With very few options in regards to bussing up or down Chile’s remote southern highway, hitchhiking is the most dependable way to travel in this part of the world.
The Carretera Austral technically begins on the mainland side of Chile as the country splits off at Puerto Montt and the Chiloe Islands, and covers roughly 1,240 kilometers (770 miles). Gaining an overview and understanding the enormity of it is a must, as is deciding where you will start. From Puerto Montt, and the Chiloe Islands, you can catch a ferry to certain ports on the Carretera Austral which will allow you to enjoy it, but not labour down the whole stretch.
Puerto Montt: The very start of the Carretera Austral. Opt for this spot and you will have to cover a difficult patch between Hornopiren and Caleta Gonzalo, however, it is doable.
Chaiten: The capital of the Chiloe Islands, Castro, sits just across the inlet from the small town of Chaiten, and you can boat across with Naviera Austral and skip the difficult area, where the hitchhiking and remote beauty really starts to pick up.
Puerto Cisnes: With the same boat company, from the southernmost town on Isla Chiloe, Quellon, you can boat overnight to Puerto Cisnes and start deep in the beautiful scenery.
Puerto Aysen: Another option, as boats don’t run daily and your departure date may not have boats to Puerto Cisnes, is head over to Puerto Aysen further south and begin from there.
Depending on where you decide to start from, you’ll either be located directly on the Carretera Austral, or you’ll have a hitch or two to get you to the main highway.
From Puerto Montt, you’ll want to get outside of the city to where the roads splitting off the main highway are limited, as you don’t want to hail down a vehicle not going in your direction. You’ll also have to pay for the ferry that crosses from La Arena, across the little channel. From Chaiten, you’ll be located right on the Carretera Austral, as it passes through the town, so getting started from here is very simple.
From both Puerto Cisnes and Puerto Aysen, you’ll have to catch a hitch leaving the towns out to the highway, and from thereon in, catch the traffic heading on the Austral.
Insider tip: Keep up to date with the news in your area of choise, as road work, traffic accidents and landslides are common and can put a serious speed bump in your travel plans.
Points of interest
To visit all the locations on the Carretera would take a lot of doubling back, but you can choose from the following hotspots to factor into your plans.
Futaleufu: Inland towards the Argentina border and off the highway, this little town is surrounded by the beauty you came to see in this part of the world.
Coyhaique: The last actual city on the Carretera Austral is a stunning scenic place and worth a stopover, with some great hiking in the nearby pampas.
Chile Chico: Located on the biggest lake in Chile shared with Argentina, here you can kayak in the swirling blue marble caves.
Villa O’Higgins: Thise remote town sitting on the border of Argentina is a hitchhiker’s gateway to El Chalten in southern Argentina, a hiker’s paradise.