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Carretera North & South

Drive from the Lake District to the icefields | View photos »

As featured in The Times and National Geographic Traveller, walk through primeval temperate forests, below snow-capped granite peaks, across open grassland and along dramatic lunar ridges. Enjoy glaciers all to yourself and kayak on a shimmering fjord as you experience the best of Patagonia's Route of Parks, in all its unspoilt glory, from the Lake District to the icefields.

21 day trip described, guide price £6,430pp i Fully customisable to you

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Sample itinerary

Fly to Puerto Montt

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 you will 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

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.

Walk to a dramatic caldera

For most of this morning you will be driving inside the Pumalín park, with several well-marked trails to access. The most emblematic leads to the enormous caldera of Chaitén Volcano, within which sits the new, smaller and active cone of the volcano. Gas and steam constantly flow now making an undeniably dramatic vista and evidence of the destructive power of volcanoes. Having been dormant for 9,500 years, the catastrophic eruption in 2008 caught everyone by surprise. As you reach Chaitén, you will see the destructive power even more. Continue south towards the town of Futaleufú.

Enjoy Fú's famous river waves

The Fú River has been a magnet for serious white-water enthusiasts for many long years, with what are said to be the largest river waves in the world. There are two classic options for rafting here, the first is the 'bridge to bridge' (Puente a Puente) run of 10km generally grade IV waters, just about suitable for people without previous experience. The second is the wild with 18km of grade iv & v including the famous 'Terminator' and 'Throne Room'. Those without experience need not apply. Rafting is to be arranged locally by you.

Drive south through stunning landscapes

Today's drive takes around three hours, though always with lovely views to enjoy. If you want to walk en route, you will pass the El Puma trail in the north of Queulat National Park. Though the upper parts are usually under snow well into December, the lower stretches are well worth the effort at any time of year. Stop for lunch in the charming small town of Puyuhuapi, set up by immigrants from the Sudetenland back in the 1930s. Continue to your friendly and comfortable lodge near the fjord's edge.

Kayak and walk in Queulat National Park

Accompanied by your guide, you will cross the river to pick up a trail leading into the heart of the precious temperate rainforest. This is an ecosystem found in only five places on earth. There is a huge variety of tree species and a very rich understory, which tends to be full of mosses, ferns and lichens. A viewpoint up on the side gives you amazing views. Later you will kayak along the fjord or take a boat to an island to observe marine mammals and the rich birdlife whilst enjoying the peace and quiet, as well as a delicious picnic.

Hike to a hanging glacier

The most emblematic feature of Queulat is the hanging glacier. Spilling off the top of a cliff, the 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. Stay two nights in the village of Cerro Castillo, sleeping in a simpler lodge than is the case for the rest of your trip.

Hike in Cerro Castillo

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. 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. 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.

Cross Lago General Carrera

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.

Walk in Jeinimeni's lunar landscapes

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.

Take the scenic road to Cochrane

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.

Guided walk in Tamango

You will be joined by your guide for the day to go for a walk in the Tamango Reserve, which sits just on the edge of Cochrane. 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 before hopping out to walk a pretty trail back to the park entrance.

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. 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.

Drive south to Tortel

It’s another wonderful drive south through some of the most beautiful landscapes of your journey. The vegetation becomes incredibly green as you pass through temperate rainforest, reminiscent of the Amazon at times. A right turn off the Carretera Austral takes you the final 22km to Tortel. Since the road only reaches the edge of the village, you'll leave your car and follow the maze of wooden walkways to your charming small hotel. From here, a short walk on a pathway leads to a beautiful viewpoint over the surrounding fjords and mountains.

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 ice field 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.

Start your journey back north to Guadal

Today's drive is fairly long, but there's lots of opportunity to stop along the way. You pass Parque Patagonia again, so you can walk for a few more hours in the park. If you missed the Confluencia on the way down then that is something you should see. Equally, your lodge overlooking Lago General Carrera is wonderfully welcoming so there's no shame in making your way straight there.

Fossil beds & beech forests

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 Jeinimeni 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

A private picnic next to a glacier

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.

Drive to the airport via the Marble Caves

Set off in good time to visit the marble caves from Bahia Mansa early in the morning. 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 on to Balmaceda airport for your return flight to Santiago, arriving in the evening.

Return to home

Today you'll head off in good time for your overnight return flight to the UK, arriving the following morning.

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

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Map of the area

About this trip


The Route of Parks (Ruta de los Parques) is the world's most ambitious conservation project. 17 national parks, covering 11.5 million hectares, are linked together along 2,800km of road and water between Puerto Montt and Cape Horn. 60 communities and 24 different eco-systems fall under its protection. We are proud to be the first non-Chilean tour operator to be associated with the project and share it with you on this Route of Parks Uncovered itinerary.

Walk through primeval temperate forests, below snow-capped granite peaks, across open grassland and along dramatic lunar ridges. Enjoy glaciers all to yourself and kayak on a shimmering fjord as you experience the best of Patagonia, in all its unspoilt glory.

How adventurous?

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Best time to go i

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Level of activity

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.

Level of comfort

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 in Southern Chile, you stay in some lovely small hotels in the Lake District before hitting the Carretera Austral. Here 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.

Level of culture

The image of Patagonia is usually of lush green forests, sparkling lakes and fjords and huge white glaciers. Of course you will find all this and much more on your travels through the region, but there is a large cultural element that shouldn't be overlooked. 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. Some of our favourite memories from here are the sharing of an asado barbecue, yerba mate or bottle of red with the locals and hosts.


The holiday price is a guideline based on two people sharing and includes accommodation, days of private excursions and some meals as described in our detailed itinerary. It also includes full size 4x4 vehicle rental with comprehensive insurance for 2 drivers, 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 detailed pdf itinerary.

Whilst domestic flights are included in the price, international flights are quoted separately. Best flight routings are to fly into and out of Santiago (airport code: SCL). Expect to pay between £600 – £800pp for flights except in peak periods.


Departs any day to suit you from October to 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 » Young boy surveying the silent beauty of the Lago General Carrera The Saturday market in Angelmó near Puerto Montt Silhouettes in Pumalin Park At the waterfalls of Pumalin The Alerce forests of Pumalín Park Rafting the Baker River Driving the Carretera near Queulat Paddling in the Queulat fjord from the Posada Queulat Queulat's hanging glacier Windy conditions in the high peaks of the Cerro Castillo National Park Looking out over Lago General Carrera in Aisen Looking across Valle Lunar, Jeinimeini The vibrant blue waters of the Rio Baker in Chilean Patagonia Walking through the spring flowers in the Tamango Reserve A curious guanaco in the Chacabuco Valley The remote village of Caleta Tortel in Chilean Patagonia Navigating by boat through the fjords of northern Patagonia The road which runs through the heart of the future Parque Patagonia Fossil beds in the highlands Ice calving off the Leones Glacier The marble caves on Lago General Carrera Chilean flag