

All Chiloe Island High-End Boutique Lodges
Chiloe Hotel Tierra Featured Image Experience Chile
SPECIAL OFFER
PREMIUM
Hotel Tierra Chiloe, Western Patagonia

Mid Level Boutique Lodges and Hotels

The hotels we have put into the "mid level" category are those hotels that do not merit being in the "top level", but are not at the lowest level either, hence "mid level". Usually, these hotels are perfectly good for a couple of nights and offer "practical" accommodation and facilities. If you are looking for only a "place to stay" and nothing more then a mid-level hotel will suffice.

Approved Hotels

During our inspections we ask the hotel owners if we can stay overnight at the hotel. We ask this because staying overnight is vastly different to just popping in with a quick visit. We like to know what the noise pollution is, what the breakfasts are like, how comfy the beds are, what the staff are like.

Therefore, if you see “inspected & approved” we are saying that we feel the hotel is perfectly good. If it does not have “approved” it means we have not stayed overnight or we feel it is not up to the level that our clients will require.

Approved By Experience Chile

Inspected Hotels

The reason we have a selected number of hotels that we choose to work with is because we regularly visit the hotels in Puerto Natales in order to know what they are really like. We cannot rely on the hundreds of often “suspect” reviews published in the internet. Therefore, we try to promote the better hotels that we know will make your trip more enjoyable. However, if you see that we have “inspected” a particular hotel, this does NOT mean that we recommend it necessarily. The ones we recommend are “approved”.

Inspected By Experience Chile

Other Accommodation

If we have not included a hotel in our selection below it either means that we do not consider it reaches our selective criteria, or that we have not yet stayed over to evaluate them.

If Your Hotel is Not Here

If YOU have a particular hotel that you want and it is not in our partner hotel selection, please DO let us know, and provided it is a decent place, we will include it in the itinerary we are handling for you.

Hotel Partners

We will summarise below our hotel partners. Why do we have accommodation partners? The basic reality is that we, like you, want to know which hotels are “decent”, and that they offer comfortable accommodation in terms of rooms and facilities, and we prefer to work with those hotels that “pass our test”.

NOTE: Remember that we realise that you may well have a particular hotel, or lodge, that is not shown in our listings. If this is the case, PLEASE tell us what, and where this hotel is, and we will include it in your itinerary.

All-Inclusive Programs

Our all-inclusive programs will take care of you from the moment you land at the airport. The service includes the transfer to, and back from, the hotel or lodge (in some cases you can even arrive by helicopter), and then you enjoy a 3, 4 or longer night stay that includes great food, wines and guided excursions.

Self-Drive, Carretera Austral, South to North, Coyhaique to Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas

Self-Drive the Carretera Austral, Coyhaique to Puerto Montt

Carretera Austral, Self-Drive, South to North, Caleta Gonzalo to Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas

Introduction

This is the final sector for the drive starting at Coyhaique and heading north to Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas. This stage is broken into 3 sectors, and the final sector has two route options.

It goes without saying that here at ExperienceChile.Org we will arrange the rent a car you will need to drive through the Patagonian forest and Andean valleys, as well as your accommodation.

First Leg:

Caleta Gonzalo to Hornopiren 2 Ferries plus 10km

Total: 10km

Caleta Gonzalo Fiordo Lago Leptepu Hornopiren

Route Description

The first part of this route is on the ferry from Caleta Gonzalo to Fiordo Largo, which will take around 45min. You will need to drive down a steep ramp over the beach to board the ferry.

Caleta Gonzalo Departure times are: 13:00hrs

The next part is a short drive, through the forest, from Fiordo Largo to Leptepu, a distance of around 10km, on an unpaved road. At Leptepu you take another ferry to Hornopiren, which will take around 4hrs through the narrow channel and past small inlets and creeks.

Leptepu Departures are at: 14:30hrs

Note: Please check ferry departure times because they are subject to change without notice.

Hornopiren

Upon arrival to Hornopiren you may wish to relax for a night or two and enjoy the local Hornopiren National Park, or just continue on towards Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt, via Caleta Puelche.

Second Leg:

Hornopiren to Puelche

Total: 55km

Hornopiren Puelche

Route Description

The road distance between Hornopiren to Caleta Puelche is 55km and will take about 1hr or so. From Puelche you will be on the home stretch, however, there are two alternative routes and two alternative final destinations. One option is shorter than the other, but less picturesque.

Third Leg:

Puelche to Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas

Regarding the 3rd leg, there are 2 route options to get from Puelche to Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas. One is shorter than the other, and one is more interesting and “pretty”. Further below we explain the two route options.

Route Option 1

Puelche to Puerto Montt 30min Ferry plus 45km

Total: 45km

Puelche La Arena Puerto Montt

Take the ferry from Puelche to La Arena, which is about a 30min ferry ride, and then drive on a paved road to Puerto Montt. This route is less picturesque than route option 2, but much quicker to get to your final destination.

If you are ending at Puerto Montt then you have made it. Alternatively you can go to Puerto Varas, which is only 22km north of Puerto Montt, or even continue the adventure, and hop over to the island of Chiloe.

Route Option 2

Puelche to Puerto Varas via Cochomo

Total: 221km

Hornopiren Puelche Puelo Cochomo Ralun Ensenada Puerto Varas

This route involves taking the road from Puelche so that the fiord, and therefore the water, is on your left. After 36km of unpaved road, you will arrive at the very small village of Puelo. The road will continue on towards Cochamo, which is a further 32km on an unpaved road. Cochamo is a very small settlement. This drive is challenging on the road, but scenery-wise it is very pretty.

