Carretera Austral

Shutterstock/22457647/Johnathan EsperTravelling along the Carretera Austral is one of the greatest journeys South America has to offer. It is a largely unpaved
road stretching almost 1200 km through spectacular ever-changing scenery and with a similar length of branch roads heading either to the fjords or the mountains and Argentinian Patagonia beyond. Before the opening of the road, this part of Chile was largely inaccessible; it remains breathtaking. The journey will take you past trees growing up out of vertical cliffs; impenetrably thick millennial forests; burned pastures dotted with glacial debris; innumerable waterfalls rushing right down to the road's edge, while spiralling volcanoes and sparkling glaciers feed turquoise lakes and fast-flowing rivers, all rich with southern Chile's unique flora.

The only town of any size, Coyhaique, lies in the valley of the Río Simpson. South of Coyhaique are Lago General Carrera, the largest lake in Chile, and the Río Baker, one of the longest rivers in the country, which reaches the sea at Caleta Tortel. Further south still is Villa O' Higgins and the icefields of the Campo de Hielo Sur, which feed several magnificent glaciers and prevent further road building, although a route (by boat and on foot or mountain bike) exists that goes on to El Chaltén in Argentina. Coyhaique enjoys good air connections with Puerto Montt and Santiago, while nearby Puerto Chacabuco can be reached by ferry or catamaran from Puerto Montt, Chaitén and Chiloé. The most appealing parts of this region, however, can only be visited by travelling along the Carretera Austral.

The recent eruptions of Volcán Chaitén have caused considerable damage to the town of Chaitén, which has been evacuated save for the ferry terminal, and to the southern section of the Parque Pumalín, which remains closed at the time of writing. With further eruptions a possibility, it is hard to say when normal services will resume.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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