The Carretera Austral
driving Patagonia's southern highway across rugged and remote terrain, taking in the stunning scenery along the way
A spectacular journey through the pristine wilderness of Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, best between November and May.
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The Southern Highway
The Carretera Austral starts in Puerto Montt, and crosses 1,247km of rugged and remote terrain to the northern shores of Lago O’Higgins, from where the only way south is by boat, or by backtracking and taking Argentina's Ruta 40..
For further reading see Ed's article: Ed on the Carretera Austral
Accommodation options are good - in most places you can stay anywhere from simple inns to comfortable hotels, just ask us for details.
For those who do not have enough time (3-4 weeks) to do justice to the entire route (especially if you want to include Torres del Paine and Punta Arenas) there are various shorter sections that are very rewarding on their own:
Start in Puerto Montt, take the Hornopirén ferry (runs daily, all year) to Caleta Gonzalo/Chaiten (Pumalín national park); loop through Argentina by turning off the Carretera Austral via Futaleufú, then to Esquel (Los Alerces national park), Bariloche and Villa La Angostura. Allow at least a week, and you will add the contrasts of the sheep-farming ‘classic’ Patagonian steppe with deep, arid canyons and Swiss-style lakes. You could also include a few days on Chiloé island. You could extend slightly by including Puyuhuapi and time to explore Queulat national park (add 2-3 days).
Starting and ending in Balmaceda (Coyhaique's airport), and exploring the road to the south as far as Tortel, or even Villa O'Higgins, although some backtracking is required - allow 4-8 days. An adventurous add-on here would be a full day boat trip to the San Rafael glacier, down the little-visited Exploradores valley.
Pick up a vehicle in Balmaceda and drop it off in Punta Arenas. The only way this can be done with the same vehicle is to cross the border and travel through Argentina - where you would normally include El Chaltén (Fitzroy national park) and Calafate (the Perito Moreno glacier). Cross back into Chile at Puerto Natales and visit Torres del Paine, if you have not had enough of glaciers and granite mountains.
In the following section you will see our suggested options for possible accommodation.
Complete - from £5,000
The ultimate driving experience through Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.
Pick up your hire-car in Puerto Montt, and drive south along the Carretera Austral crossing over once or twice into Argentina. Visit the beautiful Perito Moreno Glacier and magnificent Torres del Paine National Park, before dropping off your vehicle in Punta Arenas.
- El Mirador de Guadal - a series of beautifully crafted wooden cabins, built on the shores of Lago General Carrera, Chile's largest lake.
- Entre Hielos Lodge - A rustic family home in the small, wooden village of Tortel.
- Hosterķa El Puma - a charming lodge built with the imposing backdrop of the Fitzroy in el Chaltén.
- Hosterķa Lago Grey - in Torres del Paine national park, with spectacular views towards a glacier and the famous Cuernos (Horns) of Paine.
Compact - from £3,000
The perfect alternative for those with less time on their hands, but still wanting to experience Patagonia with the independence of a hire-car.
- Estancia 440 - A comfortable B&B in the picturesque town of Puerto Varas.
- Hotel Tres Reyes - On the shores of lake Nahuel Huapi in San Carlos de Bariloche.