The Most Scenic Road Trip Through Chile
Meandering its way through dense forests, spurting volcanoes, snowcapped mountains, stunning glacial lakes and foggy fjords is the 1,240 kilometer-long Carretera Austral – Chile’s most incredible and adventurous road trip that runs from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Don’t be fooled by the term ‘Southern Highway,’ the route is not well-paved and will include numerous ferry crossings, which adds to the beauty of it!
Begin your epic journey here, albeit not traveling for long until you reach the Alerce Andino National Park where you can walk among the ancient alerce trees that are thought to be between 1,000 and 4,200 years old. Among the forest keep a look out for pudú, pumas, vizcachas, condors and black woodpeckers. Once you have left the park you will see your first fjord, the Reloncaví Estuary and when you reach Cochamó you’ll be able to see the Yate Volcano to one side of the Estuary and the Calbuco Volcano the other.
Alerce Andino | © Eduardo Schmeda/flickr
Top up with fuel in Chaiten before carrying on south down Route 7 – is this the way to Amarillo? It sure is! Enjoy the steaming baths of the Termas de Amarillo where you can spend the afternoon relaxing in the tranquil surroundings.
Carretera Austral | © wikimedia/googleimages | https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a3/Carretera_Austral_-_Leones.JPG
Anglers frequent the beautiful Yelcho Lake due to its great fly-fishing, there are also a handful of lodges and hotels along the banks which provide a room with a spectacular view. Thrill-seekers should go white-water rafting down the renowned Futaleufú rapids, while east of Futaleufú is where you will find the border with Argentina, for those wanting to reach El Bolsón or Bariloche.
Rafting | © Zachary Collier/flickr
The Termas de Puyuhuapi shouldn’t be missed, with 40 degrees Celsius pools. If you’re looking for a treat the Hotel Termas de Puyuhuapi is a fantastic hotel, with an inspired menu and enticing thermal baths. From here you can visit the expansive Parque Nacional Queulat that stretches over 154,093 hectares. The hikes are spectacular, roaming through the forests towards the famed Queulat hanging glacier.
Hotel Termas de Puyuhuapi, Bahia Dorita s/n, Cisnes, Chile
Outdoor pools | © Courtesy of Puyuhuapi Hotel
Founded in 1929, Coyhaique is a great base for those that fancy skiing, fishing or hiking. Embark on a trek through the forests of the Reserva Nacional Coyhaique where you can enjoy a multi-day hike and either camp or stay in rustic refugios. Keen anglers can enjoy an abundance of brown and rainbow trout fishing at both Atrevesado and Elizalde lakes, or further south in the Castor, Frío and Pollux lakes. The quaint ski resort of El Fraile has five pistes and two lifts for those looking for a day’s skiing in Chile.
Coyhaique | © Mike Fernwood/flickr
Hikers and climbers must stop here, the majestic pinnacles of the snowcapped mountains offer great scenery and the Cerro Castillo National Reserve spans a massive 179,550 hectares, providing bountiful hikes and climbs. The Cerro Castillo trail can take between 4-5 days covering 45 kilometers through thick forest, offering fantastic views of the cordillera and surrounding valleys.
Cerro Castillo | © wikimedia/googleimages
Hop on a boat or kayak over the sensational azure blue lake of General Carrera towards the marvellous marble caves. These grottos are extremely photogenic, with their artistic swirls created by over 6,000 years of waves washing up against the calcium carbonate. Another trip from here that shouldn’t be missed is the glacier tour of Laguna San Rafael National Park – with your crampons, enjoy a jaunt over the glimmering glacier and into the magnificent glacial cave.
Marble caves | © Dan Lundberg / Flickr
This quaint and quirky village is connected by passages of creaky timber bridges, its unique style has made it a national monument as well as its popularity among anglers as a fishing village. Sat on the creamy green waters, the place oozes character, as do the locals.
Caleta Tortel | Courtesy of Chile Travel
The end of the road is at Villa O’Higgins, a town surrounded by jagged mountains, looming glaciers and wide fjords. You can visit the world famous O’Higgins Glacier, the lake underneath is a stunning turquoise, thanks to the glacial waters. Enjoy the abundance of hikes in this area where you will be able to appreciate the stunning Northern Patagonian scenery.
Carretera Austral | © wikimedia/googleimages