Northern Carretera Austral

After 20 years of building the Carretera Austral was finally finished in 1996, so previously isolated areas could be developed. Ever since, this road has become a dream for many travellers. Until today it is no more than a narrow gravel road through the wilderness in many parts, yet it is priceless to the people of southern Chile. The 1.100 km long road begins in Puerto Montt and ends in the village of Caleta Tortel. There, the mighty Southern Ice Field makes a passing impossible.
It is an unforgettable adventure to head down the famous Carretera Austral with your own rental car – and well planned with the right partner, it is safe and uncomplicated.

Our sample itinerary covers the northern part of the Carretera Austral. It can easily be combined with our sample itinerary on the southern Carretera Austral. This tour is intended for outdoor fans and hiking passionates as well as for all those who just do not want to see a city for a few days …

It’s best to plan your trip in Chile with your own rental vehicle in stages and to cover the long distances with domestic flights. Car-Rental-Chile makes it possible: We will be happy to advise you on domestic flights and assist you with the booking process.

First of all, a few tips on trips with a rental car along the northern Carretera Austral:
Many lateral roads are very remote gravel roads where you rarely see other vehicles. The Carretera Austral itself is a gravel road in many parts and can be considered very remote as soon as you have crossed the Reloncaví fjord. There may be poor cell phone reception, so in case of a breakdown you should be well prepared. In order to make sure you do not have to worry about emergencies, Car-Rental-Chile offers additional accessories such as emergency kits, extra spare tires, and tools.
Please drive very careful on gravel, sand or stones, and keep in mind that, on gravel roads you can only go about half as fast as on asphalt.
Also, make sure to fuel your rental car at every opportunity, because gas stations are few and far between in such a remote area. Please be sure to choose a suitable vehicle category for this route!

The accommodations along the Carretera Austral range from simple campsites, hostels and holiday homes to first class lodges at some places. The villages and hamlets along the road are very small, so you never find the whole selection in one place. IMPORTANT: Book your accommodations on the Carretera Austral with quite some time in advance, since capacities are limited.
With your own rental car you are flexible and can adapt to the rough and changing weather.

For this trip, be sure to pack a hiking map in addition to the road map. When entering a national park, you will be asked for the passport and to register yourself in the visitor’s list. Generally, a small entrance fee is charged. The ranger will also ask you which trail you would like to hike, so they can send help in case you do not return in time. Many national parks only allow entrance until noon for security reasons. There are wild pumas living in the whole area covered by this tour. However, they generally avoid people. In case you should encounter one, please stay calm and create the impression to be a very large animal by staying close together and holding your backpacks over your head.


Sample Itinerary for a Rental Car Trip along the northern Carretera Austral:

Puerto Montt – Hornopiren
Pick up your rental car at the airport in Puerto Montt. Please have your driver´s license and a credit card ready, since a copy of the card must be deposited as a guarantee. The copy will be erased upon return oft he car, if there is no damage.

From Puerto Montt follow the signs Ruta 7 / Carretera Austral, destination adventure…
After about 40 km you reach the Alerce Andino National Park, a natural paradise that offers a fairy tale landscape:
The forest is very dense, but where it opens, you will find crystal-clear rivers, waterfalls and secluded quiet lakes, surrounded by steep cliffs. There are some of the last millennia-old Alerce trees, that seem to reach directly into the sky. Hiking trails of diffetent lengths and difficulties start from each oft he entrances.
After a small hike, go on to Caleta La Arena and take the ferry to Puelche, but not without trying some of the region’s tastiest empanadas at Caleta La Arena!

Overnight stay in Hornopiren. Distance covered: about 130 km, about half the time on a gravel road.
If you do not arrive with an early flight, it might be worth spending a night in Puerto Montt, otherwise you will be short of time to visit the Alerce Andino National Park.

Hornopiren – Caleta Gonzalo
Opt for an extra day to explore Hornopiren National Park during a hiking tour.

Take the morning car ferry from Hornopiren to Caleta Gonzalo. The crossing takes about 4.5 hours. Caleta Gonzalo is the starting point to explore the famous Pumalín Park, founded by millionaire and outdoor pioneer Douglas Tompkins, and handed over to Chile as a national park upon his death in 2015.
Overnight stay in Caleta Gonzalo.

Explore the wonderfull Parque Pumalín today. There are trails through pristine nature, dense jungles, raging streams, spectacular waterfalls, tranquil lakes, hot springs and much more… a paradise for outdoor lovers.
Overnight stay in Caleta Gonzalo.

Caleta Gonzalo – Puyuhuapi
Get back behind the wheel of your rental car and drive south. After about 115 km take a break and hike along the trail to the Yelcho glacier. It starts exactly at Ruta 7 and leads into a valley, at the end of which you can see the Yelcho glacier flowing down from the mountains. What could be better than a lunch picnic in pristine nature with a glacier view?
After this several hours break, continue your rental car trip on the Carretera Austral. Approximately 15 km after the place where the trail led you into the woods, you will reach the village of Villa Santa Lucia.
Here you can decide whether to continue the journey as follows, or whether you turn to the east, to the village of Futaleufú near the Argentinean border. The river of the same name is one of the most difficult rafting and canoeing spots in the world, rated „Grade 5“. It was not until the 1980s that it was even used for rafting for the first time and has been attracting adventurers from all over the world ever since. If you choose to go there: at least one additional day and overnight stay in Futaleufú. If not:
Overnight stay in Puyuhuapi or surroundings. <i Distance covered: 260-340 km on a gravel road, depending on the hotel.

Queulat National Park and Puyuhuapi
The 150,000 hectare Queulat National Park is located on a fjord of the same name near Puyuhuapi and offers one of the most pristine landscapes in Chile. Parts of the park are still unexplored.
40 kilometers of the Carretera Austral go right through the park, so a day trip there is very easy to do. Dense primeval forests, lakes and glaciers await you. Main attraction is the so called “Hanging Glacier” (“Ventisquero Colgante”), a tongue of ice that flows down from the mountains, and breaks on a rock face. It ends in a spectacular waterfall. During the hike to the glacier, look out for the beautifully colored kingfishers that live there (“Martín Pescador”).
On your way back, visit the village of Puyuhuapi. It was founded in the 1930s by Sudeten German immigrants, whose descendants still live there and run carpet manufacture. It is famous throughout Chile and can be visited with a guided tour. Some of the descendants of the founders still speak some German.

Overnight stay in Puyuhuapi or surroundings. Distance covered: 40-200 km on a gravel road, depending on the hotel.

Puyuhuapi – Coyhaique
You might add an extra day in Puyuhuapi or the surrounding area for a nice kayak trip, fishing excursion or similar.
Your rental car trip on Carretera Austral continues south, to the main town of the region, Coyhaique. The name comes from the indigenous language and means something like “camp by the lake”. Visit the central square “Plaza de Armas” and the craft market of this nice town, before ending the day with local delicacies in a cozy café or restaurant.

Overnight stay in Coyhaique. Distance covered: 40-200 km on a gravel road, depending on the hotel near Puyuhuapi.

Drop off your rental car at the Balmaceda Airport and take your return flight.
the hotel near Puyuhuapi.
Distance covered: about 55 km on asphalt.

If you have less time, you can take the ferry to Chaitén directly from Puerto Montt and then start your rental car trip via the Carretera Austral. The night crossing takes about 9 hours. Please be aware, that departures are not daily.