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Essential Carretera

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

Chilean Patagonia in its truest form: unbelievably beautiful, rich in both culture and wildlife. From the glaciers of the northern Patagonian ice field to the grasslands of the future Parque Patagonia, this self- drive exploration of Chile's Aysén region is a combination of the great outdoors, lovely small hotels and a culture yet to be changed by tourism.

13 day trip described, guide price £2,745pp i

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Sample itinerary

Arrive in Chile

Arrive in Chile this morning and settle into your hotel to rest after your journey and begin exploring this lively capital. Note that international flights are quoted separately for this trip. Chile’s capital is a thriving modern city, with a lively arts scene. If it’s clear, and you’re looking to stretch your legs, head up Cerro Santa Lucia for lovely views over the city and surrounding mountains.

Travel to northern Patagonia

Fly south to the city of Coyhaique this morning to land just after midday. Pick up your large four wheel drive and set off on your driving adventure. There is paved road for the first hour or so of your journey through a landscape of farms, forests and, if you are lucky, views of the huge Cerro Castillo range. Thereafter, the road is unpaved and the landscapes increasingly dramatic.

Explore the northern Patagonian ice field

Today you have two choices of expedition, either a hike out onto the surface of the Exploradores Glacier, or a boat ride to the San Rafael Lagoon. Whichever you choose, you have a bumpy but incredibly beautiful drive of around 1.5 hours through the Exploradores Valley. Waterfalls cascade down from glaciers through forested slopes into the clear blue lakes of the valley floor.

Visit the Marble Caves by boat

Start your day with a visit to the neaby marble caves and cathedral before driving south to the striking waterfall where the Baker River meets the Neff before reaching the future Parque Patagonia. If the weather is good you might like to visit the cathedral directly from Puerto Tranquilo as this involves a 25 minute boat ride along the shore before you reach the strikingly beautiful formations of the marble caves which reach out into the waters of Lago General Carrera.

Guided walking in the Parque Patagonia

Enjoy a private guided walk in the park, ideally the beautiful Lagunas Altas route which is the most memorable in the park. It’s worth getting a lift to start the trail where the road runs out, it cuts out about 3km of a very long walk to leave you with a challenging 21km walk which loops up into the hills above the lodge and back down to the front door.

Self guided walking in the Parque Patagonia

A second day in the park allows you to walk a self guided trail or take a scenic drive though the heart of the park. The Chacabuco Valley, where you are staying, was considered of particular interest for Chile because, despite the ranching, it has always retained its full complement of native species.

Travel south to the mouth of the Baker River

Travel through temperate rainforest to explore the extraordinary network of wooden walkways built around the coast at Caleta Tortel. Setting off south you have a drive of around four hours to get to the sea at Caleta Tortel. En route you pass through Cochrane, with a population of around 5,000 it is actually the biggest town you will see on this journey.

Explore the Patagonian fjords by boat

Spend all day exploring the fjords near Tortel on your own private boat, not only captained by your host but also built by him. Depending on your energy levels and also the weather, there are a couple of choices for your boat trip today, either up the Baker River, or to the Steffen Fjord from where you hike to a viewpoint of the glacier.

Return north to Lago General Carrera

Set off north towards the beautiful waters of Lago General Carrera where you spend the next few days exploring or simply relaxing. Today’s drive is around four hours taking you from temperate rainforests of the Pacific archipelago to the gloriously dramatic Lago General Carrera.

Explore your surrounds

Enjoy a day of relaxing or take a short walk nearby, perhaps to the village of Puerto Guadal for lunch in this authentic Patagonian village. Your hosts can point you in the right direction for various shorter walks in the immediate vicinity, one takes you to a pretty waterfall and from there on up into the hills to trace the source of the river.

Explore the shores of Lago General Carrera, or walk

Your last day in Aysén could be either dedicated to walking, relaxing or driving along the shores of the lake to the frontier town of Chile Chico. Again, today is yours to do with as you please. Reading a book in front of the lake is never a bad option. For a more active option, there is a beautiful half day walk up to a viewpoint over Lago Bertrand.

Travel back to the airport to fly to Santiago

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

Fly home from Santiago

Travel back home from Santiago. 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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About this trip


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?

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Level of activity

As a tailor made holiday we can adjust things to suit you prior to your depature. 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.

As described above, the holiday includes the ice walk on Exploradores Glacier which is easy once you are on the ice but does involve a steep walk (up and down) of around an hour each way to get there.

The alternative for that day is to take a boat trip out to the San Rafael Glacier which is not really physically demanding though the weather can be challenging of course.In Tortel, you have choices for your day on a boat – the Steffen Glacier being the more active of the two but nor it is overly demanding.

The walks 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.

Back at Lago General Carrera there are walks to suit you almost no matter how energetic and adventurous you are feeling.

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

This is Chile, 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.

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 you are 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 along 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. The 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.


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

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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 » A guanaco in front of the Chacabuco Valley and the future Parque Patagonia Santiago's lively Plaza de Armas Views over the city of Coyhaique Flying over the northern Patagonian ice fields The marble caves on Lago General Carrera Looking out over the future Parque Patagonia A herd of guanacos in the heart of Parque Patagonia Admiring the Baker River, Carretera Austral Captain on the shores of the Baker River in Chilean Patagonia Standing on the southern shores of Lago General Carrera Wonderful views of the lake from Mirador Guadal, Carretera Austral Splashing and swimming in Lago General Carrera by Mirador Guadal Roadside landscapes north of Coyhaique The Chilean flag