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Carretera Austral

Carretera Austral

 My husband has a thing for maps. He collects them, studies them, and stops in his tracks when he see them. It was a particular map that we had purchased in El Calafate that lead him to find a ferry that most people had never even heard of...

 My husband has a thing for maps. He collects them, studies them, and stops in his tracks when he see them. It was a particular map that we had purchased in El Calafate that lead him to find a ferry that most people had never even heard of...

The ferry from Puerto Natales to Tortel was new. Barely a year old, it voyaged from the tourist hub of Natales North through practically untouched Patagonian fjords three times per month. It felt like this boat was on the verge of something... Possibly the beginning of what some people would call the end, and we did not want to harbor any regrets in not witnessing it. We pulled our truck onto the boat at 10 p.m. next to a rig carrying male sheep. With our mixture of Splanglish and great new ability to act things out, we managed to assure that it was ok to sleep in our vehicle rather than on the reclining seats of the ferry. For three nights (we had to drive off the boat at one in the morning on the fourth night) we sought refuge from the cold mist in the back of our truck as we chugged along the water passages of Patagonia. The mornings were crisp and foggy, but we couldn't help but stand on the deck and watch as island after island appeared through the thick low-lying clouds. Water seeped from the glaciers that capped the rounded peaks and strange birds skimmed the flat, salty water. Everything felt untouched and dreamy as we peered through the port holes of the boat.

The ferry from Puerto Natales to Tortel was new. Barely a year old, it voyaged from the tourist hub of Natales North through practically untouched Patagonian fjords three times per month. It felt like this boat was on the verge of something... Possibly the beginning of what some people would call the end, and we did not want to harbor any regrets in not witnessing it.

We pulled our truck onto the boat at 10 p.m. next to a rig carrying male sheep. With our mixture of Splanglish and great new ability to act things out, we managed to assure that it was ok to sleep in our vehicle rather than on the reclining seats of the ferry.

For three nights (we had to drive off the boat at one in the morning on the fourth night) we sought refuge from the cold mist in the back of our truck as we chugged along the water passages of Patagonia. The mornings were crisp and foggy, but we couldn't help but stand on the deck and watch as island after island appeared through the thick low-lying clouds. Water seeped from the glaciers that capped the rounded peaks and strange birds skimmed the flat, salty water. Everything felt untouched and dreamy as we peered through the port holes of the boat.

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We stopped for an hour in Puerto Eden, a sleepy island town that had no roads and no vehicles. Locals here depended on boats to fish and slippery wooden walkways to navigate through the town. We were not far from the southern ice fields, and if we decided to stay until the next ferry came by, there was a possibility to hire a villager to take us on their personal boat to glaciers few had ever seen. We had a time constraint (we had plans to meet a friend in Puerto Montt in twelve days), so we had to keep moving. The boat stopped on the fourth night in Tortel, where supplies were unloaded to the towns people and backpackers on the ferry exited the ferry. There was no possibility to drive off by vehicle, so we were dropped off in nearby Puerto Yungay, where we slept on the side of the road for the night.

We stopped for an hour in Puerto Eden, a sleepy island town that had no roads and no vehicles. Locals here depended on boats to fish and slippery wooden walkways to navigate through the town. We were not far from the southern ice fields, and if we decided to stay until the next ferry came by, there was a possibility to hire a villager to take us on their personal boat to glaciers few had ever seen.

We had a time constraint (we had plans to meet a friend in Puerto Montt in twelve days), so we had to keep moving. The boat stopped on the fourth night in Tortel, where supplies were unloaded to the towns people and backpackers on the ferry exited the ferry. There was no possibility to drive off by vehicle, so we were dropped off in nearby Puerto Yungay, where we slept on the side of the road for the night.

