Carretera Austral, also known as Chile's Southern Highway, is one of the most stunning and remote roadways in the world. Stretching over 1,200 kilometers through Chile's rugged Patagonian region, it's a route that offers breathtaking landscapes, hidden gems, and an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The highway connects a series of isolated towns and villages, each with their own unique culture and traditions, and provides access to some of the country's most pristine natural wonders. Whether you're an adventurous traveler seeking to explore the great outdoors, a cultural enthusiast eager to immerse yourself in local traditions, or simply looking for a peaceful escape, Carretera Austral has something for everyone.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at some of the highlights of this incredible destination and help you plan your own adventure along this unforgettable roadway.
Exploring the Northern Part of Carretera Austral
The northern part of Carretera Austral is a haven for nature lovers, with an abundance of outdoor activities and stunning natural beauty. Here are five must-visit destinations for anyone exploring the region:
Hiking in Cerro Castillo National Reserve
Cerro Castillo National Reserve is a picturesque destination located just south of Coyhaique, named after the iconic Cerro Castillo mountain range. The reserve is known for its landscapes of valleys, lagoons, and forests, and is a paradise for hiking enthusiasts. There are several hiking trails available, ranging from easy to challenging, with the most popular being the trek to the Cerro Castillo lookout point. This 7-hour hike offers spectacular views of the Cerro Castillo peaks, glaciers, and turquoise lagoons, making it a must-visit destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors.
Kayaking in Rio Baker
Rio Baker is the largest river in Chilean Patagonia, offering crystal-clear waters and breathtaking scenery that make it a perfect destination. Kayaking down the river is an unforgettable experience, as you paddle through the wilderness of forests, mountains, and glaciers. The river is suitable for both experienced and novice kayakers, with various tour operators offering guided trips that range from a few hours to several days, making it an adventure that anyone can enjoy.
Visiting Queulat National Park and the Hanging Glacier
Queulat National Park, located approximately 30 km south of Puyuhuapi, is a must-visit location known for its unique geography and diverse flora and fauna. The park boasts the iconic Hanging Glacier, a natural wonder that appears to be suspended in mid-air from a mountain. To access the glacier, one can hike the 6-km Queulat trail, surrounded by lush forests and roaring waterfalls, and spot a variety of bird species, such as the Chucao tapaculo and Magellanic woodpecker. Additionally, the park features the challenging yet rewarding hike to the Mirador Ventisquero Colgante, offering panoramic views of the glacier and surrounding valley, among the park's beautiful and diverse landscapes.
Exploring the Valdivian Rainforest in Pumalín Park
Pumalín Park is a vast, private park covering over 750,000 acres of wilderness, home to a diverse range of ecosystems, including the Valdivian rainforest. This forest is one of the most biologically rich forests on the planet, and visitors can explore it on a range of hiking trails, taking in the sights and sounds of the forest as they go. Highlights of the forest include towering trees, sparkling waterfalls, and a diverse range of wildlife, such as pumas, huemules, and pudus.
Rafting in the Futaleufu River
The Futaleufu River is one of the most famous and challenging whitewater rafting destinations in the world, offering a range of rapids, from Class III to Class V. It is known for its clear waters and stunning scenery, and rafting trips are available for all levels of experience, from beginner to advanced. The river offers a thrilling and unforgettable experience, with views of the Andes mountains, dense forests, and rugged landscapes, making it a must-visit destination for adventure seekers.
Discovering the Southern Part of Carretera Austral
The southern part of Carretera Austral is a nature lover's dream, with plenty of activities to keep visitors entertained. Here are some more details about the top destinations to explore:
Trekking in Patagonia Park
Patagonia Park is a paradise for hikers and backpackers, with some of the most spectacular trekking trails in the world. The park's unique landscapes of grasslands, forests, glaciers, and lakes provide a diverse range of trails to choose from. The Aviles trail is a popular option, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. This trail is a challenging 6-7 hour hike that takes visitors through forests and along the edge of glaciers. Another popular option is the Lago Chico trail, which is a moderate 2-3 hour hike that takes visitors through forests and along the shore of a beautiful lake. This trail is ideal for those who want to experience the park's natural beauty without too much strenuous exercise.
