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Northern Carretera Austral image

The first section of Chile's southern highway, the Carretera Austral, reaches its first ferry crossing an hour south of Puerto Montt at La Arena. From here, a road heads south, through verdant forest and past hot springs, to Hornopirén, a small fishing village at the northern end of a long Pacific fjord.

A daily ferry provides the only road link on the journey further south, arriving eventually at Caleta Gonzalo. This is the northern gateway to Pumalín Park, an isolated area of mountains, fjords and volcanoes stretching the width of Chile from the eastern border to the sea, and reaching as far south as Chaitén. This privately owned park covers a pristine wilderness of temperate rainforest, volcanoes, sheer granite rock faces and countless hot springs, much of it only accessible by boat. In fact, the park (which effectively divides Chile in two) leapt to contention when the land was bought by the American billionaire Douglas Tompkins as a showcase for his 'Deep Ecology' concept, creating Chile's largest foreign-owned ecological park.

The isolated town of Chaitén is the unofficial start of the famous Carretera Austral. Highlights of the northern stretch include Pumalín Park, a privately owned park and a pristine wilderness of temperate rainforest, sheer granite rock faces and countless hot springs; the tumbling Futaleufú river, which offers some of the finest white-water rafting in the world; the Queulat National Park with its hanging glacier; and the picturesque Simpson Valley. Further south, still with much of the friendly, welcoming feel of a frontier town, Coyhaique is an up-and-coming tourist destination, especially popular with fishermen who come to enjoy the excellent fly-fishing on the Simpson and Baker rivers.

Our preferred accommodation

  • Cabañas Caleta Gonzalo image

    Cabañas Caleta Gonzalo

    Lodge/Hosteria - Pumalin Park
    The rustic Caleta Gonzalo cabins, overlooking the Reñihue fjord are simple and homely. A restaurant served good food, including sandwiches (fixed menu).
  • Futa Lodge image

    Futa Lodge

    Lodge/Hosteria - outside Futaleufú - Friday
    This remote lodge is in the beautiful Valle de las Escalas on the Futaleufú river in Chile, a 2 hour drive from Esquel (in Argentina, the nearest airport) and on the edge of a national park.
  • Hosteria Coyhaique image

    Hosteria Coyhaique

    City hotel - Coyhaique
    The Hosteria Coyhaique is a large, modern hotel in the centre of town with spacious gardens, a swimming pool and football pitch.
  • Hotel Belisario Jara image

    Hotel Belisario Jara

    City hotel - Coyhaique
    A small simple hotel set back from the road within its own gated compound and a short walk to the centre of town.
  • Hotel El Reloj image

    Hotel El Reloj

    Inn/Posada - Coyhaique
    Hotel el Reloj is a small, friendly guesthouse, 5 minutes walk from the centre of Coyhaique. It has a good restaurant, open to the public, at the back of the building overlooking the garden.
  • M/Y Noctiluca image

    M/Y Noctiluca

    Motor yacht - Puerto Chacabuco
    Taking its name from the luminous plankton or seasparkle that flourishes throughout Patagonia, the M/Y Noctiluca is a is a 57-foot motor yacht that offers cruises through the picturesque channels and fjords of the Guaitecas archipelago. Constructed with native wood blending traditional techniques with the latest technology, the Noctiluca is warm and cosy maintaining the rustic elegance of its time-honoured design.
  • Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa image

    Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa

    Resort - Carretera Austral - Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
    This remote lodge is set within lush Patagonian vegetation on the banks of Dorita Bay deep within the southern fjords of Chile. Access is by sea or via the Carretera Austral (Southern Highway).
  • Tehuelche Patagonia Lodge (ex Mincho's Lodge) image

    Tehuelche Patagonia Lodge (ex Mincho's Lodge)

    City hotel - On the southern edge of Coyhaique
    A homely lodge within a pine plantation overlooking the Simpson river valley. The décor is warm and friendly, full of local character. There is a large dining room open to the public and a small, comfortable sitting room surrounded by books, pictures and family heirlooms.

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