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In the morning we headed south on the Carretera Austral to the end of the infamous road in Villa O'Higgens. Small, wet, and windy, Villa had few services and a couple of hiking options. We turned around at the end of the road and headed north indefinitely. Parked in the town of Tortel, we had a salmon dinner in a local home with a couple of new friends that we had met on the ferry. The next day, we trudged through the mud to the town's only mirador (viewpoint) for amazing views of the milky green water and islands surrounding us.

In the morning we headed south on the Carretera Austral to the end of the infamous road in Villa O'Higgens. Small, wet, and windy, Villa had few services and a couple of hiking options. We turned around at the end of the road and headed north indefinitely.

Parked in the town of Tortel, we had a salmon dinner in a local home with a couple of new friends that we had met on the ferry. The next day, we trudged through the mud to the town's only mirador (viewpoint) for amazing views of the milky green water and islands surrounding us.

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Dirt roads, green and blue waters, and mountains covered in waterfalls lead us to Cochrane. We camped for two nights on a river just outside of town and did a beautiful day hike in Reserva Nacional Tamango. We made our way north, with incredible views the entire way, towards Rio Tranquilo, where we settled in for the night parked alongside an emerald green lago. We woke up to a sunrise lighting up the glacier on the mountain opposite us in the morning and cooked up some eggs to start our day. Rio Tranquilo is known for its marble caves that you can view from an inexpensive boat ride or kayak trip, however, we could see the caves from the road above and chose to forgo the option. Bumpy and rough dirt roads lead us next to Coyahaquie. We passed rivers that were the most brilliant shades of green and blue and stopped at the local Conaf building (national park building) where we saw huge renderings and plans for future parks.  For those who do not know or who have not heard of Doug Tompkins, he is an American man who created the North Face brand and began buying Chilean land and creating reserves and national parks. It was amazing to get to visit and see the land that would soon be protected and developed for hiking and animal viewing.

Dirt roads, green and blue waters, and mountains covered in waterfalls lead us to Cochrane. We camped for two nights on a river just outside of town and did a beautiful day hike in Reserva Nacional Tamango.

We made our way north, with incredible views the entire way, towards Rio Tranquilo, where we settled in for the night parked alongside an emerald green lago. We woke up to a sunrise lighting up the glacier on the mountain opposite us in the morning and cooked up some eggs to start our day. Rio Tranquilo is known for its marble caves that you can view from an inexpensive boat ride or kayak trip, however, we could see the caves from the road above and chose to forgo the option.

Bumpy and rough dirt roads lead us next to Coyahaquie. We passed rivers that were the most brilliant shades of green and blue and stopped at the local Conaf building (national park building) where we saw huge renderings and plans for future parks.  For those who do not know or who have not heard of Doug Tompkins, he is an American man who created the North Face brand and began buying Chilean land and creating reserves and national parks. It was amazing to get to visit and see the land that would soon be protected and developed for hiking and animal viewing.

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The entire Carretera Austral was dotted with small port towns and fishing villages. Every night, we were able to go off of the beaten path, park in an isolated area, camp, cook and hike to desolate glaciers and forests. One of the coolest was an abandoned campground hidden off the side of the road on a river complete with an amazing hiking trail to Ventisquero Yelcho Chico (a glacier three miles from the road and hidden in the trees).

The last national park we visited was Parque Pumalin, which had all the amenities that a national park in the states would have. It is just outside of the town of Chaiten, which was annihilated by Volcan Chalten in the last decade. We were able to hike up to the crater and see the volcano still smoking. There are hikes galore here, and we were able to do quite a few before boarding a series of ferrys to take us to the end of the Carretera Austral in Puerto Montt.

We were happy and surprised to find that the Carretera was very mild when it came to rough roads. We imagine that the entire route will be paved within this decade, making it more accessible to travelers, which of course, comes with positive and negative effects. For any questions, feel free to comment, and we will get back to you with any detailed info we can.  

Safe travels, and Lots of Love to you and yours, 

-Trevor and Bree

1988

1988

Our Drive on the Carretera Austral

Our Drive on the Carretera Austral