Visiting the Marble Caves
The Marble Caves are a natural wonder and a must-visit attraction for anyone traveling to Carretera Austral. The caves are located on General Carrera Lake and can only be accessed by boat. Visitors can take a boat tour from Puerto Rio Tranquilo to see the unique formations created by thousands of years of erosion. The marble caves have been shaped by the turquoise waters of the lake and create a surreal landscape of tunnels and caverns that are a photographer's dream. The caves are also illuminated by the sunlight, which creates a stunning effect on the walls and roof of the cave.
Relaxing in the Hot Springs of Puyuhuapi
Puyuhuapi is a small town located on the shores of a fjord in the Aysen region. The town is famous for its hot springs, which are a natural source of relaxation and healing. The hot springs are nestled in a stunning setting of forests, mountains, and waterfalls, and offer a range of pools and temperatures to suit all preferences. The hot springs are rich in minerals and have been used for centuries by the indigenous people of the area for their healing properties. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing soak in the pools and indulge in a range of spa treatments and massages at the nearby lodge. The hot springs are open year-round, making them a perfect activity to enjoy during any season.
Kayaking in Rio Simpson
Rio Simpson is a stunning river located near the city of Coyhaique, offering some of the best kayaking experiences in the region. The river flows through a breathtaking landscape of forests, mountains, and valleys, and is suitable for both experienced and novice kayakers. Kayaking down the river provides a unique perspective of the region's natural beauty and allows visitors to explore some of the hidden corners of the Carretera Austral. Several tour operators offer guided trips, ranging from a few hours to several days, and provide all necessary equipment and safety gear.
Discovering the Local Culture and Traditions of Carretera Austral
Carretera Austral is not only about its stunning natural beauty, but also about its rich local culture and traditions. From isolated villages with unique architecture to charming towns with traditional food and wine, there is much to discover and explore. In this section, we will delve into some of the cultural and traditional highlights of Carretera Austral.
Visiting the isolated village of Caleta Tortel and its unique architecture
One of the most unique and interesting villages along Carretera Austral is Caleta Tortel. This isolated village is known for its unique architecture, with wooden walkways and stairs connecting the houses, which are built on stilts over the water. The village is located on the coast of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, and it's surrounded by stunning landscapes of fjords, glaciers, and forests. A visit to Caleta Tortel is a journey back in time, as the village has preserved its traditional lifestyle and customs.
Learning about the history of Puerto Aysen and Puerto Chacabuco
Moving on to the bigger towns of Carretera Austral, Puerto Aysen and Puerto Chacabuco are two ports that are steeped in history. These towns played an important role in the colonization and development of the region, as they were the main ports for the export of timber and salmon. Visitors can learn about the history of the region by visiting the local museums, such as the Museo Regional de Aysen, which exhibits the local fauna and flora, as well as the history of the region. The towns also offer opportunities for shopping, dining, and strolling along the waterfront.
Trying traditional food and wine in the charming town of Puerto Varas
Finally, a visit to Puerto Varas is a must for those interested in trying traditional food and wine. Located on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, Puerto Varas is a charming town that has preserved its German heritage, which is reflected in its architecture, food, and culture. The town is famous for its traditional dishes, such as curanto, a seafood and meat stew, and kuchen, a type of cake. Visitors can also sample local wines, which are produced in the nearby vineyards. The town has many restaurants, cafes, and bars, where visitors can enjoy the local cuisine and culture.
In conclusion, Carretera Austral is an awe-inspiring destination that offers travelers a unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty and cultural richness of Chile. From hiking to kayaking to relaxing in hot springs, there is something for everyone along this iconic route. The region's stunning national parks, crystal-clear rivers, and picturesque towns provide endless opportunities for adventure and exploration. Whether you are a nature enthusiast or a culture seeker, Carretera Austral is a must-visit destination that will leave you with unforgettable memories and a deep appreciation for the wonders of this world.