Carretera Australe, Patagonia, Chile

Week 28 – I have the feeling that we did not enjoy this beautiful road as we should have…

La Carretera Australe is a Chilean road that starts in Puerto Montt in the north of Patagonia and goes down to the south for 1240 km to Villa O’Higgins, last accessible city on this side of the Cordillera. It is unpaved from its southern end to the small village of Villa Cerro Castillo, then it alternates between paradise paved road and terrible dirt roads!

La Carretera Australe can not be driven all its way long. Because of the region’s geography, it is interrupted 3 times requiring to cross the sea on ferry. As we did not drive to its southern end (we stopped 140 km short of Villa O’Higgins), we did not see the crossing between Puerto Yungay and Rio Bravo. But yesterday, in order to reach Puerto Montt, we had to take the 2 ferries from its northern end. We spent 5 hours on a small boat between Caleta Gonzalo (incredible little paradise lost in the middle of the jungle!) and Hornopirén, then 45 minutes between Caleta Puelche and Caleta la Arena. Of course, between Hornopirén and Caleta Puelche, we had the “pleasure” to drive 100 km on a very bad road under construction!

All along la Carretera Austral you find beautiful national parks, glaciers, green valleys surrounded by snow-capped peaks, lakes and rivers, it’s absolutely amazing! We have met an incredible number of cyclists for whom this part of Chile is the Holy Grail, and I understand them!

The more adventurous ride through the whole Carretera (also called Ruta 7) down to Villa O’Higgins and then cross to Argentina. To do so, they have to take a boat to cross the gigantic Lago O’Higgins, then hike the 20 km which separate the Chilean lake from the Argentinian lake, Lago del Desierto, and take another boat to cross this last one. Then, they have to ride a long dirt road (which we had driven a few weeks ago, only 35 km but 2 hours drive!) to reach El Chaitén. We would have loved to realize this challenge, but with the car it was impossible… It will be for the next time!

So, why do I think we did not enjoy this part as we should have? We have spent 2 weeks on the road and I sincerely believe that a month and a half, maybe even 2 months, would be necessary to really explore all its treasures! The road is sometimes difficult and long. This part of Chile is very narrow but you have to arm yourself with courage and patience to drive to the coast where fishing villages and glaciers are amazing rewards! Every 50 km you find a national park (I hardly exaggerate!) with very remote and incredibly nature hiking and camping options! We have finally trekked only once, in the Parque Patagonia located in the Chacabuco Valley. This hike was very nice but, being at the end of ZeTrip, we lost our courage and did not explore the Parque Queulat and the Parque Pumalin, which promised absolutely beautiful landscapes between virgin forest and suspended glacier! There are also tons of kayaking, rafting and fishing options on all the lakes and rivers that abound in the area! There are even opportunities for diving, but here I will play my joker, it is definitely not for me.

In the end, I have the feeling that we haven’t made the most of this region. Even if we were astonished every day by the landscapes we were driving through, we never stopped and took our walking shoes to brave the rain and the muddy paths!

For sure, we will come back and focus on this mythical road and its natural wonders!

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