Carretera Austral (Southern Highway), Chile

Carretera Austral, One of the World's Route Paradise to Drive !

travel blog If you ever come down to Patagonia (Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chalten, Los Anitguos),
I would defenitly recommend you NOT TO MISS the Carretera Austral.
It is a great way to go up to Bariloche (or down from Bariloche to the south).
I actually was treking in El Chalten (A beautiful place to do some day treks), and wanted to go from there to Bariloche and El Bolson.
I had two Options going up by Route 40 Argentina, or Going up by Carretera Austral Chile.
Route 40 is nice, but it is not as nice and famous as the Carretera Austral.
Carretera Austral Route scenery is amazing, I recommend to travel by day light so you can enjoy the view.
Along the route you will find an incredible variety of mountains, lakes, large extensions of cold forest, national parks, glaciers, gigantic ice fields, lagoons, fiords and rivers that make this land one of the World's wonders.   
It is an ideal territory for adventure tourism, fishing, trekking, extreme sports, kayaking, rafting and observation of flora and fauna in its most wildest state.

The only bothering part about the route is that it has a lot of ripio (small stones), it is gravelled road since they are building it now, and most of it is not built.

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The Austral route begins in the city of Puerto Montt and covers more than 1240 kilometers until Villa O'Higgins.

Traveling Carretera Austral …
Options to travel the Carretera Austral include hitchhiking (and I've seen people getting stuck for days this way), renting a car (usually in Argentina or in Pucon)  by bus, or by Motobike.

travel blog By Car …
Since the road is beautiful, the recommended way is by a rented car, so you can travel blog

By Motobike …
Many corners of this green paradise are almost unknown and the Wilderness is the absolute queen. The bike permits to explore the region in a great way. If You are in good shape and with an equipment well fitted for the hard “ripio”, try to cycle the Carretera on your owns alone or with some friends, try to pitch your tent along a wild river or in a wood..try to sleep inside listening to the wind blowing and the rain falling outside..try to cycle for miles and miles meeting anybody, discovering a wonder in every  corner…But try to go there as soon as possible: the Carretera  (and maybe whole Chilean Patagonia) is changing quickly and  it is possible that in a few years more and more roads will be pavemented…….

Here are some interesting places along the Carretera Austral, that worth a travel blog

You can divded the Carretera Austral to the following main parts marked by red(Going from North of Chile, To South).

Puerto Montt to Chaiten

The first stretch starts in Puerto Montt and ends in Chaiten. The length of that part of the
road is 240 km.
In this part you will be traveling amongst forest and fiords, with the first 9 kilometers covered in asphalt and the rest is rubble.
From Puerto Montt (By the way if you are there I recommend visiting Chiloe, a very nice Isand), the highway borders the Reloncavi gulf, at times it borders the shores and other times it exists much more inland or rises above a cornice that falls into the sea. From this highway you have access to the Alerce Andino National Park by taking the turn off in the Chaica sector.  This park is characterized by its millenary forest of larch trees, some of them exceeding 3000 years of age.

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After 46 kilometers of highway you will arrive in the La Arena sector. Here you can  make a journey by ferry, to cross the Reloncavi Estuary to the Puelche Cove(which lasts approximately half an hour).  From this place the route borders the coast until Contao, soon it continues inland and then returns to the sea shore about 20 kilometers later.  Hornopiren is a small town located in the extreme of a fiord and is a base from which one can  travel out into the surroundings before taking the second ferry. Hornopiren National Park is a destination for the adventure seeker. Despite the difficult access and lack of services, it is worth the trek to see the beautiful and occult lagoons and enjoy a day of fishing. 

In the same fiord you find the Ciervos and Llancahue islands.  The first island preserves a population of  red deer and southern pudu in a surrounding of larch trees and lagoons. In the second you will find the Llancahue Thermal Spas, with hotel, restaurant and excellent thermal waters.

The second trip by ferry permits you to arrive in Gonzalo Cove. The journey lasts 5 hours and functions solely during the estival season. At the furthest point of Gonzalo Cove you can visit the Pumalin Park. This park contains an excellent camping zone, visitors center, cafeteria, excursion footpaths, cabins, picnic zone and the selling of handcrafts. 58 kilometers to the south, is Chaiten.

Chaiten to Coihayque

This part starts in Chaiten and ends in Coyhaique. The length of that part of the
road is 420 km.
This is the most popular part for travelers.
This part passes through Queulat National Park, where you can visit the hanging glacier
(Ventisquero Colgante) near the town of Puyuhuapi.
If you get there without a car, travel blog

Chaiten is located 58 kilometers south of Gonzalo Cove. 25 kilometers from Chaiten there is a turn off that guides you into the direction of Amarillo Thermal Spas.  From this place a trail begins that allows you to arrive to Futaleufu (approximately a 7 day hike), 45 kilometers from Chaiten, you can find Puerto Cardenas in the extreme northeast of Yelcho Lake. The location where Yelcho Lake and it?s rivers meet is a favorite destination for fly fishers, especially for foreigners.

The turn off to Futaleufu can be found at Villa Santa Lucia, which is located 30 kilometers south of Puerto Cardenas.  This town (close to the Argentine border) is known internationally by kayakers for it?s challenging Futaleufu River.

30 kilometers from Villa Santa Lucia by the Futaleufu route is the turn off that takes you to Palena.  From there you can arrive to the Palena Lake National Reserve, solely by horse or on foot.

Following the Austral Highway and 152 kilometers from Chaiten you'll find La Junta.  It is a place where the Frio and Rosselot rivers join, at this point it is called Palena. From La Junta, the route to Verde Lake separates, a small locality frontier next to the lake that carries the same name. The route to this place passes next to Rosselot Lake and the National Reserve that bares the same name.

