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Carretera Austral Part 1 – The North

January 12, 2013

Carretera Austral

The Carretera Austral is a modern legend. It was only completed in 2000 and is one of the few positives of the Pinochet years. Before the construction of the road there was no overland route linking Southern Chile with the North. The road was originally 1240km of dirt but now it is being asphalted bit by bit and one of the great overland routes is becoming more accessible – this will bring development and diminish the experience. Do it now before its ruined !

Mountains on the road

This part of Chile is actually under severe risk from a number of hydroelectric schemes that the government are trying to push through which will flood large portions of the landscape and will also lead to a chain of plyons being erected spoiling the views.

River at Quelat


It is already one of the most productive areas in the world for farmed salmon.

Salmon Farm

Our ferry to the port of Chaiten in the Northern Section of the Carretera Austral was scheduled to leave at midnight for a seven hour crossing. We were the last vehicle loaded and I had to back down a steep ramp and then up into the ship.

Flowers on a tree

On boarding it seemed like everyone on board staked down a section of the common area to bed down and go to sleep. This was easier said than done as there were a number of children charging up and down the aisles between the seats. Every time they seemed to be quietening down their parents fed them more sugary drinks and the noise resumed !

Padre Waterfall2

Eventually we slept and woke in the morning to find that we were still moored off the port of Quellon. It turns out there was a problem with the tides – don’t they have tide tables ! We left at around 8am and by 11am had arrived at Chaiten – so much for a seven hour crossing.

Suspensionb Bridge

We were pretty tired after a terrible nights sleep so we drove around 60 miles before finding a nice campsite next to a suspension bridge.  We did try to spend the night at some thermals just off the main road but were told there was no camping – even in the car park.

River in Quelat2

Our second day we left the short initial stretch of paved road and drove South, however we decided to explore a side road up the Futulefu valley. The weather didn’t really co-operate with us and it was cloudy and drizzly. We camped in this valley but the next day made our way back to the main road and down to the town of La Junta.

MIsty mountains

It was pouring with rain all day so we found a place to camp (next to a bridge) and hunkered down to wait out the rain.

Ventisquero Colgante 3

We were rewarded with blue skies and sunshine the next day so we quickly drove South to the Quelat National Park. The first hike we did in Quelat was to the viewpoint of a hanging glacier. After Hiking up and along a lateral moraine we arrived at a stunning view of the glacier with waterfalls pouring out from underneath. Simply breathtaking.

Ventisquero Colgante

The next day we again had amazing weather and drove a bit further South to another hike – the enchanted forest. We didn’t really  know what to expect from this one and the first hour lived up to the title as we climbed through a twisted and dank rainforest.

Enchanted Forest

However eventually we emerged into a glacial bowl with a number of waterfalls. Eventually we ended up on a ridge overlooking a lake brimming with icebergs with a glacier feeding into it. The view was amazing.

Ice Laguna

We spent the night off the Carretera Austral at the port of Puerto Cisnes which is reached by a beautiful drive along a river.

Puerto Cisnes Boat

The next day we explored the small town and then headed back to the main road. We didn’t make it too far though before spotting Lago Las Torres which was absolutely gorgeous and just happened to have a campsite right on the shore. We settled down for a relaxing afternoon in the sun.

Lago Torres

The next morning the weather was not quite so good so we packed up and headed for the midway point on the Carretera Austral which is the town of Coyhaique, stopping at a couple of waterfalls on the way.

Virgen Waterfall

3 Comments leave one →
  1. pat and neil permalink
    January 12, 2013 7:51 pm

    your pictures make it look fantastic

    • Martin permalink
      February 6, 2014 9:00 am

      The pics doesnt make any fantastic, because is fantastic without the need of a pic, I am Patagonian, Greetings!

  2. Hans & Anja permalink
    January 12, 2013 8:22 pm

    Quote: The road was originally 1240km of dirt but now it is being asphalted bit by bit and one of the great overland routes is becoming more accessible – this will bring development and diminish the experience. Do it now before its ruined !
    Yes, and this is why we bought our tickets at Grimaldi for coming august.
    Rgrds Hans&Anja.

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