Carretera Austral: Places to Visit and Things to do
This is part two of a comprehensive guide for a road trip on the Carretera Austral. This post focuses on places to visit and things to do.
If you are traveling in Patagonia and would like to visit lesser-known places, then Carretera Austral is a perfect destination for you. This secluded area is so beautiful, remote, and traditional that moving there has become a dream of many backpackers. Although the facilities on this road are basic, people get access to public transport, tourism resources, and world-class landscapes at every twist and turn.
Note: as my travel ended in Chile Chico, this post will not cover any information about traveling to Cochrane, Caleta Tortel, and Villa O’Higgins. If you are specifically looking for information about these three places, please stop reading this post now.
Chaitén: A city destroyed by an active volcano
Located in the Los Lagos region, Chaitén was severely damaged by the eruption of Chaitén Volcano in May 2008 and the town was rebuilt in 2011. Nowadays, many travelers refuse to stop there by assuming the town lacks livelihood. However, there are visitors coming to Chaitén to visit this famous volcano and for some outdoor adventure.
Things to do in Chaitén:
Day trip to Pumalin Park: Pumalin Park is Chile’s largest private nature reserve. The park has fjords and a tempera forest with a dense concentration of plant species and birds coexisting together to reach the maximum biological balance. A prominent site of Pumalin Park is thousands of years old Alerce trees that are vulnerable to deforestation, and they stand tall and wind up to the sky.
Hike the Volcano Chaitén: Volcano Chaitén, which destroyed Chaitén and a part of Pumalin, is still active to this day. To reach this volcano, you can take a tour bus or hitchhike, and the hike to the summit of this volcano takes 2.5 hours. I saw this volcano from our tour bus window and the volcano is still growing and steaming. Two Australians I met at the hostel had hiked that volcano and raved about the scenery on the top. The summit is a fantastic place to view the mountain range, Chaitén, and the Pacific Ocean.
“Earth River runs the only continuous, top to bottom, multi-camp, wilderness expedition on the Futaleufú. A week without roads, electricity or cell phones”.
Just 7 km from the Argentinian border, Futaleufú has crystal blue water, wide rapids, lush green forests, and Futaleufú Valley, which provide the perfect environment for adventure and thriller seekers. The landscape in Futaleufú is exactly like the pictures you see on any Patagonia advertisement and will capture your heart.
Things to do in Futaleufú
White-water river rafting: Futaleufú has the crystal blue Futaleufú River and the world’s wildest rapids, which makes it the best place for white-water river rafting. For me, this experience was one of the most rewarding ones I had during this road trip. Just actually being on the beautiful river, learning about the formations and the backgrounds, and rafting through the strong currents was thrilling. Towards the end of the rafting, we were given the option of jumping off a rock into the cold-freezing water and swimming back onto the boat, but we all did it, regardless of our fitness levels and our fear of getting frozen.
Hiking: there are multiple treks in Futaleufú. I walked past the plaza to the end of town, where I crossed to the other side of the river, made a left to find the trailhead, and spent ten minutes hiking up to the top to have a bird’s-eye view of Futaleufú and the river.
Located halfway between Chaitén and Coyhaique, La Junta is a beautiful small town with valleys and ever-green nature in the backdrop. There are not too many things to do there, apart from walking around the main plaza and getting to Parque Urbano Natural Las Bardas to overlook the entire town. There are several lodges and hostels for you to rest.
Puyuhuapi is a peaceful fishing village in the Aysén Region, with stunning views of Fuyuhuapi Fjord, German architecture, and lush green mountains. Owing to its geographical location and beautiful surroundings, this town has become a perfect base for hiking and outdoor adventure.
Although it is a small village and takes less than 20 minutes to walk from end to end, it has several restaurants, a tourism office, public transport access, and a few lodges and hotels with internet access. It is a great place to relax and just enjoy being in this place.
Things to do in Puyuhuapi
Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Glacier): Ventisquero Colgante is the crown jewel of Queulat National Park, a half-hour drive from Puyuhuapi. There are several trails leading to this hanging glacier observation platform, where you see the glacier hanging on the mountains and forming a waterfall running off the turquoise blue lagoon underneath. Moreover, visitors can also take a kayak tour across the Laguna Temponos to view the glacier up close.
Puyuhuapi Resort and Spa: this thermal resort is located an hour south of Puyuhuapi and one must have an advanced reservation to get there. Upon arriving, you can relax in the outdoor thermal spring pools with amazing views of the lake and pleasant atmosphere.