Continuing on the same road the next place is Ralun, a 15km drive, and here the road will start to be paved. This is now the end of the fiord that you will have been driving beside since leaving Puelche. The total distance from Puelche to the end of the fiord, by road, is 116km, on mostly unpaved road, so this will take time, likely 1.5hrs or so.

From Ralun the road will be a surfaced and the drive of around 33km will take you past forested hills until you get to Ensenada, right on the edge of the large Lake Llanquihue (pronounced yan-kee-way), and almost at the foot of the conical, snow-capped Osorno volcano.

From Ensenada, with the lake on your right, you will be heading towards Puerto Varas and after 50km you will arrive here.

Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas is a great place to be based at the end of your Carretera Austral adventure. It is a lake-side village with small cafes and restaurants as well as benefitting from striking views of the lake and volcano the other side.

Alternatively, you can drive 22km south and end at Puerto Montt.

Carretera Austral, Self-Drive, South to North, Puyuhuapi to Puerto Raul Marin, La Junta, Futaleufu and Parque Pumalin (Caleta Gonzalo)

Introduction

It goes without saying that here at ExperienceChile.Org we will arrange the rent a car you will need to drive through the Patagonian forest and Andean valleys, as well as your accommodation.

Route Option 1:

Puyuhuapi Village to El Pangue

Total: 18km

Puyuhuapi Village El Pangue

Route Description

Upon exiting the tiny, Germanic-style village of Puyuhuapi, the road cuts through forest and then 18km later, on the right is the entrance to El Pangue. El Pangue is a quiet, “Camp David” type retreat and an ideal base for resting and / or participating in outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, kaying and even swimming in the heated outdoor pool.

El Pangue to La Junta

Total: 28km

El Pangue La Junta

Route Description

Upon exiting from El Pangue you will turn RIGHT and continue for 28km until you arrive to La Junta. La Junta is a central stop off on the Carretera Austral and surrounded by green, forested hills, with lakes and rivers nearby. There are a few lodges for accommodation and options to explora into the highlands of forest, lakes and rivers from here. Alternatively, it can be a one-night stop off.

Route Option 2:

Puyuhuapi (or La Junta) to Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda

Total: 124km

Puyuhuapi Village El Pangue La Junta Raul Marin Balmaceda

Route Description

If you are avoiding the overnight at La Junta, or have rested at La Junta and now wish to continue on to visit the sleepy village of Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda, you will head north on the Carretera Austral from La Junta. Then, just before arriving to the orange-coloured bridge you turn left. This narrow road will lead to Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda.

The drive here is along a narrow, unpaved road for 78km until you get to the simple car ferry that crosses the river.

Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda

Total: 78km west from La junta

La Junta Raul Marin Balmaceda

This is a tiny village located on the western side of the Patagonian coast. An ideal place to come and feel totally cut off from the rest of the world. We have accommodation here that will let you relax and unwind totally. Sounds of nature, greenery, trees, the sea, river, it’s all here plus fishing, kayaking, walking.

Route Option 3:

La Junta to Futaleufu

La Junta to Futaleufu: 124km, (to Santa Lucia 76km)

La Junta Santa Lucia Futaleufu

Route Description

Coming back to the La Junta orange Bridge, from here, heading north it is 76km until you arrive to the small settlement of Santa Lucia. The scenery along this stretch of the Carretera Austral is forested hills and rivers.

Villa Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia is a tiny village, part of which suffered from a landslide in 2016, caused by considerable rainfall. This incident closed the Carretera Austral for a while as well as demolished some of the buildings in its most northern sector.

The main Carretera Austral Road actually by passes Villa Santa Lucia, leaving the small settlement to the right. Then, at the end part of the village there is a turn right, which will take you to Futaleufu, or straight on, which will take you to Chaiten and then Caleta Gonzalo.

For now, let’s assume you turn right and go to Futaleufu.

Villa Santa Lucia to Futaleufu

Total: 78km

Santa Lucia Futaleufu

The road will be unpaved for 17km to Puerto Ramirez. During this route you will see Lake Yelcho on the left and the forested hills either side. From Puerto Ramirez the road will continue unpaved for 61km until you arrive to Futaleufu.

Futaleufu Places of Interest

Futaleufu is very close to the Argentine border, and about 250km north from Coyhaique and approx 80km directly east from Chaiten this is a small village nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. It is a “Mecca” for white-water rafting enthusiasts 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 amid a vast area of undisturbed natural beauty.

Futaleufu to Chaiten

Total: 156km

Futaleufu Santa Lucia Chaiten

The drive from Fuataleufu back to the crossroads by Villa Santa Lucia is 78km and passes by lake Yelcho on the right. At the crossing that leads onto the Carretera Austral north or south, you will turn RIGHT towards Chaiten. From the crossroads it will be 35km to the bridge that crosses over River Yelcho and then 43km on a good, paved road into Chaiten.

El Chaiten is where you can fill up with fuel for the car and maybe rest and have some food. El Chaiten used to be a good stop over place, however, in 2008 a nearby volcanic eruption caused a mud slide that wiped out one part of the village and the residents were told to evacuate. Today some residents returned and there are minimal services.

Chaiten to Caleta Gonzalo (Parque Pumalin)

Total: 156km

Chaiten Caleta Gonzalo

The drive out of Chaiten passes by the beach and the sea on the left and then cuts through forest. If you are able to stop a few kms north of Chaiten you can see where the steep-sided hills come down to black, volcanic-sand beaches and where, also, the forest comes down to the water’s edge. On some parts of this stretch of road there are also often hundreds of parakeets.

