Self-Drive Northern Carretera Austral

Cover 650 kilometres of the Carretera Austral, twisting around spellbinding fjords, turquoise lakes, and the dramatic peaks of the Andes mountains. In addition to the highlights of Pumalin and Queulat National Park, you'll experience Raul Marin Balmaceda's extraordinary wildlife and the Futaleufu Valley's multi-activity thrills.

15 Days

$4,060

Self-Drive Northern Carretera Austral - 15 - $4,060

Trip Summary and Itinerary Map

  • A remote journey of the region's sublime beauty; its deserted landscapes, glaciers, and jagged peaks, inspire great awe, before you've even left your vehicle
  • Experience a water-perspective rafting or kayaking the mighty Futaleufu, horse back ride through vast valleys, or hike secluded trails in the Reserva Nacional
  • Stay in the sleepy village of Raul Marin Balmaceda and see dolphins and sea lions on a boat trip, kayak to the fjord, and walk across the long sandy beaches
  • End days of adventure admiring the views of steep valleys and lush forest whilst relaxing in hot tubs and thermal pools
  • Have time to yourself and the freedom to book your own additional activities

Start from Puerto Montt and end at Balmaceda Airport

Landmarks visited on Self-Drive Northern Carretera Austral

Operator's Itinerary

Day 1: Puerto Montt – Hornopirén

Upon arrival at the airport, you will pick up your hire car and begin your journey towards the austral lands, driving on the beautiful scenic Carretera Austral to Hornopirén taking just one short car ferry.

Accommodation: Hotel Oelckers, Hornopirén


Day 2: Hornopirén – Caleta Gonzalo

Take the car ferry from Hornopirén to Leptepu then continue on to Caleta Gonzalo. Then a drive of a further 14 kms will take you to the trail head of the Cascadas Escondidas waterfall hike. Enjoy walking for around two hours, and also look forward to a 30 minute trail among the wonderful Alerce trees are on your return.

Accommodation: Lodging in Caleta Gonzalo


Day 3: Hike to the Michinmahuinda Volcano

The hike can be completed at a good pace in 6 hours, but to accommodate for soaking up time in the forests, with the birds and for taking breaks, a time of 8 hours is suggested.

Walk through thick, dense rainforest, amidst huge Nalca (wild rhubarb) which tend to block the path – long sleeves and trousers are advised for this part of the hike.

After a few hours, you will emerge into a clearing and from here the forest will be more open, with less shrub layer and a slight change in vegetation.

During the last part of the hike notice the surroundings become incredibly stunning, as you pass a river torrent and the Michimahuida comes into full view. The path continues up to a high plateau, from where, just underneath the Michimahuida Glacier you will discover a small lagoon and an amazing view of the smoking Chaitén and valley below.

Your return journey will follow the same course - be wowed by the staggering beauty of the snowcapped Michimahuida Volcano and hike over it's frozen magma surrounded by panoramic views of the valley below. 

As you climb the 700 metre ascent you will pass through thick temperature rainforest which transforms into bamboo forest with less undergrowth. The final ascent feels almost like the surface of the moon, with the addition of vegetation, and the views are magnificent. 

Length of hike: 7-8 hours, 24 km

Accommodation: Lodging in Caleta Gonzalo


Day 4: Hike to the Chaitén Volcano

In May 2008, Chaitén Volcano erupted after 9000 dormant years, causing tremendous damage to Chaitén and Pumalín. The park was closed for two years, during which time extensive restoration work was completed. The new trail starts 34 km south of Caleta Gonzalo, by which you can climb up to the crater. You will walk up for around 1.5 hours, with a 45 minute descent.

After the hike, continue south on the Carretera Austral passing through the town of Chaitén and the El Amarillo section of the Pumalin Park. 25 minutes south of this is the Yelcho Lake – where your accommodation for the next two nights is located.

Length of hike: 3 hours, 5 km

Accommodation: Yelcho Lodge


Day 5: Hike the Ventisquero Amarillo trail

From the Ventisquero Campground, walk a flat and open 10 km stretch toward the base of the Michinmahuida Glacier. Leaving early in the morning is recommended. 

Cross the river at its widest point, taking care and remembering that the more braided sections tend to be shallower and that the river may rise during the day as the snow melts. Then, continue up the valley on the west side of the river until you reach the glaciers.

If you like, at this stage you could continue a further 5 kms to the El Amarillo municipal hot springs. 

Returning to your lodge in the afternoon, you could seek out some more impressive vistas with a short hike to a viewpoint, or enjoy the lake with one of the lodge's 'sit-on-top' kayaks.

