7-Day Guide for Chile’s Carretera Austral

Are you a sucker for road trips like me? There is nothing like the freedom of stopping whenever you want, jamming out to your favorite tunes, and exploring the unknown.

Patagonia was on my 2017-bucket list and I worked my butt off all year to make this happen. However, Patagonia is huge! Two countries, Argentina and Chile, share over 1 million square kilometers of mountains, rivers, lakes, ice fields, and views that will leave you breathless. Where do you start? It’s overwhelming, but I created a list of 5 spots you must see on Chile’s side of Patagonia.

I planned my year out so that I could have all the time I needed to explore both ends of Chile’s Patagonia between November and December. I started with one of the most epic road trips in South America, the Carretera Austral. This iconic scenic route is one that should be high up on your travel list and let me tell you, you won’t be disappointed. This area is virtually untouched by mass tourism, the majority of the route is a dirt road, and has a special charm that you need to come yourself to really understand what I’m talking about. If you need some convincing, check out my previous post that gives you 5 reasons why you need to see Chile’s northern Patagonia.

OK, before I get to the good stuff I want to be transparent with you all and let you know that this experience was part of a blogger press trip. I was invited by Recorreaysen.cl to get to know the region alongside with two amazing journalists from Gochile.com and Lavidanomade.com. I was just asked to talk about my experience. So here I am, talking about my trip. It goes without saying that all opinions are my own but I want to be transparent with you all. I was blown away by what I saw that I have now made it a 2018 goal of mine to come back to see the rest.

 

7-Day Guide for Chile’s Carretera Austral:

I made a map so you can follow along with my trip and see what I did if you like to look at maps like me. Each day has a different color so you can keep track of what I did each day.

Day 1: Balmaceda International Airport to Chile Chico

Distance drove: 130 KM (80 miles)

We took the first flight from Santiago to Balmaceda (BBA) and arrived around 9:30 AM. Since this was a special invitation there was a hired car that took care of all of our transportation. If you wanted to rent a car, the best thing to do is make your way to Coyaique (50-minute drive towards the north) via taxi or transfer and rent a car from there. We got onto Highway 7, also known as the Carretera Austral, towards Cerro Castillo on Highway 7.

We Stopped in Villa Cerro Castillo for Lunch. This is where I started to realize that that the portions sizes of meals are extra large in the south. Thank goodness I was going to be very active, if not I would have come back to Santiago a little bit rounder. We each had a Churrasco completo, a signature dish at the Hosteria Restaurante Villarrica. This mega sandwich has shredded beef, cheese, avocado, tomato, lettuce and green beans. Patagonia or the south of Chile generally has some incredible craft beers that stay local. Knowing this, I felt like I owed to myself and to you guys to try as many as I could. (post coming soon) I had to try the local craft beer, Caiquen, which was a rich and flavorful Blonde Ale.

We went back on the highway and took the X65 towards Puerto Ibanez and Lake General Carrera. This is the largest lake in Chile and second largest lake in South America after Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and Peru.

We checked into our hotel in Chile Chico called Hotel Posada Del Río in Chile Chico. Beautiful hotel that made you feel right at home. Breakfast is included and has a price range of about 75 USD per night for 2 people. You can find them on booking!!

 

Day 2: Day trip to Jeinimeni National Reserve

Jeinimeni National Reserve is the 4th largest reserve in Chile and has one of the largest varieties of landscapes in the country. Located about 18 miles (30km) from Chile Chico and the plan for the day was to hike 4 5 miles (7.4 KM) before lunch then end the afternoon with a bike ride. Careful, there are several river crossings. You must cross with a lot of momentum and the confidence that you’re going to cross it completely and a dash of fear of falling. Check out what happened to me here. You can do this on your own but I would really recommend hiring a guide for the day for two reasons. First, it’s safer. Even though this route has existed for over 7.000 years, signs and directions on how to get there are not the best. If you’re not an experienced hiker you can easily miss the signs along the trail. Also, something important to know, there is no cellphone signal, so if you get lost, you’re SOL. Secondly, you’ll miss out on interesting historical facts about the region. I learned a lot about the Tehuelche People, a nomadic tribe in of region that used this area to live during a period of time. Our guide Andres, from Patagoniaxpress, also pointed out interesting rock formations and animals that live in the reserve.

Day 3: Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal

Distance drove 110 KM (68miles)

 

We got up early to start driving because we had a big day ahead of us. The drive on the 265 from Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal was incredible. It’s recommended to drive about 25mp/h (40km/h) because it’s all dirt road and you’re hugging the coast along the General Carrera Lake so there are lots of curves and the lanes are quite snug. Most of the time you’ll have the street to yourself but you never know when another car is approaching.

We arrived at TerraLuna Lodge for our first activity of the day. Our guide Sebastian had a big surprise in store for us. He told us that we were going to see a glacier up close and we were going to visit this glacier via helicopter. Yes, you read that right, HELICOPTER! Now before you guys say “Oh man I could never afford something like that”, don’t worry because I thought the same thing. While this is a pricey activity, let me tell you it’s 100% worth every penny. I saw two glaciers during this trip and this one was 10 times a better experience than the other one I did on the last day.

We flew through canyons and over the General Carrera Lake. Once we arrived it was overwhelming to see a glacier that can only be seen via air. It was so peaceful but sadly you can hear the glacier thunder as pieces of ice fall off. I could have stayed for hours just looking at this natural marvel.

We returned to lodge for a delicious traditional Chilean meal called Pastel de Choclo, which is a corn casserole, filled with beef, chicken, eggs, and olives. After lunch, we went for a short 2-hour hike to see the Maquí waterfall. Towards the end of summer the water slows down and you can find a natural infinity pool for a dip looking over Lake General Carrera.