At the end of 60km you will arrive to Caleta Gonzalo and the cabins for accommodation as well as the entrance into Pumalin National Park.

Route Option 4:

Puyuhuapi direct to Caleta Gonzalo (Parque Pumalin)

Total: 260km

Puyuhuapi Village El Pangue La Junta Raul Marin Balmaceda

This is the direct option which will take in the sectors mentioned above such as:

Puyuhuapi to La Junta; La Junta to Villa Santa Lucia; Villa Santa Lucia to Chaiten and then Chiten to Caleta Gonzalo.

Carretera Austral, Self-Drive, South to North, Coyhaique to Puyuhuapi

Introduction

The drive north, along the Carretera Austral, towards Puyuhuapi, is explained here under Stage A. Considering the distance, an overnight break, or a stay for a few nights to properly enjoy the area, would be sensible at Queulat or around the Puyuhuapi area.

It goes without saying that here at ExperienceChile.Org we will arrange the rent a car you will need to drive through the Patagonian forest and Andean valleys, as well as your accommodation.

Coyhaique

This is the main city of the Aysen region and offers itself as a base from which to explore the Carretera Austral either heading south or north. It is also the only city with an airport that can receive commercial jet liners, with connections to Puerto Montt (and sometimes with Punta Arenas), although the actual airport is called Balmaceda and is about 50km south from Coyhaique.

The scenery around Coyhaiqe is similar to that the Mid-Western USA. High, mountainous ridges as well as plains. It has a kind of “cowboy” feel to the place and, indeed it is a Chilean “cowboy” town in the heart of Patagonia. There are many sheep and cattle farms in the area.

In line with our other self-drive Carretera Austral stages, in order to understand the sectors as clearly as possible we have further divided our stage A into 2 route options, and these are:

Route Option 1 Coyhaique to Chacabuco:

Total: 79km

Coyhaique Puerto Aysen Puerto Chacabuco

Route Description

There is only one main road, the Carretera Austral Ruta 7 that exits the northern sector of Coyhaique city. Once you are on this paved road it is a straight 65km west to Puerto Aysen. Along this route the scenery is nice, but nothing outstanding compared with the other parts of the Carretera Austral.

Upon arrival to Puerto Aysen, which is a non-descript village, you will see quite an impressive-looking suspension bridge that takes the road over the Simpson River and on to Puerto Chacabuco, which is about 14km south from Puerto Aysen.

Puerto Chacabuco is a tiny settlement, beside a fiord.

Puerto Chacabuco 79km west from Coyhaique. The reason to come here is to get the catamaran that departs from this point to go to the impressive San Rafael Glacier.

NOTE: This should be booked in advance and will require a night after the excursion, ideally, at the hotel in Chacabuco, which ExperienceChile.Org will arrange.

San Rafael Glacier (Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael)

Glacier Location: South-west of Coyhaique.

5hrs by catamaran from Puerto Chacabuco, or few a days by boat from Puerto Montt (see our Patagonia Cruises, Crucero Skorpios itinerary). To fly over the glacier 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.

Apart from the glacier, Coyhaique offers horse riding, fishing and hiking, but mainly Coyhaique should be looked upon as a stop-over place in order to get further south or to go north if you have arrived here first.

Route Option 2 Coyhaique to:

  • Queulat National Park: 188km
  • Puyuhuapi Lodge: 196km
  • Puyuhuapi Village: 209km
  • El Pangue Lodge: 227km
  • La Junta: 255km

Coyhaique Villa Mañihuales Villa Amengual National Park Queulat Puyuhuapi Lodge C Park Puyuhuapi Village El Pangue

Route Description

On the way to the above destinations, you will have the option to turn left at a point approximately 34km past the village of Villa Amengual that will lead west to Puerto Cisnes.

Puerto Cisnes

Puerto Cisnes is a small fishing village located 35km west from the turn off mentioned above, on the coast of Patagonian Chile. It is a nondescript place, but if you seek to see some real life that is NOT made for the tourists then this place will give you that. Basic accommodations and very rustic. There is a National Park near here: Parque Nacional Isla Magdalena, but this requires a navigation across the water.

Ignoring Puerto Cisnes

Ignoring the turn left to Puerto Cisnes, continue onward towards Queulat National Park and Puyuhuapi village.

Queulat Hanging Glacier

Click on map for larger image

Where? In Queulat National Park

Here, you will have the option to stop off for a quick visit to see the Queulat Hanging glacier, but much better if you can plan in a few nights in the area.

Puyuhuapi Hot Springs

Click on map for larger image

Where? Puyuhuapi Lodge

As well as, or alternatively, you can drive on for another 8km and get to the embarkation point to cross over the fiord and arrive to the Puyuhuapi Lodge. This is a wonderful place for a relaxing few days amid the tranquillity of the Patagonian natural forest, beside a fiord.

Activities and Places of Interest, Between Coyhaique and Puerto Montt, Carretera Austral, Patagonia

South to North Maine Places of Interest & Activities

Note: Our Sector 1 North to South is the Sector 3 in reverse order. Therefore, we are not showing Sector 1 below.

Fly Fishing

Click on map for larger image

Where from? See below...

Patagonia is one of the World’s greatest places for fly fishing. This is due to the vast number of rivers, lakes and lagoons and the fact that this area is still relatively new in terms of numbers of people coming here to fish.