Length of hike: 6 hours, 20 km

Accommodation: Yelcho Lodge


Day 6: Lago Yelcho – Futaleufu

Drive from Lago Yelcho to Futaleufu. You could plan to visit the Los Pumas section of the National Park during the journey.

Accommodation: El Barranco, Futaleufu


Days 7–8: Explore Futaleufu Valley

Plan two days of maximum enjoyment in the magnificent Futaleufu Valley. Experience a water-perspective rafting or kayaking the mighty Futaleufu, horse back ride through the vast valleys, hike in the Reserva Nacional, or independently explore the Espolon and Azul Valleys.

Following the activities, head back to your accommodation to relax in the swimming pool or sauna while embracing the relaxed atmosphere and stunning setting.

Accommodation: El Barranco, Futaleufu


Day 9: Ventisquero Yelcho – Raul Marin Balmaceda

After breakfast, take the 2–3 hour hike to the Ventisquero Yelcho hanging glacier on the fringes of the Corcovado National Park.

In the afternoon, drive for 2 hours to La Junta and experience the area whilst you find somewhere local for lunch, then drive another 1.5 hours to Raul Marin Balmaceda. Gaining road access only in 2009, the drive to this village will have you wind your way around the mountain edges, as the forested peaks of more distant mountains come into horizon and fall again with each turn. You'll also take a short ferry to cross the Palena River. As the ferry only runs until 18:00, you will need to plan in accordance with this.

Upon arrival, you'll be met with a tranquil little community of just a few houses, one of which is the Piti Palena Lodge. You'll stay in one of the five rustic cabins that looks out onto the fjord, set right on the beach.

Accommodation: Piti Palena Lodge, Raul Marin Balmaceda


Day 10: Boat trip and hike/sea kayak

The shores of Raul Marin Balmaceda are brimming with marine life that call this special place home. You'll get to spend a morning with it's local residents on the Islas Hermanas boat trip; see playing dolphins and sea lions, lively otters, characterful penguins, splashing pelicans and various species of cormorants.

Later, you can choose how you want to continue your exploration of the region. Hike the peninsula and observe the meeting of the Palena with the Pacific Ocean, whilst spotting more birds and enjoying the flora. Or you could continue your time on the waters, journeying to the Pitipalena Fjord by kayak. The fjord is suitable for beginners as it has very protected water and is also a great place for more experienced kayakers as you can venture far along the water.

Accommodation: Fundo Los Leones, Raul Marin Balmaceda


Day 11: Raul Marin Balmaceda – Puyuhuapi Village

Drive back to La Junta and from there continue to Puyuhuapi. 30 km south of Puyuhuapi you'll reach Posada Queulat.

Have a relaxing afternoon in the thermal pools or on a short hiking trail.

Accommodation: Posada Queulat, Queulat National Park


Day 12: Explore the Ventisquero Colgante section of the park

Spend a full day exploring the Ventisquero Colgante section of the park, admiring the varied views.

A 30 minute drive will take you to the central area of the National Park, from where a great day hike can be taken. You'll arrive at a viewing platform looking out to a hanging glacier and lake below. There are also shorter hikes to other viewing platforms, as well as a 30 minute boat trip on the lake, taking you through the waterfalls.

Accommodation: Posada Queulat, Queulat National Park


Day 13: Weather window/Free day

This day is planned as a weather window, so that the itinerary can be revised if the weather necessitates. If not, enjoy a rest day - perhaps take on a different hike in the park, read or write in the beautiful scenery, or laze in the near by thermal pools.

Accommodation: Posada Queulat, Queulat National Park


Day 14: Puerto Cisnes

As you make your way to Coyhaique, stop at Puerto Cisnes.

Spending the evening in the regional capital, choose from one of the many traditional restaurants and celebrate your final night on the Carretera Austral with a delicious meal.

Accommodation: Patagonia House, Coyhaique


Day 15: Onward travel

Drive to Balmaceda Airport in the morning and return your hire car, ready for a flight north to either Puerto Montt or Santiago.

Prices, Departures and Inclusions

Prices are per person based on a group of 2 people.

Departures can be set up for a minimum of 2 people. Please get in touch for details.

Includes

  • Accommodation: 14 nights in lodgings along the route
  • Car hire for 15 days
  • Excursions as indicated in itinerary (hikes)
  • Islas Hermanas boat trip
  • Ferry from Hornopiren to Leptepo

Excludes

  • International and domestic/in country flights
  • Meals not indicated in itinerary
  • Any extra/optional excursions
  • Personal Equipment (request our recommended kit list for more details)
  • Any visa, passport and vaccination expenses
  • Travel insurance
  • Gratuities/Tips

Questions about this Trip?