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Carretera Explorer

A journey along Patagonia's Southern Highway | View photos »

Chilean Patagonia in its truest form: movingly beautiful, rich in both culture and wildlife. This two-week journey links together the precious Valdivian rainforests of the northern section with granite snow-covered mountains, rolling grasslands and the vast icefields further south.

14 day trip described, guide price £3,911pp i

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Sample itinerary

Arrive in Chile

Connect your overnight flight from London to Santiago with a short flight south to Puerto Montt in Chile's Lake District. The rest of the day is yours to relax in your comfortable hotel and recover from your long flight.

Head south by road and ferry

Today set off early to begin your epic road trip south through Patagonia, travelling by road and ferry through some wonderfully scenic areas. The bulk of the day will be spent on the ferry from Hornopirén with the snowy peak of the same name towering overhead, the beautiful Patagonian fjords stretching out ahead of you. It’s a lovely taste of what’s to come. After five hours you’ll reach the tiny outpost of Caleta Gonzalo, where you find your surprisingly comfortable cabins.

Walking in Pumalín National Park

The vast Conservación Patagonia project protects the beautiful virgin forests of Pumalín. Today you can choose to follow any of the well-marked trails within striking distance of your cabins. Our favourite takes you along wooden walkways into gorgeous temperate rainforest to a remote high waterfall. A short drive away is the Alerce trail, a very easy route which allows you to see some beautiful and ancient alerce trees - the most valuable and precious of the trees in this ecosystem.

Drive to Puyuhuapi via Chaitén Volcano

Today's first stop is the emblematic and enormous caldera of Chaitén Volcano, within which sits the new, smaller and active cone of the volcano. Follow a relatively easy self-guided trail for a dose of dramatic vistas and evidence of the destructive power of volcanoes. Having been dormant for 9,500 years, the catastrophic eruption in 2008 caught everyone by surprise. End your day at the charming small town of Puyuhuapi, set up by immigrants from the Sudetenland back in the 1930s.

Explore Queulat National Park on foot

Explore the northern sector of the Queulat National Park, perhaps following the self-guided Puma Trail through the precious rainforest or on a boat trip from Puyuhuapi. So precious is this ecosystem that it is found in only five other places on earth. So it's a blessing then that you have to veer somewhat off the beaten path to find it and when you do, there won't be many others to have to share it with.

Hike to a hanging glacier

This morning is your chance to visit the most emblematic feature of the Queulat National Park. Spilling off the top of a cliff, the hanging glacier contrasts dramatically with the rocky cliff face and surrounding forests. The 3km path up to the viewpoint winds through the forest, but the view from the top is the real star, with more or less eye-level views of the glacier on the far side of the valley. For those who don't feel energetic, there is a boat along the lagoon from where you can see the glacier. Continue your journey to your comfortable lodge at Cerro Castillo, surrounded by mountains.

Hiking in Cerro Castillo

Enjoy a private-guided day walk in the newly-created Cerro Castillo National Park. There are different options for your walk today, including the steep hike up and back to the lagoon underneath the main peaks of Cerro Castillo. 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. Return to the village of Cerro Castillo for dinner in one of the welcoming small restaurants.

Explore the Northern Patagonian Icefield

Your journey continues south, skirting the shores of Lago General Carrera, Chile's largest lake. Drive into the Exploradores Valley towards the glacier of the same name. Because you are heading towards the ocean, you enter stretches of beautiful forest with glaciers falling down off high mountains either side of the road - it's all very dramatic. There is a well-marked trail which leads steeply up through the forest to the top of the glacial moraine from where you have fantastic views over the Exploradores Glacier, part of the Northern Patagonia Icefield.

Take a boat to the Marble Caves

You might choose to take an early morning boat trip to see the Marble Caves, when the light is at its best. The caves are beautiful marble formations eroded by wind and the water of the vast lake. After this, follow the Baker River and stop at the Confluencia waterfalls, where the heavily sedimented Neff River joins the Baker to create an even more spectacular colour of water. Have lunch in the charming small town of Cochrane before heading towards the remote coastal village of Tortel.

Visit a remote glacier by boat

From Tortel head out across a stretch of open sea to reach a little-visited glacier in one of the strands of the Southern Patagonian Icefield. This is a rare opportunity for you to see a dramatic and remote icefield without anyone else in sight. The boat itself is very comfortable, it even has a stove inside so the navigation is very much part of the fun of the day. Mind you, so is the idea returning to a glass of wine and delicious meal in your lovely lodge.

Self-guided walk in Tamango Reserve

Begin your drive back north to your lodge on the banks of the strikingly-blue Baker River. The lodge is ideally located to head into the Tamango Reserve, where a series of well-marked trails allow you to explore and hopefully spot a Huemul - Chile's seriously endangered dwarf deer. The reserve is also home to the Cochrane River, known to be one of the clearest in the world.

Private-guided walk in Parque Patagonia

Your destination today is 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. Enjoy a private-guided walk, with routes of varying lengths to choose from. 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.