There are large fish to be caught, usually under catch and release. Among the varieties are Rainbow, Brown and Brook trout, as well as Atlantic salmon (these have come out from Chilean agua programs), Coho salmon and Chinook salmon.

Above are a few of the principal destination places where you can fly fish. However, there are also numerous other lodges spread around Patagonia in remote locations. If you are a serious fly-fisherman and seek such lodges, please get in touch and we will arrange whatever you need.

Destinations to Fly Fish from:

Lago Yelcho via Futaleufu La Junta Melimoyu Lodge El Pangue

Laguna San Rafael Glacier

Click on map for larger image

Where? From Puerto Chacabuco

The San Rafael Glacier is a large glacier that comes down from the northern ice field that covers the Andes. Navigational trips depart from Puerto Chacabuco (79km west from Coyhaique) to see the high and wide glacial ice face calve off into a sea-water lagoon.

Queulat Hanging Glacier

Click on map for larger image

Where? In Queulat National Park

The glacier is high up in the Queulat National Park, just south of Puyuhuapi. It is a large glacier to see at height and in one sector there is a waterfall caused by the melting ice and this cascades down from the height of the glacier to the lagoon below.

Puyuhuapi Hot Springs

Click on map for larger image

Where? Puyuhuapi Lodge

Along the Carretera Austral there are a few places where water has been heated by underground volcanic heat and then surfaces to ground level. Such locations are called “hot springs”.

However, one particular place has mastered access to this natural heated water in one of the remotest places on the Carretera Austral and built a high-quality lodge here. The ability to bathe in the hot springs and enjoy total comfort in a tranquil, beautiful location is excellent for anyone’s health.

White Water Rafting and River Kayaking

Click on map for larger image

Where? Futaleufu

The Futaleufu river is known to be one of the best in the World for white-water rafting. It has high-grade challenging rapids for those who seek the adrenalin rush, as well as less difficult for the rest.

Parque Pumalin (Millennial Alerce Trees)

Click on map for larger image

Where? Caleta Gonzalo

The Pumalin National park was one of the first in Chilean Patagonia to be created by Douglas and Kristine Tompkins and then gifted to the Chilean nation. It contains vast areas of native forest including Alerce trees that date back thousands of years.

Self-Drive from Coyhaique to Villa O’Higgins, Carretera Austral, Aysen, Patagonia

Self-Drive from Coyhaique to Villa O’Higgins, Carretera Austral, Aysen, Patagonia

Carretera Austral, Self-Drive Drive North to South, Caleta Tortel to Villa O’Higgins

Introduction

The stage B of the North to South Sector 2 is from the southern point of Lake General Carrera to Caleta Tortel.

It goes without saying that here at ExperienceChile.Org we will arrange the rent a car you will need to drive through the Patagonian forest and Andean valleys, as well as your accommodation.

Caleta Tortel to Villa O’Higgins

Caleta Tortel to Villa O’Higgins

Caleta Tortel Puerto Yungay Rio Bravo Villa O'Higgins

Route Description

Assuming you have rested for a couple of nights at Caleta Tortel the route will continue to the end of the Carretera Austral and Villa O’Higgins.

Initially you will need to back track to the main Carretera Austral and then turn right onto the road, which will take you to Puerto Yungay 43km from Caleta Tortel. The road will climb up through a forest before it comes down in the final part to get to the ferry ramp, which is Puerto Yungay. From here the car and passenger ferry departs for the short crossing of the Mitchell Fiord to the other side at Rio Bravo.

It is important to note that there is a limit of 12 cars on the ferry, therefore try to get here early. The ferry departs from each side 4 times a day between November to March.

Once you have disembarked the ferry the road will passes through stretches of scenery that look like they belong to the Indiana Jones film! From Rio Bravo it is about 112km to Villa O’Higgins.

The village itself is not particularly interesting, but it is remote and from here there are natural spectacles to see such as the large O’Higgins glacier and hikes in the forest.

It is also possible to get over to Argentina and El Chalten – but, if you have a car, you will not, reasonably, be able to just leave it in Villa O’Higgins, therefore, for self-drivers this option is not really on.

Congratulations, you have made it! The end of the road, the end of road-connected mainland Chile.

Now you will need to return the way you came.

Places of Interest Villa O’Higgins

Apart from resting up in one of the remotest villages on Earth you can go on treks into the forests and take a trip on a boat to get close to very large millennial glaciers. It is also possible, weather permitting, to get from here across to Argentina and on to El Chalten and from there, of course, you can then get to El Calafate and on to Torres del Paine, back in Chile.

Carretera Austral, Self-Drive, North to South, Puerto Guadal (Lake General Cerrera) to Caleta Tortel

Introduction

The stage B of the North to South Sector 2 is from the southern point of Lake General Carrera to Caleta Tortel.

It goes without saying that here at ExperienceChile.Org we will arrange the rent a car you will need to drive through the Patagonian forest and Andean valleys, as well as your accommodation.

First Leg: Puerto Guadal to Valle Chacabuco Entrance 50km

Puerto Guadal to Valle Chacabuco Entrance

Total: 50km

Puerto Guadal Puerto Bertrand Baker Confluence Valle Chacabuco Entrance

Route Description

Heading South from Puerto Guadal you will come across a fork in the road, or a junction and this is called “Cruce El Maiten” and shortly after this is the village called Puerto Bertrand (to your right). Once again heading south, the road will pass parallel to the River Baker. Initially you may be “confused” when you see a strong, turquoise colour behind the trunks, and branches of the trees on your right, however, this is the River Baker, known for its salmon fishing and natural beauty. The colour, depending on the light of the day, can be so strong that it is almost unbelievable.

