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Carretera Explorer

Two weeks on Chile's Southern Highway | View photos »

15 day trip described, guide price £4,680pp i Fully customisable to you

Patagonia is one of the most diverse and spectacular parts of the world with towering mountains, deep blue lakes, dense forests and twisting glaciers. In return for your adventurous spirit, you will experience vast swathes of untouched wilderness and incredible variety as you drive along Chile's Carretera Austral.

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Day-by-day itinerary

Arrive in Chile

Arrive in Santiago this morning and transfer to your downtown hotel. After dropping off your bags, head out with your guide and get to know some of Chile's buzzing capital. Later, if it’s clear, and you’re looking to stretch your legs, head up Cerro San Cristóbal near your hotel for lovely views over the city and surrounding mountains. Please note: international flights are quoted separately for this holiday.

Fly south to Patagonia

Transfer back to the airport to fly to Balmaceda, gateway to the Aysén region of Patagonia. Get your first look at the beautiful scenery as you collect your 4x4 vehicle and drive south to the village of Cerro Castillo, overlooked by a spectacular mountain range. Perhaps visit the nearby ancient Tehuelche cave paintings this afternoon.

Walking in Cerro Castillo National Park

Walking boots on today. Enjoy a private-guided walk in the newly created Cerro Castillo National Park. There are different options for your walk today. Our favourite route leads you along an old estancia path, through the lush Southern beech forests, rich in birdlife, and into a circus of dramatic high peaks. At 20km it is a long but relatively comfortable walk, affording some truly spectacular views to reward your efforts.

Cross Chile's largest lake

This morning can be a fairly relaxed one. The Levican Peninsula has some pretty walks along the quiet backroads, with beautiful views back towards Cerro Castillo. Your afternoon car ferry takes you across the deep blue waters of Lago General Carrera to the lakeside town of Chile Chico, with its sunny and windy microclimate.

Walk in the Jeinimeni Reserve

Along with the Andes, the mountains of Jeinimeni create a second rain shadow, with landscapes reminiscent of the deserts of Northern Chile. The 7km circular self-guided walk is one of the most varied and unexpected you'll do. A rocky gorge leads up to a low mountain pass from where you have lovely views towards the blue waters of Lago General Carrera. Finding a scenic spot for your picnic won't be difficult. Futher on are some of the oldest cave paintings in the region.

Take the scenic road to Cochrane

Today's drive follows the southern shore of Lago General Carrera, one of our favourite stretches in all of Patagonia. You have plenty of time to take it at your own pace and to stop and enjoy the views. At the Confluencia Waterfalls, the heavily sedimented Neff River joins the Baker to create a spectacular colour of water. Continue on to the charming small town of Cochrane.

Guided walk in Tamango Reserve

Spend the day with your guide walking in the nearby Tamango sector of Patagonia National Park. It has a series of well-marked trails for you to explore and hopefully spot a Huemul - Chile's seriously endangered dwarf deer. The reserve is also home to the Cochrane River, one of the clearest in the world. You'll take a boat upriver to enjoy the extraordinary clarity of the waters.

Hike on a glacier

Spend the day on a private-guided glacier hike on the Calluqueo Glacier, beneath the San Lorenzo peaks. Having been kitted out, you'll cross the lake and climb up the rocky terrain before strapping on your crampons as your guide leads you up to hopefully reach the clean ice. Please note that today is highly dependent on weather conditions and the condition of the ice, which varies week to week.

Continue south to Tortel

The road south follows the Baker River to the coastal village of Tortel. The vegetation becomes incredibly green as you pass through temperate rainforest, the scenery is reminiscent of the Amazon at times. Since the road only reaches the edge of the village, leave your car and follow the maze of wooden walkways to your charming small hotel.

Drive until the road runs out

Today, you travel to the end of the road, before crossing the Rio Bravo on ferry and continuing your journey south by road. If time is on your side, you could take a detour to visit the spectacular waterfall of Salto Perez. A short walk gets you up close to these cascades. Not far from here is Lago Christie, with lovely lakeside views; it's a great spot for a picnic.

Boat trip into the Southern Patagonian Icefield

Enjoy a full day shared boat trip to the Great O'Higgins Glacier, a spectacular spur of the Southern Patagonian Icefield. The boat travels the full length of the face of the glacier at a distance of around 250m which, given that the ice is the best part of 100m high, is plenty close enough. The crew will fish out ice from the lagoon to serve a celebratory whisky on the rocks.

Head back north through spectacular scenery

Today's drive is a fairly long one as you return up the Carretera Austral, by road and by ferry, to your final lodge. It is your longest day of travel, but passing some beautiful landscapes along the way. There is lots of opportunity to stop and take in the view. Once in Cochrane, you might like to pick up food to enjoy lunch in the nearby river valley, with its waterfalls and views of the Patagonian ice fields.

