Getting to and around Aysen
- Fly into the heart of the region to Balmaceda Airport from Santiago, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas
- Embark on the road trip of a lifetime along the Carretera Austral, the main route connecting Aysen from tip to toe
- Travel by ferry through the region's islands, channels and fjords
Flights into the region
LATAM and Sky Airline provide daily flights that connect Santiago and Puerto Montt to Balmaceda airport which is approximately an hour's drive south of Coyhaique, in central Aysen. This is certainly the easiest and quickest way to get to the heart of the region. There are also regular flights with Aerovias DAP between Punta Arenas and Balmaceda.
Getting to Aysen by road
Arriving from the Chilean Lake District
Start your trip by flying to Puerto Montt which has regular flight connections with Santiago and Punta Arenas. Once you've picked up your hire car, make your way down through the Chilean Lake District on Route 7, the Carretera Austral, skirting both the coast and Alerce Andino National Park en route. Stop to make ferry crossings between Caleta La Arena and Caleta Puelche, Hornopirén and Leptepu Fjord, and, finally, Largo Fjord and Caleta Gonzalo. Your onward journey takes you 56 kilometres south to Chaiten and a further 144 kilometres to La Junta, passing by Corcovado National Park along the way. Here begins your journey deep into the Aysen region.
Driving from southern Patagonia
To access Aysen from the south, your road trip must begin in Argentina. Fly to El Calafate and pick up your hire car before heading north on the famous Route 40. You will need to stop for the night in one of the estancias along this remote section as you have over 600 kilometres of distance to cover before the turnoff towards the Chilean border. Eventually, you reach Perito Moreno town which is where you turn off to Los Antiguos, skirting the southern edge of Lago General Carrera until you reach the border crossing. Once over the border, you arrive at Chile Chico. Here, you can either take the ferry north across the lake to Puerto Ibañez and continue to Villa Cerro Castillo, or you can continue along the southern shore of the lake all the way to Puerto Guadal and beyond, to Cruce El Maitén on the Carretera Austral.
In order to cross the border between Argentina and Chile in a hire car, you must ensure that the hire company has included an international permit and insurance that allows you to cross with your car from one country into the other and that you are provided with all the necessary paperwork. Otherwise, you could be refused access on arrival at the border. We recommend taking a satellite phone as you will be driving for long stretches with hardly a soul in sight.
Getting around Aysen
For those looking for the road trip of a lifetime and with plenty of time on their hands, hiring a car and driving stretches of the 1270-kilometre-long Carretera Austral that runs from Puerto Montt in the north to Villa O'Higgins in the south is one of the best ways to explore the region. A number of car ferries transport you across fjords and lakes so that you can continue on your way, enhancing the remoteness and natural beauty of the region.
Accessing the deep south of Aysen
The deep south of Aysen is for intrepid adventurers keen to follow the Carretera Austral to the bitter end down to O'Higgins Lake on the Argentinian border. The only way by car to reach Villa O'Higgins, the town perched on the northern shore of the lake, is to drive down from the north. Cochrane is the most southerly point at which you can pick up and drop off a hire car, so in order to venture into the lesser-known areas south of here, you must be prepared to drive back on the same route you came in on.
Hiring a car
Roads in Aysen are a combination of paved and unpaved and, with the climate in many areas being wet and unpredictable, the quality of the road surface varies enormously. For this reason, we always recommend hiring a 4x4 and you should ensure that there is a spare tyre included as punctures are not uncommon. It's worth checking where fuel stops are before setting off as places to refuel are few and far between. Depending on where your journey starts and ends, you may not be able to return your car with a full tank, but local hire companies are used to this and will just charge you the cost of the missing fuel on returning the car.
Travelling by bus
While there are a number of public bus services in the Aysen region, there are few that we would recommend relying on unless you have a very flexible itinerary and an open mind as breakdowns aren't uncommon and services tend to be few and far between. If you are keen to try out the local buses and have time and patience on your hands, we advise that you take the services running between the larger towns and we recommend planning and booking ahead as buses do get fully booked.
Road trips in Aysen
Getting to Aysen by ferry
Travelling from the north
An excellent way to enter the region is by car ferry through the channels and fjords. You can travel with the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco, the region's principal port. Another route from Puerto Montt is the Naviera Austral cargo ferry to Chaiten in the Lake District from where you can join the Carretera Austral. Alternatively, for those coming from Chiloe Island, you can take the Naviera Austral from Quellon in the south of the island to Puerto Chacabuco. There are a number of smaller ports where the ferry stops en route. You can disembark with a vehicle at Melinka and Puerto Cisnes and as a foot passenger only at Raul Marin Balmaceda. The full journey can take up to 30 hours, depending on weather conditions. For those coming from southern Patagonia, you can take a 40-hour ferry ride with Austral Broom all the way from Puerto Natales to Caleta Tortel.
O'Higgins Lake crossing from El Chalten
There is an alternative way to reach Villa O'Higgins which involves coming from El Chalten in Argentina. To do this, you must get a transfer to Lago del Desierto, just south of the border, cross the lake by boat (foot passengers only), walk 12 kilometres across the border to Candelario Mancilla (it's possible to have your bags carried on horseback) where you will need to spend the night in a homestay and take the ferry across O'Higgins Lake the following day to Villa O'Higgins. This route is also a popular option for hardy mountain bikers. While it's possible to organise for a hire car to be delivered to you at Villa O'Higgins, it will be transported from Cochrane, 234 kilometres away, and this is reflected in the cost.
If you are an adventurous soul and relish crossing a border by various means of transport (boats, on foot and 4x4) and with unpredictable hold ups then this could be the adventure you are looking for.
Sally Dodge Tailor-made trip & Lakes Specialist
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