About the Carretera Austral
Construction of the Carretera was begun in the 1970s on the orders of General Augusto Pinochet, the de facto Chilean president of the time. Patagonia is a highly challenging environment for transport infrastructure - everywhere you look there is an obstacle of some sort, be it a mountain range, a fjord, or a glacier. As such, there was no land route that provided access to the highly isolated territory of southern Chile. The road wasn’t officially completed until 2003 when it finally connected the north with Villa O’Higgins. The village’s lake, Lago O’Higgins, marks the end of the road.
There are many reasons to explore the Southern Highway. Here are some of our favourites:
- Road Trips - Road trips along the Carretera are quite simply the way to travel through Chilean Patagonia...
- Hiking - The Carretera passes some fantastic hiking routes, many of them well-kept secrets
- Fishing - The Baker and Palena Rivers are world-famous for the plentiful fishing opportunities
- Photography - Here at Swoop we're forever blown away by returning customers and the memories that they've captured with their cameras
- Mountaineering and Ice Cap Expeditions - The Patagonian ice cap is the third largest in the world and home to world-famous glaciers and tremendous peaks
- Canoeing, Kayaking, and White-Water Rafting: discover more about adventure activities along the Carretera Austral
Reasons to go
We can’t talk about the Carretera without talking about the awesome road trips that can be made along it. People say that there’s nothing quite like the freedom of the open road. But here at Swoop, we say that there’s nothing like the freedom of the Carretera Austral. Following the Southern Highway as it meanders around the endless and breath-taking fjords and lakes, and as it climbs over majestic peaks, is an unforgettable experience. Whatever you’re into, a Carretera Austral road trip is the way to travel around Chilean Patagonia…
The Carretera passes some fantastic hiking routes, many of them well-kept secrets. It provides access to no fewer than 22 national parks and reserves, meaning you’ll get to hike in acres of untouched beauty, often with few other people around. Spectacular highlights along the Carretera Austral include views of Cerro Castillo or the San Rafael glacial lagoon and the Queulat National Park.
The glaciers are a key part of the landscape in Patagonia, and one of the major reasons many people choose to visit. Whether you want to take some fantastic photos of some of the best known glaciers in the world, or you want to go ice-hiking on top of them, Swoop will make sure you visit the ones that are best suited to you and that you have the chance to appreciate some unmissable views like those of San Rafael and O’Higgins.
Rivers full to the brim with all manner of trout and salmon make this one of the world’s greatest regions for fishing. The Baker and Palena Rivers are of particular note among Patagonia’s various world renowned rivers that provide plentiful opportunities.
Aysen’s birdlife is fantastically varied; uniquely so, in fact. For example, there are Plovers and Sandpipers with their own sub-species that are native and unique either to central and northern Chile or to the south of Patagonia. Yet in the region of Aysen, the two habitats overlap, presenting a fantastic chance to see both kinds of bird in just one area! Winding through the mountains on the Carretera is the perfect way to observe these birds from above and below.
The region’s beautiful lakes such as the General Carrera and San Rafael Lagoon; the incredible cove of Tortel Harbour, which is built upon stilts and raised wooden pathways; its jagged mountain peaks like Cerro Castillo, and the glacial fjords that carve up the entire Aysen region… The fantastic panoramas of the region are a paradise for photographers. Here at Swoop we’re forever blown away by returning customers and the memories that they’ve captured with their cameras.
Ice Cap Expeditions and Mountaineering
The Patagonian ice cap is the third largest in the world (approx. 18 000 km2) after Antarctica and Greenland. Split into the Northern and the Southern ice-fields, it is home to world famous glaciers, such as the San Rafael and O’Higgins, as well as the tremendous peaks of San Valentin / San Clemente (4, 058m - the highest in Chilean Patagonia).
Canoeing, Kayaking, and White-Water Rafting
The Rio Baker, in particular, is a spectacular and challenging place for rafting and kayaking. It’s home to Class II and III rapids and can provide adventure for those of varying experience at different points along its course.
The Rio Palena, meanwhile, can be descended all the way from the Argentinean border down to its estuary town of Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda, on the Pacific coast.
Although gradually being paved, the majority of this road is gravel making it quite slow going in places. This is no hardship as the scenery is stunning and varied and best enjoyed at a slow pace. To really get under the skin of the Carretera Austral and the places it passes through we would definitely recommend making sure you have the time to get off the road and hike the trails, kayak the fjords and soak up the gaucho culture.
Top Trips along the Carretera Austral
Multi-day Activity Trips
Places to stop on the Northern Carretera Austral
The Northern stretch of the road is relatively short but has the opportunity for some varied and worthwhile side trips. Most notably would be to the Futaleufu valley or the wildlife rich Raul Marin Balmaceda. The road winds through jurassic like temperate rainforest, through steep sided canyons with rivers gushing below and along the side of lakes and fjords.
Lush rainforest, waterfalls, snow capped mountains, smoking volcanoes, glaciers and jaw dropping beauty. Hike, paddle or drive your way through the Pumalin Park to experience a …
The Futaleufu Valley has a mesmerising and captivating beauty, with its raging rapids, lush green forest, granite walls and jagged peaks. Raft, hike, bike, horse ride or simply sit…
Raul Marin Balmaceda
With waters fed from glacial rivers, estuaries and the mighty Pacific Ocean, the fjords surrounding and islands off of Raul Marin Balmaceda are home to a wonderful array of …
Queulat National Park
The Queulat National Park is located in the Aysen Region, and offers over 1500 km2 of immaculate scenery, forested landscapes and distinct wildlife. Among …
Places to stop on the Southern Carretera Austral
The sleepy capital of Aysen is the only major hub for miles around, and houses a mix of quirky boutiques and craft beer shops, and more practical farm and fishing supply stores. …
This national reserve arguably offers the best hiking in the whole of Aysen. Some of the largest mountains in the Patagonian Andes can be found here, including a rather unique …
Witness a rewilding project in progress in the Patagonia National Park. The fences of this old estancia have been taken down and guanacos, pumas, birdlife and huemul deer have …
Aysen feels like a real pioneering place; the Chilean Gaucho culture is much more obvious and you see more day to day life, but what is really cool is that if you want to go somewhere that nobody has ever been, it can be arranged.
Harriet Pike Trekking, Mountaineering & Cycling Specialist
Where to Stay in Aysen
Aysen offers a variety of charming lodges, all set in beautiful scenery with some spectacular views. With lodges throughout the region there are plenty of places to base yourself during your stay, or to stop of on your road trip. Many of these lodges also offer daily excursions including hiking, kayaking, fishing and horse riding.