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Puyuhuapi is a small town situated at the end of the Ventisqueros Fiord.  11 kilometers south and accessible only by sea, are the internationally known Puyuhuapi Spas , well-known for the quality of the waters and for the excellent hotel and restaurant. From the spas you can board a catamaran that permits you to visit the biggest attraction of the zone: San Rafael Lagoon.

South of Puyuhuapi, the route crosses the Queulat National Park, known for the Padre Garcia Hurtado Waterfall (just before the pass),  and through the fabulous Ventisquero Colgante (hanging glacier), visible from an observation area on the highway. Once you have left the park you will find the turn off to  Puerto Cisnes.

The highway continues until the sector named Piedra de Gato (cats stone). This point was difficult to construct since it was an isolated zone with a grand variety of topography, which consisted of narrow valleys that form a U, a strong vegetation and the presence of the forest and undergrowth. This forced the construction to have located layouts in the coastal zones, parks and sectors close to the pampas and complicated terrain.

In this section, you can see that the tree trunks have been calcined during the 40's.  In those years the Chilean government gave dominion titles over the land that would have been cleared. The colonist utilized the fire that devastated grand extensions of virgin forest. It was an ecological catastrophe.

Past Amengual Villa there is a turn off to  La Tapera, (next to the Argentine boarder), and immediately after the crossing is the Las Torres Lake National Reserve. Not too far  into Ma?ihuales Villa, a paved stretch of the highway begins and continues to Coihayque. In the Viviana intersection, you will find the turn off to Puerto Aysen and Puerto Chacabuco. Originally Puerto Aysen was a principal port of the zone, nevertheless the large quantity of sediment dragged by the Aysen river blocked its natural bay. For this reason the port was transferred 15 kilometers to the west where Puerto Chacabuco originated.

After the turn off, the route crosses the Simpson River National Reserve. It owes its name to the river that crossed it and is famous among fly fishermen.  Among one of the most beautiful places of the park that undoubtedly highlights it, is the Virgin Cascade and the Velo de Novia waterfall.

Coihayque to Villa O'Higgins

This part starts in Coyhaique and ends at Villa O'Higgins village. The length of that part of the
road is 440 km.

This part is a dead-end, and therefore many travelers do not continue to the end of the
road, and at in the village of Chile Chico they leave the road, and cross to Argentina.

This part of the road passes through Puerto Rio Tranquillo, where you can take a boat
and visit the impressive Marble Caves (Capilla de Marmol – the Marble Chapel) near the
You can also arrange for a vehicle that will take you on a tour to the mountains, the
lakes and the glaciers in the area.

Coihayque is located at the foot of the Macay hill, it has an inquisitive plaza with five sides which contains all of the services necessary. In the outskirts of the city, close to the bridge towards the airport, is the Piedra del Indio (Indian Stone). 29 kilometers south you will find the Cerro El Fraile Ski Center that has two ski lifts and five ski trails.

From Coihayque the route continues to Balmaceda, where there is an airport. After 17 kilometers there is a turn off to the La Paloma and Elizalde Lakes. Soon the route enters the Cerro Castillo National Reserve that is protected by old and new forest in the zone.
The General Carrera Lake is one of the most beautiful  tourist zones. This immense lake (shared with Argentina and named “Buenos Aires”) is the second largest in South America. The principal port is Puerto Iba?ez, accessible by a turn off 30 kilometers from the Austral Highway.

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Close to Cerro Castillo Villa two sights of archaeological interest exist: The Manos Cerro Castillo National Monument and the denominated RI-4. The first is a monument of hundreds of painted hands, of adults and children, in red tones and the second is a display of a guanaco and its offspring.

To the south and the west of the lake is the Puerto Tranquilo, here you can rent boats and visit the Catedral de Marmol (Marble Cathedral), a rock formation perforated by the water, in this zone it is turquoise in color.

50 kilometers to the south is the intersection with the turn off that takes us to Chile Chico, united with the Argentinean boarder.  From this city you can arrive to the General Carrera Lake and Jeinimeini Lake reserves. The Cueva de las Manos highlights the zone. It is a place where the tehuelche natives drew a large quantity of hands in red, black, yellow and white.
Retaking the Austral Highway and following to the south, you will arrive in Puerto Bertrand. It is located 300 meters from the place where the lake drains and gives origin to Baker River, the most abundant rivers in Chile. In its outlet you will find Tortel, which is highlighted by its colorful houses and wooden gangplanks. 

The route follows its course until the Cochrane river, the last important city of the zone.  To the east you will find the Tamango National Reserve, famous for its Chilean guemal population and the Cochrane Lake.  From the reserve there are beautiful views towards the valley and the Southern Ice Field.
The Highway in its last stretch, continues until Puerto Yungay, on the shores of Bravo River -which you have to cross to continue the route until O'Higgins Villa , on the Argentine boarder. This is the final point of the highway. The Southern Ice Field to the west almost makes it impossible to continue the highway, just the same the study of making the project feasible is already under way.

If you are Short in Time And Still Wanna Do Carretera Austral….
All right so if you are in the south of Argentina like El Chalten, And you wanna see the Carretera Austral
by Bus, I suggest to go from El Chalten to Los Antiguos (Argentina),Stop there for a night since it is a long way (13 hours) Then from there take a 15 minutes bus to Chile Chico (Chile), From there you can start the Carretera Austral all your way up to Bariloche.
You can go from Chile Chico to Puerto Bertrand travel blog

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