Travel to Balmaceda and fly to Santiago

Today you should allow yourself a good six hours for the drive back to the airport, this way you will have plenty of time to enjoy the landscapes. Fly to Santiago this evening for a last night in Chile.

Fly home from Santiago

Today is yours to relax and explore Santiago before your evening flight home. 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. Our Pura guide is full of suggestions for restaurants, based on our personal experiences and opinions. You will be collected from your hotel late-afternoon and transferred to the airport in plenty of time for your return international flight. Again, international flights are quoted separately for this trip.

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Map of the area

"Stunning views"

"Stunning views"

Stunning views across all parts of Chile visited, excellent accommodation and food in family run hotels/guest houses, superb car to deal with the exciting/hairy road conditions, would thoroughly recommend this trip to people wanting adventure.

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"Spectacular and fascinating"

"Spectacular and fascinating"

I wanted to say thank you for the recommendation of the Carretera, it really is a spectacular and and fascinating trip. You've built up a great network of people, locations and activities which make it interesting and different every step of the way. I was apprehensive about doing a 'road-trip' style holiday, and wouldn't choose to do one in most places, but this is definitely the exception that proves the rule.

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About this trip

Summary

Exclusive to Pura Aventura, this self-drive holiday in Chile’s northern Patagonia is perfect for anyone adventurous with their travels. People who appreciate going to a place where people don’t necessarily speak English, where wi-fi works only sometimes, where roads are unpaved, where you might be delayed by an ox drawn cart, or guanacos in the road. In return for your adventurous spirit, Aysen delivers vast swathes of untouched wilderness of rare beauty and incredible variety. Let the pictures do the talking, we took them all and would love to talk to you about tailoring a trip for you.

How adventurous?

Activity
1 2 3 4 5
Comfort
1 2 3 4 5
Culture
1 2 3 4 5

Best time to go i

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

Level of activity

As a tailor made holiday we can adjust things to suit you prior to your departure. There is also much of this trip where it is up to you to set the pace. There is plenty of opportunity to get out walking on this holiday but equally, if all you wanted to do is sit and stare at the landscapes, it would remain a great trip.

At various stages in the journey, you have private guides who can adjust activities to suit you. The walk in Patagonia Park can be set to suit you. If you are able to manage the 21km of the Lagunas Altas route then we would highly recommend that you do this. However, there are other shorter routes available which your guide can discuss with you once there. The same applies in Cerro Castillo National Park of course.

Level of comfort

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 driving on this trip is largely on unpaved roads but surfaces are treated. We include the largest available 4x4 vehicles which are substantial and comfortable. Distances covered are not large - anywhere from 75km - 200km in any one go. However, you should expect to travel at around 50km/h on average for a safe and comfortable trip.

Level of culture

Note that people here do not commonly speak good English, if any at all. You may well find that communicating with your guides takes a good deal of patience on both sides. When eating out in restaurants you will likely have to rely on whatever Spanish you have or on a translation app.

When driving, you need to be careful because cows quite often wander into the road. Gauchos ride their horses along the road, usually with their dog trotting behind. Hitchhiking is common here, locals getting from one village to another will wait patiently for a bus to pass but if you stop, they’ll be delighted. They may offer you money, that’s normal etiquette – you don’t have to take it!

Everywhere you go you will see evidence of very simple rural living. Small brightly painted houses in the most incredible surroundings – often with the windows facing the road rather than the million dollar view out back. People carry unfeasibly large loads of wood up the walkways of Tortel. Maté is the daytime drink of choice.

This is Patagonia. It is unvarnished but for those of us who like tour travels to ignite the exploring spirit in us – there can be few better places in the world.

Practicalities

The holiday price is a guideline based on two people sharing, and includes accommodation, certain days with private or shared guides, activities and excursions as described. It also includes 4x4 vehicle rental, internal flights, private transfers, and local information. Naturally, on each and every one of our holidays, we include Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout, along with the reassurance of our financial protection and safety auditing.

For a more detailed description of the holiday, please contact us and we can send you our pdf itinerary.

International flights are quoted separately for this holiday. Best flight routings are to fly in and out of Santiago (airport code: SCL). Expect to pay between £700 – £900pp for flights except in peak periods.

Departs

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

Next steps...

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01273 676712

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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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Book Subscribe to The Pothole » Cerro Castillo along the Carretera Austral Peaceful waters in Puerto Montt harbour Silhouettes in Pumalin Park Walking in the Alerce forests of Pumalin Cooling dip after the hot waters of the Puyuhuapi springs Puma Trail, Queulat National Park Queulat's hanging glacier Morning light on Cerro Castillo National Park Guide planning a route across the Exploradores Glacier The marble caves on Lago General Carrera Navigating by boat through the fjords of northern Patagonia Walking through the spring flowers in the Tamango Reserve A herd of guanacos in the heart of Parque Patagonia Aerial view of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucia The lively barrio of Concha y Toro in Santiago