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Southern 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 southern part of the Carretera Austral. It can easily be combined with our sample itinerary on the northern 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 Carretera Austral:
Many roads in Patagonia are very remote gravel roads where you rarely see other vehicles. Even 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 carefully 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 even 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.

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Sample Itinerary for a Rental Car Trip to the southern part of the Carretera Austral:

Balmaceda – Puerto Tanquilo
Pick up your rental car at the Balmaceda Airport. 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 of the car, if there is no damage.

If you arrive with a late flight, we recommend heading north first, to spend one night in the nice town of Coyhaique. This way, you can take it easy and start you journey the next morning with plenty of time that day.
If you arrive with an early flight, follow the signs to Ruta 7 / Carretera Austral from the airport and then go southwest on the Carretera Austral. Along the road, you will see sceneries of overwhelming beauty. Stop at the Cerro Castillo Nature Reserve to see the impressive prehistoric rock paintings of “Manos de Cerro Castillo”. They are about 10,000 years old.
The national park is named after the mountain „Cerro Castillo“, (“Castle Mountain”), named like that because of its many peaks that remind of the towers and battlements of a castle.

Later on, you will reach Lake General Carrera, the largest lake in Chile, where you will find a real artwork of nature that will leave you stunned: the „Capilla de Marmol“ („Marble Chapel“). Time and the lake´s crystal clear water have formed the rock in an amazing way and created an incredible natural sculpture: a unique marble vault on slim pillars, akin to a cathedral. Locals offer trips on their small wooden boats to take a close look and you can as well go by kayak.

Overnight stay in Puerto Tranquilo or surroundings. Distance covered about 190 km, including 150 km on a gravel road.

Explorer´s Valley or Lion´s Valley
Take a detour today and drive west on a gravel road, to “Valle Exploradores” (“Explorer´s Valley”). Follow the educative trail to a lookout point with spectacular views of the Exploradores glacier and the Northern Ice Field. If you feel fit enough and want to spend an extra day, you can also take a 10-hour hike to the glacier, to walk on the ice and descend to some icy caves. This spectacular hike should be organized in advance, since you should not do it without an experienced local guide and good equipment.
Alternatively, you can go on a hike in „Valle Leones“ („Lion´s Valley”). From Puerto Tranquilo, continue for about half an hour south on Carretera Austral to Puente Leones. Then, follow the trail to Lake Leones with its spectacular views of the Leones glacier.
Overnight stay in Puerto Tranquilo or surroundings. Distance covered about 105 km. 60 km on a gravel road.

Puerto Tranquilo – Cochrane
Leave Puerto Río Tranquilo today and drive south along the western shore of Lago General Carrera. The confluence of the Baker and Nef rivers, the “Salto del Rio Baker” is a perfect spot for a photo stop: Waters of incredible blue and turquoise shades rush over spectacular rapids and show you the sheer power of nature!
A little further on, you reach the Tamango Natural Reserve, one of the few places in Chile where there are still wild huemuls, a very small, endemic deer species. With a little luck, you’ll get to take a photo of a huemul while strolling to this beautiful pristine natural reserve.

Overnight stay in Cochrane or surroundings. Distance covered about 120 km on a gravel road.

Cochrane – Chile Chico
Drive back from your accommodation to the southern shore of Lago General Carrera and go east on Carretera Austral. Enjoy the breathtaking views of the lake and the vastness and wild of the sparsely populated wild landscape. Have a break for a photo or picnic wherever you like. The natural reserves of Lago Genreal Carrera and Jeinimeni are close by. If you would like to go for another hike or stroll there, ask in advance for information on opening hours and lengths of the trails.

The small town of Chile Chico lies very close to t he Argentinean border. Locals live from agriculture, fishing, some gold mines and the transportation of goods to Argentina. You will be surprised to find cherry plantations as well, thanks to a special microclimate.

Overnight stay in Chile Chico or surroundings. Distance covered about 180 km, mostly on a gravel road.

Chile Chico – Balmaceda
Take the ferry “La Tehuelche” from Chile Chico to Puerto Ingeniero Ibañez early in the morning and enjoy the beautiful views over the lake. The crossing takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. From Puerto Ingeniero Ibañez, head north and pass once again the beautiful Cerro Castillo Nature Reserve before arriving at the airport.

Drop off your rental car at the Balmaceda Airport and take your return flight.
Distance covered: about 95 km on asphalt.

If you have a little more time, exploring the nice and well-developed tourist town of Coyhaique and its amazing surroundings such as the Rio Simpson Nature Reserve is worth adding some days. Highlight of this area is a unique boat excursion to the Laguna San Rafael glacier lagoon, where you can cruise in front of its giant ice wall in zodiacs and have a drink with millenial ice cubes.
We will be happy to advise you.