Carretera Austral

Chile’s Ruta 7, formerly known as Carretera Longitudinal Austral Presidente Pinochet is a 1240km long partially paved highway famous for its stunning views of glaciers, lakes, fjords, steep mountains and forests. From its south end, it starts at Villa O’Higgins and ends in Puerto Montt.

one of the million-per-day stunning views one can get on Carretera Austral

This part of the trip requires renting a vehicle to explore the full potential of what it has to offer. I was personally happy to jump on board of 4×4 two Swiss girls rented because the prices were – let’s say – not modest for one person. It might be due to the fact that the road is only partially paved and those unpaved parts can get a bit rough after the rain.

The tires are also most possibly not an everlasting commodity in this part of the world so make sure that the car you’re renting has a proper ones. Car rental works out roughly from 50 to 80USD per day, depending on the provider and a car quality but if you split it in between 4, it’s not that bad, given the rewards one can get on this picturesque road.

Anyway, after taking a public transport from Puerto Rio Tranquillo (Marble Caves) to Coyhaique, the car option proved to be a great choice. Not that the bus drive was bad, it’s just when you drive, you’ve got the freedom of stopping when you want to take a rest or take some pictures.

Regarding the quality of the road, we found one thing very fascinating. Some parts were literally a perfect road and other parts were just a dirt road. Who decided what parts to develop and why remains a mystery because it didn’t make much sense. Without any education about road logistics, I would personally improve the steep hilly parts that must get dangerous and slippery in winter or when it rains, rather than random 20km flat stretches in between no points of interest for locals or tourists as it was the case in here.

I guess that someone important must be living around the done-up stretches or it was easier to build those just before the local elections. Thinking about that, I believe that the local elections should take place more often because a lot of things get normally done when coming up to new elections in an attempt to get re-elected. Well, few more of those and Carretera Austral will be fully paved. However, saying all that, I must add that the drive was hustle-free and smooth.

So we drove off from Coyhaique towards Puyuhuapi, a small fishermen village at the end of the homonymous fjord. There was so many waterfalls that we gave up stopping by each and invented a game of who spots more of them from the car instead. My most favourite element of the whole journey however turned out to be the truly amazing colours of spring.

the colours of spring on Carretera Austral

One thing we missed a bit, was a nice pit stop to grab a coffee and rest a bit. We did stop in Villa Amengual, a cute small village with even cuter central square but the usual instant coffee, Chileans are for some reason obsessed with, didn’t really do the job. However, just few minutes of driving further north, we drove by a road sign that said: “real coffee” and we were so lucky to spot it.

Refugio Rio Cisnes

So in case you were around in a need for a little rest, Refugio Rio Cisnes would provide you with a perfect opportunity. It’s a beautiful place with a river, restaurant that also serves real coffee. The place is run by a friendly Chilean hippie couple with a 2yrs old daughter Sammi, overall a magic spot. It’s about 6km north of Villa Amengual, right under the viewpoint, where you’ll definitely stop at to enjoy the view. FYI: I’m not paid, nor have I received any favours or advantages to share this info with you.

Refugio Rio Cisnes from the viewpoint

Queulat National Park

Further down the road, there lies the highlight of this stretch of Carretera Austral: Parque Nacional Queulat, park that’s mainly famous for it’s waterfall combined with a glacier hanging over the mountain. Through-out my travels, I’ve seen plenty waterfalls but this particular one could be a contestant in the top 10 waterfalls.

The park was open, however, we were not allowed to get closer to the falls due to a safety issues regarding the bridge. Although it looked like a that repairs would not take longer than 1/2 day of work, the bridge has been already broken for weeks, which is the fact that illustrates the “work in progress” state of tourism in Chile.

Hanging glacier waterfall @ Queulat National Park

Only about 40 minutes drive further north, there’s Puyuhuapi, a small picturesque tourist village that’s located at the head of fjord. The place comes with fresh sea products in its restaurants as well as numerous lodges where one can enjoy a good night sleep after watching a magical sunset over the fjord. I won’t attach the picture to leave it up to your imagination. Oh yeah – and don’t forget to drink some wine after your dinner – as all Chilean wines – it always tastes godly 😉

Conclusion

Eventhough I have only drove through a 1/2 of Carretera Austral, I can safely say that it’s one of the most beautiful regions I have ever seen, I guess that the pictures I uploaded here speak for themselves. I personally believe that spring time boosted the range of colours, so in case you were flexible enough to pick the best time of the year to visit this part of Chile pick spring or even better autumn. Think shoulder seasons 😉

Sleep

  • Coyhaique: First I’ve stayed in an Airbnb place called Aumkenk Aike. Farid, the local lad with a good sense of humor was also a rather inventive constructor, building a wooden partitions in the dorm that offered some sort of privacy in the dorm. The bed was $15 a night. The place was about 10 minutes walk to the centre. Other place I’ve stayed was Mckay Truqueras Backpacker. It came with let’s say less features (no lockers) but far more space and a tiny bit better location, considering the distance to the centre and bus stations. The charming young lady that owned the place Maria was a great, friendly and attentive company. The bed in the dorm was $13.70.
  • Puyuhuapi: I’ve stayed in a booking.com place called Don Claudio. The private room @ $14.60 was a shared room where I’ve slept alone. Comfy bed, shared bathroom and 3 minutes walk to the fjord. Good place.

What would I do differently if I was there now wit my current knowledge?

I guess that I’d try to explore the whole length of Carretera Austral.

What was there next for me heading north?

I took a 30 hour ferry from Puerto Chacabuco to Isla Chiloé, where I was rewarded by yet another sun set, this time on board of the ferry inside the fjord, an experience I will never forget.

If you are travelling south from here

  • You can visit the little village Puerto Rio Tranquillo to experience the beauty of Marble Caves
  • About 1/2 day’s drive further south, you can get to a trekking paradise of Los Glaciares National Park near a cute little Argentinian town of El Chaltén
  • If you made it this far south, please do not miss out on what I guarantee would be one of the best experiences in your life and visit Perito Moreno Glacier near Argentinian El Calafate
  • Over Andes, there’s a town of Puerto Natales, which is a gateway to the famous Torres del Paine National Park
  • To get to the end of the world from here, travel further south to Tierra del Fuego‘s Ushuaia

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