Driving the Carretera Austral, Chile – Episode 720

categories: south america travel

Driving the Carretera Austral, Chile (Podcast)

Hear about travel driving the Carretera Austral in Chile as the Amateur Traveler talks to travel journalist and guidebook author Steph Dyson about a country she literally wrote the book on.

Steph has just recently finished writing the Moon Guide to Chile and in the process of researching that book, she drove the Carretera Austral. The Carretera Austral means the southern highway and it is in Chilean Patagonia. The Carretera Austral is 770 miles long (1240 km) but Steph gives us an itinerary that will fit in a couple of weeks.

We start in Balmaceda because it is one of two spots Steph recommends where we can fly in and get a rental car. The other option is Puerto Montt at the very northern end of the route. Rental cars are cheaper from there but much of what Steph recommends for us to see is in the south.

She has us drive from there to the first National Park she would have us visit and that is the Cerro Castillo. Like the better known Argentina park of Torres del Paine, this park has glacial lakes, jagged mountains, and hiking trails. What it has less of is tourists. “The hiking, as a result, feels a lot more remote”. The name translates as “castle hill”.

The next stop is the Puerto Rio Tranquilo which is a tiny port on General Carrera Lake. While we are here Steph recommends a boat trip to visit the marble caves via kayak or speedboat. She also recommends ice trekking on the Exploradores Glacier.

Our next stop is Patagonia National Park which was donated by the late Douglas Tompkins of Northface to the Chilean government. Steph says it was the single largest donation of land anywhere ever. In the park, you can see the wildlife like guanaco (a llama relative), the rhea (large flightless bird), or the elusive puma.

We then head down to Cochrane which has access to the southern park of Patagonia National Park. This is a good place to see the guemal deer.

You can drive from there to Caleta Tortel, but you will need to park your car. The village is only accessible by cedar wooden walkways. This is a former logging town. You can hire a local to take you out to the Isla de la Muetra (the island of the dead) where local legend says some of the original workers were killed by the company. You can connect from here to Puerto Natales in southern Patagonia via a two-day local ferry journey.

Villa O’Higgins is the southernmost settlement on the road. It was only connected by road in 1999. One of the reasons to come this far is that you can sail out to the O’Higgins Glacier. You will get a glass of whiskey with some shaved glacial ice. Steph highly recommends a tour of the glacier by small plane.

We then loop back towards where we started. On the way back you should start on Chile Chico which has an odd microclimate that enables them to grow cherries. You can also head in Argentina here to see the Cave of Hands. You can take a ferry across the General Carrera Lake.

The town of Puyuhuapi was settled by Germans and has a strong German heritage. From you can access Queulat National Park and the Queulat hanging glacier.

Listen to this episode and see why Steph has spent so much of the last 5 years in the beautiful country of Chile.

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This episode is sponsored by Sawyer the maker of Permethrin which can be used to treat clothing to protect you and your loved ones from insects including tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. 

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Show Notes

Travel to Northern Chile – A Two Week Itinerary (Podcast)
Moon Guide to Chile
Carretera Austral
Cerro Castillo
Route of the Parks
Puerto Rio Tranquilo
General Carrera Lake
José Miguel Carrera
Exploradores Glacier
Patagonia National Park
Douglas Tompkins
Rhea (bird)
Cochrane, Chile
Lago Cochrane
South Andean deer
Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald
Caleta Tortel
Cruising Around Cape Horn in South America – Episode 460
Villa O’Higgins
Bernardo O’Higgins
O’Higgins Glacier
Chile Chico
Cueva de las Manos
Queulat National Park
Puerto Montt, Chile
Chaitén, Chile
Pumalín National Park
Chaitén (volcano)
Futaleufú, Chile


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Driving the Carretera Austral, Chile (Podcast) | Road Trip in Southern Patagonia #road-trip #chile #travel #trip #vacation #patagonia Driving the Carretera Austral, Chile (Podcast) | Road Trip in Southern Patagonia #road-trip #chile #travel #trip #vacation #patagonia

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

One Response to “Driving the Carretera Austral, Chile – Episode 720”

Mark Carrara


I just want to say I used Sawyer in Belize last fall. Great stuff I had one bug bite, my wife had less than 5. Our friend with us must have had 50.

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