A road that winds through green parks and nature reserves, flanked by fjords, rivers, lakes, pampas and snowy mountain peaks. This is the Carretera Austral, a 1,240-kilometer highway that runs through the entire northern region of Chilean Patagonia, passing through some extraordinary places. The Carretera Austral is one of the most beautiful and famous road trips in Latin America and should be traveled at a slow pace, with enough time to explore special hidden corners, such as the Marble Caves and the small island of Melinka.
The highway connects the cities of Puerto Montt, in Chile’s Lake District, to Villa O’Higgins, in the Aisén region, the youngest in Chile in terms of occupation. Aisén was practically isolated until the 1970s and it remains a sparsely populated region (0.8 inhabitants per square kilometer) with lush nature. The best way to tour the Aisén region, discovering its beauty, culture and hospitality, is by driving along the Carretera Austral. We’ve listed some of the amazing attractions that can be found along the way from North to South.
Can’t-miss spots along the Carretera Austral
Pumalín Park: Part of the Route of Parks of Patagonia, this must-see spot is located in the Lake District. Ancient trees, hundreds of waterfalls, fjords and a variety of trails invite visitors to a deep exploration. Pumalín Park is a 995-thousand-acre conservation area with public access that stretches from the heart of the Andes to the Pacific coast.
Futalefú: In the Mapuche indigenous language, Futalefú means “big river.” The river is definitely the greatest attraction in the area, located in the middle of the Andes. Whitewater rafting or kayaking on the crystal-clear waters of the Futalefú River is both a challenge and a unique experience. It is also possible to walk or bike on the paths of Futalefú National Reserve.
Queulat National Park: A magnificent evergreen forest where rivers, glaciers, waterfalls and diverse species coexist. Queulat is the perfect place for adventurers, offering rafting, kayaking and hiking activities. For those who want to relax, go straight to the hot springs area.
Coyahique: This is capital of Aisén: a small interior town which offers all the necessary infrastructure for travelers, including markets and currency exchange offices. It can also serve as the starting point for nearby tours, such as Coyhaique National Park, Cerro Castillo National Park and Puerto Aisén.
Cerro Castillo National Park: A scenic area which is also part of the Route of Parks of Patagonia and an ideal place to spot South Andean deer, guanacos, Andean condors and pumas. Get ready to take some amazing pictures.
General Carrera Lake and the Marble Caves: You simply can’t leave the Carretera Austral without taking a speedboat on General Carrera Lake to observe the fantastic Marble Caves. These unique rock formations were sculpted by waves washing up against the calcium carbonate over a period of more than 6000 years.
Villa O’Higgins: The newest town on the Carretera Austral is also a charming place to stay and explore. From there, travelers can visit the O’Higgins Glacier in the Southern Ice Field, ride the pioneers’ route or even cross the border to El Chaltén, in Argentina, which is right next door.
Where to stay on the Carretera Austral – four fantastic hotels
(CLICK THE NAMES TO GO TO THEIR LINKS)
AWA is considered a starting point for exploring Patagonia. Located in the Lake District, in the charming city of Puerto Varas, it’s a design hotel surrounded by nature with breathtaking views of the magnificent Osorno Volcano.
This is the perfect, most peaceful place to stay in Futalefú. PATA is a self-sustaining community of smart villages, lodges and farms surrounded by native forests, green fields, organic gardens and the emerald waters of the Futalefú River.
The only way to get to Puyuhuapi is by boat. No TVs or cars are allowed. A super charming. isolated ecolodge that overlooks the protected Dorita Bay, where hot springs emerge on the seashore. An ideal stay for exploring Queulat National Park.
Bordering on the Andes, Rio Palena Lodge is a dreamlike retreat for adventurers, anglers and nature lovers in Patagonia. Rio Palena Lodge is bordered by the Andes mountains. While there, travelers can enjoy fly-fishing, mountain biking, hiking, rafting and even skiing!
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