Potential Danger

There will be an undulating sector along this stretch of road which can be “dangerous”. We say this because when two vehicles are coming in opposite directions and each is in a dip the drivers are “blind” to the oncoming vehicle that will be met, possibly head on, at the next elevated part. You need to drive moderately and NOT at speed, especially because of this possibility. The author, and owner of ExperienceChile.Org is sharing this with you because it happened to him and in his case, there was almost a fatal accident when he was driving this sector.

River Baker Waterfall Confluence

The Baker is the longest river in Chile (200km) as well as having the most volume in Chile with approximately 870 cubic metres flowing per second.

Located 12km south from Puerto Bertrand and 37km before arrival to Cochrane, is the waterfall confluence of the River Baker and the River Nef. At this point the powerful River Baker crashes down from a 10m vertically high, natural rock “wall” to the ground below whereupon it meets and mixes with the water from the River Nef which is also crashing down from another vertical point close to the River Baker. The River Neff originates in the ice field some 30km back in the Andes, and the River Baker comes out from the Lake Bertrand. To see the mix of the turquoise-blue River Baker and the grey-coloured River Neff is quite a spectacle.

Once these two rivers merge at the confluence point, they continue as the River Baker and enter the sea near Caleta Tortel.

Shortly after this stop off, on the way to Cochrane, there will be a turn off left to the Chacabuco Valley, or Patagonia National Park.

About 12km before entering Cochrane there is a turn-off left to the Patagonia National Park, part of the Thompkins environmental protection organisation. Here you can trek a number of trails and enjoy the natural beauty as well as get good-level hotel accommodation, which ExperienceChile.Org will be pleased to arrange for you.

From the turn off from the main Carretera Austral, it is about 24km to the main lodge. In this valley there are herds of Guanacos as well as flamingos and black-necked swans to see.

The Park covers an area of 304,527 sq2 hectares and was declared a National Park in October 2018. Like Pumalin National Park, this area was donated to the Chilean state by the Thompkins Foundation, in 2017. Its aim is to protect and preserve ecosystems within central Patagonia as well as endangered wildlife populations such as “Huemul” and the Puma.

There is one place to stay if visiting, which we detail below, and from here you can trek on stipulated trails as well as view Tehuelche cave art dating back 7,000 years. The hotel is built, decorated, and furnished to very high standards and provides an excellent base from where to venture out into the wild and rugged terrain of raw Patagonia.

Second Leg: Patagonia National Park & Valle Chacubuco To Caleta Tortel 153km

Patagonia National Park & Valle Chacubuco To Caleta Tortel

Total: 153km

Valle Chacabuco Entrance Cochrane Tortel

Cochrane

The most populated settlement between Puerto Guadal and Villa O’Higgins is Cochrane, which is about 25km past the turn off point to the Chacabuco Valley and National Park Patagonia. If you continue to Cochrane village you can fill up with fuel and get some food and snacks.

Cochrane village is fairly non-descript. Therefore, continuing on to Calate Tortel would be a good plan. Once past Cochrane the Carretera Austral passes through territory which is a mix of hills, forested areas, and open country. It is a long stretch to Caleta Tortel, whereupon when you arrive you need to park up in the car park and approach the welcome centre.

Caleta Tortel

This tiny settlement came to fame when Prince William of the United Kingdom spent a number of weeks here working as part of the Raleigh International youth educational program during his student Gap year.

The first thing you need to know is that there are no traditional roads or streets in Tortel. The entire village is built on stilts and connected with boardwalks. You need to park up in the car park and from there you walk to your hotel – carrying your bags. Therefore, you need to leave the heavy stuff back in the car and just carry a few belongings to the hotel, the walk maybe 1km at least.

Tortel is a kind of quaint place, but it is also back in Medieval times whereupon its residents throw out of their windows their rubbish! However, if you ignore that, this place is unique and totally different. A couple of nights here should be enough to see it all.

Carretera Austral, Self-Drive North to South, Coyhaique to Lake General Carrera and Puerto Guadal

Introduction

This part of the Carretera Austral cuts right into the heart of the Aysen Region of Chile. The scenery is different to the northern sector of the Austral road. It is less lush with fewer trees.

Here is the large General Carrera Lake, the remote village with no streets: Caleta Tortel and the end of the road: Villa O’Higgins.

It goes without saying that here at ExperienceChile.Org we will arrange the rent a car you will need to drive through the Patagonian forest and Andean valleys, as well as your accommodation.

First Leg: Coyhaique to Cerro Castillo

Coyhaique to Cerro Castillo

Total: 209km

Coyhaique Balmaceda Turn Off Cerro Castillo

Route Description

The road south from Coyhaique is initially paved and passes along a quite spacious valley floor. After 40km you will arrive to the entrance, on the left, that takes you to Balmaceda airport, which is about 5km from the actual turn off. Passing by the entrance to Balmaceda airport the road will continue towards Cerro Castillo, the distance from Balmaceda to Cerro Castillo is 47km.

From Balmaceda Airport

Many of you will arrive at Balmaceda airport (Coyhaique) pick up the car and then head south, however, you must make sure you have a full tank of gas, which may require you to go into Coyhaique (45km north of Balmaceda) to fill up.

From the exit point of the Balmaceda airport onto the main Carretera Austral, you come out of the main airport road and meet the main Ruta 7. Here you turn LEFT and head towards Villa Cerro Castillo on a good, paved road for 47km.  This road will pass the entry sign into “Comuna de Rio Ibanez”, marked with entry posts either side of the road saying “Bienvenida a Comuna de Rio Ibañez”. The scenery here starts to look pretty and interesting, with steep valley sides of different coloured rock, and it feels like going through a canyon.