That evening we stayed at Los Lomitos, which has 6 beautiful cabins for up to 8 people each. We decided to stay in and take advantage of the kitchen and grill area for a BBQ and salads for dinner.

Day 4:  Puerto Guadal to Coyaique

Distance drove:  159 miles (257 km)

I believe this was our longest day of driving for the entire trip. We had to get up quite early to leave Puerto Guadal and arrive at Coyaique for lunch. The trip will take you approximately 5.5 hours. We stopped at a local favorite for some pizza at Mamma Gaucho. They have a local craft beer that’s only produced here and in their sister restaurant in Puerto Varas.

Our afternoon plans were to go Fly Fishing with Estancia Del Zorro. Now, I think I’ve gone fishing in Florida maybe two times in my life with no luck so I went with an open mind to learn and a determination to catch a fish and let me tell you, I LOVED IT! You’re constantly moving and trying to trick the trout to take a bite of your bait. My guide Felipe was an excellent teacher and within the first 20 minutes, I CAUGHT A TROUT. This sucker was big! I gave it a kiss and let it go back into the water. At the Estancia, they catch and release the fish since people from all over the world come to this area specifically for fly-fishing. Coyaique and the region of Aysen have some of the best spring creeks and rivers for fly-fishing in the world.

We ended our evening at the other hotel owned by Estancia Del Zorro in the city of Coyaique called Cinco Rios Lodge for a dinner that was out of this world.

Day 5: Coyaique to Puerto Aysen

Distance drove: 44 miles (66km)

This was a short drive from Coyaique but we had a full day planned on getting to know the town with the tourism board of Aysen. We met a wonderful man by the name is Claudio Rosso who had an incredible about stories of his life and entrepreneurial adventures in the region. So if you really want to get to know the city, this was the man you needed to be with. He currently owns a small bed and breakfast in the town of Aysen and works in a shop creating equipment to make artisanal products from wool.

With Claudio, we explored Puerto Aysen. It’s a small fisherman town that is looking to grow and become a great tourist destination. There is a lot of potential here. We took a riverboat tour with Los Pioneros, where they took us through the Aysen River and under the longest bridge in Chile.

One of best places we went was to visit an Eco-camping called La Pancha. “Pancha” was a single lady who allowed people to cross her land and in return, they gave her things that she needed, food, drinks, medicine, anything really. She lived to be 102 years old (passed away in 2001) and has a few children but was never married. None of her children wanted to work on the land and take over so they sold off all the pieces into parts of 10 hectares per lot. The family who’s owns La Pancha now wanted to keep her story and spirit alive so they named it after her. They have several campsites where you can set up your tent, go kayaking and horseback riding. If camping isn’t your style, there are some beautiful cabins just up the road (which is where we stayed) perfect for a family of 7 people called Shangrila Patagonia.

 

Day 6: Day trip to San Rafael National Park

Distance traveled: 8 miles (14 km) via car and 10 hours on a catamaran.

We woke up early and went to Puerto Chacabuco just 8 miles away to explore San Rafael national park and see the Glacier San Rafael. It’s an all-day event. We boarded a Catamaran for a 5-hour journey to San Rafael National Park. While the glacier itself is a natural wonder to see we didn’t get so close up like we would have liked to, or at least expected to. Our guide said that it was too dangerous to be so close because of the falling ice. Throughout my time in the region, I came back at the end of the day really happy with the activities we did. At the end of this day, I was a bit disappointed. I honestly think that this tour, in particular, wasn’t right for me. You spend more time sitting on a boat than actually getting to take pictures of the glacier. I personally don’t have any, I have great pictures of Icebergs but that’s about it.

The return trip was another 5 hours with an open bar and karaoke. Now, the open bar was definitely interesting but the space was so small that I just slept most of the way. Oh, and I was just hungry all the time. The food was included in the tour; I just felt that it wasn’t enough for what I was paying to spend the day on the catamaran.

 

Day 7: Morning hike to Aiken del Sur Park and back to Airport

Since our flight was in the afternoon we wanted to take advantage of the morning so we went with the Hotel Loberias del Sur on a guided hike through a 740 acres (300 hectares) park called Aiken del Sur, just outside of Puerto Chacabuco. There are several routes you can choose from but because we were pressed for time, we went to visit a waterfall called “The Old mans beard”. The park has a huge variety of trees, animals, and rivers to learn about so going with a guide from the hotel is your best options. We had Camila, who knew so much about the area that we learned more than we expected too. At the end of the tour, there is a Patagonian BBQ with lamb. Yummy

 

I will say that 7 days in this region will just give you a small taste of all the amazing things you can do. I’m already planning my return the region. I’ve heard great things about Villa O’Higgins and Tortel that are calling my name.

If you made it all the down to the very end I want to thank you for reading. It’s a lot of information that I didn’t want to separate into two posts. I hope that there are a few spots on my 7-day guide that you are now interested in. My absolute favorite days were in the Jeinimeni National Park, Maqui Waterfall, and the Eco-camping La Pancha.

I also have to give a huge shout out to everyone who made my trip amazing! First of all, RecorreAysen.cl who organized this entire trip. Check out their site, there is so much information about the region that it’s a one-stop shop for everything about the Carretera Austral and its region. Also to the two amazing women who came along with me on this trip, I don’t think I would have had as much fun as I did; Berni Perez, a talented and knowledgeable journalist from the travel agency Go Chile. If you want to book anything that I talked about, you can do so through them. And I can’t forget my girl, Fran Opazo, a huge talent and travel journalist from La Vida Nomade, one of the best-viewed blogs in Chile. She is also the director of the Association of Chilean travel Bloggers, ACHILETB. I feel so honored to work alongside two amazing women who are passionate about Chile like I am.

Remember, when you give good you get good.

 

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