Few tour operators offer trips along the 1,240kms highway linking northern and southern Patagonia, but the rewards provided by the untouched wilderness, far away from the tourist trail, are well worth the effort.
Known as the Carretera Austral the area reveals some of the last unknown areas of South America – regions that were previously isolated from the outside world.
Thanks to the ambitious construction of the highway the area has been united with the mainland, and a brand new self-drive break for 2016 has been introduced.
“These trips are for adventurers seeking a place untouched by tourism, where English is rarely spoken, wi-fi works only sometimes, roads are unpaved, and journeys may be delayed by an ox-drawn cart, or guanacos in the road. In return, the route delivers vast swathes of unbelievably beautiful wilderness and bucket-loads of culture,” says Tom Power, MD of Pura Aventura who has lived and worked in the area for years.
The demanding route weaves past National Parks, dense forests, steep mountains, glaciers and fjords, and though some parts have been paved, much is still dirt or gravel. However the lodges are surprisingly comfortable, the hosts warm and welcoming and, with a substantial 4×4 vehicle, those unpaved miles can make for a comfortable adventure.
What to expect:
The drive is set as an 18-day self-drive adventure. It explores Aysén and the southern section of the Carretera Austral. From the Exploradores Valley to Villa O’Higgins (Chile’s remotest village where the road ends and the Icefield takes over) via the Baker River – this holiday is truly off-the-beaten-track.
Among the many highlights are a boat trip to the Great O’Higgins Glacier, a spectacular sight at some 100m in height; hiking across the border into Argentina; glimpsing life in the small Patagonia town of Cochrane; driving through temperate rainforest to reach Tortel, which until 10 years ago was only accessible by river or sea; and staying on the shores of Lago General Carrera to visit Los Leones Glacier.
The trip also takes in the ruggedly beautiful wilderness of Parque Patagonia – the latest project of conservationist Doug Tompkins (who sadly passed away recently) and his wife Kris. The vast stretch of land is currently being prepared for donation to the Chilean state and is set to become the country’s newest National Park in 2017.
During a stay here in the Chacabuco Valley, you can enjoy a range of guided and self-guided walks and spot native species including herds of guanacos.
The tour including 17 nights’ accommodation, 16 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 4 dinners, 4×4 rental with full insurances, internal flights, scheduled activities (3 x glacier boat trips and private guiding in Parque Patagonia), and ferry crossing from Chile Chico is priced from £3,967 based on twin share. International flights are extra.
The company also features a shorter 13-day self-drive along Chile’s Southern Highway taking in the main highlights of northern Patagonia including Coyhaique, the Exploradores Glacier, Parque Patagonia, Tortel and Lago General Carrera.
With guidebook publisher Bradt, known for championing lesser-visited destinations, just releasing their first Guide focusing solely on the Carretera Austral – a guide to one of the world’s most scenic road trips by Hugh Sinclair and Warren Houlbrooke (£17.99, 280 pages) – we recommend you go now before ‘in-the-know travellers’ follow.
For more information visit Pura Aventura
Photo credits: Jeremy Head.