Chaitén to Coyhaique

This section of the Carretera Austral, 422 km long, runs through long stretches of virgin rainforest, passing small villages, the perfectly still waters of Lago Yelcho, and the Parque Nacional Queulat, with its glaciers and waterfalls. Roads branch off east to the Argentine border and west to Puerto Cisnes. Near Coyhaique, the road passes huge tracts of land destroyed by logging, where only tree stumps remain as testament to the depredations of the early colonists.

Towards Puerto Cárdenas

At Amarillo, 25 km south of Chaitén, there is a turning to the
Termas de Amarillo
, which consists of two wooden sheds with a very hot pool inside, and an outdoor swimming pool, worth a visit. There is superb salmon fishing in the nearby rivers. From here, it is possible to hike along the old trail to Futaleufú . The hike takes four to seven days and is not for the inexperienced; be prepared for wet feet all the way. The trail follows the Río Michinmawida, passing the volcano of the same name, to
Lago Espolón
. A ferry with a sporadic schedule crosses the lake, taking cargo, foot passengers and bicycles to Futaleufú.

Situated 46 km south of Chaitén and surrounded by forest,
Puerto Cárdenas
lies on the northern tip of
Lago Yelcho
, a beautiful glacial lake on the Río Futaleufú, surrounded by hills and with views of the stunning Yelcho glacier. The lake is frequented by anglers. Further south at Km 60, a path leads to the
Yelcho glacier
, a two-hour walk each way (there is a viewing station halfway up).

Into Argentina via Futaleufú or Palena

Southeast of Chaitén the Argentine border is reached in two places, Futaleufú and Palena, along a road that branches off the Carretera Austral at
Villa Santa Lucía
(Km 81), named after General Pinochet's wife, where there are 30 houses, a military camp and one small shop; bread is available from a private house. The road to the border is
ripio
of variable standard, passable in a regular car, but best with a good, strong high-clearance vehicle. The scenery is beautiful.

At
Puerto Ramírez
, at the southern end of
Lago Yelcho
, the road divides: the north branch runs along the valley of the Río Futaleufú to Futaleufú, while the southern one continues to Palena. Futaleufú, the new capital of Palena province, has established itself as the centre for the finest whitewater rafting in the southern hemisphere. Every year, hundreds of fanatics travel to spend the southern summer here and there is no shortage of operators offering trips. The river is an incredible deep blue colour and offers everything from easy Grade II-III sections downstream to the extremely challenging
Grade V Cañón del Infierno (Hell Canyon). Although the town is only at 350 m, the spectacular mountain scenery makes you feel as if you were up in the High Andes. The Río Espolón provides a peaceful backdrop to this pleasant town, with wide streets lined with shrubs and roses and Chilote-style houses. There is
tourist information
 on the plaza.
Lago Espolón
, west of Futaleufú, is reached by a turning 41 km northeast of Puerto Ramírez. It is a beautiful lake and enjoys a warm microclimate, regularly reaching 30°C in the day in summer. The lake is even warm enough for a quick dip, but beware of the currents.

La Junta and around

From Villa Santa Lucía, the Carretera Austral follows the Río Frío and then the Río Palena to La Junta, a tranquil, nondescript village at the confluence of Río Rosselot and Río Palena, 151 km south of Chaitén. Fuel is available here. There is a
tourist office
 on the plaza. Some 9 km east is
Lago Rosselot
, surrounded by forest and situated at the heart of a
reserva nacional
(12,725 ha) with a well-equipped campsite and cabins. From here, the road continues east for 74 km, to the border crossing at picturesque
Lago Verde
, and on to Las Pampas in Argentina. There is also a new road leading northwest from La Junta, past some rustic thermal springs (not always open), across the broad expanse of the Río Palena (four ferry crossings daily) and on to
Puerto Raúl Marín Balmaceda
on the coast, a tranquil fishing village with more than its share of rainfall. Different species of dolphin can be seen and when it is clear there are wonderful views of Volcán Melimoyu from the beach. Accommodation is available and camping is possible. Raúl Marín forms one apex of the blue whale triangle, and the giant cetacean can sometimes be sighted on the ferry to Quellón.