Cerro Castillo

The paved road will then arrive to a point where there are a number of sharp, meandering turns that need to be navigated as the road heads down a fairly steep hill side to the valley below where the village of Cerro Castillo is located. This section of the road reveals splendid views down the valley to the snow-covered mountains, glaciers, and valley plains of the Cerro Castillo National Park. The landscape here is impressive with jagged peaks, like “pin heads” pointing up on top of the mountain summits giving the impression that there is a castle on top of the mountain, hence the name “Castillo”, which means castle.

The route takes in the Cerro Castillo valley floor for a while until it heads up and then down into another valley that was covered in volcanic ash around 1990 - 1991. The hot ash from the Hudson Volcano eruption fell over the trees and river in this valley resulting in the devastation of most of the plant life for many years as well as blocking the river flow. However, over time the trees have recovered, and the river flow has found new routes through the valley.

Second Leg: Villa Cerro Castillo to Puerto Rio Tranquilo 122km

Villa Cerro Castillo to Puerto Rio Tranquilo

Total: 122km

Villa Cerro Castillo Puerto Rio Tranquilo

Route Description

The next place of interest, apart from the natural scenery along all of the route, will be the village of Puerto Rio Tranquilo. This is 122km south from Cerro Castillo. After passing through the valley previously covered in volcanic ash the road will rise up fairly steeply. To your right will be a superb view down the valley.

Marble Caves

In Puerto Rio Tranquilo there is not much of particular interest in the village, but a couple of km or so the other side of the village, on the left is the entrance point into a car park beside the Lake General Carrera. It is from here where the excursions depart to take people to see the Marble Caves.

National Park Laguna San Rafael

It is also the start point to get to Laguna San Rafael National Park in a vehicle (not the catamaran trip from Puerto Chacabuco).

Third Leg: Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Puerto Guadal 59km

Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Puerto Guadal

Total: 59km

Rio Tranquilo El Maiten Puerto Guadal

Route Description

The 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.

Past the car park entrance point for the marble caves the Lake General Carrera will be in view on your left. This is the second largest lake in Chile and shared with Argentina, whereupon it is called Lake Buenos Aires. If you feel that your eyesight is deceiving you because the colour of the water in the lake is turquoise, do not be alarmed. This is the real colour.

The road will continue following the north-western arm of the lake until you get to an orange bridge. This bridge is the crossing point where the large Lake General Carrera flows through a narrow channel into another lake called Lake Beltrand.

Once across the bridge you will be following the western shores of Lake General Carrera and it is from this point that many accommodation options are located.

Eventually there will be a junction in the road called “Cruce Maiten”. This point is 50km south from Puerto Rio Tranquilo. At this road junction you need to turn left to Puerto Guadal, or continue to Puerto Bertrand, to the right. We will take you to Puerto Guadal which is 9km east of the Cruce Maiten. In this area ExperienceChile.Org will have hopefully arranged your accommodation for a few nights.

Places of Interest & Activities in this Sector Include:

Activities

Trekking, horseback riding; the Maqui waterfalls, which are up to 25m in height, the “forgotten mine” – an old zinc and copper mine where the original uninhabited buildings can be viewed; walking through native Lenga forest; fossil hunting where it is possible to find sea creature fossils that prove that this part of the world was, at one time, covered by the ocean.

The Marble Caves

In Lake General Carrera is an area of marble rock that has been eroded by the natural lapping of the waves in the lake and this action has smoothy sculptured away areas of the marble. The result is varied shapes of marble that look highly impressive when the sun is shining.

Jet Boat

There is a great, fast-speed jet boat that takes passengers on an exhilarating wild trip on the lake and up the River Leones to see the Leones Glacier.

Glaciers

If you like to see glaciers or even hike on them, then this is also possible too. It is even possible to get to the Laguna San Rafael from here to see the large San Rafael Glacier. These excursions are all managed by local suppliers, but we can prearrange them for you.

Places of Interest and Activities, Between Coyhaique and Villa O’Higgins, Carretera Austral, Patagonia

Sector 2 North to South Places of Interest & Activities

Cerro Castillo National Park

Click on map for larger image

The first place of significant interest, driving south from Coyhaique, as well as Balmaceda airport, will be just past the sign that says “Bienvenido Comuna de Rio Ibañez”. The road is paved and either side the scenery begins to look “interesting and impressive”. This is part of the National Park Cerro Castillo. The village of Cerro Castillo will appear shortly after arrival at the foot of a meandering sector of the road that takes you down a steep sector. From the village the Park is down the valley.

Access: Villa Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo means “castle summit” and it is easy to see why this park is named so. The jagged and spiked peaks look, from a distance, to form a castle-like silhouette. The highest Cerro Castillo peak lies 7,605 feet above Coyhaique and Río Ibáñez, and in the area surrounding it, you’ll find a trekking circuit that has been named one of the most beautiful in all Chile.

The Lenga and Ñirre forests are home to Huemules (South Andean Deer) and it’s not uncommon to spot one near the Ibáñez park entrance, just next to the Carretera Austral.

The hanging glaciers form lagoons with bright turquoise waters, giving even more colour and life to a unique landscape that already captivates visitors from around the world.

