Chilean Patagonia is an excellent destination for a road trip experience. However, common driving mistakes can ruin the trip quickly. How can you travel in Patagonia by car? Here're a few tips to prevent setbacks.
The key route to visit Chilean Patagonia by land is Carretera Austral, the world's southernmost highway, expanding 1.222 kilometers between Puerto Montt and Villa O'Higgins, says Roam & Thrive.
This route offers beautiful landscapes that you can watch from the window or while you take a break. Also, these places do not draw large crowds, helping travelers keep social distance, making them splendid alternatives for going on vacation while the pandemic lasts.
However, some setbacks could arise on your next road trip in Patagonia. Before embarking on a journey of this magnitude, you must consider some essential safety matters.
Prepare for a journey by land and sea
There will not always be paved roads while driving the Carretera Austral; you'll have to cross by sea from one point to another on occasion. The offer of local ferry services in the region has increased, allowing cars of different sizes on board, letting more people reach corners never imagined.
However, these hurdles do not keep hundreds of people from driving across Patagonia every year.
For example, suppose you want to visit the island of Chiloé. You can cross the Chacao Channel by ferry or on smaller boats from the mainland and then travel back to take the Carretera Austral, either from Puerto Montt or Chaitén.
There are also several options to continue south, especially considering that this southern highway has many incomplete stretches. You can cross by ferry in many places, especially in the northern part of the province of Palena, between the towns of Hornopirén and Caleta Gonzalo.
Beware of traffic accidents
Suffering a collision or being run over is a possibility. Although the statistics of traffic accidents in Patagonia are low compared to the rest of Chile, there is always a remote probability that they could occur. In this sense, it is essential to prevent them.
Before starting the trip, make sure that the car you drive is in good condition; if it's yours, take it to the mechanic and explain that you'll be driving around Chilean Patagonia. If it's a rental, car rental companies should deliver them in perfect conditions by law.
Also, consider that fatigue is one of the leading causes of car accidents. A person who has been driving for more than 4 hours takes twice as long to react to unforeseen events.
Considering that distances between destinations in Patagonia are long, you should pay special attention to the following factors that cause loss of control of the steering wheel:
Fatigue at the wheel.
Try to alternate driving every 4 hours and/or make stops every 2 hours to stretch your muscles and help blood circulation. Your breaks should take at least 15 minutes.
Remember that you can use the engine brake, slowing down the gears and taking your foot off the accelerator in an emergency.
Respect the speed limit allowed in rural roads and reduce velocity when driving on curvy roads, close to large groups of people, if it's raining or visibility conditions are reduced.
Internet connection and other connectivity problems
Part of the charm of Chilean Patagonia lies in its wild nature and scarce urbanization in some areas. The further south you go, the faultier the phone connection and internet access are.
Although there are more antennas in the area, keep this in mind if you use a digital map or GPS that requires internet or constantly charging the battery. When you plan your trip to Patagonia, you should include visiting tourist landmarks with electricity and an internet connection.
Another aspect you should study is knowing where the gas stations are. There are gas stations in many towns along the highway, although the further south you go, the fewer gas stations available, says Go Patagonic.
In this sense, you better map out the gas stations along the route beforehand and fill up the tank whenever you can; some gas stations only take cash, and you should also carry a full gas can for emergencies.
We recommend you use Chiletur's online travel planner to plan your trip and the cost in gas for the road trip; the tool only allows you to calculate expenses between Puerto Montt and Cochrane for now. For a complete map of all gas stations between Los Lagos and Magallanes regions, which make up Chilean Patagonia, check this government site (in Spanish only).
Why should you ride ferries on your road trip in Patagonia?
You should include traveling by ferry in your route plan to avoid fatigue (and a potential traffic accident). This way, not only can you take a break from driving but also save fuel and, above all, enjoy the scenery that only sailing the Patagonian Fjords can offer.
Ready to get in the car?
You can make some parts of the trip in a standard vehicle, but other highway parts are more complex, so a 4WD with high suspension and good tires is ideal.
The trip will be long but fun, especially if you plan and prepare yourself beforehand for the setbacks of road tripping in Patagonia!