Adventure Chile | Reisen | Nordpatagonia | Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) Self Drive 8 Day

Self drive on the southern highway
Name Self drive on the southern highway
Code CA1001VC
Descripcion The “Carretera Austral” (Southern Highway) is a scenic mountain road starting in Puerto Montt and ending 1240 kilometres / 770 miles south in Villa O’Higgins at the foot hill of the Southern Ice Fields. The enormous task of designing and constructing the “CarreteraAutral” started with the explorations and studies of geographer Hans Steffen at the end of the 19th century. Later, in the 1930’s, Augusto Grosse continued with the explorations that were finally completed by the engineer Antonio Horvath between 1976 and 1986. The construction of most of the route was done between 1976 and 1988.
Duracion 8 Days / 7 Nights
Itinerary Price Maps

Between Puerto Montt and Chaitén (107 miles), the road includes two ferries, a short one over the Reloncaví sound and a longer one, 5 hours, from Hornopirén to Caleta Gonzalo. The section between Chaitén and Coyhaique (169 miles), was open to vehicles in 1982, overcoming the belief that it was almost impossible to build an overland road in central Chilean Patagonia.

Day 1 Puerto Montt - Chaitén

The city of Puerto Montt was founded February 12th, 1853 by Vicente Pérez Rosales. The first settlement was Melipulli (Four Hills) by the Reloncaví sound, an area covered by a lush virgin forest. In 1852, November 12th, the first German settlers arrived to the area, starting a long colonization process, which will give birth to the town of Puerto Montt. There will be a significant population growth from 1912 on, when the rail road finally connects the town with the northern cities.

Puerto Varas is situated on the south west margin of Lake Llanquihue, 20 km. from Puerto Montt. One can appreciate the evidence of German colonization in their typical constructions and beautiful gardens. The volcanoes Calbuco and Osorno stand out in the horizon. The insertion of different cultures in these desolate difficult territories where nature offers all its beauty but also big difficulties keeps being a strong challenge for man.

- Car pick up at Tepual Airport in Puerto Montt.

- Ferry from Puerto Montt to Chaitén.

Lodging on board on exterior cabin.

Duration: 8 hours.

Day 02: Chaitén - Futaleufú

In the morning visit of Pumalín Park and area surrounding the volcano.

Pumalín Park: In 1991, North American Douglas Tompkins, a long time visitor to Chile since 1961, bought the Reñihué Ranch with the idea to set aside 42,000 acres of evergreen temperate rain forest from possible exploitation. In the intervening years The Conservation Land Trust has added another 700,000 acres in nearly contiguous parcels to comprise the Pumalin Park. These properties are destined to become a Nature Sanctuary, a special designation of the Chilean State, granting it additional environmental and non developmental protection.

Trip to Futaleufú after lunch.

Lodging in Futaleufú.

Distance: 153 Km. gravel.

Duration: 3 hours trip.

Day 03: Futaleufú – Puerto Marín Balmaceda (D)

Futaleufú: a 1,153 inhabitants’ town located at the riverside of the

homonymous river and just 10 kilometres away from the Argentinean border. From here the first settlers entered the region in the decade of 1920, starting the cattle raising industry in the area. In 1940, a fire razed with the forest. In 1960 contact grew with Chile thanks to commercial aviation and in 1982 the road connecting with the southern highway was opened. As much in town as by the surrounding lakes (lakes Espolón and Lonconao), several hotels and fishing lodges have been build to receive the guests who come here due to the region international prestige among the fly casting lovers and the white water rafting and kayak fans.

Excursion in the morning: trekking to the Piedra del Aguila (Eagle Rock). Trip to Puerto Marín.

Lodging in Puerto Marín Balmaceda.

Distance: 218 Km. gravel.

Duration: 5 hours trip.