  • Open: From October to April
  • Area: 354,601 acres
  • Climate: Cold steppe and trans-Andean continental climate
  • Rainfall: 36.5 inches annually
  • Ecosystem: Deciduous Forest, Evergreen Mountain and Steppe
  • Founded: June 19, 1970
Suggested Places of Interest and/or Activities
  • See the impressive Cerro Castillo massif, which can be photographed from one of the lookout points along the Carretera Austral.
  • Do the trekking circuit that starts in Las Horquetas and travels around the massif to Laguna Cerro Castillo, finally ending at the Neozelandés campsite.
  • Visit Laguna Cerro Castillo and take in its intense turquoise color.
  • Look for Huemules (South Andean Deer), which can be spotted from the Carretera Austral.
  • Take photos of Laguna Chiguay in fall, when the Lenga forests surrounding it turn red.

Note: The information above is supplied by the Tomkins Foundation.

Helitours

Click on map for larger image

Where? From Balmaceda airport (Coyhaique) and Tierra Luna, Puerto Guadal, General Lake Carrera.

Taking a helicopter around the Lake General Carrera and into the Andes to oversee glaciers, rivers and snowy peaks must be one of the greatest of experiences. Here is where you can do this. Of course, subject to local weather conditions.

Marble Caves (or "cathedral")

Click on map for larger image

Where? At Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Lake General Carrera

The impressive pictures of the naturally sculptured marble rock in lake General Carrera have generated considerable interest outside of Chile.

The marble, as a result of thousands of years of water lapping its exterior has been carved into various unpredictable shapes. On a sunny day, with the light enabling the blue of Lake General Carrera to reflect on the colours of the marble, the effect is stunning.

National Park Laguna San Rafael

Click on map for larger image

Although the main access to see the face of the large San Rafael Glacier is by catamaran from Puerto Chacabuco, which is 79km west from Coyhaique, it is also possible to enter the Laguna San Rafael National Park from Puerto Tranquilo.

You need to drive Route X-78, which reaches the park 51km west of Puerto Tranquilo (which is approximately 230km south from Coyhaique), and offers gorgeous views of forests, rivers, dozens of waterfalls, hanging glaciers, and snowy peaks. Walk across the Exploradores Glacier (with the right equipment and guide).

Take Route X-78 to Monte San Valentín (12,830 feet above sea level), the highest peak in Patagonia.

  • Open: Year-round
  • Area: 4,305,683 acres
  • Climate: Rainy and temperate; polar at altitude
  • Rainfall: 120 to 200 inches annually
  • Ecosystem: Evergreen forest, high-mountain forest, and periglacial shrubland
  • Founded: June 17, 1967

Note: The information above is supplied by the Tomkins Conservation Foundation.

Patagonia Jet Boat

Click on map for larger image

Where? At Tierra Luna, Puerto Guadal

If you like excitement a ride in a powerful motor launch that goes up, against the fast-flowing river and over its rapids, must be very exhilarating. Apart from the excitement of the ride, this trip also takes passengers into places not accessible any other way. This is a great way to experience and see even more of Patagonia.

Parque Patagonia (Trek in Valle Chacabuco)

Click on map for larger image

Where? Valle Chacabuco

The Chacabuco valley is located south of Puerto Guadal (Lake General Carrera) and only a few kms before the entrance to Cochrane.

This is a Patagonian valley that shows different geology to the northern sector of the Carretera Austral. The scenery is different as are the animals. There is a nice lodge here for a few days stay over as well as trekking to be done.

Villa O’Higgins, Carretera Austral, Patagonia Chile

Villa O’Higgins, Carretera Austral, Patagonia Chile

Introduction

This is literally “the end of the road”! If you make it here, you will have arrived to the most southern village on road-connected Chile. The settlements further south, such as Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas cannot be reached by road without driving through Argentina.

One of the main attractions here is a navigational visit to the Glacier O’Higgins – a very large glacier coming down from the Southern Ice Field. However, this trip is dependent on the local weather conditions. Apart from that there are some trekking trails and lakes to visit.

However, there is a great satisfaction that comes with the fact that you are in one of the remotest paces on Earth at the end of the Carretera Austral and at the end of the road of mainland Chile. To cherish this reality, it is worth spending a few days here, just for that.

From Villa O’Higgins is is possible to get into El Chalten in Argentina, but only “by foot”, that is to say you cannot drive. More information about this is below.

Places of Interest

The O'Higgins Glacier

This is a very large glacier that comes down from the Southern Ice field. To see it involves a navigational trip from the port of Villa O’Higgins and is subject to local weather conditions.

Trekking

Apart from this there are some treks in the nearby hills and woods.

Located from (approx. distances)
  • 2,034km South of Santiago
  • 1,241km South of Puerto Montt
  • 625km South of Coyhaique
  • 303km South of Puerto Guadal
  • 286km South of Cochrane
  • 155km South of Caleta Tortel
El Chalten, Argentina

For those who do not have their own vehicle and wish to continue to El Chalten this is possible, but totally dependent on the local weather situation. If the weather is good and the boat is running, you can take a boat that will navigate down the fiord to Candelria Mancilla. This is the Chilean border post that you will go past before entering into Argentine territory. From here the journey is either on horseback, or by foot to the Laguna del Desierto and on to El Chalten. The trip will take at least 24hrs, so an overnight on the way will be required and the best place is the lodge beside Laguna del Desierto called Aguas Arriba.

Note: ExperienceChile.Org will create a custom-made travel itinerary to your specifications. Just let us know.