Coyhaique is the only city in Carretera Austral, and it has shopping malls, a supermarket, currency exchange office, banks, many restaurants, and shops. Apart from the modern facilities, here you will find national parks and natural surroundings where you can see the Simpson River and take a beautiful walk.
Things to do in Coyhaique:
Coyhaique National Reserve: features beautiful walks in the forest and through alpine meadows, where flora, fauna, and wildlife like pumas, wild cats, and foxes thrive. The view of Coyhaique and its surroundings are breathtaking on the top.
Piedra Del Indio: An Indian-shaped rock lies on the south of Simpson River with very greenish surroundings. It is a perfect place for hanging out with your family and friends in the afternoon and having a picnic. I did not find out about the significance of this stone but enjoyed walking along the riverside.
Gear up for the rest of your journey: As aforementioned, Coyhaique is the only stop on this road that has an airport and convenient access to modern facilities. For this reason, many travelers stop here to get cash, exchange currency, shop, and organize their remaining trip. I stayed there for two days but there are people who took a four-day rest there.
Puerto Rio Tranquilo
As the bus approaches Puerto Rio Tranquilo, you will find the scenery outside the window becoming exceptionally captivating. This is where the General Carrera Lake, the second largest lake in South America, shows its transparent turquoise blue colors and colorful mountains loom in the distance, creating a surreal landscape that you will not see anywhere else.
Things to do in Puerto Rio Tranquilo:
Marble Caves – the most famous activity in Puerto Rio Tranquilo is to take a boat or kayak tour to the Capillas De Marmol (marble chapels and caves). The marble caves there were formed thousands of years ago by water and wind erosion. The boat tour takes you inside the caves where you will be impressed by the caves’ various colors and their unique formations.
Valle Leones: Located 29 kilometers outside of Puerto Rio Tranquilo, this valley is composed of pasture lands, stunning waterfalls, meadows, and crystal-clear lakes and rivers. I stopped on this road several times to look at the waterfalls and take pictures of this beautiful place. If you keep following this road, you will find an entrance to the observation platform where you can walk up and have a panoramic view of the Leones Glacier.
Exploradores Glacier: if you have extra time and budget, you can take an Exploradores Glacier day hike, where you will have the opportunity to walk on the Leones Glacier. The tour costs around $60 USD, including transport, crampons, helmets, and lunch.
Chile Chico – Los Antiguos Border Crossing at Rio Jeinimeni
Chile Chico is located on the south shore of General Carrera Lake and is a popular place for border crossing to Argentina at Paso Jeinimeni. I only spent one night in Chile Chico, but I wish I stayed longer to visit Lago Jeinimeni National Preserve.
This park is 55 kilometers outside of Chile Chico and you need to hitchhike or book with a bus or tour company to get there. Once inside the park, you can do multiple day hikes around Lago Jeinimeni and Lago Verde to Valle Hermoso. The trail is beautiful and there are few people around.
If you travel north from Chile Chico, please note that the shuttle bus to Puerto Rio Tranquilo is available only twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) during the low season.
Camping and hostels are the two most common types of accommodation for backpackers. Usually, camping sites have showers and cooking facilities and hostels have comfortable beds and stable internet access.
The following list features the hostels I stayed in Carretera Austral that I recommend. The nightly rate is between CLP $10,000 and $15,000 and cash is the only acceptable method of payment.
Where to stay in Chaitén:
I do not remember the name of the hostel but it is the one right across the bus station, so you will not miss it. The hostel provides a private room with breakfast for CLP $15,000 and the rates are cheaper without breakfast. The hostel does not have a public kitchen but the owner will cook a delicious meal for you for an extra price.
Where to stay in Futaleufú
Hostal Las Natalias – cozy and offers a beautiful view outside the window from the common room and your room. Both owners, Nancy and Nathaniel, speak fluent English and they will book the river-rafting and kayaking tours for you and even take you out on a hiking trip. This hostel gets very cold at night and you need an extra blanket to sleep.
Where to stay in Puyuhuapi
Camping Getsemani: if you want to spend less money on accommodation, Camping Getsemani is a great place with access to showers and a common area. The owner will cook lunch and dinner for you for $6,000 CLP.
Where to stay in Coyhaique
Hospedaje Simon Bolivar – this hostel is not on the main street and but is run by a local family that is kind. They welcomed me with tea and refreshments and chatted with me at the dinner table for hours. The nightly rate is CLP $14,000 for a private room, breakfast, and internet. For the location and detailed information about this hostel, you can call the owner, Simon Bolivar, at (616) 976179181/58566627.
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