CARRETERA AUSTRAL, CHILE
Aysén together with the mainland opposite Chiloé have an area of 135,000 square kilometers, or one sixth of continental Chilean territory. But in spite of the area’s great economic potential and its geopolitical importance, its lack of accessibility left this area all but isolated from the rest of the country until the Carretera Austral was completed. The 1,240 kilometer highway links Puerto Montt to the north with Villa O'Higgins at its southern end. Running through Chilean Patagonia, the Carretera Austral is the main overland transport route in Aysén as well as Palena Province in Los Lagos region, connecting these areas with the rest of the country.
Activities on the Carretera Austral
The first stretch of the Southern Highway is in the Alerce Andino National Park, notable for its forest of huge ancient alerces; some of the trees are over 3,000 years old. For the more adventurous, the Hornopirén National Park is a must see: access is more difficult and the park has only the most basic services, but it has beautiful hidden lagoons and excellent fishing.
From Caleta Gonzalo you can visit Parque Pumalín, some 58 kilometers north of Chaitén, with camping zones, a cafeteria, hiking trails, cabins, picnic areas, and a shop selling handicrafts.
Puerto Cárdenas sits on the Highway between Chaitén and Cohaique. This is one of the best spots on the highway for fly fishing. Carrying on southwards, the road goes through Queulat National Park, known for the “Salto Padre García Hurtado” waterfall and for its hanging Glacier seen from a lookout area on the highway.
Other places you must see on the Carretera Austral:
Other beautiful spots along the Austral Highway include the Lago Las Torres National Reserve; the Rio Simpson National Reserve; the Cerro El Fraile Ski Area, with two lifts and five slopes; the Cerro Castillo National Reserve, home to protected ancient native forests; Lago General Carrera, the second largest lake in South America; Tortel, a lovely seaside village with colorful houses and wooden walkways; the Tamango National Reserve, famous for its population of huemules, an endangered native deer, and Lake Cochrane.
· There are dozens of opportunities for adventure tourism along the route, including rafting on the rapids of the Futaleufú River and trekking around Cerro Castillo (2,320 m).
· Another highlight is a boat trip on Lake General Carrera, to the “Marble Cathedral”, where the water has carved an impressive series of marble caves. We also recommend a visit to the Queulat National Park and its Hanging Glacier, some 25 km south of Puyuhuapi, on the banks of the Ventisquero river, and also, right at the end of the highway, that you see the beautiful scenery around Villa O'Higgins.
· Outstanding spots along the highway include: Pumalín Park, Puyuhuapi, Queulat National Park, Coyhaique, the Futaleufú River, the Palena River, Espolón and Loncolao Lakes, Laguna San Rafael, Cerro Castillo, General Carrera Lake, the Baker River, Caleta Tortel Cove, and Villa O'Higgins.