Puyuhuapi and around

From La Junta, the Carretera Austral runs south along the western side of Lago Risopatrón, past several waterfalls, to Puyuhuapi (also spelt Puyuguapi), 45 km further south. Located in a beautiful spot at the northern end of the Puyuhuapi fjord, the village is a tranquil stopping place, about halfway between Chaitén and Coyhaique. It was founded by four Sudeten German families in 1935, and its economy is based around fishing, ever-increasing tourism and the factory where Puyuhuapi's famous handmade carpets are produced and which can be visited.
Alfombras de Puyuhuapi
, www.puyuhuapi.com. By the municipalidad on the main street there is a decent
tourist information office
. A bus timetable is pinned up here. If you are travelling in your own vehicle ask at the police station about road conditions and temporary road closures.

From Puyuhuapi, the road follows the eastern edge of the fjord along one of the most beautiful sections of the Carretera Austral, with views of the
Termas de Puyuhuapi
. This resort is on the western edge of the fjord and is accessible only by boat. It has several 40°C springs filling three pools near the beach. Take food and drink. The resort can also be visited on a four- or six-day tour with
Patagonia Connection SA
and day trips are possible from Puyuhuapi. More easily accessible are the new
Termas del Ventisqero
, www.termasventisqueropuyuhuapi.cl
.

Covering 154,093 ha of attractive forest around Puyuhuapi, the
Parque Nacional Queulat
, is, supposedly, the former location of the legendary Ciudad de los Césares, a fabulously wealthy mythological city built between two hills made of gold and diamonds and inhabited by immortal beings. According to legend, the city was protected by a shroud of fog and hence was impossible for strangers to discover. The Carretera Austral passes through the park, close to
Lago Risopatrón
north of Puyuhuapi, where boat trips are available. Some 22 km south of Puyuhapi, a road turns off to the main entrance of the park, continuing for 3.5 km past the guardaparques' hut to a campsite and car park. Three walks begin from here: a short stroll through the woodland to a viewpoint of the
Ventisquero Colgante
hanging glacier; or cross the river where the path begins to
Laguna Tempanos
, where boats cross the lake in summer. The third trail, 3.25 km, takes 2½ hours to climb to a panoramic viewpoint of the
Ventisquero
, where you can watch the ice fall into huge waterfalls. From here the Carretera Austral climbs out of the Queulat valley through a series of narrow hairpin bends surrounded by an impressive dense jungle-like mass of giant Nalcas. There are fine views of the forest and several glaciers. Near the pass (250 m off the main road) is the
Salto Pedro García
waterfall, with the
Salto del Cóndor
waterfall some 5 km further on. Steep gradients mean that crossing the park is the hardest part of the Carretera for those travelling by bicycle.

On the southern side of the pass there is a sign labelled
Bosque Encantado
with a small parking area. A path leads west through a forest of Arayanes, like something out of a fairytale. After crossing a series of small bridges the path runs out at the river. Follow the river bank around to the right to get to a beautiful laguna with floating icebergs and a hanging glacier. The trek to the laguna and back should not take more than three hours and is well worth the effort.

South of the Río Cisnes

Stretching 160 km from the Argentine border to the coast at Puerto Cisnes, the Río Cisnes is recommended for rafting or canoeing, with grand scenery and
modest rapids - except for the horrendous drop at Piedra del Gato, about 60 km east of Puerto Cisnes. Good camping is available in the forest. Possibly the wettest town in Chile,
Puerto Cisnes
is reached by a 33-km winding road that branches west off the Carretera Austral about
59 km south of Puyuhuapi. Once a peaceful fishing port where traditional knitted clothes were made, it is now an important salmon-farming centre. Fuel is available. Heading south again on the main spine of the Carretera the paved section of the road begins at Km 77.

Fifteen kilometres further on, at Km 92, south of
Villa Amengual
, a road branches west for 104 km to the
Argentine border
via La Tapera.

Reserva Nacional
 Lago Las Torres
is 98 km south of Puyuhuapi and covers 16,516 ha. There are no trails, but it includes the wonderful
Lago Las Torres
, which offers good fishing and a small
hospedaje
and campsite. Further south, at Km 125, a road branches east to
El Toqui
, where zinc is mined.

Villa Mañihuales
, at Km 148, is a small, nondescript town with a Copec petrol station and several basic
residenciales
and restaurants. Most buses stop here for 15 to 30 minutes. Nearby is the
Reserva Forestal
 Mañihuales
. The reserve covers 1206 ha and encompasses a huemul sanctuary. Fires largely destroyed the forests in the 1940s but the views are good.

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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