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Carretera Austral
Carretera Austral
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Chilean Patagonia begins at Chaiten (approximately 1,300 km south of Santiago) and runs south to Punta Arenas (3,090 km south of Santiago), beyond which is Tierra del Fuego - the southernmost tip of the continent. Within Chilean Patagonia is the the Carretra 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 long!

Carretera Austral

Nearest Airports: Puerto Montt or Coyhaique

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 with give you a glimpse.

The Carretera Austral means "Southern Road". It is also known as Pinochet is Road as it was under his presidency when the Chilean army started construction work, cutting through dense rain forest, blowing through solid rock, and erecting bridges across ravines in order for there to be a continuous road route from Puerto Montt down to Punta Arenas - well that 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 remotest areas on Earth. The sector from Puerto Montt was officially opened in 1988 and, because it passes through such awe-inspiring terrain, is becoming more an 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 is 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.


We, of course, can arrange any type of itinerary for clients wishing to experience this part of South America just email us.

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, 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 meet another car head on � so be careful, the writer is speaking from personal experience!

The road, which is unpaved for over 90% of its length, can be driven from Puerto Montt, from Chaiten or from Coyhaique. Running north to south it starts at Puerto Montt and takes this route:

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

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 OHiggins (100km) very poor road state.


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 45 min from Coyhaique.


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 via two ferry crossings or 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 "out of scheduled times". Chaiten is the start or end of the drive along the "Carretera Austral".

Lake General Carrera

Located about 250 - 300 km south of Coyhaique "Lago General Carrera" runs west to east for a length of around 160 kms between Chile and Argentina. It is an extremely large body of water, surrounded by incredible, draw-dropping scenery.

San Rafael Glacier Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael
Nearest City with Airport: Coyhaique.

Location: South-west of Coyhaique. 5 hrs by catamaran from Puerto Chacabuco or few days by boat from Puerto Montt (see our Crucero Skorpios itinerary). To fly over takes 1hr 30mins 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, 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. Departures are from Puerto Montt or the closer port of Chacabuco (near to Coyhaique). All boats pass between the archipelago channels and passengers can enjoy a beautiful scenic journey going to and returning from the glacier.