Chile’s last, wild frontier, the Carretera Austral is a remote highway that snakes south from Puerto Montt through 1200km of ever-changing landscapes to reach the lake-side village of Villa O’Higgins just across the water from Mount Fitzroy in Argentina and Chile’s great southern icefield.
Developed in the 70’s by Pinochet to open up southern Chile, the highway showcases the very best of Patagonia and has long been overlooked by visitors. Towards the north, hanging glaciers and lush temperate rainforests of millenary Alerce trees give way to rugged, Patagonian steppe bound by rocky crags and snow-capped mountains. Further south, the valleys narrow as the turquoise waters of the Baker River meet the steep, forested fjords and inlets of Chile’s endless archipelago.
The Carretera Austral has long been on the radar for fly-fishing yet rustic lodges abound the length of the highway and offer world class riding, walking and paddling. From Coyhaique, capital of Chile’s XI region, a wonderful section runs south through the jagged Cerro Castillo Mountains to the picturesque Lake General Carrera. There, visitors can bask in the magnificent scenery of the Chile’s northern icefield and take boat trips to “marble caves” and even visit the distant Laguna San Rafael, one of Patagonia’s iconic glaciers.
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