Northern Carretera Austral

1.100 km of adventure - explore the northern part

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 travelers. 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.

First, 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. 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.

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, an 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

  • Day 1

  • Day 2

  • Day 3

  • day 4

  • Day 5

  • Day 6

  • Day 7

Puerto Montt - Hornopiren

Pick up your rental car at the airport in Puerto Montt. 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 different lengths and difficulties start from each of the 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.