Day 04: Puerto Marín Balmaceda – La Junta (B)

Puerto Marín Balmaceda: the village is a small cove by the Palena River Delta, surrounded by fjords and the Pacific Ocean coast. Its sandy lanes and its beautiful beaches create a marine ambiance amidst a pristine nature. It is located 72 kilometers from La Junta through a gravel road that runs along the Palena most of the time. After 62 km the Palena River is crossed on a small ferry – for passengers and cars - and the road continues 10 km until the village. Puerto Marin is part of the Cuenca (Basin) Palena – Queulat, a much unexplored territory of evergreen forest and pure water rivers. The Pitipalena fjord, the Pillán sound, outings by boats to La Poza, to Los Patos stream or the Virgén Cave, are a few of the different excursions offered in the area. Also cetaceous watching and bird watching are the most attractive excursions even though a longer boat ride is needed. To visit this small sea cove is really worth the extra ride since it is one of the most unknown corners of our region. The village is named after Raúl Marín Balmaceda (1907-1957) who was a liberal deputy.

Excursion: navigation to a Sea Wolves colony. Trip to La Junta.

Lodging in La Junta.

Distance: 72 Km. gravel.

Duration: 3 hours trip.

Day 05: La Junta –Queulat National Park (B, D)

Since 2000 La Junta has become an important meeting place for inhabitants and visitors of the Palena-Queulat Basin and the northern Carretera Austral. From here none of the Palena river highlights are further than half and hour by car, so no matter the weather conditions, excursions such as horseback ride, fishing, hikes, can always be done since guests return at the end of the day to a warm, relaxing and cozy lodging place. La Junta is where the Rosselot River flows into the Palena River, it is a junction place since here the Carretera Austral is crossed by a east-west gravel road. To the east first the road runs along the Rosselot Lake and crosses the Rosselot National Reserve to end in Lago Verde, a nice little village at almost the border with Argentina. To the west the roads leads to Marín Balmaceda, a nice little cove by the Pacific Ocean.

Excursion in the morning: catanoa down the Palena River. Trip to Queulat National Park.

Lodging at the Ecolodge Fiordo Queulat.

Distance: 74 Km. gravel.

Duration: 2 hours trip.

Day 6 Queulat National Park (B,L,D)

The Queulat National Park is a wild and pristine territory where the temperate rainforest is topped with the glaciers and ice fields of the Austral Andes and complemented with the rich bio diversity of the fjords and channels of the Austral Pacific. Before being a park this land was never inhabited by anyone or any road or path ever crossed it, it is the only national park in Chile with unexplored territory that can be reached by car. It is the forest mentioned by Nobel price Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, in his memoirs.

Two half day excursions:

- Hike into the coastal temperate rain forest.

- Navigation on the fjord or sea kayak.

Lodging at the Ecolodge Fiordo Queulat.

Day 07: Queulat National Park– Coyhaique (B,L)

Excursion: visit to the Hanging Glacier – self guided. Trip to Coyhaique.

Lodging in Coyhaique.

Distance: 202 km. gravel.

Duration: 3:30 hours trip.

Day 08: Coyhaique – Balmaceda (B)

Coyhaique “koikaikek”, which probably means in Tehuelche “camp near the water”, is the main city and the capital of the Aisén region and has a population of a little bit more than 43.000 people. The city was founded October 12th, 1929 in a beautiful valley at the junction of two rivers: the Coyhaique and the Simpson, at the foot hill of the Divisadero Range. At the beginning Coyhaique provided the basic services for the first settlers and the Sociedad Industrial de Aisén, SIA, which had its administration buildings since 1906 by the Coyhaique river. The town hall was created in 1948 and in 1974 the town becomes capital of the region. The town is situated to the east of the high summit of the Andes and more specifically in the intermediate zone between the mountains and the pampas (Patagonian steppe).Towards the west, high mountain tops rise covered with glaciers and beautiful Coigüe (Nothofagus dombeyi) and Lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) forests grow on their steep slopes. Towards the east the landscape becomes much softer with lower hills covered with Ñirre (Nothofagus antarctica) forests disappearing definitively toward the pampas. You don't need to go far in Coyhaique to surround yourself in wilderness. The Coyhaique National Reserve is just less than 3km (2 miles) from town and has an area of approximately 8.700 acres. It is a great place for a walks through native forest or a hike to the spectacular lookout point with views of the city of Coyhaique, the MacKay Mountain and the Divisadero Range.

Departure toward Balmaceda for the drop off of the car and to board the flight to Santiago, Puerto Montt or Punta Arenas.