Private-guided walk in Parque Patagonia

Your destination today is Parque Patagonia, one of the largest private donations of land in the history of conservation. You will be treated to beautiful views over the whole Chacabuco Valley with the Andes beyond. Pass through native forests full of birdlife. The walk is punctuated by a series of beautiful high lakes. You have a decent change to see condors and will certainly see lots of guanacos. Less common are puma, though there is a lot of evidence of their presence.

Return to Santiago

If time allows, you might visit the Marble Caves from Bahia Mansa en route to the airport. The caves are beautiful marble formations eroded by the wind and water of the vast lake. The light in the morning, when combined with the colour of the water and the rocks, makes it really very beautiful. Continue north towards the airport where you hand in the keys and board your flight back to the capital.

Fly home from Santiago

Since your flights don't leave until this evening you have plenty of time to enjoy Santiago. The fine arts museum is a short stroll away, as is the Cerro Santa Lucia. Of course, a long lunch in Lastarria is no bad thing either after a couple of active weeks in Patagonia.

Note: This is just an itinerary idea and we'll therefore tailor everything to you.

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About this trip

Is this the right trip for you?

Flexible departures: If you're ready to start travelling again, you can book now secure in the knowledge that we offer you the freedom to defer your trip, until the point your balance is paid, to any available date before the end of 2021.

Financial protection: For complete peace of mind in these uncertain times, your money is fully protected by our membership of ABTOT and the ATOL scheme.

Ensuring your safety: Please rest assured that your safety is always our top priorty. Our partners will all follow the strict guidelines set out by the government to ensure your safety whilst travelling, and we will fully support them to ensure they are able to do so.

How can we tailor this trip to you?

Over 20 years of travelling up and down the Carretera and following countless walking trails, we have extensive first-hand knowledge with which we can tailor this trip and make it personal to you. It might be adjusting the length of the trip or combining it with another part of Chile, or perhaps even other parts of South America. Equally, if you have specific interests or curiosities that you might like to indulge – rafting or condor-watching for example – then we can also factor that in to a personalised itinerary.

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How adventurous?

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Best time to go i

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Departs on a date to suit you, from October through April.

What's included?

The price is per person based on two people sharing and includes:

First-class accommodation with breakfast and some dinners
Internal flights
Private airport transfers
Ferry crossing to Chile Chico
Full-size 4x4 vehicle rental with insurance for two drivers)
Private guided tour of Santiago
Private guided walking in Cerro Castillo, Parque Patagonia and Tamango
Private ice hiking at Calluqueo Glacier
Shared O'Higgins Glacier boat excursion
Chile Holiday Guide with personal recommendations
Chile driving guide
Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout

International flights are quoted separately for this holiday. Best routing is into and out of Santiago (SCL).


The hotels and lodges in Aysén have reached a great moment whereby we have a wonderful selection of very high quality small hotels for you to stay in. These are not luxury properties but rather very clean and comfortable owner run places where the welcome is as warm as you’ll find anywhere in the world. The one exception is in Cerro Castillo where the best available lodge is a small, somewhat basic refuge. Rooms are private and en suite but the general standard of construction a little less robust than in other places. For access to Cerro Castillo NP, it is very well worth it.

For more details, please get in touch to request a detailed PDF itinerary.

How does this trip benefit the destination?

This is Patagonia. It is unvarnished but for those of us who like our travels to ignite the exploring spirit in us – there can be few better places in the world. It is a source of great pride that we have such close relationships with a wonderful group of partners down here, who we entrust to introduce you to the Patagonian way of life, as well as the amazing scenery.

Over the course of your trip you will visit some of the 17 national parks protected by the world’s most ambitious conservation projects; the Route of the Parks. This project, officially launched in Europe in conjunction with Pura Aventura, protects 24 ecosystems and 60 communities, across 2,800km of Patagonia, from the Lake District to Cape Horn. Eco-tourism will offer ranchers and local people across 60 communities a more sustainable and lucrative source of income and a sensitive and considered way for us all to experience these wonderful environments.

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The described itinerary is just a taster of what this trip could involve. We would work with you to tailor your personal trip.

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  • Day 1 - Ten traditional Chilean dishes you must try
  • Day 2 - Chile's animals, and how to tell a guanaco from a llama
  • Day 3 - Visiting Torres del Paine four different ways
  • Day 4 - All you care to know about Chilean wine
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Book Subscribe to The Pothole » Approaching the Calluqueo glacier beneath San Lorenzo peak The lively barrio of Concha y Toro in Santiago Cerro Castillo along the Carretera Austral Windy conditions in the high peaks of the Cerro Castillo National Park Views of Cerro Castillo from the Levican Peninsula Looking across Valle Lunar, Jeinimeini Driving the Carretera up to Cochrane Beautifully clear waters of the Cochrane River inside the Tamango Reserve, Carretera Austral Approaching the Calluqueo glacier beneath San Lorenzo peak The remote village of Caleta Tortel in Chilean Patagonia Lago Christie near Villa O'Higgins Ice calving off the Leones Glacier Dramatic scenery by the side of the Carretera Austral A herd of guanacos in the heart of Parque Patagonia Exploring the Marble Caves by boat on the Carretera Austral Aerial view of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucia