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The Carretera Austral is a journey for explorers and adventurers, those who want to experience Patagonia at its most remote, untouched and beautiful. From the rainforests of Queulat to the deserts of Jeinimeini and the glaciers of the Patagonian icefields, few places in the world can offer such diversity.
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Arrive in Santiago this morning to meet your guide at the airport. After dropping off your bags at the hotel, you might head out to get to know some of Chile's buzzing capital. Santiago is a thriving modern city, with a lively arts scene, so there’s plenty of vibrant culture to immerse yourselves in if you like. If it’s clear, and you’re looking to stretch your legs, head up Cerro San Cristobal near your hotel for lovely views over the city and surrounding mountains.
Transfer back to Santiago airport this morning for your flight south to Balmaceda, gateway to the Aysén region of Patagonia. On arrival pick up your comfortable 4x4 vehicles and set off north for the beautiful forests, fjords and glaciers of Queulat National Park. The drive should take you just over four hours in total.
Spend today in the company of your hosts as you travel along the fjord to a lovely small island for lunch. This afternoon enjoy a guided walk within your posada's own estate, walking to a spot with great views over the surrounding fjords. The trail leads into the heart of the precious temperate rainforest. This is an ecosystem found in only five places on earth. One of the key characteristics of this type of forest is the large variety of tree species and very rich understory which tends to be full of mosses, ferns and lichens.
Today you might like to explore the northern sector of the Queulat National Park. Driving north along the fjord's edge gives you some of the most dramatic views of the whole Carretera. You will want to stop in the charming small town of Puyuhuapi. This community was set up by immigrants from the Sudetenland back in the 1930s. At least one of the original settlers is still here, gardening away, speaking Spanish with a strong German accent!
Drive south via a walk in Queulat National Park to the viewpoint of the most emblematic feature of the park: the Ventisquero Colgante or hanging glacier. Spilling off the top of a cliff, the glacier contrasts dramatically with the rocky cliff face and surrounding forests. Later, drive south to the village of Cerro Castillo - a very modest place but with an anything but modest mountain range towering over it.
Cerro Castillo is still a little-known gem of Chilean Patagonia, so walking here is a real treat with fantastic landscapes and few other people. Today, your private guide will propose you different options according to your energy levels,, including the steep hike up and back to the lagoon underneath the main peaks of Cerro Castillo. However, the best route in the park leads steadily uphill through beautiful southern beech forests into a circus of dramatic high peaks and the Duff lagoon. It is a remarkably comfortable 20km walk considering just how dramatic your surroundings are.
Today you will drive through open valleys and beautiful landscapes and then cross the remarkably blue waters of Lago General Carrera, South America's second largest lake. The ferry ride takes approximately two hours, usually in the late afternoon, and drops you off at the frontier town of Chile Chico, on the south side of the lake. Spend the next couple of nights in this lakeside town with a sunny, and windy, microclimate.
Chile Chico sits in the rain shadow of the Andes which is what gives it a relatively dry and sunny climate. The nearby mountains of Jeinimeini create a second rain shadow which makes parts of the reserve resemble deserts of the north of Chile. The 7km loop in the reserve is a truly wonderful hike, one of the most varied and unexpected you will find anywhere. A rocky gorge leads up to a low mountain pass from where you have lovely views back towards the blue waters of the lake. On the far side of the pass, you find some of the oldest cave paintings in the region. This is an unmissable day of walking, take a picnic, and enjoy the peace and quiet of this great corner of Aysén.
The road along the southern shore of Lago General Carrera is one of the most beautiful stretches in all of Patagonia, so take time to stop and admire the views along the way and the extraordinary colour of the Baker River. A little further on are the Confluencia waterfalls, where the heavily sedimented Neff River joins the Baker to create an even more spectacular colour of water. This afternoon you continue to the charming small town of Cochrane.
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. 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.
You might start today with a self-guided walk in the Tamango Reserve. It has a series of well-marked trails for you to explore and hopefully spot a Huemul - Chile's seriously endangered dwarf deer. It is also home to the Cochrane River, one of the clearest in the world. 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.
Set off driving back north, before reaching your final stop in the lovely surroundings of the Mirador de Guadal. You'll have opportunities to stop again at Parque Patagonia and also see the Confluencia waterfalls.
Today's walk leads you up through the beautiful old southern beech forests above your lodge and onto a treeless plateau. The views are incredible, with the icy Andes to one side, Lago Carrera ahead and the peaks of Jeinimeini off to the east. However, it is underfoot that things are surprisingly interesting - the entire area is a fossil bed. Return downhill for to relax, go horse-riding, or, for something unforgettable, fly over the ice fields in a helicopter
Your lunch buddy today is the remote Leones Glacier, reached via a fast, often bumpy, ride across Lago General Carrera on a jet boat, before heading upriver as far as possible. A gentle walk through dwarf beech forest takes you up to the edge of a 10km long glacial lagoon and a second small boat takes you all the way to the face of the glacier. It spills beautifully down the face of the surrounding mountains to calve dramatically into the lagoon. Settle in for a picnic lunch on the rocks in front of the glacier as you watch this beautiful display of nature in glorious isolation.
Set off early to travel up to Balmaceda for your afternoon flight south. Drive 250km, 5 hours, mostly unpaved. The short flight south takes you over the icefields to Punta Arenas in Chile's far south, gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park. Stay here tonight in the city, ready for the next stage of your journey.
Within easy reach of your lodge are opportunities to horse-ride, kayak, cycle or go fishing, as well as boat navigations to nearby glaciers. There are also plenty of walking opportunities, with various trail heads a relatively short drive away. One of the best trails leads up Cerro Benítez, from where stunning views to Laguna Sofía abound. Condors can often be seen from the nearby mirador. The Cueva del Milodón offers some insight into the human and geological history of the far south. Go early to avoid the tour groups.
Today is flexbile as you enter the national park for the first time, but you might like to walk through dwarf beech forests to a spectacular viewpoint over Glacier Grey. The southern shores of Lago Grey are also home to beautiful, mature beech forest. It is a short walk through here to get to the beach, where you might be treated to the sight of icebergs floating close to shore. Another option is take a boat trip up to the surface of the glacier, hopefully seeing huge chunks of ice calving into the lake. There are also routes in the southern foothills of the park, as well as others to waterfalls and viewpoints over the main mountain massif.
There is a variety of lovely hikes in the south-western corner of the park, near your lodge. One of these is the steep hike up to the viewpoint at the top of the Mirador Ferrier. From up here, there are views across the lakes towards the Paine massif, most notably the distinctive black peaks of the Cuernos. There is also a short, busier, trail to the waterfalls at Salto Grande for one of the iconic views of the park.
Cross the park today, enjoying walks along the way. There is a fauna trail to the east of the park which is great for peaceful walking with the opportunity to see wildlife, perhaps including the elusive puma. At the end of the day, check in to your comfortable farmhouse hotel in the open grasslands of the Patagonian steppe.
As ever, there is no shortage of walks to choose from. If you want to stretch yourself you could take on the most famous hike in the park - the Torres del Paine. Walk steadily uphill through the Ascencio Valley and through beech forests, crossing rivers, to get to the steep glacial moraine beneath the towers. On a clear day at the top you have wonderful views of the small lake, glacier and towers beyond. The famous Torres reach 2,900m, three gigantic granite monoliths, the remains of a great cirque sheared away by the forces of glacial ice.
You should have time for a final hike this morning - perhaps around little-visited Laguna Azul for great birdwatching opportunities and stunning views of the Torres reflected in the blue waters of the lake. Return to Punta Arenas this afternoon to fly back up to Santiago for your final night in Chile.
You will be collected from your hotel in the afternoon and transferred to the airport in plenty of time for your return international flight. Again, please note that international flights are quoted separately for this trip. Transfer: Santiago hotel to airport. Breakfast included.
This holiday requires an adventurous spirit, so being active will be extremely well rewarded throughout. There is a lot of flexibility to adapt things, both before you depart and during the trip, to your energy levels and interests. If you are with a guide, they can usually adapt the day to suit how you are feeling. Whilst walking is the primary activity throughout the trip, there are opportunities for kayaking, river rafting, ice hiking and horse riding as you go.
You will also spend a lot of time on the road, but the driving on this trip is largely on good paved roads. South of Coyhaique on the Carretera, they are mainly unpaved roads but surfaces are treated. We include the largest available 4x4 vehicles which are substantial and comfortable. Distances covered on unpaved sections are generally not large - anywhere from 75km - 200km in any one go.
If you appreciate going to a place where most people don’t 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 then you should love it as much as we do.
If you want a longer version of this trip, take a look out our 45-day Route Uncovered itinerary.
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 and your private guides can also adjust activities to suit you. 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.
Over 20 years of travelling up and down Chilean Patagonia, 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.
Departs any day to suit you from October to April. For more detailed information, take a look at our when to visit Chile section.
The price is per person based on two people sharing and includes:
First-class accommodation with breakfast and some lunches and dinners
Private airport transfers throughout
Car ferry crossing tickets
Full-size 4x4 vehicle rental
Private guided excursions and walks along as described
Chile Holiday Guide with personal recommendations
Chile driving guide
Detailed walking notes
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).
We use the best small hotels and lodges in each place, so this holiday is very comfortable.
In Santiago you stay in very comfortable city-centre hotels. Down along the Carretera Austral the hotels and lodges 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. In Torres del Paine your first hotel is roughly equivalent to a 4* place, nothing very pretty to look at but with incredible views.
For more details, please get in touch to request a detailed PDF itinerary.
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 many of the 17 national parks protected by the world’s most ambitious conservation projects; the Route of 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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