Caleta Tortel, Carretera Austral, Patagonia, Chile

Caleta Tortel, Carretera Austral, Patagonia, Chile

Introduction

194km South of Puerto Guadal

Made famous when Prince William of the British Royal family spent a few months of his gap year working here, Caleta Tortel is an incredibly small settlement with simple buildings of natural timber construction set upon wooden stilts on the hill sides. There are no roads or streets in the usual sense, but a series of interconnected wooden boardwalks between houses and areas. The combined length of all the boardwalks is 7km.

The village is located between the Northern and Southern Patagonian icefields that cover the Andes. This combined area of snow, ice and glaciers covers around 4,000k2 of mountain tops. Here, is also the place where Chile’s most powerful river, the River Baker, enters into Pacific waters together with the rivers of the Bravo, Pascua and Huemules, which, together create a network of channels and inland waterways containing glacial-melt, fresh water.

Historically, the Kawesquar, indigenous people occupied this area, using their canoes carved from tree trunks to navigate the channels, fiords and islands in Southern Patagonia. This is not lost on the people of Caleta Tortel and there are many wood-carved sculptures of the Kawesquar people and their canoes at various places, especially the plazas, around the village.

The village was officially founded in 1955 and was only accessible by water until 2003. However, these days the Carretera Austral Road has arrived to Tortel and access is also by vehicle.

It can be considered a “quaint” village, or to some, a rather “backward” settlement where locals appear to have no concern for the local environment, often throwing waste literally “out of the window”.

However, it is totally unique and for this reason it merits a visit and is also a good logistical stop off.

The location of the village, beside the mouth of the River Baker and in a forested-sided fiord, makes for pretty surroundings. If you stay for a couple of days, it is possible to visit Jorge Montt Glacier, the “Isla de los Muertos”, Steffen Glacier and trek the La Bandera Hill.

Car Park

Visitors must park their cars in the car park located at the entrance to the village and from here you will need to walk to your hotel, which can be up to 2km. Therefore, any guests staying overnight need to take only a small bag with you to your accommodation and not try to carry or pull any suitcases with you.

Note: ExperienceChile.Org will create a custom-made travel itinerary to your specifications. Just let us know.

Valle Chacabuco, Patagonia National Park, Carretera Austral, Patagonia, Chile

Valle Chacabuco, Patagonia National Park, Patagonia, Chile

Introduction

This valley entrance is approximately 38km south of Puerto Guadal and is within the Patagonia National Park. It is accessed by turning left, where sign posed, about 24km before entering Cochrane (Cochrane is 62km south of Puerto Guadal).

The Park covers an area of 304,527 sq2 hectares and was declared a National Park in October 2018. Like Pumalin National Park, this area was donated to the Chilean state by the Thompkins Conservation Foundation, in 2017. Its aim is to protect and preserve ecosystems within central Patagonia as well as endangered wildlife populations such as “Huemul” and the Puma. These efforts have been applauded internationally as an example of how to preserve grasslands and reintroduce key animal and plant species.

There is one place to stay if visiting, which we detail below, and from here you can trek on stipulated trails as well as view Tehuelche cave art dating back 7,000 years. The hotel is built, decorated, and furnished to very high standards and provides an excellent base from where to venture out into the wild and rugged terrain of raw Patagonia.

Parque Nacional Patagonia (Valle Chacabuco)

Access: Valle Chacabuco (north of Cochrane)

Vast valleys sculpted by the Chacabuco River form a natural corridor that, since ancient times, has been used for travel both by nomadic peoples and a large diversity of fauna. Once the site of big cattle ranches, today the grasslands have begun to recover after a century of overgrazing and are now home to one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the Aysén region.

This is Patagonian steppe in all its splendour––mountain ranges, Lenga and Ñirre forests that burst with red in fall, active wildlife, and dozens of spectacular lagoons and lakes, such as Cochrane and Jeinimeni, which nourish these landscapes of overwhelming beauty. All this helps to tell the story of one of the most important ecosystem restoration projects in the country.

  • Open: Year-round
  • Area: 752.502 acres
  • Climate: Cold steppe and trans-Andean continentalRainfall: 8 inches annually
  • Ecosystem: Patagonian steppe, deciduous forest, wetlands, high mountain
  • Founded: December 11, 2018
Suggested Places of Interest and/or Activities
  • Drive the scenic Route X-83 toward Roballos Pass.
  • Hike the Lagunas Altas Trail in the Chacabuco Valley.
  • Take in the vastness of Lake Cochrane from the Douglas Tompkins Lookout Point or from one of the Tamango trails.
  • Visit the confluence of the Baker River––the river with the largest water volume in Chile––and the Chacabuco River.
  • Cross the 330-foot-long footbridge over the Chacabuco River and the footbridge found in the Avilés Valley.
  • Birdwatch at the various lagoons in the Chacabuco Valley.
  • Walk through the Lenga forests in fall.
  • Take a boat along the Cochrane River.
  • Apreciar la belleza del Lago Jeinimeni (Km. 65, Ruta X-753)
  • Visit the “Piedra Clavada”-  a 130-foot-tall volcanic rock formation, and the Moon Valley in Jeinimeni (Route X-753, mile 15 / kilometer 25).

Note: ExperienceChile.Org will create a custom-made travel itinerary to your specifications. Just let us know.

Partner Hotels Valle Chacabuco

Lake General Carrera, Carretera Austral, Patagonia, Chile

Lake General Carrera, Carretera Austral, Patagonia, Chile

Introduction

Lake General Carrera, located 356km south of Coyhaique, is the largest lake in Chile which also crosses into Argentina, whereupon it becomes known as Lake Buenos Aires.

On its south-eastern shore is the village of Chile Chi